Saturday, April 29, 2023

Stephen - The First Christian Martyr

Acts 6:1-10, 7:51-60

Our Scripture for the start of the fourth week following Easter tells of the ministry of Stephen, a young man in the early Church.  Stephen has the distinction of being the first Christian martyr, the first one to give his life for his Savior.  Stephen’s death actually brought our Lord to stand up and take special notice, as we’ll see later in the passage.  Let’s take a look.

As our Scripture passage begins, we read about a problem that the early Church was having with the distribution of food and help to those in need, as some groups were being overlooked in favor of others (vs. 1-2).  To help resolve this problem, the Apostles and the Church selected seven men to help keep the ministry of help to the poor running smoothly and fairly.  One of the men selected was Stephen.  Stephen was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and was of a good reputation in the community.  These virtues were very important then in the early Church, and are today, as well.  What we do and say shows what kind of a person we are on the inside.  Our character, conduct, and conversation are important as a witness for the Lord.

In addition to having a good character and godly lifestyle, Stephen also had an active ministry among the Hellenistic Jews, those Jews who had more of a Greek background than a Hebrew one.  These were folks who, though they were practicing Jews, spoke Greek and lived a more “Greek” lifestyle as opposed to the more Judean Jews, who spoke Hebrew.  Stephen ministered among these people, giving a strong and convincing witness to the Lord Jesus among them.  Being full of the Holy Spirit and faith, the Lord performed miracles and signs through him (vs. 8).  He was also a strong preacher of the Word of God, convincing many that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah.

However, not everyone was pleased with Stephen and his ministry.  As the Apostles had already experienced, many of the Jews were strongly and violently opposed to the message of Jesus.  Several of the Apostles had already been arrested and beaten.  Now a group of Jews started to dispute with Stephen about what he preached.  This wasn’t just a peaceful or lively debate among two groups of civil people.  This quickly became contentious, and they accused Stephen of blasphemy.

With strong faith and trust in the Lord, Stephen did not back down, nor promise to only speak things that would never offend anyone.  No, Stephen gave a message from Scripture, showing that Jesus was the Messiah, and how, just like their ancestors had persecuted the prophets and killed some of them, they killed the One sent by God, the Messiah.   As Scripture says, they were stiff-necked (vs. 51).  They were haughty, stubborn, and obstinate.

This infuriated those who heard Stephen speak, and they immediately took hold of him and dragged him out of town to immediately execute him (vs. 54-58).  Stephen was executed without a trial and against Roman law.  As an occupied country, the Jews did not have the right to execute anyone, which was why Jesus was handed over to the Romans to be crucified.  This showed how violently some of the Jews hated Stephen, Jesus, and this new faith.

As Stephen was giving the final words of his message, he looked up, and stated what he saw, Jesus standing at the right hand of God (vs. 56).  I emphasize the word “standing”.  When Jesus returned to heaven, where does Scripture say He went?  A number of different verses in the Bible state very clearly that Jesus is seated at God’s right hand.  Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 10:12, 12:2, and Mark 16:19 are just a few.  However, at this moment, Jesus stood up.  He took notice.  This was the first martyr of the Christian faith.  The first one who would shed their blood for Jesus, the Son of God.  Jesus stood up and took specific notice.  He stood up to welcome the first martyr, Stephen, into heaven.  God notices when any of His children die, however this death of the first martyr was particularly notable.  Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (Psalm 116:15).

What did Stephen say with his final breath?  Did he call down vengeance and hatred?  No, he asked the Lord to forgive his murderers.  He followed the example of Jesus, and asked God to forgive His killers.  Paul was present and heard these words of Stephen.  This undoubtedly made an impression on him.

Are we willing to speak out for the Lord and for His Word, despite the outcome, like Stephen was?  Are we willing to risk everything?  Will we forgive those who harm us?  We never know who might be watching, just as Paul was.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Jesus Walks With Us

Luke 24:13-35

It was a very depressing and discouraging weekend for one couple.  Not only were they sad and grieving over the death of a dear friend of theirs, it seemed as if all of their hopes and dreams had been dashed, as well.  This was the case for a couple of people that Sunday following the crucifixion.  Their world looked black, or at the barest minimum, a dark shade of gray.  Let’s take a look at the account of these two that Luke gives in his Gospel.

In addition to the apostles, there were many other disciples and followers of Jesus that had been in Jerusalem over the Passover holiday, and had been there when He was arrested and crucified.  Then Sunday morning, some of the women brought the news that when they had gone to the tomb, angels told them that Jesus had risen from the dead.  That news spread, not only to the remaining eleven apostles, but to many of the other disciples, as well.  Most of them didn’t really know what to make of the news that the angels gave, that Jesus had risen.  That Sunday evening the disciple Cleopas and his companion were heading home, which was in the small village of Emmaus, about seven miles northwest of Jerusalem.

As mentioned, these two were depressed and discouraged.  They had been followers of Jesus.  Like many, they had been filled with encouragement and hope by His message over the past few years.  Like many, these two had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  However, their belief of the Messiah was that He would set up an earthly kingdom, defeat the Roman Empire, and restore Israel’s sovereignty (vs. 21).

Then everything was turned upside down that past Friday when Jesus was arrested and the religious leaders turned Him over to be executed.  Where was God in all of this?  It felt like God had abandoned them, like He had just disappeared.  Jesus was gone, along with all of their hopes, dreams, and plans.

While walking to their home, the two came upon another traveler, a man that they didn’t recognize.  Since He seemed to be heading in their direction, they invited Him to join them while walking.  When questioned by this stranger as to why they were so sad, and what they were talking about, Cleopas started to tell Him about all that had happened that weekend, and how all of their hopes in Jesus were now shattered.  In their sorrow and grief, focusing their minds only on their problems, they could not see that this stranger was Jesus, right in their midst.

Just like these two disciples, we can become discouraged when we lose sight of Jesus.  There are times, like with these two, when our world looks black or dark gray.  We seem to be wandering in the dark, forsaken by God.  We need the light of Jesus to redirect our lives.  The light Jesus gives is in His Word, the Bible.  Whenever we are troubled and wandering through the darkness of this life, we can look to Jesus, and the Words He speaks.  While He walked with these two on their way home, Jesus spoke the Words of the Old Testament Scriptures to them, and it was afterwards that their hearts, minds, and eyes were opened to Him (vs. 25-27).

When these two had heard the news that the women had brought that Sunday morning, that Jesus was no longer in the tomb, and the angels had said He had risen, they should not have continued their plans to leave town.  They should have remained with the others in fellowship.  Despite their feelings of discouragement, God had not abandoned them, nor will He ever abandon us at our lowest point.  On the evening of the resurrection, Jesus sought out these two discouraged disciples.  When we feel abandoned by God, He is still present with us.  He seeks us out, like He did with them.  We may not recognize His presence, but He is with us nonetheless.

Just as Cleopas and his companion found out, when we least expect it, Jesus can show up.  No matter how discouraged we may get in our troubles, we are never abandoned by God.  Jesus walks with us.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Precious Blood Of Jesus

I Peter 1:17-23

We see in movies and on TV shows scenes where a family is contacted with instructions of how to pay a ransom in order to get a loved one back.  It is usually a large amount of money that needs to be paid.  These scenes don’t only happen in movies, but sometimes in real life, as well.  What will they use to pay the ransom to redeem their loved one?  They might or might not have enough money in the bank.  If they had silver or gold coins, that might cover the ransom.  Perhaps some exquisite and valuable jewelry.  However, no one would think that blood could pay a ransom!  Our Scripture today tells of a ransom that was paid in just that, in blood.  It was paid in not just any blood, but the Blood of the Son of God.

The word “redeem” means to buy back.  It is money that is spent to buy back something, often of a person who might have been kidnapped, maybe taken as a prisoner of war, a hostage, or captured and made a slave.  In our Scripture today, the Apostle Peter used the word “redeem” to refer to the price paid to buy the freedom of one in bondage to sin.

As we read in the opening chapters of the Bible, mankind came under the bondage of sin when they listened to Satan and disobeyed God.  God did not want to leave us in this condition.  He loves us too much to do that.  So what did He do?  God redeemed us from the tyranny of sin, but not with money.  Instead, He redeemed us with the precious Blood of His Son.

What is the price of sin?  As we read in the Book of Romans, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  When mankind chose to follow sin, the result was death.  What could bring remission from that sin?  God’s Word tells us that only the shedding of blood brings remission from sin (Hebrews 9:22).  We are also told that the blood of bulls and goats, the animals typically used in sacrifices, could not truly bring this forgiveness (Hebrews 10:4), instead it had to be the blood of someone who had never sinned themselves.  That could only be from Jesus, the Son of God.  The most precious commodities on earth could not redeem fallen man.  The things of this earth are all corruptible.  Even though some things, like gold, silver, and precious jewels may last a very long time, they will all eventually perish (vs. 18).  Not the Blood of Jesus!  That, alone, could pay the price.

Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins was not an afterthought, or something that God decided to do when the world spun out of control.  This plan was set in motion by the all-knowing, eternal God, long before the world was created (vs. 20).  In eternity past, before Adam and Eve sinned, God planned the redemption of sinners through Jesus Christ.  And though those who sent Jesus to the cross may have thought they were executing Him, the death of Jesus was not an execution or an assassination, but rather it was a sacrifice, the offering of Himself for our sins.  And His resurrection was guaranteed because He atoned for our sin, He paid the full price.

Today, in an overwhelming majority of churches, we do not hear much from the pulpit about the Blood of Jesus.  Today’s Christian culture desires a sanitized version of salvation.  They talk about the grace, forgiveness, and love of God, but rarely mention the Blood of Jesus.  That disturbs people’s senses.  They think it sounds ugly and brutal.  The crucifixion and death of Jesus was ugly and brutal, but that was the cost, the only cost, that could redeem us!  That is the only basis for our salvation.  Because God is righteous and just, He cannot love sinners into heaven, or forgive them just because they ask.  Sin has to receive a punishment, and the punishment is death.  God provided a sinless substitute, His Son, Jesus Christ.  His Blood bought our salvation.

Many people want to remove the Blood from Christianity and from any talk in the modern church.  Few modern Christian songs mention the Blood of Jesus, and no one sings the hymns that speak of His Blood.  When someone removes the blood from a body, you have only a lifeless corpse.  Remove the Blood of Jesus from the Bible and all you will have is only historical literature.  As the great old hymn says, “What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.  What can make me whole again?  Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.”  The Apostle Peter knew that the Blood of Jesus was precious!  If we would hold the price of the ransom of a loved one dear, how much more should we hold dear what was paid to redeem our souls from an eternal hell, the precious Blood of Jesus!

Monday, April 24, 2023

What God Holds Precious

Psalm 116

Do you have anything that you consider precious?  Most people have something in their home or life that they consider invaluable, priceless, and irreplaceable.  These items, and often people, are very important to them.  We call them precious.  Does God have anything that is precious to Him?  In our psalm for this week we read about something that God’s Word, the Bible, says is precious to the Lord.

Psalm 116 is another one of the psalms where we do not know who the author was.  Some people like to call them the “orphan” psalms.  Whoever the author was, it was quite possible that he had recently recovered from a terrible illness, one where he almost died.  Perhaps he had a terrible accident, or was in some very dire situation.  Whatever the specifics were with the author, he clearly stated that it brought him to the brink of death (vs. 3, 8).

As a believer who loved and trusted in Yahweh, our psalmist cried out to the Lord in prayer for deliverance or for healing.  In the past he had called upon God for help, and had received an answer to his prayer, so he knew from experience that God is a prayer-answering God.  God is responsive, and we can always reach Him.  He is near, listening carefully to every prayer, and answering each prayer with His best for us.

God did hear the psalmist’s prayers for help, and brought him the healing or aid he needed.  Reminding ourselves of God’s kindness and faithfulness in the past is a practical comfort and help to us in the present.  Reminding ourselves about God’s goodness can keep us filled with His peace.

What about, though, those times when we pray for either ourselves or others, and we don’t get the healing or deliverance we ask for?  What about when we pray for a loved one for their healing, desperately pray, and yet they die?  Or we pray for deliverance from a terrible situation a loved one is in, maybe even for a missionary who is being terribly persecuted for the Faith, and things go from bad to worse?  Doesn’t God care about them?  Why would He let your beloved parent, or other relative or friend die?  They were such good and faithful Christians!  Why didn’t the Lord bring deliverance and help to that missionary who was being persecuted, perhaps even tortured?

Often God does not give us an answer why one prayer for healing is answered, and another one isn’t, but that never means that He doesn’t love or care for that person, or that the person is being punished for some sin.  Deep within our psalm today God reveals a truth to us that we can hold on to, and that is that when a believer dies, whether it is from illness, accident, martyrdom, or just plain old age, their death is “precious” to Him (vs. 15).

Believers are precious to God.  They are His special treasure, just like that precious item in your home that you hold dear.  Maybe it is a special book, some irreplaceable photos, some heirloom jewelry, maybe some love letters.  They are dear to you.  They are precious.  God’s Word says that we are precious to God.  He carefully chooses the time when we will be called into His presence.  Each and every life is valuable to Him.  So though the life of the psalmist was spared, and the lives of many other sick people are spared, don’t ever think that when they are not, it is because God didn’t care about them.  Their death is no light matter to God.  It is of great importance and consequence to Him.  Precious (costly, highly valued, worth a lot) in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.

As we look back over our psalm, we see how the author went from the pit to the pinnacle, from agony to ecstasy.  It began in the dark valley of sorrow and grief, but ends with a magnificent statement of praise.  It is a personal testimony of how God brought him through distress, sorrow, and grief, to where he gives the Lord thanks.  But we are also reminded that if we, or a loved one, does not come through healed and safe on the other side, that we are always precious, valuable, and loved in God’s sight.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Three Thousand Souls Were Added

Acts 2:36-47

Last week, the first Scripture reading from the Lectionary for the Sunday after Easter was the Apostle Peter’s first sermon message to the crowds which gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.  He brought a message to the folks, giving Scripture backing of how Jesus, who they had handed over to be executed, had risen from the dead, and was truly the Messiah.  How was that message received by the crowd?  Were they receptive?  Were they angry with Peter for making them feel accountable for their sins?  Or were they merely indifferent, seeking to just go about their day?  Let’s look into the response to Peter’s message, and the beginnings of the Christian Church as the second chapter to Acts closes out.

As noted last week, Peter had never given a sermon before.  By trade, he was a fisherman, and probably did not have more than just the basic education a working-class boy in Israel would have had.  Peter had not been taught by the great rabbis in Jerusalem, been to seminary, or had multiple university degrees.  Yet here he was that day of Pentecost, following the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him and his fellow believers, giving a sermon to the multitudes about how they had crucified Jesus, their Messiah (vs. 36).  These were many of the same people, who only a few weeks earlier had stood before Pontius Pilate when he brought the scourged and beaten Jesus out, and had screamed for Pilate to “Crucify Him!”.  Would they turn on him in a similar way?  Would they seek out the Pharisees and other religious leaders to have Peter arrested for speaking such words?

As we continue reading, many of the people in the crowds were “cut to the heart” (vs. 37).  The Holy Spirit used the words, rather strong words, that Peter preached to bring the people under conviction for what they had done.  Many had been part of the mob screaming for Jesus to die.  Some might have even seen Him on the cross.  Over the past few weeks, many may have heard the rumors that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Now Peter had preached a message about just that, how God raised Him from the dead, how this fulfilled prophecy from the Scriptures, that those prophecies did not refer to David, but to Jesus.  They had crucified their Messiah!  What were they to do now?  Had they committed an unforgivable sin?  Were they now forever doomed?

When Peter heard their response, wanting to know what they could do after having committed such a sin as crucifying their Messiah, he told them to repent, to be saved (vs. 38-40).  To repent is to completely forsake and turn away from sin.  If they did that, if they believed that Jesus truly was the Messiah and had died for their sins, they could be saved.

Peter urged those who did accept Jesus as their Savior to be baptized (vs. 38).   The words in this verse, “for the remission of sins” should really be translated and read because of the remission of sins.  Baptism does not save anyone.  It is an act of obedience.  By being baptized we publicly are identifying as a Christian.  A believer is baptized with water because one’s sins have already been forgiven when one accepts Jesus as Savior.  Baptism doesn’t bring forgiveness.  Repentance brings forgiveness and salvation, which then makes the believer ready to publicly be baptized, publicly identifying with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some people might wonder, and even believe, that they have sinned too much or too deeply to ever be forgiven.  Years ago a Christian friend once told me that he had witnessed several times to a prominent baseball sportscaster, who said that he would love to come to Christ, but believed he had sinned way too much for Jesus to ever accept him.  That sportscaster later died, probably unsaved because he falsely believed he had sinned too much to be saved.  Yet here we read that even those who had played a role in the actual crucifixion of Jesus could be saved.  Since He forgave and saved them, there is no sin, other than unbelief, that God won’t forgive.

That day about 3,000 people were saved! (vs. 41).  God used the words of Peter, a humble fisherman, to lead these people to salvation in the Lord Jesus.  It didn’t take a well-crafted, seminary taught five-point sermon.  It took just someone who used his Bible and depended upon the Holy Spirit to work through him.  It took someone who spoke the truth, rather than tickling the ears of the crowd, and 3,000 people were saved!  And in the days that followed, more and more were saved, as well (vs. 47).  What can God do through us if we are willing to be used by Him, as Peter was?

Friday, April 21, 2023

The Nail Prints In His Hands

John 20:19-31

One U.S. state, Missouri, has the nickname “The Show-Me State”.  Supposedly, at least the nickname might indicate, the residents of Missouri are a skeptical group, not easily convinced, and must see something before they believe.  This describes the Apostle Thomas rather well.  Our Scripture for today tells of a memorable account in Thomas’ life, one where he followed Missouri’s nickname.  He might easily have been given honorary citizenship in that state!

After the arrest of Jesus, the eleven apostles fled in fear.  The Apostle John must have returned, as the Gospels record him being at the foot of the cross when Jesus died.  However, the others disappeared throughout Jerusalem.  They must have been in touch with each other, as when word spread the following Sunday morning that the women had found Jesus’ tomb empty, they gathered together.  That is, all of them except for Thomas.  This is where our Scripture reading from John’s Gospel picks up.

The evening of the day of Jesus’ Resurrection, ten of the apostles were gathered together in a room, possibly the same room that the Last Supper had been held.  Jesus then came and stood in the group, and gave them His blessings of peace (vs. 19-23).  Unfortunately Thomas was not among them, and we know that the betrayer, Judas, had already committed suicide.  We might wonder why Thomas was not with the others that night.  Though the Bible does not specify, perhaps he was just so depressed and discouraged from all of the events that past Friday when Jesus was crucified, that he preferred to be alone.  Some people desire to be alone when they are so despondent and depressed, and Thomas was probably one like that.  He also might have been afraid of the religious leaders who might have decided to arrest all of Jesus’ disciples.

During the week, Thomas was told by the others that not only had the women seen Jesus, but that they had as well.  Thomas, though, did not believe them.  Not only did he not believe them, but he was so skeptical that he said that he would not believe unless he actually put his fingers into the scars of the nail holes in Jesus’ hands! (vs. 24-25).

One week later the group was gathered together again, and this time Thomas was with them.  Jesus appeared again to give them His blessing of peace (vs. 26).  And this time Jesus called Thomas over to personally see the wounds in His hands and side (vs. 27).  I don’t believe that Jesus said this in an angry or scolding way.  I think that He said it with love.  And Thomas responded with a declaration of faith, not only in Jesus as his Lord, but also belief that Jesus was God, was divine, and part of the Trinity (vs. 28).

When faced with fear and uncertainty, do we trust God’s unseen sovereignty and His personal care for us, or do we fall apart?  We need to walk by faith, and not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7).   We need to believe and trust our Shepherd and Guide completely.  We should live, not only by what we see, but also by what God’s Word tells us.  God will guide us through all trouble.

When all believers get to heaven, any scars that we have will be gone.  Any scars from surgery or accidents will be gone, along with any deformities.  However, there is Someone there who will still have scars upon His Body, and that is the Lord Jesus.  Jesus will bear the scars of our sins for all eternity, scars that He received when He paid the price for our sins upon the cross.  When Jesus appeared to the apostles, including Thomas, that day, He showed them the nail holes in His hands as evidence of who He is, and the love He has given.  They prove Jesus to be the Savior, and tell the story of our salvation.  We are engraved as scars in Jesus’ hands (Isaiah 49:16).

In closing, we have all the proof we need that Jesus has risen, and that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, written in the Words of the Bible, and in the testimony of believers (vs. 30-31).  Trust God!  Look beyond what we can see to what He sees.  See in those nail prints in His hands the deep love that Jesus has for you!

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Hope In A Heavenly Inheritance

I Peter 1:3-9

Have you ever had a deep hope or desire for something that you really wanted to happen or come about, but then it didn’t?  Your deep wish was dashed and shattered.  Perhaps it left you rather devastated for a while.  Maybe it did come to pass, but it ended up not being quite as wonderful as you had wished.  That can leave you rather down, as well.  Perhaps you see all your hopes and wishes for the future come crashing down.  Your confidence and trust take quite a beating.  Our Scripture today shares with us about a hope that we can have that is certain.  It is an inheritance, and something that we can depend on.  Let’s take a look at this promise of God.

Our New Testament Scripture for this week comes from a letter that the Apostle Peter wrote to believers.  In these verses today Peter shares with us about a living hope that he has, and we can have too, one that came to us through the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  Peter knew what it felt like to have one’s hope shattered and destroyed.  For over three years he had followed Jesus as a faithful disciple, and came to believe that He was the Messiah.  Then the unthinkable happened.  Jesus was betrayed by one of his fellow disciples, arrested, beaten and scourged, and then brutally executed on the cross.  Everything Peter had hoped for and believed in was crushed.  However, the third day after the crucifixion, everything was turned around when Jesus rose from the dead!  Jesus was resurrected, and because of this, Peter and all of us have a living hope.

The word “hope” in Biblical usage is not just wishful thinking, as is a common, everyday definition of the word.  In Biblical terminology, hope is a confident optimism.  We can have assured hope, knowing that what God has promised us will most assuredly come to pass.  As Peter shares with us today, we have a living hope in eternal life with Him (vs. 3).  We have this assurance because of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Because Jesus is alive, we have a living hope.  The resurrection of Jesus guarantees that God will honor all of His promises.

God provides us with salvation because He is a merciful God (vs. 3).  We have this gift of salvation, not because we are such wonderful people who deserve this from God.  We are actually wretched sinners who don’t deserve any mercy, but God gave us mercy because He loves us, and gives a place in heaven to all those who come to Him through Jesus.

The Lord promises all believers an inheritance that He is reserving for us in heaven, one which He is guarding for us.  Some people have been given a nice inheritance from a wealthy relative, or even a friend or benefactor.  Sometimes, though, that inheritance might end up being damaged or destroyed.  Money may have been put in some type of stocks or financial account, and a downturn in the economy brings a big loss.  Physical items can end up becoming damaged, destroyed, or stolen.  This will not be the case with any inheritance we have from our Heavenly Father (vs. 4-5).  We can look past any troubles we have, and look to our eternal inheritance.  Our inheritance is God’s presence, joy, perfection, and eternal rewards.  This inheritance is incorruptible.  It will not pass away or decay.  It is undefiled and not stained with evil.  It does not fade away.  Unlike an earthly inheritance, this will last forever.

No one, including Satan, can steal the treasure God has for us (vs. 5).  Saving faith is permanent.  It never dies.  No matter what we may endure during our lifetime, our souls cannot be harmed if we have accepted Jesus as our Savior.

Our hope is not only for the future.  Eternal life begins when we trust Jesus.  No matter what trials we face in this life, we know it is not our final experience (vs. 6).  Trials do not last forever.  They serve a purpose, but should not diminish our joy.  God allows trouble to test the reality and genuineness of our faith (vs. 7).  How would we ever learn to trust God if we never experienced a situation where only He could help us?  All faith is tested, and great faith is tested greatly.  Jesus uses everything that touches our lives for our good and for His glory.

In closing, we should not put our hope in something lifeless, like money, a job, property, or a myriad of other physical things.  Put your trust in Jesus.  He is not lifeless.  He is alive.  In Him we have an inheritance, we have strength, and we have eternal life.

Monday, April 17, 2023

The Rejected Stone

Psalm 118:19-24

When something has been dismissed or written off by the critics, that doesn’t mean that it will be completely rejected.  Oftentimes the movies that the critics have given bad reports end up being a box-office hit.  Literary critics denounce a new book, but that same book becomes a bestseller.  In our psalm for this week we read a prophecy of a specific thing that some authorities rejected, but ended up being most important.

The psalm for this week after Easter is a brief portion from a moderately longer psalm.  The verse where we pick up the psalm speaks of the Lord opening up to us the gates of righteousness (vs. 19-20).  The gates of righteousness are not literal gates, such as what was found at various points in the walls that surrounded the city of Jerusalem and other cities in Biblical times.  The gates of righteousness are spiritual gates through which the righteous pass.  This is the entryway which leads to the presence of the Lord.

Due to our sinful nature, we cannot enter through these gates on our own.  Our sins keep us out.  However, when someone accepts the Lord Jesus as their Savior, they receive His righteousness, the righteousness of the sinless Son of God.  We become clothed in a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).  Because believers now have the righteousness of Jesus, the gates of righteousness which were once closed, are now opened for them.  This is the “narrow gate” that Jesus told us to enter in by (Matthew 7:13-14), the gate which leads to life, rather than the broad way which leads to destruction.

Now we come to our key verses of our Scripture, verses 22 and 23.  A cornerstone is the most important stone in the building.  It is the first stone laid when constructing a building, and all other stones are set in reference to it.  It will determine the position of the whole structure.  In the past, builders were very careful where the cornerstone was laid, as everything else had to be lined up with it.  In the New Testament we read a lot of how Jesus is the Cornerstone, and how the Church is built up upon Him (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Jesus, Himself, emphasized these verses when He told the Pharisees a parable of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46).  In that parable, Jesus told how the owner of the vineyard sent many servants to the workers to receive the produce, but the workers beat and killed them.  Then the owner sent his son, who they immediately took and killed.  Jesus then made reference to our psalm and the verses about the cornerstone.  These verses in Psalm 118 were a prophecy of Jesus, and the Pharisees who heard this parable knew that it was a reference to Him.  Jesus was that rejected cornerstone.  The Jews rejected Jesus who came to deliver the nation.

Just because some who seem to be in authority have rejected something or someone doesn’t mean that it is actually truly rejected.  The Pharisees rejected Jesus.  They rejected Him as the Messiah, and actually turned Him over to be killed.  However, as the Apostle Peter preached, God made Jesus, whom they crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).  On another occasion, when the Jewish religious leaders arrested Peter and John for healing a crippled man, they preached how he was healed by the Name of Jesus, who God made the chief cornerstone (Acts 4:8-12).  Although Jesus was rejected, He is now the Cornerstone, the most important part of the building, the Church.  The Church is built upon Him, and our lives are to be lined up with the Savior.

As our Scripture passage from our psalm this week closes, we read a familiar verse in verse 24, one that calls upon us to rejoice and be glad in the day the Lord gives us.  This is one verse that I often say upon waking up.  God has given us a new day, filled with opportunities to serve Him.  If we get run down in spirit, we can repeat this verse. It is effective in driving off depression and discouragement.  Even when we don’t feel like it, we need to realize that God has given us the day to live and serve Him, so rejoice!

Saturday, April 15, 2023

The Church's First Sermon

Acts 2:14, 22-32

Following the Church calendar, today is the first Sunday following Easter, or Resurrection Sunday.  For the next several weeks the first reading from the Lectionary for each Sunday takes us to the Book of Acts.  Today we look at the first sermon that the Apostle Peter gave, following the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  Let’s take a look at this first sermon by Peter, and actually, the first sermon in the Christian Church.

If Peter had been asked just a few days earlier to give a sermon to several thousand people, he possibly might have said absolutely not, that he certainly wasn’t qualified.  Prior to this day, Peter had been unstable and filled with bravado, and then he had shamefully denied the Savior.  But Jesus forgave, and now Peter was a new man with the power of the Holy Spirit.  Peter might also have felt unqualified since he didn’t have any advanced education in the Scriptures.  Like all Hebrew men, he had a basic education, knowing how to read and write, and probably basic arithmetic, etc.  But none of the twelve apostles had studied with the great Jewish rabbis and scholars.

However, everything changed when the Holy Spirit descended upon the believers and followers of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit opened the Scriptures to them, and gave them power to bring His message to those in Jerusalem and throughout the world.  This morning in Jerusalem, Peter, through the power of the Holy Spirit, was enabled to boldly proclaim God’s truth to the crowds of people who had gathered around.

This first sermon of Peter’s was to state that Jesus was both God and the Messiah, which was proven through His works and the resurrection (vs. 22).  Many of the people gathered around that morning had known about the crucifixion of Jesus just a few weeks prior, and they might also have heard the rumors that He had risen from the dead.  The overwhelming majority of the Pharisees and religious leaders, along with many of the population, didn’t approve of Jesus.  That is the same today, as most people don’t approve of Him.  However, Jesus was approved by God, as the Father worked many miracles, wonders and signs through Him (vs. 22).

Peter reminded the people of the crucifixion of Jesus just a month prior.  He stated that the crucifixion wasn’t just an accident or unfortunate ending to a teacher hated by the religious leaders, but instead was part of God’s plan (vs. 23).  It was the plan of God that Jesus would die on the cross.  It should not, though, have been the religious leaders and Jewish priests of Israel to do this.  That was their own making and choice.  That the crucifixion was predetermined by God does not absolve the guilt of those who caused it.  However, God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness is so great that He would forgive and save even those directly involved in crucifying Jesus if they would only have come to Him.

The apostle continued on to show that the rumors about Jesus having risen were not just a rumor, but was the truth.  Death could not hold Jesus because He atoned for all sin.  Jesus took away its legal right to hold Him because His death atoned for sin, defeating death and Satan.  Jesus’ resurrection was the ultimate sign that what He said about Himself was true.  Without the resurrection we would have no reason to believe in or follow Jesus (I Corinthians 15:14).

Peter continued with this first message of his by quoting from Psalm 16:8-11, which was written by their national hero, the great King David (vs. 25-28).  In this psalm that was written about a thousand years earlier, David prophesied of the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, speaking of how the Holy One, the Messiah’s body would not see corruption.  Those who hated Jesus, and willfully closed their eyes to any prophecies that He fulfilled, were claiming that these verses referred to David himself.  Peter easily refuted that, by reminding the people that David was dead and buried right there in Jerusalem (vs. 29).  David’s body had never been raised.  It remained in the tomb, so he could not be the fulfillment of this prophecy.  Jesus’ physical body, being sinless, saw no corruption.  Instead, it was raised from the dead and glorified.

David knew that God would keep His oath and every promise that He had made.  He believed the Messiah would come, and that every prophecy, every word given about Him would be fulfilled, including that His body would not see corruption, and that He would rise from the dead.  Peter boldly proclaimed that this prophecy about the Messiah was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  God approved of Jesus’ work on the cross, and the fact that He raised Jesus from the dead shows that (vs. 32).

Next week’s first Scripture reading from the Lectionary will show us the people’s response to this first message in the Christian Church era.  We’ll see then if they accepted or rejected God’s Word that Peter gave to them.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Dying To Sin And Alive In Christ

Romans 6:3-11

A dead body cannot do anything anymore.  That’s such an obvious statement that I really shouldn’t have to say that.  A dead person is no longer under the power or authority of anyone.  One can stand over the coffin and tell the dead body to do this or do that, and they won’t move a muscle.  They won’t, and in truth, they can’t do anything.  They are dead.  In our Scripture from the Book of Romans, Paul tells us, believers and followers of the Lord Jesus, how in a very real sense we are dead to one thing.  Let’s look at what God’s Word says.

As Paul began our Scripture, he spoke about being baptized into Christ Jesus, and how through that, we are baptized into His death (vs. 3).  Paul spoke of being deeply immersed in the belief and faith in Jesus Christ.  By placing saving faith in the Lord Jesus, we are spiritually immersed into the person of the Savior, united and identifying with Him.  Jesus became our substitute, and our identification with Him in His death gives us all the benefits for which He died.

In the days of the New Testament Church, baptism by immersion, where the body is submerged beneath the surface of the water, was the common form of baptism.  Going down under the water pictures and symbolizes the death and burial of the old way of life.  Coming up out of the water symbolizes a resurrection to a new life in Christ.  Our old, sinful life is dead and buried.  Paul spoke of how when we are saved, when we have accepted the Lord Jesus as Savior, we are now dead to sin and alive to a new life in Christ.  Being physically baptized symbolizes and shows that fact, and publicly identifies us as believers, united with Jesus.  Because our old life of sin has died, we are to treat the desires and temptations of that old nature as if they are dead.

Those who are united with Jesus by faith, His death and burial become ours (vs 4).  We are also united with Him in His resurrection.  Sin describes our old self, our old life, and the righteousness we receive through and from Jesus at salvation describes our new life.  All of our sins and transgressions of our past are now dead and buried.

When we accept Jesus as Savior, our old sinful self dies with Him, and the new life we now live is a divinely given life.  We do not need to, and should not follow the old sinful ways of our past (vs. 6).  The power and penalty of sin died with Jesus on the cross.  Believers are freed from its power.  Jesus defeated the power of sin at work in us.  We can enjoy a new life in Christ because we are united with Him in His death and resurrection.  Our desire for, and bondage to sin died with Him.  We now have freedom from sin’s hold on us.

Jesus was our substitute, and in the mind of God, we died with Him when we were saved.  Jesus set us free from the bondage of the sin nature.  He died to sin in two senses - He met the legal demands that were over the sinner.  He paid the penalty for sin.  Jesus also broke the power of sin over all believers.  We do not have to obey the orders of sin in our life any more.

We should now regard our old sinful nature as dead and unresponsive to sin.  Since death has no more dominion over Jesus, it has no more dominion over us.  The power of the sin nature is broken.  Because of our union with Jesus Christ, we are no longer obligated to follow those desires.

As believers and followers of Jesus, we need to consider ourselves to be what God has, in fact, made us, and that is dead to sin.  Remember that person lying in the coffin?  They can’t do anything.  No one can tell them to do anything.  If you are saved, you are now a dead person to sin, so act like one!

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

His Mercy Endures Forever

Psalm 136:1-4, 23-26

What is one of the best ways to learn something?  Repetition of the lesson.  Repeating something over and over again is one very good way to memorize, or get a lesson firmly implanted in our brain.  If we have something important to tell another person, we frequently repeat our message to them in order to be sure they heard.  If it’s important, we will often repeat our words.   God does the same thing.  If He repeats something several times in the Bible, it must be something important!  Our psalm for today has a message from the Lord that He has repeated over and over again.  It must be something important.  Let’s take a look at what this message is.

Today we are highlighting only the first and the last few verses of our psalm for this week, but the whole psalm is worthy of a read through.  This psalm, both in Biblical times and also throughout Church history, was very often recited responsively.  A priest, pastor, or church leader would recite the first half of each verse, with the congregation responding with the second half of the verse.  Throughout each of the twenty-six verses, the refrain is always the same words - “For His mercy endures forever.”  Obviously the Lord God has something that He wants us to know, to really get into our heads and hearts, and that is that His mercy endures forever.

What is mercy?  For a Christian, mercy is when God withholds from us the punishment that we justly deserve for our sins.  God’s mercy is most evident when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for us, paying the price of our sins, so that all who trust in Him will not suffer the just punishment of hell.  Even after we have been saved, and we commit some sin, God could dispense some just correction upon us, but so often, in His mercy, He withholds that from us.  God’s grace is when He bestows upon us what we don’t deserve, such as His forgiveness, His blessings, a place in heaven as part of His family.

As our psalm teaches us, we should never forget that God is a good God (vs. 1).  And because He is good, He is therefore merciful.  That is one of the beatitudes that Jesus taught His disciples, an attribute of God’s that He wants His followers to emulate and practice in their lives (Matthew 5:7).

Because God’s mercy endures forever, our thanks to Him should also be everlasting, enduring forever.  The psalm opens and closes with commands to His people to give Him ceaseless thanks (vs. 1-3, 26).  How often does our thanks consist of just a brief saying thanks for our food before we eat?  Many people today have even forsaken that ritual.  When we have received the mercy of God so abundantly in our life, it is only appropriate and proper of us to give Him thanks!

Psalm 136 highlights God’s mercy in His creation (vs. 5-9), and then it focuses on the mercy that He showed to the people of Israel when He brought them out of bondage in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and defeating Pharaoh, along with the kings of the Amorites and Bashan (vs. 10-22).  God does not forget those to whom He has given life.  He provides for every creature, and nourishes us (vs. 25).

God has rescued us (vs. 24), and has redeemed us by breaking the power of the one who has us bound, namely Satan, the prince of darkness.  Yahweh remembers His mercy and grace, and forgets our sins.  Man forgets God’s mercy and grace, and keeps a tally of others (and often their own) sins.

In closing, we need to remember that Yahweh is a God of gods, and a Lord of lords (vs. 2-3).  We can trust His promises.  He will never go back on His Word.  God’s love and mercy endures forever.  We do not need to ever fear that God will run out of love and mercy, because it flows from a well that will never run dry.  It will never fail us.  It will never end.  Whatever comes my way, I can rest assured that God’s faithful love for me endures forever.

Monday, April 10, 2023

A Reason To Rejoice

Isaiah 51:9-11

Once in a while something so wonderful happens in our life that we just feel like singing, maybe even dancing.  We can’t help but shout out and share the good news of what happened to us.  All of our other problems just fade into the background.  Our brief Scripture passage from the prophet Isaiah reminds us of a joyous event of deliverance that occurred to the Hebrew people that would bring singing and praise even centuries after it happened.  As Christians and followers of the Lord Jesus, we too have something so wonderful that He brought to us, that we can sing and shout for joy, as well.

As our Scripture opens, we read a brief prayer that the prophet Isaiah made.  The people of Judah needed God’s help.  Things were looking rather grim for them, and the Lord didn’t seem to be around.  He was silent, and Isaiah cried out to Him to wake up, so to speak (vs. 9).  Naturally God doesn’t ever sleep.  He is not a human, and doesn’t need to rest.  However, when He wasn’t answering their prayers, He might have seemed like a parent or spouse whose help you need, but you find them napping instead of helping.  Wake up!  Help me!  That was the people’s cry.

Isaiah reminded God of the times in the past when He came to His people’s aid.  He reminded God that it was He who had defeated Rahab and the serpent (vs. 9).  Again, God is not human, and He doesn’t need to be reminded of anything.  His memory is perfect.  It is us who need the reminding, and though Isaiah was speaking to the Lord, he was in essence reminding the people and himself of all that the Lord had done for them in the past.

Who or what is this Rahab and serpent that Isaiah was speaking of here?  Rahab was the name of a mythological sea monster, and was frequently spoken of by the Israelites and in Scripture to refer to the nation of Egypt.  The serpent, or as some versions of the Bible say, the dragon, is a reference to Satan, the enemy of all of God’s people.  In the Book of Genesis we read of Jacob’s family going into Egypt to escape a famine.  There they grew in number, and the Egyptian rulers grew suspicious of them, forcing them into servitude.  No one enjoys being a slave, and the Hebrews cried out to God.  He heard their cry, and brought them a mighty deliverance!  God broke the arm of Rahab, the nation of Egypt and their ruler, Pharaoh, when He brought the people out from bondage.

As we read further in verse 10, we are reminded of that great deliverance, when God parted the waters of the Red Sea, and led the people forth out of Egypt, saving them from the armies of Pharaoh.  All throughout Scripture we read about this great deliverance.  This was something so wonderful and memorable, that for centuries to come the people would remember with singing and rejoicing (vs. 11).

The people of Israel are not the only ones who have reason to sing and rejoice in the Lord.  Every believer and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ do, as well.  We have an even greater reason to sing for joy than the Israelites did, as we have been delivered from the bondage of Satan, from sin, and from death.  Just this past week we remembered the sacrifice that Jesus made with His death on the cross for our sins.  All those who accept Him as their Savior have their sins forgiven.  His resurrection from the dead destroyed the power of death, and we need fear that no more.  Jesus destroyed the power of Satan, that serpent, setting us free from his bondage.  We are the ransomed of the Lord, and we can sing with everlasting joy.  All of our sorrow and sighing can flee (vs. 11).

Is there something that is holding you in bondage?  Is there some “Rahab” in your life?  Is your life still held captive by sin and Satan, that evil serpent?  Cry out to the Lord Jesus, and give your life over to Him.  He delivered the descendants of Jacob from bondage to Egypt by His powerful arm.  The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus destroyed the power of Satan, and when we call upon Him, He will set us free from Satan’s kingdom of darkness.  Call upon Him today, and come to Zion with singing and everlasting joy!

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Resurrection Morning

John 20:1-18

The death of a loved one is a very sad, and sometimes distressing time.  Imagine then, if right after the death of someone dear, you went to the funeral home and found that their body was missing.  It just wasn’t there anymore.  That would certainly add to your grief and distress!  Our Scripture today gives a somewhat similar scenario.  Let’s look into one of the most joyous passages in the Bible.

Our Scripture begins very early on a Sunday morning.  The sun hadn’t even come up, yet Mary Magdalene was already up and had her supplies ready.  Late the previous Friday afternoon, the Lord Jesus had been crucified.  Several of His followers had removed the body from the cross, and laid Him in a tomb donated by a wealthy believer, Joseph of Arimathea.  Because sunset was quickly arriving, the beginning of the Sabbath, they could only give superficial anointing and care to the body of Jesus.  A proper anointing had to wait until Sunday, so that was why Mary Magdalene was up before dawn, ready to go to the tomb to take care of that.  That’s when she found that the grave was empty.

Running back to the remaining disciples, Mary Magdalene told them what she found, and they all assumed that the body had been stolen.  In their state of deep grief and shock, having just witnessed the brutal execution of their beloved leader and friend, the disciples seemed to have forgotten the words that Jesus had told them several times, just a few weeks earlier, that He would betrayed, turned over to His enemies, crucified, and that on the third day He would rise again (Mark 8:31, 9:31-32, 10:32-34).  Sure enough, Jesus had been betrayed and crucified.  And now, the third day, evidence was indicating that He had indeed risen.  Yet they did not comprehend that.

Grave robbers were an occasional occurrence.  Sometimes wealthier people might be buried with valuables or jewels, which the robbers would steal.  Also, if the dead were wealthy, the body might be held for ransom.  Pay them money and they would return the body so it could rest in peace.  However, the disciples, along with Mary, didn’t really think that theory through.  Jesus was not wealthy and had no valuables or jewels to be buried with.  Nor was His family or the disciples wealthy in order to pay a ransom.  Also, with the religious authorities against the disciples, along with Roman guards, what robber would want to risk getting involved with that?

Another clue that it wasn’t grave robbers was the fact that when Peter and John arrived at the tomb, they found the grave clothes lying there, neatly folded (vs. 5-7).  These would be the linen sheets that would be loosely wrapped around a dead body, somewhat like a mummy, only more loose, with ointments to slow down decomposition.  A grave robber would have left the grave clothes on.  It would be easier to carry a wrapped up body, and certainly more pleasant.  Even if they had taken the linen off, they wouldn’t have taken the time to neatly fold them!  So it was obvious a grave robber hadn’t come.

Another point to consider as we consider this Gospel account of the Resurrection, is that when Mary Magdalene first came to the tomb, the stone covering the entrance was already rolled away (vs. 1).  This stone weighed possibly 1,000 lbs or more.  Mary, even with several other women, could not have moved it.  Even several men would have had a difficult time, and the Roman guards would certainly have prevented that.  That stone was not rolled away for Jesus to get out.  He, in His resurrection body, could have walked through it, as He did through doors later (John 20:19-26).  The stone was rolled away so that people could get in and see that Jesus had indeed risen!

As our Gospel account continues, the disciples Peter and John left the grave, but Mary Magdalene remained.  Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary, and thereafter she was a faithful follower and financial supporter of His ministry (Luke 8:2-3).  (Nowhere in the Bible does it ever say she was a prostitute.  That slander started in the late 6th century.)  She remained at the tomb crying.  She was crying both for the loss of the Savior she loved, and also with the thought that His body was taken and was lying who knew where.  It was then that, not only did she encounter two angels (vs. 12-13), but moments later she saw the Lord Jesus, the first person to see Him (vs. 14).  However, Mary did not recognize Him (vs. 15).  Perhaps tears blurred her eyes.  Also, she would have had the vivid memory of Jesus’ battered and tortured body in her mind.  Now Jesus appeared in His resurrection body.

As soon as Jesus spoke Mary Magdalene’s name, she recognized Him.  Just as Scripture says, His sheep know His Voice (John 10:27).  Mary did not meet the risen Jesus until she had discovered the empty tomb.  We, too, cannot really meet Jesus until we discover that He is alive, and that the tomb is empty.  Have you met the Risen Savior yet, and know that He is alive?

Friday, April 7, 2023

Paid In Full

John 19:30

One thing we like to hear are the words “Paid in Full”.  After years of paying a mortgage every month, or perhaps car payments, student loans, or any other time payments, when the notice comes stamped “Paid in Full”, it is very good news.  Knowing that there is one less thing taking our money every month brings a big feeling of relief.  It’s no fun having a debt hanging over one’s head!  Our Scripture verse for today tells us about another “Paid in Full” time.

Today we’re looking at just one verse from the Gospel of John.  While Jesus hung on the cross He made seven statements.  The sixth of the seven statements was “It is finished.” If we look at a list of these seven statements, they are all rather self-explanatory in their meaning.  However, one might wonder exactly what Jesus meant here.  Let’s take a closer look at this sixth statement of Jesus, and what He meant.

Just prior to our verse, Jesus had made His fifth statement, which was “I thirst”.  That’s easy to understand.  Part of the torture of being crucified was the terrible thirst that one experienced.  Jesus made that statement, and then one of the soldiers dipped a sponge in some sour wine, put the sponge on a stick, and handed it up to Jesus.  Then Jesus made our sixth statement, “It is finished.”  Some people might think that He was telling the soldier that He was done taking the sour wine, that the soldier could take the sponge back.  No, that is not what this statement meant.  Jesus wasn’t just having a brief conversation with the soldier.  It was so much more.

The best way to understand this statement of Jesus is to look at the words in the original Greek language.  The Greek word used is “tetelestai”.  It is a word that archeologists have found on sheets of ancient Greek papyrus, which were old billing receipts and accounting ledgers.  Written across these bills was the word “tetelestai”, which meant “Paid in Full”.  The people whose bills those were did not need to make any more payments.  The bill was paid!  Depending on how big the bill was, that would have been a happy day for the debtor!  The creditor could no longer demand any more money.  The debt was paid.

Some people may think that they don’t owe anything to anyone.  They may live in a house that was already paid for, perhaps by their parents or grandparents.  They don’t carry a credit card or car debt.  However, we all have one debt that we owe, and that is our sin debt.  We all have sinned (Romans 3:23).  No one is exempt from that.  And the penalty for sin is death and separation from God (Romans 6:23).  There is no way that any of us can fully pay the penalty for our sins.  It is like a creditor coming to us and telling us that we owe multiple billions of dollars.  How could we possibly pay that!!

If we have a large bill that we need to pay, we may be lucky to have someone with more money than us who is willing to pay that debt.  Generally a creditor doesn’t care who pays the bill, as long as it gets paid.  In the case of our sin debt, a debt we had no way of fulfilling, there was Someone who paid that for us, and that was the Lord Jesus Christ.  There was one thing that Jesus came to earth to do, and that was to redeem mankind.  His death on the cross paid our sin-debt.

Just moments prior to His death, Jesus cried out Tetelestai!  Paid in full!  I do not imagine that He said that in a mumble, but instead cried that out triumphantly.  Jesus had finished what He had come to do.  The entire work of redemption had been brought to completion.  Jesus paid the full penalty for our sins.  With His death, the complex sacrificial system ended because Jesus took all sin upon Himself.

When someone pays a huge bill that we owe, we should be smart enough to believe that they really did pay it, and not continue to try and make payments ourselves, especially for a debt so huge we could never possibly finish paying it!  Our sin-debt has been paid by Jesus.  He paid that with His Blood on the Cross.  Stop trying to pay that yourself.  Stop trying to get to Heaven by your good works, because there will never be enough to pay that debt.  Accept what Jesus did.  He paid that for you.  Tetelestai!  Paid in Full!

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Looking Unto Jesus

Hebrews 11:39 - 12:3

What is the best way to walk a really straight line?  If a farmer wants to plow a straight line, how can he make sure that the furrows are straight, and not veering off at an angle?  The best way is to keep your eyes focused on a single object off in the distance.  Keep walking towards the object, eyes steadily on that point.  If you look around at other things, or down at your feet, your path will be crooked.  In our Scripture for today, we read the instruction of what to keep our eyes on in order to successfully go through life.

In the Book of Hebrews we find a very well-known chapter, just prior to our passage, which is sometimes referred to as Faith’s Hall of Fame.  Each of the people who are listed in Hebrews 11 were believers and followers of God, who had genuine faith that persevered to the end (vs. 39-40).  They continued to believe the truth, in spite of harsh circumstances and trials in their life.   God’s Word lists them as examples for us to pattern our life after.  What helped and encouraged these believers to continue on in their walk of faith?  They kept their eyes on the Lord.  He is the Supreme One to follow, especially when we consider all that He endured in His life.

As we continue our brief Scripture passage, the author of Hebrews also compares the Christian life to running a race.  Most of us have seen races, whether at school sporting events or when watching the Olympics.  The runners in the race do not load themselves down with weights.  If they want to win, which would be their goal, they don’t run with backpacks filled with bricks!  They also want to make sure the running path is free from anything that could trip them or get tangled around their feet.  The Christian life can be weighed down by excess baggage, such as worries or our past.  As we will all find, sin is something that will trip us up throughout life.  God’s Word urges us to lay aside that weight (vs. 1).  We need to cast that weight onto Jesus, and then our burdens will be lighter, and the race easier (I Peter 5:7).

Another thing about runners, particularly for those who run marathons, is that runners in a race cannot set their own course.  Doing so will disqualify them.  If, when running a marathon, the runner decides to go off the designated path because it might seem easier and quicker, that runner is disqualified.  They cannot pick the route.  In like manner, we must run the race that God sets for us, not one we pick out for ourselves.

Running a race can be exhausting, and one thing that helps the athlete is to focus on the finish line.  He needs endurance, that steady determination to keep going, regardless of the temptation to slow down or give up.  When we’ve exhausted our resources, and life’s struggles are too much, we need to focus on the finish, and run the race with endurance.  As mentioned at the start, keep the eyes focused on the goal, and in the case of a race, it is the finish line.  In the life of the Christian we are to keep our eyes focused on Jesus.

Satan will try to get us to look at ourselves and other people, and that will only cause us to stumble and perhaps outright fall.  When we are trying to reach a goal, looking only at our feet will make us veer off course.  The best way to go straight towards something is to keep looking at it.  Our goal is heaven and having a life more like the Savior.  We need to focus on that destination, Jesus Christ, and look only to Him.

Our trials may seem heavy and hard, but when we look to Jesus, and we consider what He went through on that Good Friday, the brutal crucifixion, and the taunting and shame of that whole day, what we are bearing is nothing compared to what He endured (vs. 2).  He looked beyond the cross to see the joy that was before Him, the knowledge that His death would bring salvation to the world.

Jesus is the supreme example of willingness to suffer in obedience to God.  He faced hostility, and endured the cross.  We are not the first to struggle with problems we face.  Others have run the race and won, and their witness should stir us to run and win also.

Monday, April 3, 2023

The Suffering Of The Messiah

Psalm 22:1-21

When a historical event takes place, we often find journalists and news crews there, taking down what happens for news reports.  How about when what is reported was written down a thousand years before the event actually took place, and written down with great accuracy?  In our psalm for this week, Holy Week, we read what might seem like an eye-witness news account of the crucifixion of Jesus.  Let’s look into Psalm 22.

Psalm 22 was written by David, and it reads as if he was right there at the crucifixion, yet as we know, he lived around 1000 BC.  We don’t specifically know the occasion of the psalm, but it is obvious that he was going through some distressing time.  The psalm opens with a cry to God (vs. 1-2).  David felt at that moment, and in the crisis he was in, that he was abandoned by God.  Have you ever felt like that?  Have you ever looked at the distressing situation you find yourself in, and feel as if God abandoned you?  Many of us have at one point or another.

We read in the Gospels that this is what Jesus cried out on the cross (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).  It was the fourth of the seven words or sentences that Jesus said while on the cross, spoken maybe halfway through the six hours He hung there for us.  Because Jesus was taking the full punishment for our sins, God could not hear or answer His prayer right at that time.  Because God is so holy, He couldn’t even look upon this.  While His precious and dearly-beloved Son hung upon the cross, bearing our sins, God had to turn His back on Him.  Jesus could honestly cry out that He was forsaken.  Because Jesus went through that for us, we don’t ever need to fear that we have been abandoned by God.  Sometimes we may feel like we have, but in reality God will never abandon His Blood-bought children.

From His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane to when He took His last breath, Jesus suffered not only physical torture, but also terrible ridicule and shame at the hands of both the soldiers and the religious leaders.  His treatment was inhumane, and He could honestly say that He felt like a worm, and no man (vs. 6-7).  Jesus took the lowest place among men, to be rejected, scorned, spit upon, and humiliated in infamy and shame.  The reproach and ridicule hurled upon Jesus was overwhelming (Matthew 27:39-44; Luke 23:35).  Judas mocked Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when He was arrested by greeting Him with a kiss.  The chief priests and scribes laughed at Jesus to scorn.  Herod mocked Him.  The soldiers jeered Jesus, and brutally insulted Him.  While Jesus hung on the cross, He was also mocked by the crowds standing around.

Then in our psalm, we come upon a direct quotation that David made, which centuries later we find being said by the people who stood around the cross while mocking Jesus, quoted basically word for word (vs. 8).  The Jewish religious leaders said these very words to Jesus while He was on the cross (Matthew 27:43).  These were people who should have known the Scriptures, who should have been very familiar with this psalm, yet they were willfully blind to what God’s Word said.

All throughout this horrible day for Jesus, His enemies came upon Him, physically and verbally, like angry bulls and fearsome lions (vs. 12-13).  Where were His friends, His disciples, people we would think He could count on?  Everyone fled Jesus during His hours of need (vs. 11).  There is none to help.  And as we discussed, even God had to turn His back on Him.

Our psalm continues with some very clear verses that vividly describe how one might feel during a crucifixion (vs. 14-16), this being prophesied centuries before the Romans used this as a common form of execution.  One’s bones are pulled out of the joint.  It is very difficult to breathe while hanging on a cross, and the heart might feel like it is exploding.  In the hot desert climate, hanging in the sun, one gets extremely thirsty.  And, of course, crucifixion involves piercing the hands and feet with the nails.  All of this was prophesied centuries before Jesus was crucified.  It was a very tortuous death that Jesus suffered for each one of us.

Then, as a final insult, while Jesus hung on the cross, the soldiers who had finished crucifying Him, divided up His clothes among themselves (vs. 18).  These were the only items on earth that Jesus owned.  This was one very specific prophecy about Jesus that was fulfilled, one that Jesus would have had no way of influencing.  All four Gospel writers attest to the fulfillment of this prophecy (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; and John 19:24).

This is an amazing passage of Scripture.  It might have seemed like David was there, penning exactly what was happening.  Nothing that any of us have gone through, or ever will, can compare to what we see that Jesus went through.  He went through all that was described in this psalm for us.  We can sing with the great hymn writer Philip Bliss, “Hallelujah, What a Savior!”