Saturday, April 29, 2017

Repentance and Baptism

Acts 2:36-47

Our first Bible reading for this third Sunday of the Easter season, we will finish off the first sermon that the Apostle Peter preached to the crowds that had gathered there in Jerusalem.  Peter had preached that Jesus was indeed the chosen Messiah, that he had died, only weeks earlier, for their sins, and that God raised Him from the dead.  Peter’s message, anointed by the Holy Spirit, cut right into the hearts of his audience.  Under conviction, the people asked Peter what they were supposed to do (vs. 37).  When we hear a moving sermon that speaks to us or convicts us, we must then do something about it.   This crowd in Jerusalem didn’t tell Peter he preached a good sermon, and then go home the same as they had come.  No, they made a change in their life.  It’s not enough to just be sorry for our sins.  No, accept God’s forgiveness, and then live like forgiven people.  Like this group did when convicted by a moving message, ask God what He wants us to do, and then do it.

Peter then presented the simple Gospel message - repent, believe that Jesus died for your sins, and accept Him as the Messiah, the Savior.  He didn’t give some long, theologically complex and deep message.  He just presented Jesus, and told them they needed to repent (vs. 38-39).  To be saved one must repent, turning away from their carnal nature and the sins of their past, and turn towards Christ, and depend on Him for forgiveness, mercy, and salvation.  Repentance is more than just fearing the consequences of God’s judgment.  It is a change of mind and of purpose.  One who is truly repentant knows that evil and sin must be forsaken, and Christ embraced.  One turns from sin to God.

Many Bible scholars believe that verse 38 would be better translated “because of the remission of sins” rather than “for the remission of sins”.  Baptism does not forgive sins or save anyone.  We only need to look at the repentant thief on the cross to see that.  This man turned to Jesus and was saved in the last minutes of his life, so he had no opportunity to be baptized.  Yet Jesus said that he would be with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:39-43).  Genuine repentance, and calling upon Jesus for forgiveness of sins is what does save us.  After one has done that, and because of that, one is baptised.  Baptism is an outward sign, an acknowledgement of one’s faith and the inward change in one’s life, and is an act of obedience to the Savior, Jesus.  Through baptism one identifies with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Peter’s salvation message, under the power of the Holy Spirit, brought 3,000 people to salvation that morning as verse 41 indicates!  Their hearts were open to God and His message.  They were saved, then baptized, and they joined the fellowship of the disciples and other believers.  For these early believers this was potentially risky, being baptized in the “Name of Jesus”, as indicated in verse 38.  Practically all of the early believers at this time were Jewish, and to join this group who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, could be very costly.  The Jewish religious leaders were still very hostile to believers in Jesus, and many of the believers were cast out of the synagogue.  Many of them were disowned by family members.  In a very short while, the Jewish establishment would start putting Christians to death.  

That didn’t stop the Holy Spirit from moving in many people’s hearts, and many more people came to profess faith in Jesus, as the remainder of our passage says.  Witnessing and sharing the Gospel to others was a daily thing (vs 47).  It was not limited to just on Sundays, or when it is convenient to do so, or when the topic came up in conversation on its own.  These early believers knew that they had the best message in the world, the message of salvation, and they wanted to let others know.  Threats from the religious leaders or family didn’t stop them.  Neither did the fear of death.  Are we that eager to get that same message out to those we know?  It is the only message of eternal importance.  Let’s get that message out so that we, too, can see people coming to the Lord daily.  And if you haven’t accepted the Lord Jesus as your Savior yet, I urge you to let the Holy Spirit speak to your heart, as He did to those who heard Peter’s first sermon, repent of your sins, and call upon Jesus Christ as your Savior.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Doubting Thomas

John 20:19-31

Poor Thomas!  He has been forever remembered as the doubter, and anyone who doesn’t immediately believe something is labeled with his name - a doubting Thomas.  Let’s take a closer look at Thomas, one of the 12 apostles, as see what we can learn from his life.

Prior to our passage today, Thomas is twice mentioned briefly in the Gospels.  Once is right prior to Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  He knew that Jesus was heading into very dangerous territory where the Jewish leaders were plotting His death, and Thomas boldly says he would go with Jesus and die along with Him (John 11:16).  Though he, like the rest, would later flee for their lives, at this time Thomas courageously follows Jesus, strongly believing in His mission.  The other was while Jesus was giving His great discourse the night before He died, when Thomas said to Him that they didn’t know where He was going, how could they know the way (John 14:5-6).  This lead Jesus to respond with one of my favorite verses in the Bible, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

As mentioned, Thomas, like the others, fled in fear of his life when the Jewish leaders came to arrest Jesus.  It seems that most of the apostles were hiding together because when Jesus appeared to them in the upper room on the night of His resurrection, they were all there except for Thomas.  Where was he, and why wasn’t he with them?  Some people handle their grief and disappointment differently, and perhaps Thomas was one who strongly preferred to be alone.  Perhaps he felt badly that when he had bragged about being willing to die with Jesus, he had turned and run.  Now Jesus was dead and buried, and all of his hopes were shattered.

Now, a few days into the next week, the other apostles have broken into Thomas’ lonely, grief-stricken vigil, with some astounding news.  They have all seen Jesus!  He came into their room, behind the locked doors, and appeared to them! I imagine they would have said something like this; “What do you know, Thomas!  Jesus rose like He said He would!”  Having been alone for these last several days, nursing his grief by himself, Thomas can’t believe it.  “Get out of here!  You’re talking nonsense!  Jesus is dead!  We all forsook Him when He needed us, and He’s dead!”  “No, Thomas!  We’ve seen Him!  He talked to us!  He talked to Peter in particular!”  “Well, I’ll believe it when I can see His wounds, and put my fingers into them!” (vs. 25).

Poor Thomas!  Being alone with his grief has broken down and weakened his faith.  It hasn’t destroyed it, but it sure has fallen several notches.  The other apostles managed to get Thomas out of his solitary hiding, and he was with them a week later.  They were together again behind locked doors, as the unbelieving Jews were continuing to threaten their lives.  Jesus appeared to them again and called Thomas to Him.  He didn’t chastise Thomas, calling him a fool or an idiot.  Jesus doesn’t condemn honest doubts that are directed towards belief.  He lovingly held out His hands to him to show him the wounds.  Thomas fell down before Jesus and proclaimed “My Lord and my God!” (vs. 28) being one of the first to publicly declare Jesus’ deity.

Thomas had doubts, just like we often do when something terrible comes along in our life to knock us down and send us into a tailspin.  Where is God?  Does He even care?  Can He do what He says He can?  Is His Word even true?  When life has knocked us to the ground we can start asking these questions.  Thomas hadn’t become a skeptic, an agnostic, or an atheist.  However, the events in his life had deeply shaken him, and he had honest questions.  “Jesus, did you really rise from the dead like you said you would?”  God honored his questions with an answer.  For Thomas, his doubting was his way of responding to what had just happened in his life. It was not his way of life, and it shouldn’t be ours, either.  If things have happened in our life to cause us to wonder, and we have questions, honestly bring them to God with an open mind, which is what Thomas had.  He allowed the apostles to bring him out of his private hiding and gather together with them.  He didn’t close his mind to them or to God.  God then honored that, and appeared again, and specifically to Thomas.  Thomas didn’t let his doubts become a stubborn lifestyle, which would have destroyed his faith.  His faith grew much stronger, and later, after Pentecost, Thomas traveled to the west coast of India, preaching the Gospel and establishing churches.

I pray that you have enjoyed and benefited from these Bible meditations that I have written for this blog.   I hope you will prayerfully consider donating as the Lord might lead you.  This blog is not run through a large ministry with a wide funding base.  I am an individual with limited financial resources.  Thank you and God bless.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Hope And An Inheritance

I Peter 1:3-9

A lost job.  A failed marriage.  Bad medical report.  Strained relationship with family members.  An empty bank account with mounting bills.  Any one of these can leave us feeling hopeless, and especially if one faces several of them.  Add to this the fear and uncertainty we all face in the world today with terrorist attacks, threats of war, etc.  It makes us want to cry out, “Where are you, God?  What am I going to do?  Life is just so hopeless!”  The people the Apostle Peter was writing to here were in just such a position.  Many were facing life and death situations.  Where was their hope?

Peter, who was facing these trials along with them, told them, and us, that we have a “living hope” (vs. 3).   The Resurrection has brought hope to everything in our life.  The resurrection of Jesus, the fulfillment of that prophecy and promise shows us that God will honor all of His promises.  We can trust that He is always with us and will never forsake us.  That is a hope that can keep us going in our dark days.  Our living hope is eternal life promised to those who have believed in Jesus.  Nothing is hopeless if we have Jesus.  We can have hope because He rose from the dead.

God has also promised His children an inheritance (vs. 4-5).  We all would love to get a nice inheritance from some relative - money, property, favorite belongings.  Those things can all be lost.  The money when the economy collapses, the property can burn or wear down, and belongings can be stolen.  What God has promised to us is incorruptible.  It will not decay.  It is undefiled, unpolluted, and unstained with evil.  It is safer and more protected than all the fortune in Ft. Knox.  God has adopted us as His children, and all the treasures of heaven have been given to us as our inheritance.  It is guaranteed, and we can base our confidence on the indestructible truth of God’s Word.

So then, we might ask, why does God allow us, His adopted children, to go through all the trials that we do?  The Apostle Peter touches on this in the remaining verses of this passage.  Peter tells us that our trials do not last, they are merely “for a season” (vs. 6).  God sometimes allows us to face trials so as to test our faith.  In verse 7 Peter uses the analogy of testing precious metals, such as gold, with fire.  Gold is put through the flames to refine it, to remove all impurities.  If gold could talk it might say that it doesn’t like that process.  But the purer the gold the better, and that gold would like being made into a beautiful piece of jewelry.  Our faith is much more precious than gold, and God is refining our faith by fire.  He wants all impurities, such as doubt, fear, anxiety to be burned out.  He only wants remaining pure “gold”, like faith peace, joy.  Then, as he finishes this verse, Peter says this will result in praise and glory when Jesus returns.  That is much more valuable than gold.

At the time of the writing of Peter’s letter, most of the believers had never seen Jesus, and certainly none of us have.  We love Him, though, and can trust and believe in His Word (vs. 8).  We can trust Him that He can redeem every situation .  God will use everything in our life for our good.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Having Reverence For God

Psalm 111

Our Psalm reading for this week starts off with a call to praise.  That is something that all Christians should be doing all the time - praising the Lord, and many of the Psalms urge us to do that.  Here, in verse 1, we are told to praise God with “all of our heart”.  This brings to mind what Jesus told us in Matthew 22:37, to love God with all of our heart.  He wants us to  love Him and praise Him, with all of our heart and all of our being.

When we really love someone, don’t we have an interest in the things that they are involved in?  We want to know about their job, their hobbies, everything about them.  This should be the same for Christians when it comes to God.  We should seek out and learn everything we possibly can about Him, just like an ardent lover, and the best place to do this is in His Word (vs 2).  By reading and studying God’s Word we get to know Him better.  When we know God better we can worship Him more truly.

In verse 9 we read that God sent redemption to His people.  Redemption means to recover something or someone after having paid a ransom.  If someone pawns something, in order to get it back they have to pay a fee.  On a human level, years ago if someone was sold as a slave, in order to redeem that person a large fee was paid to the slave owner.  Usually it was a third party that paid the fee, but sometimes the individual was able to save enough to purchase his own redemption.  At the time of the Fall in Genesis 3, all of mankind was taken captive by Satan and sin.  The ransom price is blood, and our blood cannot suffice.  Jesus, the sinless Son of God, came to earth and gave His Blood as the ransom price.  His Blood redeemed us out of Satan’s hands and captivity.

Verse 5 contains one promise from God that I have been learning to cling to in the last several months - that He will provide food for those who fear Him.  My family’s financial situation has been very uncertain for a while, but I can trust my Heavenly Father to keep His Word, and He says here that He will give food to those who fear Him.  God will provide for our needs.

What does it mean, though, to “fear the Lord”?  We see in verse 10 that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  This verse is somewhat repeated in Proverbs 9:10.  When God repeats Himself it is a certainty that this is something that we should take careful note of.  The “fear of the Lord” is not like any human fear, like that of a scary movie, bugs, snakes, or even walking down a dark alley.  It is a having a holy reverence and awe for God.  It is an accurate knowledge of God’s power, and then having a respect for that power and His authority, acknowledging that He is God, He is the Creator, and we His creation.

Having this proper fear of God will lead to wisdom, which we should all want.  We cannot become truly wise by having having a lot of life experiences or extensive academic knowledge alone.  It comes from God and His Word.  The more that we study His Word, the more understanding we will gain, and the more of His wisdom we obtain.  The fear of the Lord will lead us to have a true and proper respect of His commands and principles, learning and then doing what pleases Him.  Let’s keep that proper fear of the Lord and gain His wisdom.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Empty Tomb

What could change a man from being afraid for his life and hiding behind locked doors, to one who boldly preaches the message he wanted to hide from a few weeks earlier?  It’s the power of the empty tomb!  In the passage for today, from the Lectionary of the first Sunday after Easter, we are looking at part of the first sermon that Peter preaches on Pentecost, right after the Holy Spirit has descended on the believers.

A few weeks prior to this Peter and all of the other apostles and disciples had been scared to death, petrified, in fear for their lives, and had run, abandoning Jesus to His enemies.  For several days they hid behind closed and locked doors, afraid that the Jewish leaders would come and take them captive, executing them as they had Jesus.  Now, several weeks later, Peter is standing right out in the open on the streets of Jerusalem, boldly preaching Jesus.  These same streets where Jesus had been dragged a few weeks earlier, carrying His cross and being beaten, now Peter is boldly proclaiming His resurrection and that He is the Messiah and Savior.  What would make a fearful disciple, one who had been so scared for his life that he would three times deny the One he loved, now speak out with power and fearlessness?  The empty tomb!  With the power of the Holy Spirit now upon him, he had the greatest, and only necessary proof of what he now preached - the empty tomb.  

Peter calls his audience to listen, and he presents them with Jesus.  He doesn’t start preaching a whole lot of philosophical fluff, something nice to tickle their ears and make them feel good about themselves.  No, he gets right down to telling them what they need to hear.  All through the years that Jesus had been among these people, preaching the Word of God and performing  miracles and signs, God was showing them that He was the One that He had sent (vs. 22).  God had shown them this quite plainly.  

Now Peter starts to get a bit bolder.  We see in verse 23 that he tells the crowds that they took God’s Chosen One and handed Him over to be crucified.  That must have taken some courage to say, as many in this crowd had probably stood right there in the heart of Jerusalem and cried out “Crucify Him!”, calling for His Blood.  Not exactly a “feel-good”, message to please the crowds!  God had planned this all before, this wasn’t something that took Him by surprise, but still that didn’t dismiss the guilt or responsibility of those who took part in Jesus’ crucifixion.

Here Peter gives the main point in his message - Christ’s tomb is now empty!  God did not leave His Chosen One to lie and rot in a grave.  For the rest of this passage in Acts, Peter quotes Old Testament Scriptures to back his point, quoting King David in Psalm 16:8-11.  Some in the crowds might have argued with Peter, saying that David was referring to himself in this passage, and that it couldn’t possibly be Jesus.  There are always those who will try to twist Scriptures, saying it doesn’t say what it obviously does.  Peter shuts down their argument by stating the obvious, King David died.  He was buried, and his grave is right there in Jerusalem.  If they dug it up, his bones would be right there for all to see.  So who was David talking about?  Some other great Old Testament figure?  Some other great foreign religious leader?  In each case their grave could be found and their decayed body and bones brought forth.

Jesus is the only one that has an empty tomb!  God did not leave His Chosen One to decay in the grave.  Most in the audience knew of Jesus’ execution and many might have even been there when He died and seen Him taken from the cross and buried.  They all could take a few minutes excursion from where they were right then and walk over and see what?  Not the body of Jesus, but an empty tomb!  Jesus and His followers had many enemies, both back then and on to today.  One thing that they have never able to do is refute that empty tomb.  Jesus’ enemies have never been able to produce a dead body to refute the Resurrection.

Peter was not afraid to boldly preach this fact to the crowds, many of whom still hated Jesus and were enraged with that empty tomb and the claims of a resurrection.  He knew what he had seen with his own eyes.  He knew the truth of God’s Word, and he knew that this was a message that the people needed to hear.  It’s still the message that people need to hear today.  The tomb is empty!  Don’t be afraid to let it be told.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Having A Heavenly Perspective

What is your perspective as you go through life?  How do we look at the events and circumstances that we have to deal with, particularly the difficult and trying ones?  Looking down at traffic from a very tall building sure looks different than it does to the person in the car, stuck in a traffic jam.  Rain clouds don’t look so bad from up high in an airplane.  It all depends on one’s perspective.  Reading this passage we are encouraged to view things from a different perspective - that of the risen Christ.

Our passage for today begins in verse one to strive to put heaven’s priorities as top in our life.  A popular saying is “you are what you eat”, the type of food you eat will affect your health and general well-being.  Even more so, we are what we think about and allow into our minds.  This is done chiefly by what we view on TV, the internet, and what we read.  What we think about becomes who we are.  As believers, we need to focus our mind on spiritual things more than worldly things (vs. 2).  Look around at the things that you own, your house, car, clothes.  They wear down and start to deteriorate.  Your job doesn’t always last, friendships fade away.  All these temporal things are just that - temporary.  Don’t hang your affections on them.  Instead, as Christians, we need to focus our attention on what really does last; those things that last for eternity.  When we are living like this, we can praise God, even in the midst of trying and difficult circumstances, just like Paul and Silas did when they were beaten and put in prison (Acts 16:25-26).

How much does a dead man care about things of this world?  Does he care any more about his house, his belongings, or his job?  No, he doesn’t.  His only care now is whether or not he accepted the Lord Jesus as his Savior.  If we are born-again, Scriptures say that our old nature has been crucified with Christ, and we (our old nature) is dead (vs. 3).  We need to regard our earthly nature as dead.  Christ is in us, and we should allow Him to shape us into what we should be.  Our interest and desire for things of this world should be as little as a dead man’s, which is nothing.  Our home is with Jesus, so seek what God desires.

Paul says that our life is “hid with Christ in God” (vs. 3).  We like to hide things that are important to us, to keep them safe.  Something that is hidden away won’t be lost, and is kept safe from thieves.  We are safe in God, safe from the enemy of our soul.

Jesus will return (vs. 4).  That is a promise of God, and He has never reneged on any promises that He has made.  When Jesus returns we will all be proudly shown forth as His followers.  Just like a triumphant king returning to reclaim His land from the enemy usurper, He will reveal us as His people in the midst of His enemies.  Those enemies will be destroyed, but we, Jesus’ faithful followers, will appear with Him in glory, and be rewarded.

One question that we as Christians should ask ourselves is, “are we living as if Jesus has truly risen from the dead, or not?”  This is not just, and only, an event that took place some 2,000 years ago, but doesn’t really affect us today.  For those of us who have accepted Him as Savior, we have also then risen to a new life in Christ.  We should live that life in joy and peace, filled with His Spirit, and with our focus on our home in heaven.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Trusting In The Chief Cornerstone

Psalm 118:14-29

The psalm selection for this week is a triumphant one, one that shows the Lord’s protection of us as believers, and one that shows His victory over His enemies.  No matter what our troubles are, if we love and trust God, He will be with us.  As long as we are trusting in Him, we do not need to fear anything.  Let’s look at these verse from the 118th Psalm verse by verse.

Who are we turning to for our help, to carry us through our problems day by day?  The psalmist here in verses 14 thru 16 says the Lord is his strength.  Not anyone else, or even himself.  When we rely on Him, we will come out of our  trial singing!  It is the Lord’s powerful hand which delivers us from all harm.  Whatever the problems were this psalmist was going through, they were so bad that he seriously thought he wasn’t going to get through it with his life.  He seriously thought he might die, but then he turned to the Lord in trust and prayer, and He delivered him from death, as verses 17 and 18 show.  No matter how grim and hopeless a situation might be, when our trust is in the Lord, He will bring us through it.  Trust in Him and His strength!

When we have trusted in the Lord Jesus as our Savior, He gives us His righteousness.  Then, we have the right to enter and go through the gates of righteousness (vs. 19-21).  We can go through them, entering His Kingdom with a song of praise to the Lord on our lips, praising Him for hearing us when we call upon Him, and for saving our souls.

Verses 22-23 should be very familiar for many.  Jesus quoted these verses in reference to Himself.  The Jewish religious leaders had completely rejected Him as the Messiah, and so He told them the parable of the vinedressers, and then concluded with these verses in Matthew 21:33-46.  They may have rejected Him, but God made Jesus both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).  The cornerstone, or as some versions say, the capstone, is one of the most important parts of the structure of a building.  These Jewish religious leaders rejected Jesus.  He was not important, not what they wanted, toss Him off to the side as rejected.  But God said otherwise.  He is the cornerstone, the most important part of the “building” He was making.  How do we view Jesus in our life?  Is He the most important one, the cornerstone of our life?  Or is He something that we view as not important at all?  Let’s make sure He is definitely our cornerstone!

Verse 24 is one that I have repeated to myself just about every morning for a number of years when I first wake up.  That’s not me trying to be super-spiritual or anything.  When things were starting to go terribly wrong in my life, and my depression increasing, I dreaded the start of each new day.  One thing that I was seeing, though, was that I needed to get my focus on something positive at the very start of the day.  God has given us the gift of a brand new day with each dawning.  Things may be difficult, we may be going through some trials, but haven’t we seen how, if we are His children through the Blood of Jesus, He will carry us through each day, and we can rejoice in Him.  Every day, no matter what we are going through, can be a good day if Jesus is in it!

The first part of verse 25 we see the prayer, “Save now, I pray, O Lord”.  That phrase is what the word “Hosanna”, translated into English means.  As we read that verse and the next, verse 26, we can be reminded of Palm Sunday, and Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  The people on that day cried out “Hosanna” to Jesus, and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Those crowds, just like the religious leaders of the people, turned out to reject Jesus a few days later.  Right now, though, the psalmist is praying these verses to the Lord God, along with the rest of the psalm (vs. 27-29).  We, too, can pray these verses back to the Lord God, giving Him praise and thanksgiving.  As the last words of this passage say, “His mercy endures forever”.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Wait On The Lord

Exodus 14:10-14, 21-25, 15:20-21

Trapped like a mouse in a corner.  No direction to safely turn, no way to escape.  That’s the way the children of Israel felt here in our passage today.  Sometimes that’s the way we feel, too.  No way out of the problems that surround and threaten to destroy us.  Moses had just lead the people out of Egypt following hundreds of years as slaves.  Everyone was joyous over that.  They were one happy bunch.  But now they were on the banks of the Red Sea, and Pharaoh's army was closing in on them.  There was no where to turn to.  The desert and wilderness to the right and left, the Red Sea before them, and the strongest, most armed and trained army in the world at that time behind them.  What were they to do?  What would you do?  

The children of Israel went into a knee-shaking fear and panic, crying to God, and turning on Moses.  Only a few weeks ago they had witnessed God show His power and love to them by bringing the 10 plagues on their captors, the Egyptians.  And only hours before He had delivered them from their captivity as slaves with the death of the firstborn of Egypt.  It seems these recent miracles in their lives had been forgotten.  Now they were in a real life and death dilemma.  Would God deliver them this time?   Many people have quoted the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”  Neither that saying, nor its philosophy, are in the Bible.  God helps those who turn to Him in faith and wait on Him for His help and deliverance.  This was what Moses told the people.  They were to stand still, not be afraid, and just watch the Lord work His mighty power on their behalf (vs. 13-14).

The people had a choice then of what to do.  They could decide to just give up and let the Egyptians kill them there.  They also could have decided to surrender to the Egyptians, and hope that they would let them go back to Egypt as slaves again.  The Israelites also could have tried to fight the Egyptian army in their own strength, or they could wholly wait on the Lord and let Him fight the battle for them.

When we have a large, overwhelming problem that comes in our life, how do we react?  Do we panic and go to pieces, crying that God has abandoned us, and lash out on those around us?  When those problems come charging at us like the Egyptian army we can choose to just give up, to just let them “kill us”.  Obviously that is not a wise choice.  We can do what many choose to do, and that is to surrender to the world and its ways.  We can let the world drag us back into slavery.  If we choose to do that we can be sure that the world will not be a gentle taskmaster, especially if we had gone the way of the Lord for a while, but now have gone back to it.  Another choice is to try and solve our problems, or fight the world on our own, in our own strength.  Our strength is not sufficient to fight against the enemies of our soul, any more than the children of Israel’s worldly strength would have been able to fight against the Egyptians.

Our best choice, really our only real choice is to wait on the Lord and trust His help.  Even though the Israelites thought there was no hope, the Red Sea ahead of them, wilderness on either side, and an army behind them, God would make a way for them out of this situation.  The Red Sea did not take God by surprise, nor the Egyptian army.  He had planned this route.  Our problems are not a surprise to Him, either.  Just as He did at this time in Exodus, God will make a way for us, even if there seems to be no way.  He will come to our rescue (vs. 21-25).

What do we need to do?  The same thing that Moses told the people - “Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” (vs. 13).  Moses held out his hand and God parted the Red Sea before their eyes.  Probably one of the most dramatic and glorious miracles in the whole Bible.  The waters parted and the people crossed on dry ground.  Then, as the army pursued after them, God brought the waters back upon their enemies, destroying them.  If we trust in God and His power of deliverance, He will do the same for us, and we can, and should, sing in praise that He has triumphed gloriously! (vs 15:21)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Why Do You Seek The Living Among The Dead?

Matthew 28:1-10

As the day dawns early on Sunday morning, there is barely enough light to see what one is doing,   Even at that way early hour, several women are making their way down the narrow streets of Jerusalem, out to the outskirts of town to a tomb that they had last left at sunset on the previous Friday.  They had needed to leave the hastily buried body of their Master, not having had enough time to properly anoint His body due to the arrival of the Sabbath.  Now they would finish the job of properly anointing the body, and continue to grieve His most cruel and brutal death.  As they approach, what seems like an earthquake occurs, and the stone is rolled aside.  (To have been an angel at Bethlehem would have been great, but if I was an angel, I think the greatest honor would have been to be that angel who rolled the tombstone away!!)   They must have wondered what was happening.  Standing there is someone who was brighter than any other person they have ever seen, and he tells the women to not be afraid, Jesus has risen!  He is not there!  I like the way Luke recorded it - “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  (Luke 24:5).

Didn’t they, or the disciples, remember that numerous times Jesus had told them that He would be killed by the elders and priests, and that He would rise again the third day?  (Matthew 16:21, 17:23; 20:19).  They had forgotten, just like so often we forget the words that Jesus has said to us in the Scriptures.  The angels reminded the women.  Their words are words we need to hear today, as well.

“Fear not!” (vs. 5)  Jesus has risen!  He has defeated Satan!  We don’t need to be afraid any longer!  Our enemy has been defeated, and we no longer need to live in fear.  He is a defeated foe, and our Savior Jesus is the Victor!

“He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (vs. 6).  That place is empty.  Jesus is no longer in the tomb.  It is an empty tomb!  No other tomb where any other religious leader, political  or military leader, or anyone else, can make that claim.  Their bodies still lie in the grave.  But not Jesus.  His tomb is empty.  He is risen from the dead!

“And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead.”  (vs. 7)   Now that we know the good news of Jesus, that He died for our sins, and has now risen from the dead, we need to go and tell others.  This was not news that the women should just keep to themselves.  “Great!  We know, but why bother telling the other apostles.  They don’t deserve to know.  They didn’t come to the cross like we did.”  No!  They didn’t have that attitude, and we shouldn’t either.  Tell others the Good News!

This is news that we should share with everyone, at every time, in every place!  The angels didn’t keep the news to themselves.  When the women came, they didn’t keep silent and just let them look around and return home grieving.  They shared the news - the Messiah is not here.  He’s no longer dead, so He’s no longer in the tomb!  Look, and then go and spread the news.

Friday, April 14, 2017

They Were There When They Crucified My Lord

Matthew 27:1-56

Today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew is a long one, and covers most of the events of the trial, scourging, and crucifixion of Jesus.  I would like to do something a little different, to look at and think about the cast of characters that took part in these events.

The first people we meet in this chapter are the Jewish chief priests and elders.  They had opposed Jesus from the start of His ministry, and had actively fought against Him and His followers.  Their minds were completely closed to the truth, preferring to cling to their man-made traditions.  They would do anything to stop Jesus, including seeing that He is put to death.

In verse 2 we see Pontius Pilate.  He was the Roman governor over Judea, and was a tough, hard, no-nonsense political leader who was not too sympathetic to the Jews or their religious leaders.  He knew that the Jewish leaders had brought Jesus to him to see that He was executed due to their jealousy and misplaced religious rage.  Pilate believed that Jesus was innocent, but when the Jewish leaders threatened to bring their lies to the Emperor, he feared for his position and acquiesced to their demands for death.  Pilate did not have the courage to stand up for what he believed to be true, and preferred job security to the truth.

Verses 3-10 describe Judas Iscariot and his last hours.  It was he who betrayed Jesus.  Many scholars believe he did this, not because he hated Jesus, but because he wanted to force Jesus’ hand to become the military leader many Jews were looking for the Messiah to be, and kick the Romans out.  When Judas saw that this wasn’t happening, and that Jesus was actually going to be executed, he was disappointed and saddened.  Unfortunately, this was not a sadness that lead to repentance and salvation, but rather a sadness that his plans went awry.  This sadness led him to commit suicide.

There were the numberless crowds that gathered in front of Pilate’s residence, along the streets of Jerusalem, and at the cross.  Many mocked and jeered Jesus, calling for His death.  When Pilate said he was innocent of His death, they took the guilt of His Blood on themselves and children (vs. 25).  Others just stood by and watched.  Cold and callous hearts can be swayed by a mob mentality.  Apathy can lead people to just watch as the Savior is crucified.

To the Roman soldiers, Jesus was just another criminal troublemaker that they were ordered to execute.  Some may have heard a bit about Jesus, but most probably knew little or nothing about Him.  Military life in those days was hard and brutal, and this played out with the treatment they poured out on Jesus.  The love of the Savior was able to reach into some their tough hearts, as we see in verse 54.  The centurion, and perhaps other soldiers, came to acknowledge as the Son of God.

We meet Barabbas in verses 15-26.  He was a criminal who had been arrested earlier, and was condemned to die.  The Jewish leaders wanted him released and Jesus executed - the guilty set free, but the innocent condemned.  Barabbas probably didn’t even know what was happening when the jailors came to set him free.  “Barabbas, you’re free to go.  Someone else has taken your place and will be executed.”  That is the case for each of us.  Someone else took our place.

In verse 32 we meet Simon of Cyrene.  He was a visitor in Jerusalem that day, and happened to be out on the street when Jesus came by carrying His cross.  Suddenly a soldier grabs him and tells him to help Jesus carry the cross.  Simon has no choice but to obey.  Did that brief but close contact with the Savior lead him to salvation?  Legend says yes, but we don’t know for sure.

Verses 38 and 44 tell about the two thieves who were executed with Jesus.  At first they joined the Jewish leaders and people who were mocking and cursing Jesus.  In Luke 23:39-43 we read that one of the thieves repents and accepts Jesus as his Savior.  It is never too late to turn to the Savior and ask Him into your heart!  One can literally call out to Him with one’s last breath!

The last group of people we will look at are those who stand faithfully at the foot of the cross.  We see several women listed in verses 55-56, among them Mary Magdalene.  In John’s Gospel we also see Jesus’ mother and the Apostle John were also there (John 19:25-27).  They loved Him, and were not afraid to show their devotion, even in the midst of the hate-filled religious leaders and the soldiers.

As we look at these different people and groups, do we see ourselves in any of them?  May our meditations on all that Jesus endured for us and our salvation lead us leave the jeering crowds, and stand at the foot of the cross with Him as our Savior.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Boldly Go Where We Couldn't Before

Hebrews 10:1-25

On this Good Friday, one of the holiest days in the Christian Calendar, I would like to look at the reading from Good Friday’s Lectionary reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Throughout the days of the Old Testament the Jewish people would continually bring animals to the Temple for the priests to offer as a sacrifice for their sins.  This was done repeatedly, year after year, whenever they sinned.  The priests, as well, would have to offer a sacrifice for their own sins.  The author of Hebrews says, though, that the blood of these sacrificial animals could never atone for anyone’s sins, otherwise there would be no need to continually come back, over and over again, offering more sacrifices.  This is why Jesus came to earth, for the purpose that He was to be God’s Sacrificial Lamb for our sins.

Within the Temple was an inner sanctuary which was called the Holy of Holies.  In this sanctuary was the Ark of the Covenant, where God dwelt in a special and unique way.  This sanctuary was so holy that it was forbidden for anyone to enter, except the High Priest, and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement, when he would bring the blood of the sacrificial animals for his and everyone’s sins.  Dividing the Holy of Holies from the rest of the tabernacle was a veil or curtain, which kept it separate, and emphasized its holiness.  This veil was not thin like a typical house curtain, but much thicker, more like a stage curtain or even a tapestry, as its purpose was to keep people from looking into the Holy of Holies.

When Jesus died on the cross, His shed Blood was the perfect, the only real atonement for our sins.  Jesus was sinless, and His Blood paid the penalty due for our sins.  His death satisfied God’s righteous judgment against sin.  At the time of Jesus’ death, the veil in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, as was recorded in the Gospels (Matthew 27:51).

This may seem very incidental with everything that happened on Good Friday and at the time of the crucifixion.  So a heavy curtain in the Temple was torn in two, what would be so important about that, that it was recorded in several Gospel accounts?  As our author of Hebrews states in verses 17-22, since the remission of sins was made, and now there was no need for any more offerings.  The veil was torn in two by God because there was no need for any more separation between God and man.  Jesus is our High Priest, and He came to the Father, not with the blood of animals, but with His own Blood.  His Blood opened the way for us to have access to God.   Believers now had access to the Father through the Blood of Jesus.  We are bidden to draw near to God now, to come into His presence with a true heart, a heart that has been sprinkled clean from sin by Jesus’ Blood.

We are also told that we can come with boldness into the holiest place, that before the throne of God (vs. 19).  We don’t have to cower in the corner in fear.  If we are believers, and have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, we have nothing to fear from God.  Jesus paid our penalty, and we are now accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6).  I remember seeing pictures of President Kennedy with his two little children, Caroline and John Jr., playing in the Oval Office of the White House.  He dearly loved his children, and they could come boldly into that Oval Office.  Other people did not have that privilege.  They would have to get an appointment, wait for permission, and maybe come with some trepidation.  But Kennedy’s children were always welcomed, and they would come running, skipping, and playing into that room.  He was their father, and they were his beloved children.

Jesus’ Blood bought us that privilege, and if we’ve accepted Him as our Savior, we, too, like the Kennedy children did with their father, can come boldly into the Holy of Holies to be with our Father.  Thank you, Jesus, for what you did for us on that Good Friday so many years ago.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Out Of The Ivory Palaces

Philippians 2:5-11

How much would you be willing to give up for someone you loved?  For some people, if they truly loved someone enough, and presumably that person also loves them in return, they might give up a lot.  Nobody gave up more for those He loved, mankind, than our Savior, Jesus Christ.  In my last couple of meditations I spoke of all that Jesus suffered for us on Good Friday.  Today I would like to look at all that Jesus gave up to come to Earth, something we often overlook.

Jesus always existed with God.  He is the second Person of the Trinity, and is equal with God the Father, as He is God.  (John 1:1; Colossians 1:15-19).  As part of the eternal Godhead He is as much the God of the universe as the Father is, as He is co-equal with Him (vs. 6).  Thus, as we ponder this, what a wonder it is for God to be willing to become a man and live here on earth as one of us, not in splendor, but in relative poverty.

When Jesus came to earth, He was not born a prince in a royal palace, or the son of a multi-millionaire business tycoon.  He was born the son of a lowly teenaged girl, and step-son to her young husband who was a carpenter.  Humble people with a humble job.  Their home was simple, the clothes and few belongings they would have would also be simple.

Imagine the courts of splendor that surround the throne of God in heaven!  We see glimpses of that in the Book of Revelation.  The pomp and circumstance that surrounds royalty today is nothing compared to what it was in times past.  Even the magnificence of royalty in those days, though, pales to nothing compared to what God’s throne and majesty is like.   I love the old-time hymns, and there is one, which is almost forgotten today, that speaks of all that Jesus gave up in heaven to come to earth as a man. The hymn is called “Ivory Palaces”, and its words are primarily taken from Psalm 45:8.  Jesus came down from the ivory palaces in heaven, gave up His beautiful robes, and came into this world of sin, all for you, for me.

Jesus exchanged a heavenly throne for a small, poor house.  Then when Jesus started His ministry, no house.  He slept on the ground outside, or perhaps occasionally in the home of a generous follower.  Jesus exchanged the robes of glory He had in heaven for one change of simple clothing, which the soldiers took when He was crucified.  He had no belongings, no bank account, no donkey of His own to ride across the country.  His food was whatever someone gave Him, whatever the apostles would cook up around a campfire.

Not only did Jesus give up all of that when He came to earth, but He also set aside for a time, the powers of being God, and took on Himself the limitations of being man.  He would get tired, hungry, thirsty.  If He tripped and fell, He felt pain.  If the sun beat down on Him, He might get a headache.  In heaven as God, He was served by angels.  As a man, though, He chose not to be waited upon by others, but instead, to serve others (vs. 7).  We especially see this on the night before Jesus died, when He got down on His knees and washed the feet of the apostles.  That was a job that only the lowest of the servants performed.

And then, as we looked at in earlier meditations, the horrible, cruel suffering and death that the Lord Jesus endured for our sins.  Verse 8 says that Jesus was “obedient”.  Before creation, it had been determined by both God the Father and the Son that He would come to earth and die for our sins.  He could, though, have changed His mind if He wanted to.  He was God!  But Jesus didn’t.  He sacrificed all for us.

This is not the end, though. This was not defeat.  There was victory! Because Jesus was willing to be obedient, and do this out of love for us, God exalted Him (vs. 9 - 11).  All those who mocked and jeered at Him, all those who spat on Him, put Him to death, all those who from the dawn of time and on through today, and in times to come have treated Him with scorn and turned their back on Him, will bow their knee at His Name!!  All those who have mocked Christianity and fought against the Bible will bow to the Lord Jesus, and they will confess that He is Lord, that He is God.   

Monday, April 10, 2017

Forsaken By God

Psalm 22

Forsaken!  That is a very depressing word.  Many of us have at one time or another felt forsaken by others.  Perhaps a spouse walked out on us.  Maybe you had parents who were never there for you, or a friend turned their back on you when you needed them.  There might be someone who could say that all of this describes how they are right now, and that there is no one in their life who cares.  God has never forsaken you, especially if you are His child.  There is One, though, who was forsaken by everyone, including God, and right at the worst time in His life. That person is Jesus.

As I wrote about in my previous meditation, the suffering that Jesus endured to purchase our salvation was horrendous.  The physical suffering alone would be more than most anyone could endure.  What was even worse, though, was that because Jesus took all of our sins upon Himself, God was forced at that time to turn His back on Him.  Sin separates us from God.  He is all-holy and all-pure, and He cannot abide with sin.  Thus while Jesus hung on the cross, and the sins of all mankind were laid on Him, God was forced to turn away from Him.  Forsaken by God!  That was worse than all of the physical torment that Jesus had endured, and He cried out in anguish because of this (vs. 1-2).  He, the sinless Son of God, and now as He hung on that cross, as the sky around Him darkened and all of creation hid their eyes at this, Jesus was forsaken by the Father!  We, if we are children of God through salvation, need never fear that God will ever turn His back on us, because Jesus endured that for us.

As we continue reading through this psalm, we see a very vivid description of the sufferings of Jesus while He hung on the cross.  Many of the events of the crucifixion were prophesied in this psalm, one which David wrote about 1,000 years before they were fulfilled in Jesus.   Crucifixion was a very cruel way to execute someone.  It was very slow and tortuous, often taking more than a day to die, as one hung exposed to the sun, the elements, and even birds of prey.  Verses 7 - 8 were repeated by the enemies of Jesus who stood around the cross, looking up at Him.  Verses 12-13 describe how these people acted as they continued to shout verbal torments to Him.  David describes them like bulls and lions, with how ferocious they came after Jesus.  Verse 16a pictures them like dogs circling around their targeted victim.

Verses 14 - 17 give a very vivid description of the physiological effects of one who has been crucified.  His bones were pulled out of joint (vs. 14a), which would be typical with being roughly forced on the cross for crucifixion.  With one’s arms continually outstretched on the cross, it might be difficult for the heart to beat normally (vs. 14b).  After the cruel scourging, beatings, and then carrying the cross across town, any strength or energy was depleted, and He had terrible thirst (vs. 15).  Hanging there on the cross, exposed for all to see, one could easily count all of His bones (vs. 17).

In verse 16 we see a prophecy that clearly points to Jesus.  “They pierced my hands and my feet” clearly describes a death by crucifixion.  This was prophesied by David as he wrote the psalm, some 1,000 years before Jesus.  Execution by crucifixion was completely unknown at that time.  This is evidence that David, divinely inspired, was prophesying the sacrificial death of Jesus thru this manner.

Verse 18 is also another prophetic verse that very clearly was fulfilled with Jesus.  As He hung dying on the cross, at the ground beneath Him the soldiers they divided up His only earthly belongings, His clothes, and threw dice to see who would get His robe.

This prophetic psalm describing in detail the death of our Savior ends in victory, victory over Satan, and a victory for us.  God was satisfied with the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, and our salvation was obtained.  The remainder of the psalm speaks of this.  As verse 31 says, the final verse of this passage, we need to tell everyone, all future generations such as our children, that the Lord Jesus has done this for us.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Suffering Servant

Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week, and our first reading from Scriptures comes from the Prophet Isaiah, with his description of the Suffering Servant, which is the Messiah Jesus.  In this brief passage of 15 verses, there are 12 prophecies of the Messiah, which were all fulfilled by Jesus during the last day of His life.  Let’s take a closer look at and meditate on a few of the verses of this passage.

As Isaiah opens this passage (vs. 52:13) he is speaking the words of God, and he tells of God’s “servant”, and describes him in very graphic and terrible detail.  How can we tell who this is?  The rest of the passage tells of how much this person, the servant, would suffer, and not for what he did, but on behalf of others.  It is quite obvious that Isaiah is not speaking of himself, nor of anyone he knew at that time.  As history has passed, we can see that this was all fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  God chose to save the world through a humble and a suffering servant, rather than some mighty, majestic and powerful king.  Exactly the opposite of what the world would expect.

In verse 14 we read that because of the suffering and abuse that He suffered, Jesus’ whole appearance was so disfigured that He barely looked like a man anymore.  We’ve all seen on TV and in movies a guy who’s ben beat up, maybe in a bar fight or something - the black eye, split lip, bloody nose, bruises, etc.  They still look like a man, though.  Jesus was so physically abused and tortured that Isaiah said he would scarcely even look like a man anymore.  He endured that for you and me.

Though there were many who followed and loved Jesus throughout His ministry, He attracted many enemies.  As verse 3 of chapter 53 describes, He was despised and rejected.  The people He had come to save and redeem turned against Him.   It is the same today.  Jesus is just as despised by people in our society as He was back when He walked the earth.  He came to redeem us from Satan’s grasp and control, save us from an eternity in hell, and what is our reaction to Him - despising and rejection.  No wonder He is a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief.

In verses 4 - 5 we read of the horrible suffering that Jesus endured.  Why did the Lord of Heaven go through this?  In verses 4 and 5 we read the word “our” five times.  Our griefs, our sorrows, our transgressions, our iniquities, our peace.  He endured all of this for us.  He was wounded, bruised and chastised for us.  The last part of verse 8 clearly says that it was for the sins of all people that Jesus was killed.  All this was prophesied hundreds of years before Jesus came, and He fulfilled each of these prophecies.

In verse 6 we are compared to sheep that have wandered off, going their own way.  Sheep are not a very bright animal.  To be honest, they are rather stupid animals.  They can’t be trained to do anything.  They are also very defenseless.  Like stupid sheep we have gone our own way, the way of sin, that leads to destruction.  It is our sins, our stubborn, willful iniquities, that God laid on the back of Jesus.  Jesus became the sacrificial lamb, being led to the altar to be the sacrifice for our sins (vs 7).  He didn’t fight, cry out against this, or curse those who did this to Him, which was all of us.

Though Jesus died like a common criminal, and because of that His body would normally have been buried in a criminal’s or pauper’s grave.  Instead a very wealthy follower of His, Joseph of Arimathea, gave Jesus his grave.  This was prophesied in today’s passage, as we see in verse 9.  He died with the wicked, but was buried with the rich.

Throughout this passage we have seen how it was our sins that brought the Savior such sorrow, grief, torture and death.  The passage, though, does not end on such a horrible note.  No, instead it gives us some hope.  Verses 10 - 12 tell how that the sacrificial death of Jesus satisfied the Father’s wrath for sin, and would make forgiveness and salvation available for all of mankind.  As many as would receive and accept Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf would be justified and saved.

With Good Friday this week, the day when we commemorate this sacrificial death of Jesus for us and our sins, let us meditate on all that He suffered for us.  We should not take the Blood of Jesus lightly, as it purchased our salvation.  And if you have not personally acknowledged that Jesus died for you and have accepted Him as your Savior, I pray you will today.