Monday, April 17, 2017

The Resurrected Christ's Commission (Mt.28).

This is one of the most significance stories that anyone could ever hear. (Read Matthew 28).
What I really like abot this story is that it is so shocking. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb fully expecting to find the body of Jesus. What they didn’t expect was an ‘earthquake’. Then what was even more unexpected was a visitation from an angel from heaven who had rolled the stone away. His white clothes and lightning like appearance was so shocking to the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb that they shook with fear and fell to the ground as though dead. The women were also struck with fear after all there had been an earthquake and they’re visited by this radiant heavenly visitor. They see the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb collapse in fear and the dead body of Jesus is nowhere to be seen. But the most shocking thing of all is the claim made by the angelic visitor that Jesus is alive from the dead just as he had said.

This shocking story is also a bit ‘perplexing’. Jesus had clearly told his own disciples on a number of occasions that he would rise from the dead but none of them, including these faithful women, were expecting Jesus to be alive (See John 2:19, Matthew 12:39-40, 16:21, 17:22, 20:17-19, 21:38-39, 26:2, 12). Why were so incapable of hearing what Jesus had said and alluded to on several occasions? Now having received the shocking revelation regarding the risen Christ they are told to tell Jesus’ disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. They leave filled with this strange combination of fear and joy. As they run to tell the others they meet the resurrected Jesus and fall at his feet and worship him. Jesus sends them on to tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee.  

The story has much to tell us about the character of men. We learn much from the various responses to this shocking revelation of the empty tomb and the angel’s message of the risen Lord. The soldiers are also filled with fear but they fall down as though dead. But what is perplexing is when they tell the high priest then they become part of a plot to cover up that has happened. The soldiers tell the religious leaders the truth of what happened but they are offered a bride to say that Jesus’ disciples stole the body at night while they were sleeping. The soldiers agree and they accept the bribe and they spread the alternative account. The high priest and the elders are not moved to repentance but seek to cover it up the truth of Jesus with their own twisted false account. What a picture of what we are all capable of apart from God’s grace. Left to ourselves we would rather lie than repent and admit the errors of our ways!
By contrast the women respond to the shocking episode by running to tell the disciples the ‘good news’. On their way they meet the resurrected Jesus and they grasp Jesus’ feet and worship him. The women tell the eleven disciples who go to a mountain in Galilee where they see the ‘resurrected Jesus’. Their response is also shocking because some worship and yet ‘some doubted!’ Perhaps they were just slow of heart to believe but maybe they were not yet able to grasp that Jesus is the appropriate object of worship and were not yet able to grasp what we know about the deity of Christ and triune nature of God.

So what does the story tell us about God and about Jesus?  The resurrection proves that Jesus really is God’s Messiah. Jesus really does fulfill all that was foretold about the Messiah who was to come. This shocking story and the varying responses to the ‘good news’ in Christ tells us that ‘genuine faith’ is the gift of God. Faith is not something that we can just conjure up in our own strength; it is God’s gracious gift to man. God must foretell, God must fulfill, God must reveal and God must grant faith and repentance and apart from his gracious intervention we simply will not believe. Then we see that God gives the resurrected Jesus (the divine Messiah) all authority in heaven and on earth so that all authority belongs to the resurrected Messiah Jesus; who is now revealed as the proper object of worship.

So what is the faithful, trusting and appropriate response to the ‘good news’ of the resurrected Jesus, who has conquered death, and who revealed himself to these first disciples; the women who grasped his feet and the eleven who meet him on the mountain? How should we respond to the one who has been given ‘all power and all authority’ in heaven and on earth? Having one’s eyes opened to the reality of the resurrected Christ should fill the heart with fear and joy. The resurrected Jesus has become the proper object of our worship. The true worshiper will worship Jesus with fear and joy even if others doubt, eve if we struggle with our own doubts. What is the appropriate response to the resurrected Jesus? We should respond with fear, with joy, with faith, and having fallen down in worship we are to get up willing to play our part in the fulfillment of the ‘great commission’. We are to respond by not being content until the nations are baptized into the name of the Triune God and are taught to obey everything Jesus has commanded. As these women clung to Jesus’ feet, we are to cling to the promise that all power and authority belong to Jesus and that Jesus will be with us even to the end of the age.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

"Good Friday?"

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once preached at a ‘good Friday’ service and afterwards a man came up to him and asked, “Why do you call it ‘Good’ Friday when that horrible thing happened? After a discussion Lloyd-Jones concluded that the man had misunderstood the cross! Evidently the man did not think that the cross was actually necessary.

Read Mark 8:27–33 (NIV84) So Jesus and his disciples were moving through the villages around Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ. After warning his disciples not to tell this to people, Jesus told them how the ‘Son of Man’ MUST SUFFER many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. But Peter rebuked Jesus, until Jesus rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan!
Jesus plainly told that the ‘Son of Man’ must suffer many things and that he must be killed (8:31). Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand this because to them and everyone else at that time, a Messiah who suffers and dies was a failed Messiah. Peter understood that Jesus was the Messiah but he didn’t understand the need for the cross. This is why Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. When Peter rebuked Jesus saying, “this will never happen to you” but Jesus rebukes Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! In other words, the denial of the cross is a satanic lie. The cross is absolutely necessary! This is also seen in the story of Jesus in the ‘garden of Gethsemane’ as well (Mark 14:32-42). 
The Story of Gethsemane from Mark 14:32–42 
Jesus and his disciples went to Gethsemane, where they sat while Jesus prayed. Jesus took Peter, James and John and he told them that he was so sorrowful that he could die. They were to keep watch while Jesus went a little further and fell down and prayed. Then Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not my will, but your will be done!” Then Jesus returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. Jesus said, “Peter, couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Once more Jesus went away and prayed that if possible his Father might take the cup away from him, but not his will but the Father's will be done. Again Jesus returned and found his disciples sleeping and they didn’t know what to say to Jesus. Returning a third time, Jesus told his sleepy disciples that now the hour had come for him to be turned over into the hands of sinners. That the Father did not respond tells us that it was impossible to avoid the cross. Evidently the plan of God to save the world and redeem sinners required the cross and there was no other way. Almighty God could not save sinners apart from the cross!

Mark’s Crucifixion Story (Mark 15:16–39).
The whole company of soldiers gathered around Jesus. These soldiers would have resented the Jewish revolutionaries and so they must have taken their frustrations out on the powerless Jesus. They mockingly put a purple robe normally reserved for nobility and a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. They fell on their knees saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” They spit on him and beat him repeatedly. Then when they were done mocking him they put his clothes back on him and led Jesus out to be crucified. They forced Simon of Cyrene, a Jewish pilgrim from North Africa, to help the battered Jesus to carry the cross on which he would be crucified.  They took Jesus to Golgotha, the ‘Place of the Skull’. At nine in the morning Jesus was crucified. They offered Jesus a form of drugged wine but he refused. The soldiers stripped Jesus of his clothes and they cast lots for them. The charge written on the cross against Jesus said ‘KING OF THE JEWS’. He was crucified between two rebels, one on his right and one on his left. 

Those who passed by Jesus as he hung naked on the cross insulted him. They shook their heads claiming that if Jesus was going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days then he should save himself. In actuality they had misunderstood Jesus’ claims (John 2:19, Mark 13:2). Then the chief priests and the teachers of the law also insulted Jesus by acknowledging that he saved others, but that he couldn’t save himself. They claimed that if Jesus came down from the cross then they would believe that he was Israel’s king. But as the Christ he had come to conquer sin and death by embracing it on the cross. Even the thieves crucified beside Jesus hurled their insults at Jesus.

The story of the crucifixion is a sad story that is set in a dark place, Golgotha, the place of the skull. Darkness even engulfed the whole land from noon until 3 in the afternoon (Mark 15:33). The Roman battalion (600 men) mocked Jesus ‘hailing him as the king of the Jews’ while beating and spitting on him. Those in the crowd mocked him saying he claimed to destroy and rebuild the temple but that he was powerless to save himself. For the religious leaders he would have to come down from the cross and save himself if he was Israel’s true king. He was treated shamefully, and he looked like a weak and pathetic character that was ridiculed by those who were crucified beside him.  

It was a ‘sad day’ when Jesus who had been betrayed by a friend was abandoned by his disciples. Now only the women who followed him and cared for his needs were there watching from a distance. Ironically, it was only a Roman centurion who heard Jesus cry, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ and confessed that he was ‘the son of God’. But the worst thing of all that Jesus faced was being ‘utterly forsaken’ by his own heavenly Father! Yet, despite all that he faced Jesus clung faithfully to his confession, “My God, My God”. That Friday was a dark day, it was a sad day, and it was an evil thing what happened there on that dark day! So why do we call it ‘Good Friday’? The reason we call Friday good is… SUNDAY! 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Power of Story (Part I).

One of the biggest lessons I learned from Africa and from Africans began when my daughter Clara was about 4 or 5 years old.My daughter Clara loves stories and she always wanted me to tell her stories. So I told her all the stories that I felt were appropriate and I ran out of stories but she wanted me to tell her more stories. Now I could have given her various statements of what the Bible teaches on a various topics with proof texts and that may have put her to sleep but I wanted to engage her with God's word. I wanted her to know God and His will for her life. So I asked myself, ‘how many Bible stories have I internalized so that I could tell them accurately and naturally in my own words?’ My answer was maybe the same as your answer to that question might be… practically none!
Now I had been teaching a class on Daniel at a Bible College in Malawi so I started telling Clara stories from the book of Daniel. She loved it so I started telling those same stories to the prisoners at Maula prison in Malawi. I will never forget what happened when I told the story from Daniel 4 where Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that frightened him. Do you know that that story?
Nebuchadnezzar was the world’s most powerful ruler but his nightmare scared him. The king called for his council of Babylonian ‘wise men’ but they failed to interpret the dream. They may have been afraid to bring the explosive king the ‘bad news’ depicted in the dream (Daniel 2:12, 3:13-15). The king would need Daniel, the exiled Jewish prophet, to discern his dream. As a subjugated Jewish exile the king referred to Daniel as Belteshazzar after the name of Nebuchadnezzar’s god. Yet, Nebuchadnezzar understood Daniel to be indwelt by the ‘spirit of the holy gods’ and capable of interpreting the dream.

Nebuchadnezzar saw a tree that touched the sky that was visible throughout the earth. The tree had beautiful leaves, abundant fruit and the birds and the beasts sheltered in it. A holy one from heaven said that the tree would be chop down, stripped of its leaves and branches, its fruit would be scattered and the birds and beasts chased from it. This superior power commands that the tree be stripped of its authority and its abundance, but the stump would remain bound with a strap of iron and bronze. The tree is depicted as having a mind that is to be changed to that of a beast for period of seven times. The reason for all this is so that all may know that Most High God rules over the kingdoms of men (4:17).

Daniel was also upset by the dream, but the king insisted that Daniel interpret the dream. Daniel was genuinely concerned and told the king and wished that the dream applied to the king’s enemies. Then Daniel freely tells Nebuchadnezzar that he is the tree that touched the sky; visible throughout the earth. The decree of the Most High God was that the king, the personalized tree, would be driven from people to live among the beasts for a period described as seven times until the king acknowledged that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of men.

Nebuchadnezzar had risen to prominence but his rule was oppressive so he would be stripped of his kingly glory. Evidently, the king had ignored the hardships of the oppressed and now the king’s authority and prosperity would be removed from him. Nebuchadnezzar was an inhumane king who used people like beasts. Now he would be given the mind of a beast and he would live among the beasts in the bush like a beast. He would remain in this condition until the time when the king acknowledged that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of men. The remaining stump meant that Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would be restored when Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that heaven rules.  Again, concerned for the king’s welfare, Daniel exhorts the king to turn from his sins by doing what was right and by being merciful to the oppressed then the king’s prosperity might continue.

A whole year passes but Nebuchadnezzar is unchanged. We find him walking on the roof of his palace admiring his achievements. The king was boasting of the greatness of Babylon which he evidently built at the expense of the poor and oppressed. Nebuchadnezzar had urged Daniel to interpret his dream and having given the king the interpretation Daniel urged the king to change his ways. Unconcerned and unresponsive we find the boastful king is interrupted by the voice from heaven announcing the removal of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. He would be driven from people to live like a beast among the beasts. This would last for a period of seven times until Nebuchadnezzar learned that the Most High rules the kingdoms of men. Nebuchadnezzar had failed to heed Daniel’s warning but now a voice from heaven tells Nebuchadnezzar directly without any symbolic imagery that his kingdom is removed and that he would be driven from people to live like a beast among the beasts. Nebuchadnezzar would remain in that beast-like condition for a period of seven times until Nebuchadnezzar learned that heaven rules.

Nebuchadnezzar was driven into the bush to live like a beast among the beasts. He was given the mind of a beast, and his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails grew like the claws of a bird. When the period of seven times was completed, Nebuchadnezzar lifted his eyes to heaven and came to his senses. Now being found in his right mind Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that the Most High does what he pleases with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. As was promised Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was restored the king praised God saying, ‘all God’s ways are just and He is able to humble the proud’. This Nebuchadnezzar knew by experience for in his arrogance he had lost his kingdom but then after confessing that ‘heaven rules’ his kingdom was restored.
Those prisoners at Maula prison loved that story. We had a great time following the telling of that story as we discussed how that story depicts the Most High God of Daniel (Daniel 4:17) as being sovereign over the kingdoms of men. The discussion was going well when one of those inmates stood up and said, “Guys, Nebuchadnezzar was the king of all the kings of his time, he had everything but he had to lose everything before he repented. Then he said this, “guys we have nothing, who are we not to repent!”

Now that relatively uneducated prison inmate really understood the implications of the difficult doctrine of the ‘Sovereignty of God’. When I taught at a Bible College in Malawi I used to tell my students what I had heard the Theologian John Frame say, ‘you don’t know or understand a doctrine until you know how that doctrine applies’. That relatively uneducated man in that Malawian prison understood the practical implications of the doctrine, the teaching of the ‘word of God’ regarding the Biblical doctrine of the ‘Sovereignty God’.  He responded to that clear and straight forward story from the Book of Daniel (Daniel 4) about the ‘Sovereignty of God’ by doing what Daniel had urged King Nebuchadnezzar to do, to turn from sins.