What about “asking Jesus into my heart”? The “sinner’s prayer”?

Processed with MOLDIV
Standard

This post is inspired by a question from a church member.

If there’s a Guinness Book of Records for the amount time we Christians pray the “sinner’s prayer,” I am sure many of us would have broken it—including me!  My life was a cycle of doubt and assurance.  I always wondered whether or not I would or could really know Jesus.  I’d pray the prayer again and wonder if I had done it right and repented truly.

And countless millions of people, especially products of American churches, have no desire for God, no fellowship with Him, and no connection to the local church and believe themselves saved and going to heaven.

Why? Because one time someone led them in a prayer to pray and “ask Jesus to come in.”

This is a problem that is common among Christian churches.  And it springs from a deficient way of how we share and understand the Gospel.

So what is the “sinner’s prayer”?

Generally, it involves a preacher, pastor, or evangelist—or a layperson, too—exhorting someone to pray a prayer or to “ask Jesus to come into your heart.”  Other phrases include “Ask Jesus to enter your life” or “Allow the Lord to take control.”  Sometimes it comes at the close of a worship service or sermon.  Sometimes it is done in private.

What does the Bible say about the “Sinner’s prayer”?

Simply stated, asking Jesus “to come into your heart” isn’t found in any nook, cranny, or specific place in the Bible.  None of the apostles or Christ Himself went around asking, “Won’t you please come and ask Jesus in your heart?”  The Gospel message has always been, “Repent and believe the Gospel!” (Matt. 3:12).

Many people are simply missing the life of Christ.  Much of it has to do with what we sold them as the Gospel – pray this prayer, accept Jesus into your heart, and you will be saved.

Shouldn’t it concern us that there is no such prayer in the New Testament? Shouldn’t it concern us that the phrases like “invite Jesus in your life” or “Accept Jesus in your heart” aren’t in the Bible? Such sharing of the Gospel is built on sinking sand and runs the risk of disillusioning millions of souls.

Indeed, we ought to be concerned that it’s a very dangerous thing to lead people to think they’re a Christian when they’ve not biblically responded to the Gospel.  If were not careful, we will take the lifeblood out of Christianity and put Gatorade in its place and give it to the crowds.  It is not just dangerous – it is eternally condemning.

When we think of people coming to Christ, we’ve been trained to think, “It is just getting people to pray this sinner’s prayer.  If we just spread this – we’ll be good and so will they!”

No, let’s give them a full picture of the Gospel and show people the greatness of God.  Yes, He is a Father that loves us and who will save us … but He is also a wrathful judge that may condemn us for eternity if we don’t go through His Son alone.

Remember, the evidence that someone has truly opened their life to Christ is continued fellowship with Christ, not just that someone has prayed a prayer.

What about Revelation 3:20?

Revelation 3:20 is a verse used by many evangelists.  However, it is written to confessing Christians.  This is not an image of a visitor stopping by and knocking.  This is the Master returning to his house.  The servant is to throw open the door wide and welcome Him – the house is his!  We as a church want to hear the words of Christ.  We want to recognize the word of God as the truth we need to hear and know, and acknowledge.

Hearing is the way to eternal life.  Each message includes a final exhortation—to hear and take to heart.  This is to be read and received as the word of God in all the churches.

If you are not a Christian, know that though we are separated from God due to sin, God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.  He lived a perfect life – deserved no penalty.  When he died, He bore the wrath of God against all who would trust in Him.  To let us know this is true, God raised Him from the dead, He ascended into heaven.  The way to have eternal life is by turning from your sins – repenting – trusting in the righteousness of Christ.

The Laodiceans had gold, medicine and wool in plenteous amounts, but Jesus tells them they must rely on Him.  Hearing is the way to eternal life.

How would the Laodiceans know this if they were not told by the messenger?  No one realizes their state unless they hear the message.  You can see the glory of God in the heavens – but the heavens do not communicate the Gospel.  Christians must be speaking the good news to our neighbors.

We have no right to expect popularity in this world for speaking the Gospel.  The Gospel contradicts people on their desires – their sin.  One cannot repent from what you’ve never been told is a sin.  Eternal life begins with hearing.

It all goes back to conversion!

4 Reasons Why Getting Conversion Right is So Important

As the church, we don’t simply have a social or religious interest in conversion. Our understanding of conversion is essential to our concept of Christianity.

In fact, “conversion” isn’t considered civil in our politically correct world—it smacks of intolerance.

And, more often than not, we tend to think of ourselves on a spectrum of spirituality. After all, we’re all spiritual beings. But some of the most supposedly “spiritual people” in today’s time have admitted they don’t know and have not seen God.

Yet the Bible says that people throughout history have known God.  How is this relationship possible?

What is conversion?

“Conversion” literally means “to turn.” It is the act of turning from sin and turning to Christ in faith.

At conversion, Christ becomes the center of our universe, the source, the purpose, the goal, and the motivation of all that we are and do. Conversion isn’t like a multiple choice question in which you can check Jesus as Savior, but pass over His lordship

Conversion is a work that God begins and perfects. It is for His sake that He begins the work & for His praise that He sees it through. Conversion is a miraculous work of God that transforms a man’s nature, producing righteous affections that move him to keep God’s commands. Conversion is a supernatural and miraculous work whereby God changes the very heart of the sinner.

If the Gospel is grace alone–and it is–then every conversion is a miracle.  Paul’s conversion is a great reminder that no one is beyond the reach of Jesus.

Conversion is distinguished from the rebirth Jesus talks about in John 3.  We contribute nothing to our rebirth, but our God-given faculties are engaged in conversion.

How does conversion happen?

Thinking clearly about conversion will result in clear thinking on the Gospel.

We are called to repent of our sins and believe in Christ (Isaiah 30:15; Jeremiah 31:19; Matt. 3:2; Acts 3:19, 26:19-20; Romans 2:5; 2 Pet. 3:9, etc.). This thread is consistent between the Old and New Testaments; a walking away from old ways in order to obey God.  Faith is trust in Jesus’ ministry and work alone as the perfect Son of God.  True repentance always accompanies saving faith.

If we are to be saved, God must give us the gifts of repentance and faith. God promises to write His Word on His people’s hearts in the Old and New Testaments.  People give thanks to God for their conversion (Ephesians 2:1-10).

God uses means to give the gifts of repentance and faith. The fundamental means is the Gospel (John 17:20).  The summary of Christian ministry is that “faith comes by hearing” (Rom. 10:17).  Local churches help us apply the gospel to our lives through membership and discipline.  These practices and doctrinal teaching, taken together, are indispensable.

Why is conversion important?

For our church. Membership is a local church’s external affirmation of a person’s spiritual conversion.  This is why we have high expectations of each other in biblical church membership.  If you are a member of our church, we assume that you are sorry for your sins and want to grow in Christ.  This is a key point in determining how apparently and overtly exclusive we should be as a local body of believers.

For our own assurance. 2 Corinthians 13:5 reminds us that we must shed any sense of cultural Christianity and examine ourselves.  The evidence that a man has truly repented unto salvation is that he continues repenting throughout the full course of his life, not that a person simply “prayed a prayer” and got his or her “Jesus flu shot.” 2 Peter 1 and the entire book of 1 John says that struggling believers can have assurance that their salvation is secure.  Enjoy a full sense of what your conversion means.  If you struggle in this area, recall what God has already done, how your heart stands affected before God, and what God has done in Christ.

For our identity. Perhaps you are not in a crisis of faith, but you have taken your identity in Christ for granted.  When we are converted we become more fundamentally Christian than anything else we might have in common. Meditate on this amazing truth.  And remember: Biblical assurance is not based merely upon an examination of our conversion, but also upon an examination of our life from that moment on.

For non-Christians. If you don’t yet believe, know this: Paradise was lost at the beginning of the world. Yet God had drafted a plan of redemption before the very foundation of the world! And, what’s more, understanding conversion is essential to obeying God’s call to repent and believe. One will not seek salvation until he knows that he is lost—he will not flee to Christ until he knows that there is no other Savior. You are not beyond God’s reach; the Gospel is our hope for salvation. Christ has given himself for all those who repent and trust in Him.  Will you repent and believe?

Our greatest need before conversion is the Gospel. Our greatest need after conversion is the Gospel.

How, then, should we evangelize?

By sharing, preaching, and telling the Gospel—telling the good news. How do we spread the Word? Not everyone is going to come to church to hear it.

1) Share lovingly, forthrightly, and boldly that it is only by repenting and believing the Gospel that a person is saved and it comes a great cost (Mat. 3:2; Matt. 10:38) that if they repent and believe they will be saved—but it will be costly.  We have to share with everyone that they are, by nature, sinners and are alienate from the thrice-holy God (Rom. 3:10-18; Eph. 2:1-5).  We can’t sugarcoat it.  We can’t cover it up.  The only truly biblical Gospel presentation tells the honest truth and doesn’t just trump-up the positive aspects of our faith that people may want to hear,

2) We have an urgent message.  And this must be shared! Time is short.  People must repent and believe by faith alone in Christ alone to be saved.  There’s no better deal coming.  There’s no other Messiah coming.  Jesus is the only way (Acts 4:12; John 14:6) and we don’t know today or tomorrow holds.  There’s only one way, and we don’t know that tomorrow is ours (Luke 13).

3) We can assure that in the name of the God-man, Jesus Christ, when a person truly repents, he or she is saved.

4) Take your Bible, and remember to pray, for salvation is all a work of God.  Our job is to be faithful and share and trust this sovereign God to work in the person’s life.

Conclusion

The Gospel isn’t “pray this prayer and be saved.”  The Gospel isn’t “we’re ok.”  The Gospel isn’t just God is a God of love.  The Gospel isn’t Jesus wants to be our friend or are example.  The Gospel isn’t just a message that we should live right.

The Gospel is news, has a cognitive content, and it’s true (unlike these errors).  Do you know the Gospel?

Gender Uniqueness in Salvation

photo-1464441904355-ffd5b51e9f42
Standard

As our nation debates issues of gender and bathrooms, we must ask some questions:

Are race and gender parallel issues?  How should Christians think about gender?

Our text—Galatians 3:28 below—has been described as the Magna Carta of humanity. Here’s the verse:

 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 What does this verse say?

The central message of Paul’s letter to the Galatians was that salvation is only available by trusting in Christ alone.  It’s not available through keeping a system of laws.  Paul warned the early Christians about getting this Gospel message right.  In Galatians 3, we read that all who believe, Jew or Greek, are together God’s children by adoption.

Is Paul saying gender is irrelevant?  The purpose of the pairings in this verse is to show that distinctions are no longer relevant in the New Testament church.

In the church, women are baptized, just like men, upon believing the Gospel.  Male and female differences are part of the wonderful kindness and creativity of God.  The point is that our initiation into the church has nothing to do with these divisions.  One is included in the church if one has faith in Christ; they are excluded for not trusting Christ.

In the Christian Church, no questions of social status, gender, or rank have anything to do with acceptance in Christ.  Paul is teaching of the unity of all Galatian Christians in Christ Jesus.

Yet, some in Galatia were teaching otherwise.  They were teaching there was a difference between Jewish and gentile (non-Jewish) believers.  Paul wrote to correct the false teaching.

There’s only one way to reflect the unity of God—unity in Christ.  Unity in Christ comes only from faith in Christ.  You don’t have to become a Jew to become a Christian.  It is available to all through trust alone.  If you belong to Christ, you are Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3:29).  Christians are not divided by worldly divisions.  Unity in Christ abolishes all ethnic, material, and gender differences.

  1. What does the Bible say about men and women?

Both bear His image.  They are meant to be inter-dependent, to complement one another.  Women were made to help in ruling the earth.  Women are blessed with the privilege of bearing children—but due to the curse—only with much pain.

In Genesis 3, we read of our first parents’ sin.  They rebelled against God, and God cursed them.  He cursed them in the very roles they were created to fulfill.  The man’s work would now be cursed with difficulty and less productivity.  The woman’s experience of childbirth would now be full of pain.  The roles did not come from the fall; natural roles were perverted by the fall.  Our common pains are a reminder to us all of the curse of the fall.

The role of men is to initiate, to protect, and provide.  The role of women is to nourish, affirm, and accept the leadership of men.

It’s not that God hasn’t used women as leaders.  Our Bible tells us of a number of female leaders.  Most of the Bible is written by men, but God’s Word came to us by women as well.

Let’s be clear: Women are not second class citizens.  Women stayed with Jesus at the foot the cross to the end after the men fled.  Women are the first to show up at the tomb that Sunday morning.  Women are the first to witness the resurrection.

So should we then no longer refer to men and women?

No, Paul is teaching that gender is irrelevant only in terms of value and worth, and acceptance into the Kingdom of God.

  1. What does all this mean?

Some say that before the fall there was no hierarchy.  This isn’t taught by the Bible.  God was the #1 authority then and now.

In 1 Corinthians 11:7-9, we read that the woman is the glory of the man and came from man.  In 1 Timothy 2, Paul teaches that the priority of man in creation was significant.  The fall did not create hierarchy.  In Genesis 3:16, we see the effect of the fall on hierarchy, leading to man’s tyranny over the woman, and the woman’s desire to replace the man in authority.

Galatians 3:28 doesn’t teach that in Christ we lead a genderless, unisex life.  While there are abuses of authority, authority is a good thing.  It’s not eliminated by unity.  Authority, well used, is a blessing.  Good authority— in marriage, in the workplace, in the home, in the military – serves us well.

When the authority over us denies us what we want, then we see our real view of authority.  When our desires conflict with authority, we are tempted to please ourselves, not the authority.  This is precisely where Satan attacked Adam and Eve.  Satan led them to reject God’s authority.  In essence, she said, “A God who would deny me such pleasant fruit must not really love me.”

In our thinking, we often think that those in authority are greater.  Yet Christ portrayed Himself as a servant.  We praise Christ for His submission to the Father’s authority.  The nature of our hope is that one would submit oneself to a higher authority.  Submission is not inherently degrading—remember, Christ submitted.

  1. How does this matter?

In the local church, we see the beginning of this new way of living.  The events of Genesis 3 disturbed relationships.  The church presents a new reality—a new unity with our fellow believers—even those of the opposite gender.  We share the same Spirit within us—not Mr. or Ms. Holy Spirit—but One Holy Spirit.  We experience an uncanny closeness to folks we may not know well.  This is evidence of the Holy Spirit within all of us.

Should we have gender-specific ministry? 

The main men’s ministry at our church is the regular preaching of God’s Word.  The main ministry of women in the church at our church is the regular preaching of God’s Word.  And also baptism, the Lord’s Table, praying together, etc.  Men and women participate in discipling relationships, retreats, and small groups.

Some of these items are gender-specific—men discipling men, or women on retreats with women, and the like.  But most of our ministry isn’t gender-specific, because we all need the same thing—to learn more about Christ.  In this gender-war world, we have an island of peace in the church through unity in Christ.

The church is the place where God’s kingdom and rule is revealed to others.  We have to work at this kind of unity.  Satan attempts to steer us wrong with false unity.  The world wants unity by eliminating categories.  Paul teaches we are united with one another in Christ by faith.  We must be willing to expend energy to live out this unity.  It will take effort.  Think about who you talk to, meet with, and hang out with.  We covenant to work for one another’s good in the biblical church.

Gender is a gift of God—a portrait of the One whose image we bear.  We have one human race, one hope, one God, and one divine Savior.

 

 

 

 

America At A Crossroads: Race–How Should Christians Respond?

photo-1461838432805-dff34fe2d8cb
Standard

This was written in early July after many of the tragic events and shootings around America.  

After two weeks of brutal, violent and tragic scenes from Baton Rouge to Dallas to Falcon Heights, the social, cultural and spiritual divergence within America is no longer avoidable.

The festering tenseness in cities small and large following the deaths of two African-American men and eight white and African-American police officers serves to prod Christians to remember our biblical call and charge to showcase the Gospel in word and deed on social media and in our normal, routine lives (2 Cor. 5:18-20).

America is at a crossroads. And the response of the Christian community isn’t only a vital voice in the days ahead, but, above all, serves to either distinguish or degrade the simplicity of the eternal Gospel to God’s glory (1 Cor. 15:1-8).

As Christians, we would do well to mourn for the loss of those created in God’s image in each situation and fervently petition and pray for the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” to guard the hearts of all in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7), and for true justice and wisdom to rule the day. As a white male, it’s impossible for me to understand the African-American experience, but I can pray with them for peace and justice (Acts 27:21-25) and seek to understand. The command of the Lord to any state in Scripture (Romans 13) is to adjudicate with fairness and with integrity. As residents of this country, we must, by God’s grace, make certain this is the case in every area and facet.

Additionally, may we never forget that in this racism-filled world, individual Christians and local churches must not only be on the frontlines of racial resolution, but must truly personify it. The devil loves to fan the flames of every shade of racism and stoke its fires and then convince us that it’s justified. Explicit racism will never be eradicated until we acknowledge and eliminate implicit racism in ourselves, our families, and churches. Racial stereotyping can only thrive in the absence of personal relationship. The Gospel demands not only indifference toward racism and patriarchy, but intentional action toward sin-killing and grace-lavishing through linking arms.

What’s more, let us remember that to stereotype an individual based on race is to deny their personhood as a unique creation of God—the Imago Dei. May it not be among those who claim Jesus! Remember: The “neighbor” referenced in the parable of the Good Samaritan was a different race and lived in a different community as did those who followed Jesus (Luke 10:25-37). EMS workers don’t worry about racial target groups during emergencies. You can’t afford to worry about that when you are saving lives.

What about the police officers and their families? They’ve taken oaths to serve and protect us.  Now many are dead and many are recovering in the hospital.  Like all serving in authority, we’re commanded (1 Tim. 2:1-2) to pray for them as they strive to keep us safe and secure.

Here are 9 ways you can pray for the police officers, their families, and our nation’s response:

  1. To come to a saving knowledge of the Gospel truth (1 Tim. 2:4).
  1. Not to fear but to remember God is their refuge and to see the reality of the circumstances alongside the character of God (Psalm 46:1-3).
  1. To know that God’s presence and power bring security (Psalm 46:4-5).
  1. To depend on God to answer their prayers, for relief from distress, and for mercy (Psalm 4:1).
  1. To accept God’s truth by believing it, not rejecting it, and knowing it (Psalm 4:2-3).
  1. To obey God’s truth by not sinning in anger, obeying in matters of worship, and trusting in the Lord (Psalm 4:4-5).
  1. For officers’ families to trust in the goodness of God (Psalm 78:12-16).
  1. For the nation to cry out to God, wait on Him, and hope only in Him (Psalm 130).
  1. For all to have confidence in this God who hears prayers, reverence for this God who hates evil, and a joy toward this God who saves sinners (Psalm 5).

Ultimately, the truth is that racism is not a skin problem but a sin problem, and there is a solution. The biblical Gospel is a race-surpassing Gospel. It is the Good News for all people. Jesus died that we might be saved from our sins, including the sin of racism. As long as we classify it as a social problem, it won’t be fixed. It is a sin problem that grows out of a theology problem.

Certainly, the government can pass laws forbidding discrimination (and they should), but that doesn’t cure racism. It just drives it underground to be expressed in more subtle ways.

So, what can we do?

The solution lies within the church in the proclamation of the Gospel that delivers sinners from their natural-born and inherent sin since birth. It is as the church boldly proclaims the Scriptures that racism will begin to fall—one person at a time. But most importantly, a sinner will be saved from God’s wrath (John 3:35)!

Here are four very practical steps we can take in addition to the above:

  1. Repent of racism. Racism is a violation of the Gospel itself. The God-man, Jesus Christ, came to redeem His people, and this God has but one people and one church. All of us has been stained by the racism in our culture and country—every last one of us. We have bathed in it for years, years and years, so much so that when we look at people, we make snap judgments.
  1. For those who have been the recipient of racism—forgive. A bitter and angry spirit robs you of the joy of the Lord. Bitterness (unforgiveness) is the only sin that puts the person who has been harmed in jail, and lets the offender go free. As an act of the will enabled by God’s grace—forgive.
  1. Confront in love racism among Christians. There is a biblical precedence here. In Galatians 2, Peter came to Antioch to spend some time with the Gentile believers. He hung out with them—perhaps eating ham sandwiches—until some Jews came from Jerusalem. When they came, Peter separated himself from the Gentiles. His example led others Jewish believers like Barnabas to do the same thing (Gal. 2:13-14). Peter was rejecting and excluding some because they were not ethnic Jews, and Paul, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, called him out over it.

What would happen in the church if every time another professing believer told a racial joke, made a slur, or rejected another person because of their people group, another brother or sister confronted them in love?

  1. Pray for our churches to be more ethnically diverse. A church should be a little colony of heaven in this evil world. Our unity is most evident through our diversity. When we are centered around the Gospel, our diversity displays the glory of God. As Christians, we should not only allow diversity within the church, we should celebrate it as we look to our true union in Christ. If we welcome racial diversity in the church, but require adaptation to majority culture to be welcome, then we don’t reflect the kingdom of God. Human diversity isn’t a problem for the Gospel. The Gospel requires diversity for the full display of Jesus (Ephesians 2:11-22).

My prayer in these days is that Christians hold up high the banner of Christ—period, end of discussion. May we not just talk about how to solve these problems in beautiful rhetoric, blog posts, and coffeehouse discussions, but may we truly be living ambassadors of it—by God’s grace and for His glory and Gospel, all the while advancing and uniting His kingdom under His authority. The Gospel of the kingdom must be brought with love and mercy to every person regardless of their identity, status, race, and gender.

3 Marks of a Real Pastor

photo-1460804198264-011ca89eaa43
Standard

In this passage, there is a striking contrast between real pastors and the faithless ones—the impostors.

Three marks of a real pastor from 1 Corinthians 4:

  1. A cross-centered message

Servants are judged by whether they’re faithful to the message. Apostles were servants of Christ to spread the Christian faith. Ministers are stewards, not owners of the church, employed by God to reveal the secret things of God (1 Cor. 4:1). Above all else, a steward is to be faithful (1 Cor. 4:2). All Christians are stewards (1 Peter 4:10), but ministers are especially accountable to be faithful.

We Christians realize that this message isn’t going to be popular everywhere. Messages aren’t composed by results from polls, but the Gospel. The message of gaining forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ crucified and risen and returning to judge is offensive. Yet, we all have lived badly enough to need a Savior and this must be shared.

We’re called to make provincial judgments, but no human is our ultimate judge. The only judge that really matters is God. The Corinthians were judging according to human standards. Assure yourself of God’s verdict in Christ. You can’t live to please God if you live to please man.

The Corinthians were tempted to judge their teachers by their hair, accent, clothes, instead of their message. When affections are attached to a teacher on merits besides their message, it’s easy to follow them when they go beyond teaching the truth.

What do you have that you did not receive? What do we have to boast about more than the cross of Christ by which God has satisfied His love and mercy and His justice and holiness and displayed it to all the world?

A real minister has this at the center of His message!

2. A cross-centered life (1 Cor. 4:3)

Paul understood that he and the cross were foolishness in this world’s eyes. He knew he wasn’t to be judged by the world’s standards.

Do you think you’re a great person? Do you think your conscience is an imbalance in your self-esteem, something to be ignored? Then you’re not following Christ.

The message of the crucified Christ calls us to a different goal—what the world, who decided to crucify Christ, thinks is no longer wise. We’re not captivated by honor from those who rejected Jesus.  We have a different worldview. The world promises so much more than they deliver.

There is a better way. It may sound strange, but Christ’s death on the cross saves us (Isaiah 53:5-6). If the one whom we follow was stricken, crushed, and wounded, then we can’t be too surprised if some of this happens to us, especially to His ministers. Because we live in a way that this world rejects, true ministers of Christ are happy to be despised and rejected, if by their message, others are being saved. When the world persecuted Paul, he knew he wasn’t losing anything that he could take with him out of this world anyway.

The only way to follow Christ is to daily die to self-interest perceived in a worldly way. Live as Paul lived. Live a life that shows we care most about Christ.

Prosperity and worldliness often come together. Prosperity isn’t wrong, but dangerous. We are to live to show there are things that are worth more than this world’s prosperity. How can you show that Christ is worth more than the things of this world?

  1. Normally has cross-centered followers.

Paul really loved the Corinthians. He’s holding out his arms to them appealing to them to imitate him (1 Cor. 4:14-16). As Christians, we’re to be examples, especially those who are ministers. Ministers should not only be prayed for, loved, obeyed, and supported, but their example should also be followed.

Paul ordered the Corinthians to be humble (1 Cor. 4:18-19). It’s our Christian duty to be humble. How can you think to follow Him in His self-giving love, without seeing your concern about yourself shrink, and your concern about God and others grow?

Both gentleness and severity are parts of Christian love. Paul is a great example to us. We should be willing to be bold for Christ, to be misunderstood in order to be of service to others (1 Cor. 4:20-21).

If you’re wondering if you should be in pastoral ministry, realize this desire to see people changed by the Gospel of Christ—and even seeing some fruit in that, whether through evangelism or discipleship—is a normal part of the experience of those God calls into the ministry. It’s often called the external confirmation of that internal sense of calling. Does God seem to use you unusually as a change agent in others’ lives?

Your life is about to be intersected by God, either through His return, or through your death. How will that be for you? Will you be prepared with the truth of the cross, or will you be caught unprepared, living as if this world will last forever? And does these marks have life in your favorite minister?

6 Prayers of a Spiritual Fire-Caretaker

fire
Standard

The Indians of the American Northeast used the “longhouse” as the center of the tribal life. Extended families with all the aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews all lived together in one house.  It was the custom of the Indians to appoint a particular individual to the responsibility to be the fire-caretaker.

When the other Indians went out to hunt or gather, the fire-caretaker would remain within the longhouse and tend the fires.  When the Indians returned back to home, the fire was never extinguished.  There was someone always there to keep the home fire burning.

Elijah was like the fire-caretaker in an Indian longhouse, tending the flame of faith through prayer. God used him to reignite the faith of the people of Israel. Elijah was a man of prayer (James 5:16).

Prayer may not sound very exciting.  And many of us are willing to do many of the things Elijah does in this passage.

But are we ready to pray?

Prayer is so spiritual it cuts against the grain of natural inclination. Prayer is often the first thing that gets neglected. It is raw spirituality.

Yet there is no other way to receive the spiritual blessings of God: wisdom, God’s presence, conversions, and reformation. Where there is any movement of the Holy Spirit of God in the church, there’s prayer. Spiritual blessings come through prayer. If you want to see a demonstration of God’s power in your life, it will come through biblical prayer.

The event in this passage really was a prayer meeting, but if Elijah had “advertised” it that way, who would have come? No one but the fire-caretaker.

You must become one of the fire-caretaker if you want to stay warm with God. But how?

Six lessons about spiritual fire-caretakers:

1. Pray on the foundation of an offering for sin (1 Kings 18:24).

Why did Elijah pray for fire when what they really needed was rain? After all, God had promised Elijah He would send rain. Because he knew that before any other blessing from God, the people needed atonement for sin. (The punishment for idol worship, remember, was drought.) Only then could judgment be removed. First the sacrifice. Elijah knew about the holiness of God.

Those who know Christ bring a sacrifice for sin every time they pray. Praying in Christ’s name is an acknowledgement that we can only come into God’s presence because of Christ’s once-for-all, atoning, and sufficient sacrifice.

2. Pray in the given name of God (18:36).

Elijah prayed to the Lord of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. The controversy was over which God could answer prayer.  Obviously, it was not Baal, who was the false god. Elijah prayed to the true and living God, who had bound Himself to His people in a covenant. That’s why he could offer such a short, simple prayer addressed to God personally.

God has given us His name so that we know how to call upon Him. Any of the dozens of titles He’s given us is appropriate to use in prayer.

  1. Pray for the glory of God to be revealed among the nations (18:36)

Elijah was praying that God would glorify himself, the goal of God himself. This is “kingdom prayer” that intends to see the extension of the rule of God over the whole universe.

Prayer is God’s means of bringing grace to us and glory to himself. Much of our prayer is “emergency” prayer about what we are doing and thinking about right now.  Those are a good thing, but prayer can be so much more.

God loves to answer kingdom prayer.  In kingdom prayers we forget personal desires and pray for the glory of God. When Jesus says he will grant anything we ask in prayer, he’s talking about this kind of prayer (John 14:14).

4. Pray for the justification of the ministry of God’s Word (18:36b).

Is Elijah praying for his own glory here? No, he had been obeying God and was asking Him to vindicate him as a faithful servant and also the ministry of God’s word, that it might be known.

Pray as if your pastor’s ministry depended on it—because, in fact, it does. Behind every great preacher is a praying congregation.

5. Pray for super-natural conversions not just man-made “decisions” (18:37).

The reason Elijah is so fervent ( is because he’s praying for human souls. A fire-caretaker is not content to see the flame tended only within himself.

A congregation weak in evangelism is weak in evangelistic prayer, and a congregation strong in evangelism is strong in evangelistic prayer. Evangelistic prayer is “kingdom” prayer.

Pray specifically by name for those you know in need of Christ, and see if He doesn’t answer.

6. Keep on praying (18:42).

When Elijah was kneeling (scripture doesn’t say so) but he was praying. Six times there was no reply, but he was persistent.

How many times have you prayed and don’t seem to have received an answer?

What we learn from Elijah is to keep on praying until the prayers are answered. Prayer is the first thing, the second thing, the third thing necessary—pray, pray, pray.

That is: Being a fire-caretaker is a full-time job!

 

The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction (Part 4)? 10 Proofs It Happened!

photo-1453974336165-b5c58464f1ed
Standard

New to series? Check out part 1, part 2, and part 3

Even among more moderate or liberal scholars and pastors, there a number of agreed upon historical facts that pertain to the resurrection.

  • Jesus died, as did many of His day, on a Roman cross by crucifixion.
  • Jesus was buried in a tomb given by Joseph of Arimathea, probably not far from the place Jesus was killed.
  • The disciples were in a state of extreme emotional distress, depression, and despair – seeing their Lord now dead.
  • The tomb where Jesus was buried was found empty shortly after his burial.
  • These experiences with the risen Jesus completely and utterly changed the disciples into bold, fearless witnesses of His resurrection from the dead that eventually led to many to die for Christ.
  • No matter how you slice it, the Gospel message from the early stages of the church is Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, started in Jerusalem, and became the foundation of the church’s message.
  • Sunday, not the Sabbath of Saturday, became the day of worship (Resurrection Day) in the church’s remembrance and celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on that day.
  • James, Jesus’ half-brother and a believer in him at the time, was converted following an appearance of Christ’s resurrection.
  • Saul, a strong leader and persecutor of Christians from the Jewish side, was converted to Christianity following an appearance of the risen Christ.

 

Any discussion of the resurrection must include these facts.

What’s more, it also has to be noted that no one saw the actual resurrection of Jesus.  The early witnesses and Gospels make no such claim.  The preaching and subsequent belief in the resurrection are founded on the truth that He died, was buried, the tomb was found to be empty, and the disciples had some sort of life-altering experience that totally convinced them that Jesus had, indeed, bodily / physically come back from the grave.

What other evidence is there?

  1. The discarded grave clothes and empty tomb. Christianity could have been stopped if a body had been brought forth.  From all historical accounts in and outside the Bible, no one was able to do so.  The disciples couldn’t have presented the resurrection in Jerusalem had the tomb not been empty.  It was too close to prove otherwise if this wasn’t truth.

2. Women were the first at the empty tomb. Women in the first century weren’t even allowed to be witnesses in a court of law.  They were said to be unreliable (not true, but that was the thought).  It is amazing, then, isn’t that the Bible says the women were the first to the tomb (Mark 16:1-8)?  Given this fact, it is astonishing that the Bible records that women saw the risen Jesus first.  I mean, if the marketing strategy of the early church was to prove Jesus came back, they shouldn’t have used women, given the context and culture, as their first witnesses.  If the resurrection is false, then it is incredibly crazy that women be the first witnesses.  Yet, the women were the first to see the risen Christ and it was recorded as such.

3. Natural theories can’t explain the resurrection. As we saw yesterday in part 3, the natural theories didn’t hold water after a brief analysis. Those who hold these views are picky about what biblical evidence they use to bolster their claims.  Selective evidence never leads to true conclusions.

4. It is not likely there was a huge mass hallucination. Hallucinations, by definition, are internal, independent, and subjective experiences of the mind for each person.  They occur personally and individually, not as a group experience, as some have suggested.

  1. The start of the disciples’ faith and the radical change afterwards. Again, something happened that made the disciples believe they had a true encounter with the risen Jesus.  Don’t discount this.  They went from fearful disciples hiding in a room to bold witnesses of this resurrection they believed in. Something happened that caused Jesus’ followers to believe that they had genuine encounters with the risen Lord.  All the disciples, save John, died for this experience.  Do people die for lies? Yes, all the time.  Yet, thinking it is the truth, they won’t die for what they know is a lie.

6. Worship got change from Saturday to Sunday. For hundreds of years, literally, the Jews observed their weekly day of worship on the Sabbath or Saturday.  It was a day to keep and honor the as sacred and special to the Lord alone.   Yet, for the early church until today, this changed.  Why?  Because of the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

7. The failure those after Jesus’ death to refute the message of the empty tomb with a body. It is an unquestionable fact of history that those who hated and killed Jesus couldn’t contradict His resurrection as proclaimed by the disciples.  Simply put: All they had to do was produce a body.  That would have ended it all right there.  But there was no body to produce!

8. Post-resurrection appearances. The NT records at least 13 different appearances by the risen Lord:  Matthew 28; Luke 24; John 20-21; Acts 1; I Corinthians 15; Revelation 1.  This is important because the records show that Jesus appeared at different times and to different people.   Some of these were to individuals and others to groups.  The appearances lasted for 40 days and came to a quick end in Acts 1:4-11 with Jesus’ ascension. In short, no other alternative exists to explain this away.

9. The spiritual conversion of two unbelieving skeptics—Paul (Saul) and James. John 7:5 strongly says that James, who was Jesus’ half-brother, was an unbeliever in Jesus as Messiah prior to His death.  What changed to make James one who thought his brother was crazy (Mark 3:21) to one who freely gave his life for the Gospel? He was killed for his faith in his brother Jesus as the risen Christ.

Saul was a violent persecutor of the church (Acts 7:58; 8:1-3; 9:1-2).  However, like James, something happened in his life that changed him from a killer of Christ’s followers to a missionary for Christ and the Gospel.  Saul’s / Paul’s own testimony confirms that he saw the resurrected Christ (Acts 9:3-6; 22:6-10; 26:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:8; Galatians 1:15-16).  Saul wasn’t open to the Gospel. He had to be blinded and knocked off a horse.  Then, ultimately, it took the resurrected Lord to convince him that Jesus was indeed the Christ.

  1. Reliable eyewitness documents recording the events.  Let’s be clear: The New Testament is the best documented and authenticated document from ancient history.  No serious student of history or textual critic will deny this.  We have more than 6,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament alone.  These are shorter in time to the events of the resurrection and more reliable than other work of ancient history.  Coupled with the eyewitness testimonies from the authors themselves, no other belief or religion can hold any water to what Christians have in the New Testament.

Large volumes have been written on this subject.  So much more can be said here.  But each of these arguments serves to present an objective, historically provable case of Jesus’ bodily resurrection.

When taken in step with a personal experience of Jesus as the living Lord, these arguments, though brief in nature, offer plenty of evidence to confirm that Jesus physically rose from the dead by the almighty hand of God.

 

 

The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction? Part 3

photo-1453974336165-b5c58464f1ed
Standard

Read Part 1 and Part 2!

Modern ideas attempt to explain the bodily resurrection of Jesus apart from any supernatural influence.  There are several worth mentioning below.  I will give a brief overview of each and wrap up the bodily evidence of Jesus’ resurrection tomorrow.

  • Spirit Creature. Held by modern-day Jehovah’s Witnesses, this view teaches that Jesus was created by God as the archangel Michael.  While on earth, he was only a man.  Therefore, Jesus wasn’t raised bodily as orthodox Christianity teaches, but He returned from the dead in a spirit form of sorts.  After His death on the cross, God restored Jesus in a spiritual form only.
  • The lie-for-profit. This view says that resurrection was possibly the supreme religious prank ever attempted and was achieved by His disciples. Jesus’ death by on the cross was a huge disappointment.  Everyone thought Jesus would lead Israel out of Roman bondage.  So, defeated and downcast, the disciples, the view says, saw a way to turn a profit.  They preached that Jesus, indeed, had risen, built a huge following, and profited from the resources they collected from the people who believed their lie.
  •   Hallucinogen.  This view says that Jesus was a master-hypnotist. Somehow Jesus “planted” a prearranged cue to “go off” after his death so the disciples would “see” him alive.  Or, mass drugs were taken and people “tripped out” on what they saw.
  • Swoon. Jesus didn’t actually die, this view says, but he was almost dead and fainted.  After awakening in the dark and cool tomb, Jesus unwrapped himself and took off his grave clothes.  He then stacked them up, move the big stone, and sealed the entrance of the tomb. Still medically almost dead, that is, bruised, bleeding, battered, and beaten, Jesus emerged from the tomb and convinced His followers that He had risen from the dead.
  • Legend. States that the stories of Jesus were like a big fish story—ever-growing but never true.  Jesus’ disciples made up a great story to solidify the truths they learned – but he never came out.
  • The stolen-body. This is the earliest idea that tried to explain away the resurrection. Notice Matthew 28:11-15.

While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

This view says that Jesus’ body was stolen either by the Romans, the Jewish leaders stolen by the Jewish leaders, the Romans, or  someone else.

  • Mistaken Tomb and Mistaken Identity.  The first ones to the tomb simply went to the wrong tomb.  They then made the outrageous claim, this view says, that Jesus had risen from the dead. Finding the wrong tomb empty, they erroneously concluded that Jesus had risen from the dead.   Or maybe the first to the tomb ran into a caretaker of the tomb.  It was still early in the morning, so, perhaps, they didn’t see clearly and thought it was Jesus.

There are countless other theories used to explain away the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  As we will see tomorrow, these simply don’t hold historical, logical, or biblical ways.

The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction? Part 2

photo-1453974336165-b5c58464f1ed
Standard

Part 1

Some people may feel very contemporary in their unbelief. For some, Easter is no more than a cultural ritual. Resurrection seems far removed.  Many, however, have greeted each other on Easter with the words, “He is risen,” and meant them.

When we approach the issue of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, we are confronted with three basic options.

  • Option 1: Jesus’ resurrection is fake—a great con. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, as He said He would.  What’s more, some tricky folks, probably the disciples, made up a lie and pulled off one of the best pranks, if not the greatest prank, of all time.
  • Option 2: Jesus’ resurrection is fantasy—early folklore. The early church made Jesus into someone He really wasn’t.  Like the fish in the fish story that gets bigger as each person tells how big it was, the resurrection story got embellished more and more over time.  Christians made up that God himself died on a cross for our sins and rose from the dead some three days later.  Although none of these events actually occurred, the accounts about Jesus endure to inspire wonder and to live nobler, worry-free lives today.
  • Option 3: Jesus’ resurrection is fact—the ultimate happening of history. The New Testament actually and accurately chronicles the historical and supernatural resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.  His resurrection was bodily and permanent (1 Cor. 15).

So here are the viable options.  There really are no others. And from Luke 24:1-12, notice the responses that various people have to it.

  1. The disciples (24:10-11)

These are the ones to whom the women spoke, but they didn’t believe the women.  The connotation in the Greek is that they thought the women were delirious. Perhaps they had never considered there would be an immediate bodily resurrection, though Jesus had clearly taught it.

Their lack of expectation of the resurrection is one argument for its historicity. These disciples were far from plotting how to fabricate the resurrection.  It also argues for Luke’s reliability.

The people he was writing about were by that time leaders of the church.  If the disciples were making this story up, they wouldn’t have described themselves as Luke does here.  The reaction they would have made up might have been one of more knowing acceptance, certainly not dismissal.

No, they did not believe. They may have been followers of Jesus, but they were not perfect ones.  Skepticism is not something new—the disciples were first skeptics.  Only persuasion, argument, and experience through the power of the Holy Spirit could convince them. Only so has Christianity always spread.

  1. Peter (24:12)

Peter reacts a bit differently. He was slower to dismiss this prophecy of Jesus. He had experienced personally the accuracy of Jesus’ predictions; Jesus had predicted Peter would deny Him three times, and indeed he did (Luke 22:34, 61).

Peter’s reaction is to investigate for himself.  He saw the linen and went away wondering what had happened. He was still confused and puzzled.

If you’re among Christians reading this and feel confused, that’s not unusual. But the church exists today because Jesus taught that He was raised bodily from the dead, and because He was.  He only speaks the truth, and His promises are always fulfilled.

Peter did ultimately come to believe, as we are told later in the New Testament, and he became a main leader of the church (see 1 Peter and 2 Peter).Luke wouldn’t have recorded the uncertainty of Peter—by now a great church leader—if it were not true.

Let’s encourage each other to believe the truth of God’s word and His promises.  Let us acknowledge to one another what God has done in our lives and give thanks for it.

  1. The women (24:1-11)

Notice how central the women are in this account. Luke gives particular prominence to Jesus’ women followers. It was these very women who had taken the spices to the tomb in the early dawn of the first day of the week. They were surprised to find the stone rolled away, but what they didn’t find surprised them even more.

Jesus’ body wasn’t there.  Then they remembered Jesus’ words.  When the resurrection happens so many other things about Jesus’ teaching suddenly make sense.

They told the disciples all these things.  They became the first human testifiers to the resurrection.  We aren’t told what the women said, but the disciples wouldn’t have dismissed reports of an empty tomb as delirium.  They must have spoken of the resurrection.

More evidence for the fact of the resurrection: The women weren’t expecting it either.  They took spices because what they were expecting to find was a dead body.  Also, from this point on, these Jews changed their day of worship to the first day of the week.  Something significant must have happened to change their religious practice, which is thought to be the most conservative aspect of any culture.

The tomb itself is evidence.  It was empty and known to be empty.

So where was the body?  Did the Jewish leaders have it?  No, they were the ones who had asked for the Roman guard so the disciples couldn’t steal it.

The disciples?  No, they were not expecting a resurrection, and in any case they would not have been strong enough to overpower a Roman guard.

Could the body have just walked out?  All of Christianity is predicated on just that.

It is unlikely that Luke would have made up as story where the first witnesses to this extraordinary event were women.  Among Jews at that time, the testimony of women wouldn’t even have been admitted in court.

But when you read the Bible, you realize that God delights in doing things that make it clear He is at work.  He exalts the humble.

Pray you would cherish all the members of your church and try to outdo one another in honoring each other. May we never be characterized by looking at each other from a worldly perspective.

  1. The angels (24:4-7)

These two angels are significant.  God’s works, without His words, may unsettle us but won’t enlighten us.

When the angels appear, the women are startled.  They ask the women a great question: Why do you seek the living among the dead?  What a picture of our lives sometimes, looking for life and meaning among lifeless things, apart from God.

Then they say it: He is not here.  He is risen. They refer to Jesus’ own teaching. Surely they were bringing to light Jesus’ own teaching; they had no new revelation. This is the pattern. God acts; then He interprets His acts by His messengers.

Experience without explanation is not enough.  Do you give yourself to study the truth and to know it? How about us as a church?  Do we take advantage of the sermons, Bible studies, Christian books? These are ways you have the opportunity to be reminded of God’s teaching.

  1. Jesus (24:6-8)

Jesus is the focus of this passage.  Part of Jesus’ earlier teaching was just this: that He would be killed and that He would be raised again from the dead on the third day (Luke 9:22, 18:31-33). (Friday was the first day, Saturday the second, and Sunday the third.)

Jesus, the one who had never sinned, bore on the cross God’s just punishment for the sins of everyone who would come to repent, believe, and trust in Him. He died for us and was raised to life that we might have new life in Him.

Every sermon in the book of Acts seems to be about the resurrection.  It was a display that Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf was accepted by God.  He was raised to life for our justification.  Understanding and really believing this is what it means to be saved.  What Jesus had taught He would do, He did.

Jesus’ resurrection was a unique event. No one had ever come back from the dead.  But Jesus did.  That’s why we want to listen—He, above all others, shows that this world doesn’t contain all we should hope for.  Only He can bring new life.

What do you make of Jesus’ teaching about His death and resurrection, and what do you make of the resurrection itself?  How do you explain it?

It has been said that the resurrection is either infinitely more than a beautiful story, or it is infinitely less.  Do you see the importance of this?  Christians, do you see how it shows the completeness of God’s victory?  Death has been swallowed up in victory.

Therefore, stand firm because you know that your labor for the Lord is not in vain.  The resurrection is the anchor of our hope.

Believing this changes our lives eternally.  This is what we talk about at funerals. We know that this life is not all there is—we know the one who went into the grave and came out the other side.  The women found that faith; so did Peter, the disciples, and hundreds of others.

Have you?  Has this faith changed your life?  

It can.  It truly can.

The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction? Part 1

photo-1453974336165-b5c58464f1ed
Standard

First of five installments leading up to Easter about whether the resurrection is true.  

During the fall semester of my senior year, I, like every communication major, had to give a “senior capstone” speech.  The speech was to be persuasive in nature and be upwards of 25-30 minutes.  After coming to dead end after dead end, I came to my topic: The resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It was ambitious, challenging, and controversial—especially at a in-name-only “Christian” campus.

I don’t remember much about the speech, but I remember a conversation with an underclassmen a day or so after.  The young man was an atheist, or, perhaps, at least an agnostic.  We discussed the finer and weaker points of my speech.  And then a question popped into my mind:

What is the bottom-line when it comes to Christianity? 

He quickly responded and said:

Darin, that’s a no-brainer.  It is what you gave your speech on.  It’s without a doubt the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

He then quickly said:

If the resurrection is true as you claim the Bible says it is, then everything else makes sense.  First, there is one and only one God.  Second, Jesus is God.  Third, the Bible is true.  Fourth, there is an afterlife and heaven and hell are really real.  And, finally, what you do with Jesus does really matter!

Bingo! This underclassmen was spot on.  He had hit “the nail on the head.”

Indeed, biblical and orthodox Christianity stands tall or falls insanely short on the historical, physical, and bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  The formula goes something like this:

No resurrection—no Christianity.

In 1 Corinthians 15:17. Paul plainly writes,

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

So, the great question this Easter season—and for all time—is this:

Is the resurrection fact or fiction?

Did it happen or did it not? Was it real or just a big symbol like the McDonald’s “M” is to burgers lovers everywhere?

Over the next five installments this week, I will address the:

  • A key Gospel account to set the frame for the other areas;
  • The choices for the resurrection;
  • Common alternative explanations;
  • Why the bodily resurrection of Christ is our only option; and,
  • 9 practical benefits of the resurrection (among, literally, thousands)

I pray that you will conclude with the massive internal and external evidence that “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  I pray that you will discover the witnesses to the resurrection aren’t shaky.  They are rock solid!

Gospel Account: Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back–it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Two of the women mentioned here—Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus—were at the cross (Mark 15:40) also see where Jesus is buried (15:47).  When the Sabbath was complete, they brought spices to aniont the body of Jesus.  For these God-fearing women, there was no doubt as to the precise location where Jesus was buried. They wanted to provide one last act of devotion by bringing perfumes and such to Jesus’ body.

No doubt, this would have been a Sunday morning (16:2).  John 20:1 states that:

 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.

The women were greatly and deeply concerned about how they would get to Jesus’ body (16:3).  16:4 says of the stone in front of the tomb, according to the different translations of the Greek word megas, was “large,” “great,” or “extremely large.”

Yet, when the women got to the tomb, to their surprise the stone had been rolled away. The surprise and mystery got even bigger when they saw a young man—an angel—sitting on the right side (16:5).  How do we know it was an angel? Because they were “shocked” and “alarmed.”  Wonder, distress, and astonishment filled their souls. Interestingly, the same Greek word for “alarmed” is used to detail the heavenly anguish Jesus experienced in the garden (Mark 14:33).

Keenly aware of their predicament and surprise, the angel seeks to assure and calm these by telling them the greatest surprise of all: Jesus is not here—He is alive (Mark 16:6).

The evidence is irrefutable.  The tomb is vacant!

Now the women had a new assignment.  There was no need to anoint a dead body that was no longer there.  It was time to start proclaiming the Gospel good news of a risen Lord and Savior who had left the tomb!

The angel instructs them to begin with those who had abandoned and denied Him (16:7). What a word of forgiveness, grace, hope, and promise.  What a pledge for a new beginning from the very place where they first began to walk with Him.  Peter would especially be grateful for this word!

Stunned beyond measure, the women “went out and fled from the tomb” (16:8).  They were overcome with “trembling and astonishment.”  And, “they said nothing to anyone (at least initially), for they were afraid”.

Their reaction isn’t what we’d would expect, is it? After this brief resurrection account, the Mark’s account comes to an end—and, like all Mark’s sprinter-like writing, a sudden one at that.

(Note: Mark 16:9-20 aren’t found in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.  Bu there is nothing in them inconsistent with the Scriptures.)

Mark’s sudden and quick ending was what he wanted.  It makes distinct that the disciples of Jesus were stunned by all of this.  Frankly, they didn’t expect the resurrection.  And, honestly, they didn’t know how to respond—at least in the beginning.

The resurrection is when all heaven broke loose. Christ’s resurrection: Until it has been believed, a man is not Christian. Until it has been proclaimed, the gospel has not been preached.

How would they respond to all of this?  Check out the other Gospels–Matthew, Luke, and John–and the book of Acts to see!

How will you?

What If You lost Everything?

photo-1445299370299-fba06c02df22
Standard

Suffering is an inescapable part of our world.  It draws our attention completely inward.

But how do we deal with it?  We want to make sense of it.  We live in a cursed time.  God made the world, but He allowed rebellion (sin), which affected creation and our lives.  All of us rebelled against Him.  Therefore, the world is marked by suffering.

Five questions from Job’s experience will help us answer how we deal with suffering:

  1. Depression – Was Job sinning (3:1-10)?

Job was cursing God’s work by denouncing his birthday.  What do you do when your loved ones are depressed?  We should love them, pray for them to turn outward from themselves to others, and upward to God, and to not give up.  Job wasn’t sinning by thinking he shouldn’t have been born, but if that was his only conclusion, then he was sinning.

Suicide is a sin.  And one can be a Christian and still commit suicide.  We aren’t saved by the ability to repent of every known sin.  Rather, we’re saved by Christ’s fully sufficient death on the cross, then our prayer in faith of repentance, and by receiving the salvation that God gives us.

Is sadness and depression a sin?  It depends if you adopt it as a worldview.  Just the aptitude in and of itself may not be unless you’re condemning, correcting God, and not trusting Him.

  1. Prayer – Should we vent to God?

Tell God your struggles, but don’t conclude that He is wrong.  Confess even thinking that God may be wrong.

And don’t use this passage as an excuse to casually vent and complain to God.  We should go to God with awe, reverence, and respect and still with honesty.  Thank Him, praise Him, and confess.  We pray as we want to be, even as we confess what we are. Prayer should focus on God, His will, plans, not just ourselves and our bodies.

  1. Death – Does Job have a correct understanding?

You can see that Job is trusting God because he’s questioning.  Job is longing for death, but he doesn’t commit suicide.  He trusts God.  He thinks of death as an escape from his trials.  That is correct—earthly trials are ended.  Is death distant from you?  The final issue is not what others or even you think of yourself, but what God thinks of you.

You can secure God’s good opinion of you even today.  Christ became a man, lived a perfect life, then died on the cross, taking God’s just and good wrath for all of the sins we’ve committed.  God raised Him from the dead to vindicate Jesus’ claims.  If we repent and trust ourselves to Christ, we can have complete forgiveness and restoration with Him.

All of our worldly successes and fame will end.  Even our families are not permanent.  Today’s opportunities won’t be there in ten years.

Consider carefully the witnessing opportunities at work this week.  Do you love your co-workers?  Then share the Gospel with them.  Indulge in a little social awkwardness for eternal spiritual bliss and the glory of God.

  1. Suffering – What about the innocent suffering (3:20-23)?

Why would God give life to anyone He was going to make miserable?  Do you feel hedged in by difficulties?

Christian, continue not because the Bible answers all our questions, but it reveals truth to us about a God who is sovereign.  There is a good God who we can trust entirely.  We see the character of the One who is calling us to hold His hand in the dark times.

Here we also see that families are opportunities for pain.  Is the answer to stop loving?  No, trust in God through the pain.  Is there truly innocent suffering?  Yes, once – Jesus Christ on the cross (Romans 3:23).

God would be right to punish all of us, and He has punished none of us as fully as our sins deserve. What about the apparently innocent like Job?  As the man born blind in John 9:3, God’s glory will be displayed.  Life is about more than just us.  Our strength is in God.  This is how Job, David, Jeremiah, and Paul endured unjust suffering.

  1. Fear – Can we fear God and other things (3:24-26)?

Yes.  We tend to think other things are worthy of our fear and allegiance.  That is partly wise, but God alone must be our chief fear.  God is sovereign over every detail of our lives, just like in Job’s.

How does you know if God is your chief fear?  See Galatians 5. Life is typified by works of the flesh or fruits of the Spirit.  When God convicts you of your sin, whose side do you take?  God’s or your sins’?  Don’t try to figure this out alone. Join a church and establish honest, long lasting relationships.

Everyone experiences suffering, but few understand it.  Despair is suffering without meaning.  There was meaning to Job’s suffering.   Jesus was a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.  He was troubled in His heart, but it was for us.  In this world, you will have trouble.

Job was weary; Jesus got tired, but not of doing good.

Job longed for death; Jesus accepted the cup though He longed for it not, He wanted God’s will.

Job empathized with captives; Jesus became one for us – led to the cross and delivered to death, but death couldn’t hold Him.

Job knew sighs, groans.  Jesus groaned on the cross.

In all of this, Christ suffered and then entered into glory.