Lesson 5: Christ Is Risen

From my new book, Lord of AllClick here to buy the book and Bible study so you can use it devotionally or work through it with a small group of Christian brothers and sisters… or to even give away to someone who desires to learn more about Jesus.


No Easter?

In his book, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection, Christian philosopher and theologian, William Lane Craig, recounts a conversation he once had with a former student of his.

“There ain’t gonna be no Easter this year,” the student remarked to Craig. “What’s that?” Craig asked, just to make sure he heard his student correctly. The student repeated the same line, “There ain’t gonna be no Easter this year.” “And why is that?” Craig asked. “Because they found the body,” the student replied.

Craig commented on this exchange by saying,

“Despite his irreverent humor, my friend displayed a measure of insight often not shared by modern theologians.”

Craig’s student understood that the Christian claim is not that Jesus was “resurrected” figuratively or metaphorically in the hearts of his followers, but that he was raised bodily from the dead. And if his actual body had been found, there would have been no resurrection from the dead. Nothing to celebrate. No Easter.

This is the Apostle Paul’s testimony in our Scripture from 1 Corinthians 15.

Various and Spurious Denials

Throughout my ministry, I have observed a variety of ways the resurrection of Jesus has been denied, sadly sometimes, even from those who profess faith in Christ.

One of the earliest denials of Jesus’ resurrection goes back to the New Testament itself. It is what’s called, the “Conspiracy Theory.” In Matthew’s Gospel we find the Jews explaining away the resurrection. There we discover the chief priests bribing the guards who were stationed at Jesus’ tomb. In Matthew 28:11-15, we read,

When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

Other ways it has been denied has been to say that everything that happened can be explained naturally, not supernaturally. Some say Jesus didn’t really die, but that he took medicine to make him appear to be dead. Then, when he was placed in the tomb, he woke up and went on his way. Others say the disciples went to the wrong tomb. If you kept up with the Jesus Seminar in the early 90s, you may remember that their conclusion was,

“After the crucifixion, Jesus’ corpse was probably laid in a shallow grave, barely covered with dirt, and subsequently eaten by wild dogs.”

Finally, there’s even one philosopher who suggested that Jesus had a long-lost twin brother who came to town and fooled all the disciples.

As you can tell from just these examples, there are great lengths people will go to in order to avoid dealing with the risen Lord.

The examples just mentioned represent complete rejections of the bodily resurrection of Jesus by unbelievers, or perhaps those on the fringe of Christianity.

The Problem in the Church

The problem inside the church, however, is another way in which the resurrection of Jesus is denied. It’s a subtle form we have to pay close attention to or else it may sneak by us. It can best be illustrated by the sentiment of one theologian who wrote in a newspaper column,

“If the bones of Jesus Christ were found tomorrow, it would make no great difference to me. I would go on going to church as would a majority of Christians.”

For this particular theologian, the important thing is not what happened to the body of Jesus, but what happened to the spirits of the apostles. A similar view was raised a number of years ago in a Methodist newspaper. The author couldn’t understand what the big deal was concerning whether or not Jesus was actually, bodily, raised from the dead. “The important thing is that we come together like the early church and love one another,” he claimed. I had a classmate in seminary once tell me the same thing.

Of course, that response ignores the issue of “why” the early disciples came together and loved one another in the first place. Perhaps we should take them at their word when they tell us they actually saw the body of the risen Lord. In our Scripture from 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul makes clear that whether or not Jesus really came back from the grave, is a very big deal.

If Christ is Dead

Paul is very logical in his response to doubts about the actual (bodily) resurrection of Jesus. Paul begins in verses 13-14,

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

Paul was smart enough to know that if Christ was still in the tomb, then he was still dead. And if Christ is dead, then the Christian message is a useless lie, a religion that declares a lot of things that just aren’t true. If Christ is dead, then the Christian faith is futile.

He continues in verses 17-19,

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

In other words, if Christ is not risen from the dead, then there’s nothing behind the faith we proclaim. It’s powerless. There’s no Spirit of Christ who dwells in you. All that talk about the forgiveness of your sins is worthless. There’s no use talking about salvation. God has not honored Christ’s words, life, or death.

If Jesus remains dead, then the death of Jesus was just one of thousands of deaths on Roman crosses. Tragic perhaps, but nothing more.

And if Christ is dead, Paul says, then those of us who believe in him now “are of all people most to be pitied.” We’re no better off than the person who is dying of an incurable disease who puts all their eggs in the power of positive thinking.

But Christ is Risen

But the good news, Paul declares, is that “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead (verse 20).” That’s the greatest fact in all of history! That’s the fact that changes everything and everyone who believes and trusts it and gives their very lives to it.

All we have to do is look at Paul himself. As Saul of Tarsus, he was a living nightmare to the early Christians. But then he personally encountered the risen Christ. Paul went from one of the greatest enemies of the Christian faith to one of its greatest missionaries.

He was dramatically transformed from an intolerant, bitter, and proud persecutor of the church to a humble servant of the Lord Jesus. Not only did his relationship with Christ change, but so did his relationship with followers of Christ. He came to love them, helped them grow in their faith, and spent his life making more of them.

Was this radical change in Paul’s life the result of nothing more than a psychological warm feeling or was it something more? Paul tells us over and over again that this change was the result of meeting the risen and living Christ! He was so convinced of this that he gave his life as a martyr for his faith in Jesus.

What was true of Paul’s life was true for all the disciples. They went from frightened lambs to bold lions of the faith, traveling the Roman Empire, bearing witness to the risen Christ. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only things that makes sense of this change in their lives.

Our heavenly Father vindicated our Lord Jesus by raising him from the dead. The resurrection revealed that death was not the winner, for Christ defeated even death itself. It was this belief in the resurrection that enabled the disciples to proclaim their crucified Lord as God’s Messiah.

If they didn’t really meet the risen Christ – if they didn’t actually believe he was raised from the dead, is it likely they each would have kept up their delusion or charade, all the way to their own persecutions, and ultimately, their deaths? One historian commented that if the disciples didn’t truly believe Jesus was raised from the dead, then the Christian faith would be nothing more than a dead folk religion of the first century.

He Can Transform Us, Too

But he lives! And just as the disciples believed, and just as our hymn proclaims, “We serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today.”

The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that those of us who live two thousand years after the fact can still be in a relationship with him today. It means he’s not dead, but alive! The same risen Christ who transformed Paul and the other disciples can transform us today.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ means we can have hope in the midst of trials, suffering, sorrow, despair, and pain.

A figurative, metaphorical resurrection can do none of that.

Alister McGrath tells the story that in Soviet Russia, right after the Communist Revolution in 1917, a government official was tasked with crushing the spirits of the remaining Christians and, ultimately, ridding their country of Christianity altogether.

So, he gathered the people of a particular town so he could discredit and disprove Christianity using all the clever arguments he could muster. He ranted for hours as he sought to show the people just how ridiculous their faith in Christ was.

After he finished, feeling quite satisfied he had done his job well, he offered the platform to anyone who dared to respond to him. A young priest took him up on his offer and came forward. The official told the priest he had two minutes. “I won’t need that long,” the priest replied.

And in a very meek and humble way, the priest approached the podium. After looking at the people for just a few seconds, the priest threw his hands high into the air and shouted, “Christ is risen!”

To which the people responded as one, “Christ is risen indeed!”

And so he is!

Thanks be to God.


Bible Study (Each chapter in the book is followed by an in-depth Bible study)

Lesson 4: For God So Loved

From my new book, Lord of AllClick here to buy the book and Bible study so you can use it devotionally or work through it with a small group of Christian brothers and sisters… or to even give away to someone who desires to learn more about Jesus.


Jesus and Nicodemus

Our Scripture comes right at the end of a conversation between Jesus and a man called, Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a great Jewish leader, yet he sensed something in or about Jesus that led him to come and speak with Jesus.

But because of his reputation, and the fact that Jesus was not very popular among the Jewish leaders, Nicodemus came at night. It was there and then Jesus taught Nicodemus the truth about how a person must be saved, or redeemed… brought into a right relationship with God.

Jesus even scolded Nicodemus for not already knowing this since he was a great leader of the Jewish people.

Moses and the Snake

As Jesus finished up his lesson to Nicodemus, he referred to an event in Jewish history that Nicodemus would have known well. Referencing Numbers 21:4-9, Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:14-15,

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

It is an interesting story, but the short version is this: after God graciously and lovingly rescued his people from bondage in Egypt, they began complaining. They started speaking against God and Moses, suggesting they had been brought out into the wilderness only to die.

Therefore, God sent poisonous snakes among them, and the snakes began to bite the people. Many died. As you can imagine, this got the people’s attention, and they began repenting for speaking against God and Moses and pleaded for deliverance and healing from the snakes.

Thus, God told Moses to make a snake, put it on a pole, and then lift it high above the people. And so, Moses did just that. He made a bronze snake, put it on the end of a pole, and when the people looked with faith to the image of the snake lifted up, they were physically healed.

After retelling the story, the last point Jesus made to Nicodemus was this: just as Moses lifted up the snake, Jesus himself would be lifted up. By “lifted up” Jesus was referring to his death on the Cross to be sure, but also his resurrection, and ascension into heaven.

And Jesus added that everyone who looks to him – trustingly believing in him – will have eternal life.

The Bible’s Most Popular Verse

That brings us to the most widely known verse in all the Bible, John 3:16,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 is the most succinct summary of the Gospel in all the Bible. In one verse John tells us God gave his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to live, teach, heal, perform miracles, but ultimately, to die on the Cross.

By doing so, those who look to him in faith, as the Israelites looked to the bronze snake, would be forgiven and delivered from the guilt and power of sin. They would be reclaimed and reconciled to a right and eternal relationship with God. And they would be empowered to live the lives for which they were created.

The Front Door

John declares to us in this beautiful verse that we must reach out to God with our hearts and minds to receive this free gift of eternal life.

John 1:12 says,

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…

We receive Christ by placing our faith in him. Trusting belief. This is more than mere head knowledge or vague acknowledgement. It is to give our very lives to him. To give him ourselves. To be sure, it involves trust, repentance, submission, commitment, obedience, and following him.

But the front door is faith. We must enter through that front door and say, “Yes Lord, thank you. I believe.” Then, what follows, is a life of getting to know him better – following him wherever he may lead. It means desiring to become more and more like him. It means telling others about him, even as we serve them, along our journey through this world.

According to John, those who do respond in faith in this way receive eternal life. Those who do not respond in faith, do not receive eternal life. John says they stand condemned already because they prefer darkness instead of the light that Christ brings into the world (John 3:18, 36).

God’s Love

Now, if you have been paying attention up to this point, perhaps you noticed I left out the central, governing motivation of all that God did through Jesus on our behalf.

John tells us that, “God so loved.”

That phrase, “so loved” means, God loved “in this way,” which involves everything mentioned so far about Jesus being “lifted up” on our behalf.

And please notice, John says God so loved the world. Not just the Jews, but the Gentiles too, which is a way of saying, everyone. God is not only the covenant God of Israel. He is the God of all. He sent Jesus for all. That is why John said, “everyone who believes” and not just the Jews.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:12-13,

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Emphases mine)

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

And this is because, “God so loved.” God’s love expressed in this way, John reminds us in his first epistle, flows from the fact that God is love. It is who God is.

But here is where we need to be careful. We must not go to movies and music, or Hollywood and Hallmark, to get our definition of love and then read Scripture through that lens. Instead, we first go to Scripture to learn what love is and then look to see how worldly views compare with what the Bible says (and therefore, what God says) about God’s love. This is how we practice the art of spiritual discernment.

The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, seldom talked about God’s love without referring to it as a “holy love.” Each of God’s attributes relates to all the rest. God’s attributes do not exist in separate, isolated compartments in which they have nothing to do with one another. Furthermore, God’s attributes are not partial. He is not a 10% one attribute and 15% another and so on. He is 100% each of his attributes, and as I mentioned, they all interrelate and influence the others.

This led A.W. Tozer to write,

From God’s other known attributes we may learn much about his love. We can know, for instance, that because God is self-existent, his love had no beginning; because he is eternal, his love can have no end; because he is infinite, it has no limit; because he is holy, it is the quintessence of all spotless purity…”

Charles Wesley beautifully captured a glimpse of God’s love in his hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”…

Love divine, all loves excelling
Joy of Heaven to Earth come down
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling
All Thy faithful mercies crown
Jesus, Thou art all compassion
Pure, unbounded love Thou art
Visit us with Thy salvation
Enter every trembling heart

Your Response

That is the love of God. And so how do you respond to that? This idea is that God sent his Son to come and save, not a world that was cheering for him, but just the opposite. As the words of the Holy Communion liturgy in the United Methodist hymnal, (borrowing from Romans 5:8), put it,

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Emphasis mine)

How do you respond to that? How does that impact you emotionally? Does it fill you with awe? Humility? Reverence? Joy? Gratitude? Indifference? Distaste? Fear? The Apostle John suggests that all those seem to be ways people respond to the glorious announcement of God’s love in Christ.

How about you? Is the good news of God’s love for you in Christ an announcement of indescribable beauty to you? Of horror? Of Indifference?

I want you to know there is a God in heaven who loves you and who went to the greatest lengths to act on your behalf – to win you to himself. To enable you to become the person he created you to be.

He loves and rejoices over you so much he sings. Zephaniah 3:17 says,

The Lord your God is with you,

the Mighty Warrior who saves.

He will take great delight in you;

in his love he will no longer rebuke you,

but will rejoice over you with singing.”

He loves you so much he offers you eternal life in his presence. But he will not force you to respond in faith, to give your life to Christ. He will not override your will and desire. To those who would prefer not to spend eternity in the presence of God, God replies, “thy will be done.” And yet, like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, he waits and watches for you. More than that, with his Spirit he lovingly calls you and draws you to himself. And he is doing that today.

The Ultimate Gift

And what is the gift that awaits you when you trust in Christ? The gift is God himself. “Life of abundant joy and immeasurable blessing in the presence of God forever.”

At the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis writes these words about some of the characters in his books,

“All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Don’t you want to be a part of that Great Story?

If you have never put your trust in Christ before, reach out to God today and call to him. Trust in him. Enter his Great Story and become a part of it. If you do know Christ, then give thanks and continue to love and follow him. Tell others about him. Invite them to join you in the Greatest Story ever told.

Thanks be to God for the love of God.


Bible Study (Each chapter in the book is followed by an in-depth Bible study)

Lesson 3: His Life for Ours

Introduction

One of the most important classes I have ever taught as a pastor was on the Cross of Jesus Christ. Indeed, there are few Christian doctrines more essential to our faith than Christ’s atonement, for his precious work upon the Cross vividly expresses God’s great love for those Jesus came to save.

Moreover, what I’ve discovered in my studies on Christ’s atonement is that the Book of Hebrews is in a class by itself in helping us see the love God has for us, in and through the work of Jesus on the Cross. Let’s take a look.

The Book of Hebrews

The author of Hebrews had a very definite purpose in mind as he wrote his letter. He wanted to show the superiority of Jesus and the new covenant over the old covenant. His reason was that many of the Christian believers to whom he was writing had come out of Judaism and now were facing persecution. Some were being tempted to turn back to what they had left behind. They had found new life in Christ, but some were beginning to question whether Jesus was worth the persecution and suffering they were facing.

Maybe you’ve felt that way. Maybe you too have wondered if following Jesus is worth it. Perhaps you’ve thought that the cost of discipleship – of denying yourself, picking up your cross daily and following Jesus – is asking too much. Maybe like the Israelites who were following Moses in the wilderness, you’ve thought that the food you had as a slave back in Egypt wasn’t that bad after all. That thought has crossed my mind from time to time.

But then I read in Scripture the kind of message I find in Hebrews, and I come to see yet again, God’s great love for me – and for all of us – and I’m reminded that following our Lord, whatever the hardship, is more than worth it.

Our Text

Here’s how our Scripture puts it. Hebrews 9:11-14 says,

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Lesser to Greater

The folks Hebrews is addressed to needed to be encouraged. And the author does this by using what’s called, “lesser to greater” arguments. Jesus taught in the same way.

In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus taught,

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (emphasis mine)

In Matthew 12:11-12, he puts it this way,

11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (emphasis mine)

The author of Hebrews uses this rhetorical device throughout his letter to show the superiority of Jesus in several ways.

The High Priest

First of all, we learn in our text that Jesus is our High Priest. In the Old Covenant there was a great barrier between God and his people. In the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, there was a great veil that separated God’s people from the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest could go behind the veil to bring sacrifices to God.

But the death of Jesus spiritually and literally tore the veil in two (Luke 24:44-46), so that there was no longer anything preventing us from approaching God directly.

Also, when the high priest in the Old Covenant entered the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifices to God, he had to first offer a sacrifice for his own sin. Because even though he was the high priest and a holy man, he was still a sinful man. But Jesus was greater because Jesus was without sin.

Hebrews 4:15 says,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

The Sacrifice

In the Old Covenant the high priest brought in an animal to sacrifice. In the New Covenant, the High Priest was the sacrifice.

Our Lord Jesus Christ offered himself on our behalf. His life for ours. Do you remember what John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus approaching him? He declared these words in John 1:29,

… “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

John understood the mission of Jesus as, “the lamb without blemish” the Israelites were to sacrifice at the Passover, in Exodus 12.

The prophecy in Isaiah 53:7 points to this.

He was oppressed and afflicted,

yet he did not open his mouth;

he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,

so he did not open his mouth. (emphasis mine)

He laid down his life for those he loves. His life for ours.

Once For All

In the Old Covenant, the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement had to be repeated annually because the blood of animals was purely symbolic. It revealed that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). It taught God’s people that sin is a big deal. It separates us from a right relationship with God. It has to be atoned for.

And yet, the death of animals, offered by a sinful high priest, could do no more than point to something greater, something beyond itself, something that was to come.

And something greater did indeed come! God came in the Person of his Son, Jesus Christ, and he offered himself as a “once-for-all” sacrifice. That phrase, “once-for-all,” appears over and over again throughout Hebrews. It speaks of the permanence and perfection of the work of Jesus on the Cross.

Therefore, there’s no need to repeat the sacrifices anymore. All that needs to be done, has now been done.

Therefore, we’re called to trust in his sacrifice alone. The death of animals provided only a temporary, symbolic, and ceremonial cleansing from sin. But the author of Hebrews makes it clear that the death of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness – both outward and inward. It cleans our hearts.

Verse 14 says,

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (emphasis mine)

Because of what Jesus did on our behalf, we no longer need to be weighed down by the burden of our past – the guilt and shame of who we were, or what we did, before we came to know Christ.

We now have a freedom that’s been won by our Lord Jesus on the Cross.

The Love of God

God did all of this because he loves us. The Apostle Paul emphasized this in Romans 8:9,

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (emphasis mine)

And because we’re now new creatures who are free in Jesus Christ, the author of Hebrews says we can now “serve the living God.” The word, “serve,” in this verse points to the worship of God, more than anything else. Because the veil to the Holy of Holies has been torn in two, we can now approach God in worship, unhindered by the oppression, shame, and guilt of our sin.

All of that has been atoned for. We’ve been washed. We’ve been redeemed. We’ve been reclaimed. His life for ours.

Aslan and Edmund

In the book, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, one of the story’s four children, Edmund, betrayed his brother and sisters by telling the evil White Witch of Narnia where they were hiding. And in the Land of Narnia, where the story takes place, the penalty for being a traitor… is death.

Edmund was a young man and was understandably terrified at the prospect of this punishment. And even though he betrayed his family, they forgave him and thus they begged Aslan, the great lion and King of Narnia, to intervene… to do something… to get Edmund off the hook. Maybe an exception to the rule could be made this time.

However, Aslan, who is the Christ-figure in the story replied by telling the children that the law is the law and betrayal is indeed worthy of death. There was no other way.  The White Witch, therefore, legally laid claim to Edmund in order to be his judge and executioner. Things looked grim indeed.

Yet Aslan and the White Witch left the others for a long period of time to privately discuss the matter, and upon their return, in what seemed like the impossible, Aslan declared Edmund would not be put to death, and was now free. As you can imagine, upon hearing such wonderful news, there was a great celebration.

Later that evening, after the celebration was over, Aslan, somber and alone, left the camp where all the Narnians were sleeping, and made his way to the Great Stone table, which represented a sacrificial altar.

And there, the White Witch and all her wicked followers, bound Aslan, shaved his great mane, all the while mocking and beating him. And he took all of this pain, torment, and abuse without defending himself. Without trying to fight them off. Without trying to talk them out of it.

And there on the great Stone Table, Aslan was put to death by the blade of the White Witch. He voluntarily died in the place of Edmund, thereby receiving the punishment Edmund rightfully deserved.

His life for Edmund’s.

Isaiah 53:4-5 says,

Surely he took up our pain

and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,

stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds we are healed. (emphasis mine)

His life for ours. There is no greater love than this. God has done a great work on our behalf because he loves you and me. Our response is to love him, trust him, and follow him. And when we consider all he’s done for us, how could we do otherwise?

But thanks be to God that the story of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest and sacrifice, didn’t end at the Cross on Good Friday. Because Sunday was on the way.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

Dr. Craddock

One of the highlights of attending seminary in Atlanta was sitting under the teaching of Dr. Fred Craddock. Dr. Craddock was a gifted and world-renowned preacher and preaching instructor. It was a privilege and blessing to take a preaching class taught by him.

One of the things Dr. Craddock taught us, something that’s always stayed with me, came from a story he told us. He shared with our class a snippet of a conversation he had with one of his former students who had graduated and was serving a little rural church.

The former student told Dr. Craddock he was going to wake that little country church up. He was going to bring them into the present. He was going to be new and fresh. As an example of this, he wasn’t going to preach the same old tired stuff during Christmas, stuff they all knew. He was going to hit them with something new.

Dr. Craddock lovingly, and I’m sure, convincingly, shared with this eager new preacher that what those people needed, what we all need, especially during the seasons of Advent and Lent, is the old, old story of what God has done in Christ.

The Old, Old Story

It’s not that a preacher shouldn’t seek to know the needs of the congregation and connect with them in their context. The preacher should not seek to be irrelevant. However, the truth is, a clear and honest telling of the old, old story is the most relevant subject there is. Many hymns remind us the “old, old story” is the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here’s how the hymn, “Victory in Jesus,” communicates the old, old story,

I heard an old, old story,
how a Savior came from glory,
how he gave his life on Calvary
to save a wretch like me;

I heard about his groaning,
of his precious blood’s atoning,
then I repented of my sins
and won the victory.

O victory in Jesus, my Savior forever!
he sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood;
he loved me ere I knew him, and all my love is due him;
he plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.

That’s the old, old story.

When we think about the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Good News of what God has done in and through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, we usually go back 2,000 years. But the story is older than that. In one sense, it goes all the way back into eternity, into the mind of God who’s always existed.

Look for Jesus

We won’t go back quite that far in this chapter, but I do want to show the Good News fulfilled in Jesus was predicted and anticipated in the Old Testament. God didn’t “make it up” on the fly.

When I used to teach Disciple Bible Study, a very detailed and comprehensive study of both the Old and New Testaments, people would often tell me how bogged down they were getting in the Old Testament. They would even tell me they thought it was boring and irrelevant.

In response to this, one of the things I used to encourage them to do to stick with it, was to start looking for Jesus in the pages of the Old Testament. Because he’s there! In fact, he’s all over the place in the Old Testament.

The Testimony of the Apostles

Below are a few Scriptures from the New Testament that help make the case.

Romans 1:1-4 – Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God– [2] the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures [3] regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, [4] and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:1-3 – Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. [2] By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

[3] For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,…

Galatians 3:6-9 – Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” [7] Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. [8] The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” [9] So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Acts 13:26-39 – “Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. [27] The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. [28] Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. [29] When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. [30] But God raised him from the dead, [31] and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.

[32] “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers [33] he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus… (Emphases added)

Peter and Stephen, in the book of Acts, declare the same truths: all that was accomplished in and through the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ was anticipated and prophesied in the Old Testament.

The Testimony of Jesus

Maybe at this point you are saying, “Well, that sounds good, but that’s just Paul and Peter and Stephen. They’re just men. First, let me remind you Paul’s writings and Peter’s preaching in Acts are just as inspired of God as anything written in the Gospels. However, just for emphasis, let me quote a little of what our Lord himself said, or what was said about him, in the Gospels.

Luke 18:31 – Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.

Luke 24:27 – And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24:44 – He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

John 1:45 – Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

John 5:45-46 – “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. [46] If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.

 John 8:56 – Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” (Emphases added)

The “Scriptures” Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, Philip, Nathanael, and Stephen spoke of were, of course, the Old Testament. That’s what I mean when I say we ought to look for Jesus and his Gospel in the Old Testament. It’s far from silent on the subject. That’s why we read so much from the Old Testament during the Advent and Lenten seasons. It points to our Lord. Thanks be to God.

What is the Gospel?

Thus far we’ve seen the old, old story is much older than we usually think. But what is the old story about? What isthe Gospel, the Good News, of Jesus Christ?

The shortest and easiest answer is given to us by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16,

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation. It’s God’s answer, his response, to our sin and sinfulness, fallenness, brokenness, rebellion, foolishness, hurts and pain, suffering, and lostness.

God isn’t an aloof deity who sits in heaven, detached from his creation. Even though he created us in his image and declared his creation was good, very good in fact, we, along with our first parents Adam and Eve, have gone our own way. We’ve rebelled against God. We’ve declared ourselves in charge and have resisted him.

And even though God in his perfect holiness and righteousness would have been justified in pouring out his wrath upon us, in his grace he poured out his love instead.

As the Scriptures we’ve already seen tell us, God sent his deeply beloved, one and only Son to live, die, and be raised from the dead for us. Here’s how Paul makes this point.

Romans 3:21-26 – But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. [22] This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, [23] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [24] and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. [25] God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– [26] he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Emphasis added)

Our sinfulness, rebellion, foolishness, and willfulness, were paid for (atoned for) on the Cross by the Lord Jesus Christ. The Scripture says Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us. He received the punishment we deserved.

Your Choice

Because of that great expression of love, we can know God. We can enter into a personal, deep, and abiding relationship with God. We can actually start becoming more and more like Christ in our daily lives. We can be made holy and whole. We can receive both abundant and everlasting life.

But it’s not automatic.

This is where we must choose to enter into the old, old story. We must respond. We must not listen to the story of God’s good news and simply smile and say, “Well, that’s a nice story.” There’s no place for indifference to this story. We must believe the story.

We must place our faith, our trust, in Christ – in who he is, the very Son of God – Son, Savior, and Lord. We must trust in his Work on our behalf – his death upon the Cross for our sin and his resurrection from the dead for our salvation.

We must repent, which means to turn away from our sinfulness, selfishness, and rebellion, and turn instead toward God, in love for him and faithfulness to him. Turning away from sin and toward God doesn’t earn us our salvation. Our salvation is a free gift from God, just as Jesus is a gift to us. But it is a gift we must open, so to speak. We must respond to it. We must receive it in trusting faith.

When we do, not only are we declared righteous before a holy God, but our lives will begin to bear fruit. We’ll show we really love and trust God and his Son Jesus Christ by seeking to live for him, desiring him, obeying him, and by loving our neighbors.

Faith and repentance are not two separate things. They are two aspects of the same thing. They are, if you will, two sides of the same coin.

That’s why Jesus says in Mark 1:15, “Repent and believe the good news!” This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and there is no other.

Enter the Story Yourself

The United Methodist liturgy for Holy Communion describes all this in a beautiful way. It invites us to enter into the story – to become a part of it.

In the United Methodist Church we believe that, through his Holy Spirit, we meet the main character of the old, old story, the Lord Jesus Christ. As we gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ and bow before him, Christ gathers with us in our midst. He is with us in and through his Spirit as we receive his body and blood he so lovingly and freely gave on our behalf.

However, you must enter into this story by faith. United Methodists believe this sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. In other words, we don’t receive this grace simply by going through the motions. Instead, it’s with joyful, thankful, love-filled hearts, we receive the bread and cup in faith, trust, and repentance. Our liturgy, based in Scripture, reminds us,

Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,
     who earnestly repent of their sin 
    
and seek to live in peace with one another.

A few pages further in the hymnal, another order of Communion says this,

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins
     and are in love and charity with your neighbors
     and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, 
     and walking henceforth in his holy ways:
Draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort, 
     and make your humble confession to almighty God.

If you’ve never genuinely and consciously repented of your sin and placed your trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord, today is the day of salvation. 

Walking Points

  • Did you know the Gospel was anticipated in the Old Testament, or did you think it was something entirely new in the New Testament? Go back over the Scriptures listed in this chapter and meditate upon them, giving thanks to God for his wonderful plan of redemption.
  • Have you ever asked God for forgiveness, repented of your sins, and trusted in Christ alone for your salvation? If not, do so right now. Don’t let another minute pass without reaching out in trust to the God who has already reached out to you in love.
  • If you already have trusted in Christ and repented of your sins, prayerfully consider one or two friends with whom you can share this good news. Write down their names on an index card and begin to pray for them daily. Pray also that the Lord will provide you with an opportunity to share his old, old story with them.

Feel free to share this devotional with your friends and family. You can find more resources at my website, Every Sphere.

Kingdom Reformation

Matthew 6:10 – Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

God, Grant Us Reformation

In his book, Hot Tub Religion, J.I. Packer makes this observation,

“…we look at the church of our day and say, ‘We need another reformation.’ But do we know what we are saying? …We are in danger of settling for too narrow a perspective of what reformation is – too narrow a notion of what it was in the past and too narrow a notion of what it will be in the future if God visits us once more.”

Packer asks a good question. Do we indeed know what we are saying when we cry out for reformation? I was awakened to how little I comprehended the word when I began to study what reformation, biblically understood, truly means. I have discovered that this simple word is filled with great meaning. Contained within the word reformation are the ideas of revival, renewal, awakening, restoration, and even overhaul.

As I have considered these words, I have come to realize that the coming of the Kingdom of God was and is a reformation. As our Lord Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God, he brought forth revival and renewal to people’s hearts, minds, and spirits. He awakened them to their great need for the living God. He brought forth restoration where only brokenness existed before. He turned existing ideas about God and humanity upside-down as he revealed God and his good news. He exchanged the temporal perspectives of man for God’s eternal perspective for every sphere of life. Because of this, I have come to see the need for reformation, biblical reformation, in three essential areas of life.

Reformation and the Individual

God uses individuals to touch and transform the church and the world. A.W. Tozer writes,

“It is mere common place to sing or pray, ‘Lord, send a revival, and let it begin with me.’ Where else can a spiritual quickening take place but in the individual life? There is no abstract ‘church’ which can be revivified apart from the men and women who compose it.”

Tozer points out that which should be obvious; that the church and world will not be reformed until faithful men and women begin chasing after God and his ways. Individuals do not have to wait for the church before they can be renewed to newness of life and the things of God. Our own faith must be real and personal before it can be social and corporate. Tozer adds,

“Every prophet, every reformer, every revivalist had to meet God alone before he could help the multitudes. The great leaders who went on to turn thousands to Christ had to begin with God and their own soul. The plain Christian of today must experience personal revival before he can hope to bring renewed spiritual life to his church.”

It is true, or course, Christianity is about community and relationships. No Christian is called to live alone on an island. However, this community is a community of men and women who have been personally and individually touched by the Holy Spirit and brought forth from death to life.

Reformation and the Church

One aspect that unites great leaders from Christian history, such as the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, and John Wesley, was their prophetic word to the church in their day. Sadly, they were sometimes viewed as John the Baptist – as lone voices crying in the wilderness. However, the Holy Spirit moved through these faithful men to bring about reformation in the church in their day. God is still using people the same way in our day. In my own denomination, the United Methodist Church, I see faithful men and women standing up for the true and living God and his Word.  I also see God renewing lives in his church through a variety of renewal groups.  And I know it is through the prayer of these men and women that God will bring a mighty reformation to our denomination. This is true for churches in every denomination or no denomination at all. However, we need to be guided by a proper understanding of reformation, so we might know what direction to take, and therefore, what path not to take.

The puritan pastor and writer, Richard Baxter, has helped provide clarity concerning the notion of reformation. In his book, The Reformed Pastor, Baxter showed that the idea of reformation, biblically understood, combines the heart and mind. In other words, we are not experiencing true reformation in the church when only one aspect is emphasized. Baxter points out that there must be inward spiritual renewal as well as outward correction of doctrine in Christ’s church. It does the church little good if she is only emphasizing correct doctrinal adherence and ignoring inward spiritual vitality. So too, a church that cares little for doctrinal faithfulness and only concerns herself with “religious feelings” cannot rightly be called faithful either. Instead, genuine reformation will reflect these two sides of the same coin. J.I. Packer comments,

“The Bible records many striking movements that textbooks usually call reformations. In every case this same two sidedness applies. These movements had an outward aspect; immorality and idolatry were put away. But they also had an inward side; men and women were stirred to seek God and renew their covenant with him.”

This is true reformation experienced in the Bible and in Church history. These two works, the inward and outward works of God, are really one work seen from two points of view. We cannot have one without the other. Prophetic voices must call Christ’s Church back to both emphases if we are going to experience real reformation. Martyn Lloyd-Jones declared that we have no reason to expect God to usher in reformation and revival if we are not being faithful to God in our present situation.

Reformation and the World

The Lord Jesus Christ came to a dark and lost world with the good and transforming news of the Kingdom of God. Individual believers, and the church, are called out of the world to bear witness to the Light of the world. We are called Christ’s ambassadors as we proclaim God’s message of reconciliation. Along with that beautiful, life-transforming message, God calls us to love our neighbors by serving them and standing up for them. We are called to be who we are in Christ – salt and light to a dark and decaying world. We live in the world though we are not of it.

Our faithfulness in our little part of the world will help bring about the reformation God desires. The Kingdom Jesus ushered in and proclaimed was not about slight adjustments here and there. It was about a complete overhaul – in our thinking, speaking, attitudes, values, priorities, beliefs, and behaviors. As God’s will is done in our lives as it is in heaven, God’s Kingdom-influence will be extended to the various spheres of our lives.

So, let us pray that God will bring biblical reformation into our lives for his greater glory and the blessing of our families, churches, workplaces, communities, and world.

Walking Points

Meet with some fellow Christians to discuss the following questions.

  • What areas of your life do you need biblical reformation? Explain each.
  • What are you presently doing to grow more faithful in these areas?
  • Do you regularly pray for God to bring reformation and revival into your life? Why or why not?
  • If you are part of a group of Christian men, watch the video and read the material, “If Men Will Pray.” (Click here for link) Discuss your thoughts with your group.
  • For one month, commit to regularly praying for reformation and revival for yourself and your group of men. At the end of the month, discuss what insights the Lord revealed to you.

Redeem the Time

Redeem Your Time

Ephesians 5:15-17 – Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, [16] making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. [17] Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Scripture says we are like vapors which are here today and then, POOF, gone in an instant. Some of us may live to the national average or even past it. Others will not live that long. Whatever the case may be, Scripture reminds us, “man knows not his time.” Therefore, since no one knows when they will be called home, doesn’t it make sense to make the most of every day as though it was our last?

Have you ever been asked what you would do if you only had one week or month left to live? Often, when we’re asked such a question, we offer a sweet, sentimental, or even profound answer that stresses urgency. Yet, few “live out” their answers because they suppress the truth of reality and mistakenly believe they have an infinite supply of time and opportunities before them.

In our Scripture, the Apostle Paul says this is unwise.

Making the Most of Time

Paul instructs us to be careful in how we live. He says we need to be wise, not unwise, and make the most of every opportunity. Many of the great saints of Christian history referred to this as, “redeeming the time.”

Brother, your life is a gift from God. You are called to be a steward of it. In a real sense your life is not your own. In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul said followers of Christ must offer themselves as living sacrifices to God. He lived during Israel’s sacrificial system in which the animal “gave up its life” on the altar. If we are called to be living sacrifices, we must daily put ourselves back on the altar before God in dedication to him, because living sacrifices tend to crawl off the altar by the end of each day.

There is cost involved here to be sure. To give ourselves to the Lord in this way will require sacrifice, commitment, and self-discipline. To redeem the time we have been given, to make the most of every opportunity, we must change the way see and think about our daily lives. A change of perspective is required.

An Eternal Perspective Needed

God can be glorified in our most mundane tasks. Whether we are driving to work, mowing the yard, or wrestling with our children, we can do so to God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). What matters is the motivation of our heart. Martin Luther is attributed as saying a cobbler who makes excellent shoes on Monday glorifies God as much as the pastor who preaches the Gospel on Sunday. Both require an eternal perspective and motivation that transcends themselves.

Isn’t it a relief to know you can glorify God without necessarily moving to the other side of the world as a missionary or becoming an ordained pastor? You don’t have to be doing something “religious” to redeem your time. The Apostle Paul said whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it for God’s glory. What’s more ordinary than eating and drinking? What you are doing is not as important as why and how you are doing it. So, redeem your time.

Walking Points

  • What are some ways you unthinkingly waste your days and miss the opportunities God has for you? What are some reasons you do so?
  • How can you change the focus and motivation of your daily life from the temporal minutiae to an eternal perspective that seeks God’s glory?
  • What are three ordinary things you do daily that can be transformed by wisely making the most of them?
  • Share your ideas with someone you can trust to hold you accountable and will pray for you.

Prayer

All-wise Father, you have told me in your Word to number my days so I may have a heart of wisdom. You want me to seek wisdom and live my life in such a way that I may make the most of every opportunity. You know better than I how often I have failed in this pursuit. I don’t wake up each day planning to fail at this, and yet by not better preparing I often fail by default. Please forgive me. Fill me with your Spirit of wisdom and give me not only a desire to live each and every day wisely for you, but enable me to do so. Help me to prepare on the front end so I may be ready to make the most of each opportunity you present me. Most of all, let my thoughts, words, and deeds be done for your glory. In Christ I pray. Amen.

Rooted and Built Up

Colossians 2:6-7 – So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, [7] rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Off to a Great Start

We start off so well. With great gratitude and enthusiasm we bow before the throne of our King. Upon placing our trust in Christ alone – “receiving” him – we take on the world in his name.

But motivation and inspiration can wane. That which does not become habit and done out of joyful and obedient self-discipline will not last for the long haul. That is why church history is littered with travelers who fell by the wayside on the narrow road to the celestial city. Jesus taught that the seed of God’s Word sometimes falls on shallow soil and does not take the necessary root it needs to live and grow (Matthew 13:1-23).

Continue In Him

Thus, Paul exhorts us to “continue to live in him.” This is much more than simple encouragement to attend church and have your quiet time, both of which are good. He is indeed saying followers of Christ are to persevere in such means of grace. But even more than that, Paul is declaring that our very power source is the Lord himself. He is our power, foundation, anchor, and compass – our all in all. The Lord Jesus Christ must not be sprinkled on our lives to simply add a little flavor to an already okay meal. Instead, he is to be our life. To claim we are in Christ means we died with him in his crucifixion and are raised with him in his resurrection. The life we now live we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20).

Root, Shoot, and Fruit

I love the language Paul uses to undergird his thesis. He adds that we are to be “rooted and built up in him.” In John 15:1-8, we discover Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from him, he tells us, we can do nothing. If we would bear fruit, we must remain connected to Christ. He must be our root, for it is only then he will bear fruit in and through us. If we as branches ever become detached from our vine, we become useless.

Our Chief Cornerstone

Changing our imagery, Jesus is our chief cornerstone and we are to be built up in him. He is our only sure foundation. All else is shifting sand. If we are not built up in him, we will crumble during the storms of life (Matthew 7:24-27).

What does it mean to be “built up” in Christ? Paul helps us here. He says it means to be strengthened in the faith we were taught. When those in the early church first came to faith in Christ, they sat at the feet of the Apostles and learned from them (Acts 2:42). Today we have their authoritative teaching in Holy Scripture. We are built up and strengthened in Christ when we meet him in his Word and listen to his instruction. More than that, we must obey what we hear (Matthew 7:24-27).

And so be encouraged. You have the greatest resource at God’s disposal to enable you to bear much, good, and lasting fruit in your life, Christ Jesus our Lord and the power of his Spirit. Without him you cannot do anything. With him, all things are possible.

Walking Points

  • I have provided Scripture references throughout this devotion. Look up these texts and meditate upon them as you reflect on the following questions.
  • What is the hardest part for you when it comes to persevering with Christ?
  • Does it encourage you to know God has provided his greatest resource to help you live your life well?
  • What are three ways you can deepen your roots in Christ?
  • Share your answers with a friend and start “deepening your roots” today.

Prayer

Merciful God, I praise you for your goodness. You have graciously revealed yourself in and through holy Scripture and I am thankful. Through your Word you have made us wise for salvation and given us what we need to train us in righteousness. It is there we meet with you and hear your voice, learn your ways and wisdom, and grow in grace and knowledge. But only when we are rooted and built up in your Word. Father, protect me from laziness, lack of focus, intentionality, and self-discipline. Please give me the gifts and graces I need to abide in you and for your Word to abide in me, that I might truly know you better, love you more, and follow you more faithfully. For it’s in your Son’s name I pray. Amen.