Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Love Is the Fulfilling of God's Law

Part 6 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 13:8-10




Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law (v. 8). 


The Dept of Love

It’s a good feeling when you finally pay off a debt—when your credit card balance is finally zero or the mortgage payments finally come to an end. But there’s one debt that will never be paid in full: the debt of love.

We’ll never get to the point where we can say, “I’ve been kind for long enough. I think it’s time that I stop being kind.” The apostle Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (v. 8). What he’s saying is there’ll never a time when we’ll be excused from loving others.


Is It a Sin to Borrow Money?

“Owe no one anything” (v. 8). Is this a command to never borrow money? Let’s say we’re at McDonald’s and I realize I’ve forgotten my wallet. Is it wrong for me to ask you to lend me five dollars? No, Paul “is not prohibiting us from borrowing money but demanding we pay back what we owe [e.g., taxes (v. 7)]” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 436).

Sometimes debt reveals that there’s a problem in our hearts. People often get into debt because they worship the gods of materialism and pleasure. In Colossians 3:5, Paul says that “covetousness…is idolatry.”

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (12:2). Don’t live for present pleasures (and get into debt) like the world does. Be different.

Our hope doesn’t come from things or pleasures. Paul could say, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11). How? His hope was in Christ.


Love Your Neighbour as Yourself

Why do we always need to love others? “For [i.e., because] the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (v. 8). “The law” refers to the commands of God found in the Old Testament.

Jesus was once asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” What was his answer? He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he added, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40).

So we could say that when we love, we are doing what God’s law requires. “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (v. 9).

Paul is dealing with our horizontal relationships (with one another), not our vertical relationship (with God). He’s saying that all of the commands that have to do with our relationships with others will be obeyed if we love our neighbour as ourselves. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (v. 10). (Who is our neighbour?)


How Do We Love?

What does it mean to love others? It means to love others as God has loved us.

Listen to Ephesians 5:1-2: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Later in Ephesians, Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (5:25).

In Philippians 2:6, Paul describes Jesus as “being in very nature God” (NIV). He goes on to say that Jesus “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (v. 7) and that ended with him dying “on a cross” (v. 8). New Testament scholar D. A. Carson believes the verse 6 could be reworded to say that “because he was in very nature God,” Jesus died for us. Sacrifice isn’t just what God did; it’s who he is!

To love is to make a sacrifice for the good of others. Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Heaven's Citizens and Human Government

Part 5 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 13:1-7




Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (v. 1). 


Submit to the Governing Authorities

When Christians come to this passage in Romans, more time is usually spent talking about what it doesn’t mean. But let’s start by talking about what it does mean.

The apostle Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (v. 1). Who are “the governing authorities”? The government—the people who make our laws.

Paul says, “Be subject [i.e., submit] to the governing authorities.” We might say, “But Paul didn’t know that Trudeau would be our Prime Minister!” Or Americans might say, “But Paul didn’t know that Trump would be our President!” That’s true, of course. But let’s talk about who was in power when Paul wrote these words.

Paul probably wrote his letter to the Romans in A.D. 57. Do you know who the Emperor of Rome was in A.D. 57. It was Nero. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather live under the rule of Trudeau or Trump than Nero!


Why?

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Someone might say, “If I’m a citizen of heaven, then I don’t need to submit to ‘governing authorities.’” But Paul says, “You’re wrong. ‘Every person’ must submit to their governing authorities.

Why? Why should we “be subject to the governing authorities”? Paul gives two reasons. First, we should “be subject to the governing authorities” because God has appointed them. “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (v. 1b).

Daniel 4:17 says, “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” This was a lesson that King Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way.

The Roman governor Pilate said to Jesus, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” (John 19:10). How did Jesus reply? “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (v. 11).

Paul adds, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (v. 2). If you refuse to pay your taxes, you’re resisting God!

Second, we should “be subject to the governing authorities” because they maintain order in society. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (vv. 3-4a).

Do we submit to the governing authorities just to avoid punishment? No, we “must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience” (v. 5). We do it because it’s the right thing to do.


Always Obey?

Do we always have to obey the governing authorities? Paul says, “Be subject to the governing authorities.” To “be subject” (i.e., submit) is “to recognize one’s subordinate place in a hierarchy, to acknowledge as a general rule that certain people or institutions have ‘authority’ over us” (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 797)  But this doesn’t mean that we should always obey people who are in authority over us.

Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s [i.e. taxes, etc.], and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). To God belongs our unqualified obedience. “If the state commands what God forbids, or if the state forbids what God commands, then civil disobedience is a Christian duty" (Timothy J. Keller, Romans 8-16 for You, p. 123). Peter said to the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).


Be Transformed

Let’s go back to 12:1-2. Paul says, “Present your bodies [i.e., yourselves] as a living sacrifice.” What’s our motivation? “The mercies of God.”

How does God want us to live? “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Be transformed by the gospel. Be different!

How should a Christian interact with a person with different political views? “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).

[Read 1 Peter 2:13-17.] God “is more concerned with our humility and self-denial and trust in Christ, than he is about our civil liberties" (John Piper, "Subjection to God and Subjection to the State").

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Abnormal Love

Part 4 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 12:14-21




Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (v. 21). 


Following Jesus

[This sermon was preached in a baptism service.] Today we witnessed five baptisms. This church believes that baptism is to be preceded by faith in Jesus Christ. Acts 2:41 says, “Those who received [Peter’s] word [i.e., the gospel] were baptized.” First, faith, then baptism. The person being baptized is making it known that he or she is a follower of Jesus.

The decision to follow Jesus is a decision to live an abnormal life. Do you agree? Think about Jesus, the person you’re following. Was Jesus normal?


Love Your Enemies

The life of a follower of Jesus is to be characterized by love. Jesus showed us what love is. “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:2). Here’s a good definition of love: “Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving” (Paul Tripp, What Did You Expect?, p. 188).

Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matt. 5:46). That’s normal love. Jesus expects his followers to have abnormal love. [Read Matthew 5:38-47.] To most people, this kind of love doesn’t sound very appealing. Where do we get the desire to love others like this?

Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (v. 2). What we need is not behaviour medication. We need gospel transformation. The gospel should change the way we think and act. We should continually remind ourselves that we are sinners saved by grace. Are you more influenced by our culture or by the gospel?


Don't Seek Revenge

Paul writes, “Beloved never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (v. 19). This is what Jesus did: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22-23). God will not allow evil to go unpunished. The cross shows us that God will not overlook sin.

Our hope should be that the person who has wronged us will repent of their sin. On the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Paul writes, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head’” (v. 20). The last part of verse 20 is difficult to interpret, but the most popular interpretation is that it’s talking about the possibility that the person will feel ashamed and repent. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 21).


We Live for God's Glory

What’s your response when you’re mistreated?

We don’t live for ourselves. We live for a higher purpose. We live for God’s glory. Paul told the Corinthians, “Why not rather suffer wrong?” (1 Cor. 6:7).

Think about what God has done for you. Jesus came to earth to be mistreated.

There is no greater way to show that we are the followers of Christ—and that the gospel has made a difference in our lives—than seeking the good of others even when they mistreat us.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Genuine Love

Part 3 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 12:9-13




Let love be genuine (v. 13a). 


Gospel Transformation

The apostle Paul writes, “Present your bodies [to God] as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). He is urging the believers in Rome to give their lives completely to God, to say, “Here’s my life, God. It’s yours.”

How do we get to the point where that’s our desire?

What we need in our lives is not behaviour modification. What we need gospel transformation. What or who you love affects what you do.

Paul makes his appeal “by the mercies of God” (v. 1). He’s saying, “Think about your sinfulness. Think about the mercy and grace of God. Think about the gospel.”

Paul says, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (v. 2). That’s how we’re transformed. It’s by thinking about the gospel more and loving God more. Then obedience becomes something we want to do.

So it’s not “I gotta be better.” It’s “I am so grateful for what God has done for me that I want to give my life to him.”


Living for the Applause

Paul writes, “Let love be genuine” (v. 13). These words really serve as a heading for what follows. Love is more than an emotion. Love shows up in what we do and say. We are to have the same kind of love that God has for us (i.e., a love that gives).

What’s the opposite of “genuine”? Fake. So Paul is saying, “Don’t appear to have love but actually have fake love.” What do we call this kind of person? A hypocrite. A hypocrite is like an actor who plays a part. An actor is usually very different from the character he/she plays.

Did Jesus encounter any hypocrites when he was on this earth? Yes. [Read Matthew 23:25-26.] It’s easy to be a hypocrite (e.g., being friendly to a person but then gossiping about that person).

A hypocrite lives for the applause. [Read Matthew 6:1-4.] Does God applaud the hypocrite? No. He’s not impressed. We are nothing if we don’t have genuine love. [Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.] 


How Are You Treating Christ?

How we treat the church is how we treat Christ. Do you believe that?

Do you remember what Jesus said to Paul (then Saul) on the way to Damascus? He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul’s persecution of the church was a persecution of Jesus himself.

And Jesus also said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it [i.e., an act of kindness] to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). Our kindness to our brothers and sisters in Christ is kindness to Christ himself.

How are you treating the church (i.e., your brothers and sisters in Christ)? We say that we love Jesus, but then we do what grieves him.

Remember that we were not loved by God because we were lovely. Genuine love comes from the heart—a heart transformed by the gospel.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Humbly Serve One Another

Part 2 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 12:3-8




For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned (v. 3). 


Gospel Transformation 

The gospel transforms lives.

How do we know if our life has been transformed by the gospel? Examine our relationships. Our relationships reveal the level of our gospel transformation.

Gospel transformation is to be lived out in community. 

We’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re can be good Christians while neglecting the command of Jesus to love others as he has loved us—even if we do lots of good things (e.g., read the Bible daily).


It Begins in the Mind

If I had to sum up verses 3-8 in one statement, it would be: Humbly serve one another. 

Humility and service are two things that don’t come naturally for us. So how do we get to the point where we humbly serve one another?

Paul writes, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (v. 2). When we change the way we think, we change the way we live.

We need to think about two things.

First, we need to think about what the gospel tells us about ourselves. 

Paul says, “By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (v. 3). In other words, be humble.

Most of us have an inflated opinion of ourselves. Even if we have low self-esteem about some areas of our lives, we still think too highly about ourselves in other areas of our lives. “I’m smarter than that person.” “I’m a better parent than that person.” “I know more about the Bible than that person.” 

What does the gospel tell us about ourselves? The gospel tells us that we are sinners and that we are saved only by God’s grace. Don’t think too highly about yourself!

And how were we saved? By Christ’s death on the cross. So the gospel also tells us that we are loved and valued by God. Don’t think too lowly about yourself!

Christ died for me, but he also died for that believer who’s hard for me to love. I need to remember that God doesn’t love and value that person less than he loves and values me.

Second, we need to think about the reason why we are members of the body of Christ. 

Paul writes, “For as in one body [i.e., our physical bodies] we have many members [i.e., parts], so we [i.e., the church], though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (vv. 4-5).

There is unity (one body) diversity (many members) in the church (just like in the human body).

And the members of the body of Christ are meant to serve one another (just like the parts of the human body serve one another): “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (v. 6).


Discerning the Body

In Paul’s instructions about the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34), we find “body” three times. In verses 24 and 27, “body” refers to the physical body of Christ. But I believe “body” in verse 29 refers to the church: “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

Paul writes, “There is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17). But what was happening in the church in Corinth? “When you come together as a church, I heard that there are divisions among you” (1 Cor. 11:18). They were tearing apart the body of Christ.

When we eat and drink during the Lord’s Supper, we are to remember two truths: (1) Christ died for us; (2) we are one body. We are to discern what God’s will is for the church. He wants us to be unified in love for God and love for one another.

Do we love God if we don’t love one another? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Are we keeping his command to love another as he has loved us?

We won’t humbly serve one another unless we love one another.


Christ Is Our Example and Energy

Christ is the ultimate example of humble service. He declared, “Whoever would be first among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).

Christ is also the energy for humble service. Why do we humbly serve one another? The thing that motivates us most should be our love for Christ. Do you love Christ? He also wants us to love his church.

Let’s examine ourselves to see if there are attitudes in our hearts that are hindering us from humbly serving one another.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The "Now What?" of the Gospel

Part 1 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 12:1-2




I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (v. 1). 


Now What?

Up to this point in his letter to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul has explained the gospel. And now in chapter 12, Paul gets to the “Now what?” of the gospel: we believe the gospel, now what?

We don’t forget the gospel and go on with our lives. What we believe about the gospel should make a big difference in our lives. 


A Living Sacrifice

Paul writes, “I appeal to you…brothers [and sisters]” (v. 1). He’s saying, “I urge you.” So what he’s about to say is very important.

He urges them, “Present your bodies [i.e., yourselves] as a living sacrifice” (v. 1).

What he’s saying is that we are to offer ourselves completely to God. “Here’s my life. It’s yours.” 

This kind of sacrifice is “living” (as opposed to the OT animal sacrifices), “holy” (i.e., “set apart”), and “acceptable [i.e., pleasing] to God” (v. 1).

This is not an optional second step of the Christian life.


The Mercies of God

“Therefore” (v. 1) points back to what Paul has previously written in this letter. He’s written about “the mercies of God” (v. 1).

Paul is saying, “Think about how good God has been to you. This about his mercy. Think about his grace. Think about how he has saved you.”

Is giving your life to God “as a living sacrifice” an easy thing to do? No. But it becomes easier when we remember what God has done for us.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:23-25).

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32).

What did we contribute to our salvation? What part did we play?

Imagine that I made a huge mess in our church building. And then a group of you came and cleaned up the mess, and I said, “Look at the great job we did!” You’d probably ask me, “What did you do?” And I would say, “I made the mess!”

What did part did you and I play in our salvation? We made the mess. We created the need for salvation. Still, God didn’t need to save us. In his mercy and grace, he chose to save us. How? By giving his own Son to die for us.

Do you believe that God loves you? Do you believe that he gave up his Son for your salvation? If you really believe these things about God, how can you refuse to give your life to him?


Live That Please God

Paul says that offering our lives to God is our “spiritual [logikos] worship” (v. 1). The KJV says “reasonable service.” Perhaps “reasonable” is the better translation of logikos. Douglas Moo prefers “informed” (Romans, p. 395). Our worship is to be informed (i.e., based on what we know about God and what he’s done for us).

Theology leads to doxology. But it shouldn’t end with praise. Theology also leads to obedience. Both praise and obedience are ways we worship. Worship is the way we live, not just what we do on Sunday morning.

God wants our hearts—seven days a week. This is the kind of worship that pleases God. This is the kind of worship God deserves.


Gospel Transformation

Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world” (v. 2). He’s saying, “Don’t act like everyone else.” Instead, we are to “be transformed” (v. 2). We are to be different. We are to act like Jesus.

How can we be transformed? “By the renewal of [our] mind[s]” (v. 2). All theology is practical. When we change the way we think, we change the way we live. 

Think about what Jesus has done for us. He declared, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). How would our lives change if we loved others as Jesus has loved us?

We’re fooling ourselves if we think we can be “good Christians” by doing good things but lacking love for others.

Offering ourselves to God is “the will of God” (v. 2) for our lives. And if we live this way, we will discover (“by testing you may discern,” v. 2) that God’s will is “good and acceptable [i.e., pleasing] and perfect” (v. 2). 

Some of the best things we ever do are also the most difficult things we ever do.


Don't Forget the Gospel!

Students, in frustration, often ask, “When am I ever going to use this (e.g., algebra) in my life?” Many of the things we learn in school don’t end up being very important to our lives.

But that’s not the case with the gospel! What we learn about the gospel never stops benefiting us.

When we initially accept the gospel, we don’t say, “That’s done. I’ve got my ticket to heaven. Now I can get on doing what I want to do.” No, we say, “Now what? God, here is my life. I give it to you. What do you want me to do?”

And that sacrifice is reasonable—it’s what we should do—when we remember what God has done for us.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Will You Believe?

Part 4 of No Greater Love

Text: John 20:30-31




Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (vv. 30-31). 


John's Purpose Statement

In verses 31, John reveals the reason why he wrote the Gospel of John: “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” So John’s purpose statement includes two goals:

  1. That people “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” 
  2. That “by believing [people] may have life in his name.” 
We need to make sure we understand correctly what John meant when he wrote the words “believe” and “life.”


Signs

John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book” (v. 30). In the Gospel of John, the “signs” of Jesus are his “miracles.” The miracles Jesus did were signs. They showed that he was the Christ. (We say, “Give me a sign.”) In John 2, Jesus performed “the first of his signs”—turning water into wine—and “his disciples believed in him” (v. 11).

In his Gospel, John didn’t include everything Jesus ever said and did. If John had done that, the Gospel of John would have been a much bigger book! But John did include the miracle that—more than any other miracle—shows that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”: the resurrection.

John’s account of the resurrection ends with Thomas seeing the risen Jesus and confessing that Jesus is his “Lord” and his “God” (“My Lord and my God!,” v. 28; cf. 1:1, 14). Have we heard this so often that it’s lost its impact?


Believe

The first part of John’s purpose statement is that people “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” What does it mean to “believe” in Jesus? Is John talking about a belief that is intellectual? Or is he talking about a belief that is life-changing? It’s both. What you believe about Jesus will affect the course of your life.

To “believe” in Jesus is more than believing the truth about him; it also means having enough belief (i.e., confidence) in him to entrust him with our lives. 


Life

The second part of John’s purpose statement is that people “may have life in [Jesus’] name.” What kind of “life” is John talking about?

Is he talking about an easy life? Your best life now?

We should go back to 3:16, where belief in Jesus and life are also mentioned: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The life that John wants us to have is eternal life.

But we should also take a look at what Jesus says in the prayer found in John 17: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v. 3). Eternal life is more than a quantity of life (i.e., life without end); it’s also a quality of life.


What Kind of Belief?

Does “believe” in 20:31 mean “come to believe” or “continue to believe”? The Gospel of John encourages both kinds of belief—initial belief and persevering belief.

John’s Gospel shows us that there’s no greater love than the love of Jesus.

Believe in him.

Continue to believe in him.

Believing Without Seeing

Part 3 of No Greater Love

Text: John 20:1-29




Jesus said to [Thomas], “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29). 


You Don't Need to See Jesus to Believe

Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).

People are often like Thomas: “Unless I see it with my own eyes, I won’t believe it.”

In John 20, there is one person who believes in the resurrection without seeing the risen Jesus. Who is this person?

It isn’t Thomas. Before Jesus appeared to Thomas, he says, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25).

It isn’t Mary Magdalene. Before Jesus appeared to Mary, she assumes that someone had taken the body of Jesus out of the tomb (vv. 2, 13).

It is John himself. Verse 8 says, “Then the other disciple [i.e., John], who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.”

You can believe in the resurrection without seeing the risen Jesus, but most people don’t believe without seeing something.

John saw something in the tomb that caused him to believe in the resurrection. What did he see?

John saw “the linen cloths lying [in the tomb], and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself” (vv. 6-7).

John realized that if someone had stolen the body of Jesus, the linen cloths would not have been left behind as they were. In that moment, he believed that the tomb was empty because Jesus had risen! 


Look at the Evidence

Most people need to see some evidence of the resurrection, before they believe. So let’s look at some of the evidence.

The majority of scholars—both Christian and non-Christian—accept the following statements as facts.

First, Jesus of Nazareth was a real person. There are people who claim that Jesus is a fictional person, but there are also people who believe that the moon landing was fake.

Second, Jesus was crucified. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that Christ “suffered the extreme penalty [i.e., crucifixion] during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.” [1]

Third, the tomb was empty. If the tomb of Jesus had not been empty, the story of his resurrection would have been easily disproved. The enemies didn’t dispute the fact that the tomb was empty. Instead they invented a lie to explain why the tomb was empty: “[Jesus’] disciples came by night and stole him away while [the guards] were asleep” (Matt. 28:3). [2]

Fourth, the followers of Jesus believed they had seen the risen Jesus. The followers of Jesus didn’t act like people who had stolen his body. They were willing to endure persecution and even martyrdom to spread the story of the resurrection. Liars make poor martyrs.

Fifth, a notorious enemy of Christianity was converted. The apostle Paul was once a persecutor of the church, but something changed the course of his life. Paul claimed that the risen Jesus had appeared to him (1 Cor. 15:8). Skeptics will argue that the disciples could have thought they saw the risen Jesus because they wanted to believe that he was alive. But the same can’t be said of Paul.

Yes, the story of the resurrection of a crucified man is an incredible story, but how do you explain these facts?

Also, the Gospel accounts have the ring of truth. Two details in the Gospel provide evidence that the resurrection isn’t a made-up story.

First, the first witnesses of the resurrection were women. “Not only is [the story of the resurrection] hard to accept, but culturally such a story from women would be viewed with suspicion.  [3] One of the main proofs that the resurrection story is credible is realization that the first-century church would never have created a story whose main first witnesses were women.” [4]

Second, the first skeptics of the resurrection were the disciples. Thomas wasn’t the only disciple who doubted. “If someone created the story of resurrection, would the apostles have been made to look so incredulous? The account’s honesty has an air of reality, which points to its truth.” [5]

If we’re like Thomas and say, “Unless I see the risen Jesus, I won’t believe,” then how can we believe in any historical event prior to the invention of the camera?


Why Are You Weeping?

Twice Mary Magdalene is asked, “Why are you weeping?” (vv. 13, 15).

She was weeping because the tomb was empty. The body of Jesus was gone.

But the body of Jesus wasn’t gone because someone had taken it. The body of Jesus was gone because he was risen!

In this life, we do weep. There is pain, sorrow, and death. But there’s also hope. There’s hope because of the empty tomb.

Do you have this hope?

If you don’t, receive it through faith in Jesus.

If you do, live like it!

____________________

[1] Tacitus, Annals 15.44 (c. A.D. 115).
[2] In the second century, Justin Martyr wrote that this lie was still being circulated in his day (Dialogue with Trypho).
[3] The apostles didn’t accept the women’s testimony: “these words seemed to them an idle tale [i.e., nonsense], and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).
[4] Darrell L. Bock, Luke, 607.
[5] Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, 1899.

It Is Finished!

Part 2 of No Greater Love

Text: John 19:28-30




When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (v. 30). 


What Was Finished?

Just before Jesus died, he cried out, “It is finished”! (v. 30). What was finished? 

After Jesus said, “It is finished,” he “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (v. 30). Was Jesus saying that his life was finished?

No, what Jesus really meant was that his work was finished (“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished…”, v. 28). He was saying, “Mission accomplished!” His mission was to suffer and die for the sins of the world.


Thirsting to Complete His Mission

Before Jesus said, “It is finished,” he said, “I thirst” (v. 28). Why does John tell us this?

First, he wanted to emphasize the humanity of Jesus.

Second, he wanted to portray Jesus as the innocent sufferer. “I thirst” connects the suffering of Jesus to Psalm 69: “For my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink” (v. 21).

Third, I also think that there might be a connection between “I thirst” and “It is finished.”

Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me [i.e., the Father] and to accomplish his work” (4:34). To hunger or thirst for something means to desire that thing. You could say, “I thirst for a cold drink.” Or you could say, “I thirst for righteousness” (cf. Matt. 5:6).

The number one desire of Jesus was to “accomplish” the work the Father had sent him to do. And when that work was finished, he said, “I thirst.” He had completed his mission, and now he could drink.


The Work Is Already Done

Many people think that Christianity is about doing lots of good things in order to gain acceptance with God. If that’s true, why was the cross necessary?

Jesus died on the cross to do everything that needed to be done to make salvation possible for us. Everything has been done. “It is finished”


He Gave Up His Life

Jesus “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (v. 30). “Gave up” indicates that the death of Jesus was voluntary. He had declared, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).

There is no greater love than the love of Jesus. “Love so amazing, so divine, / Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Who Was Responsible for the Crucifixion of Jesus?

Part 1 of No Greater Love

Text: John 19:1-16a




So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” (vv. 5-6a). 


Who Was Responsible?

If you do a Google search for “who was responsible for,” you’ll discover that people want to know who was responsible for various tragic events (e.g., responsibility for the September 11 attacks). 

Sometimes the answer isn’t completely clear (e.g., responsibility for World War I).

What about the crucifixion of Jesus? Who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus? 


If They Had Only Known

Before we attempt to answer the question about who was responsible for the crucifixion, we should take some time to consider the flogging and mockery of Jesus by the Roman soldiers. Even before the crucifixion, he suffered greatly.
  • Jesus was “flogged” (v. 1). Sometimes the flogging was so severe that the victim’s entrails or bones became visible. What’s amazing is that some people thought that the flogging “was merciful because it so weakened the prisoner as to hasten his death on the cross.” [1] This speaks volumes about the awfulness of crucifixion. 
  • The Roman soldiers put a “crown of thorns” on his head (v. 2). They were making fun of the idea that this Jesus of Nazareth could be a king. 
  • They dressed him in “a purple robe” (v. 2). 
  • They said: “Hail, King of the Jews!” (v. 3). They were pretending to address him as the Roman Emperor: “Hail, Caesar!” 
  • They “struck him with their hands” (v. 3). 
If only those soldiers had known the true identity of Jesus!

Pilate made two statements about Jesus: “Behold the man!” (v. 5) and “Behold your King!” (v. 14). I think Pilate might have said these things to try to gain sympathy for Jesus (i.e., this man is no threat to anyone). What Pilate didn’t know was the Jesus is the man—God “made flesh” (John 1:14), the King of kings!

Perhaps these two statements that begin with “Behold” are meant to point us back to what John the Baptist said about Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29; cf. 36). Like one of the sacrificial lambs, Jesus would die for the sins of humanity.


What About Us?

Let’s get back to the question: Who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus?
  • Was Pilate responsible? Pilate believed that Jesus wasn’t guilty of any crime: “I find no guilt in him” (vv. 4-6). But, in the end, he handed him over to be crucified (v. 16). Why? It was because of fear. Doing the right thing would have hurt him politically: “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend” (v. 12). 
  • Was Judas responsible? Judas betrayed Jesus and delivered him into the hands of his enemies. Why? Maybe because of greed, though thirty pieces of silver wasn’t a life-changing amount of money. 
  • Was Caiaphas responsible? Jesus had said to Pilate, “He who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” (v. 11). He was probably talking about Caiaphas. He was the Jewish high priest, the head of the Sanhedrin. He and several other Jewish leaders were the ones who demanded that Jesus be crucified: “Crucify him, crucify him!” (v. 6). Why? Because of hatred. 
  • What about us? John Stott writes, “Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us…, we have to see it as something done by us….” [1] Jesus was crucified because of our sin. 

But There's More 

But we still haven’t completely answered the question  about the responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus? [Read Isaiah 53:3-7, 10a.] Jesus was crucified because it was the plan of the Father. “It was the will of the LORD to crush him” (Isa. 53:10).
  • “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). 
  • “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28). 
  • “God so love the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). 
  • “He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). 
But Jesus wasn’t forced to die. Jesus was crucified because he laid down his life.
  • “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18; cf. v. 11). 
  • “Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’” (John 18:11).
  • “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He laid down his life not only for us but also because of us. 
When we consider who he really is and what he did for us, how can we say no to Jesus?

____________________

[1] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (vol. 2), p. 1119.
[2] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 63.