Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The One Whom the King Delights to Honour

Part 3 of Turning the Tables

Text: Esther 2:19-23; 5:9-6:14




So Haman came in, and the king said to him, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” (Esth. 6:6). 


Do I Matter? 

One of our basic human needs is to have a sense of self-worth. The dictionary defines “self-worth” as “the sense of one’s own value or worth as a person.” [1] When people lack a sense of self-worthy, depression [2] and even suicide can be the result. Without a sense of self-worthy, life doesn’t seem worth living. [3] How can we gain a sense of self-worth without inflating our egos? 

Debra Reid describes Haman as “an egocentric megalomaniac bent on retaliation and destruction if his fragile ego is subject to the slightest provocation.” [4] In other words, he was self-obsessed.


The Great Sin

When Mordecai refused to bow down and pay homage to Haman (Esth. 3:2), Haman devised a plot to kill not only Mordecai but also “all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus” (Esth. 3:6). What caused Haman to want to commit genocide? Pride. Pride has been described as “the ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration upon self.” [5] The person filled with pride will always be looking for ways to get back at people who offend him or don’t give him the recognition he thinks he deserves.

When I mention pride, do you think, “That sounds just like so and so”? Pride is like carbon monoxide (the “silent killer”). It’s deadly, but we often don’t see it in our own lives—though pride is every easy to see in other people’s lives.

In Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, there is a chapter on pride entitled “The Great Sin.” In the chapter, Lewis writes,
We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If every one else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. [6]

An Inflated Ego

Haman occupied a powerful position in the kingdom (Esth. 3:1). But Haman wasn’t content with being powerful; he wanted everyone to know that he was more powerful than everyone other than the king. And when Mordecai wouldn’t show Haman the respect a person of his position was supposed to receive, he couldn’t stand it: “Yet all this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate” (Esth. 5:13).

The life of Haman is a perfect example of pride coming before a fall. [7] The king asked Haman, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” (Esth. 6:6). Haman became excited, thinking that the king wanted to honour him. But being honoured by the king would just have inflated Haman’s ego.


I Matter to God

There is a better King who “delights to honor” us. God honours us by making us his children. But this honour shouldn’t fill us with sinful pride. We are not children of God because we are better than others. We are children of God due to what Jesus did for us. Haman was humbled, but Jesus chose to be humbled (“he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” Phil. 2:8). On the cross, the tables were turned. Jesus reversed places with us. “For our sake [the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

We will gain both self-worth and humility when we understand the grace of God. 

I am unworthy of God’s love, but he loves me. The cross proves to me that I matter to God.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride. [8]
“The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.” [9] We don’t merely want to be valued by others; we want to be valued by someone we value. Or, as Tim Keller puts it, “We want someone we think the world of to think the world of us.” [10]


[1] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/self-worth
[2] One of the symptoms of depression is feelings of worthlessness (http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cd-mc/mi-mm/ depression-eng.php).
[3] About 10 Canadians per day commit suicide.
[4] Debra Reid, Esther: An Introduction and Commentary, 111.
[5] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, page unknown.
[6] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 120.
[7] The book of Esther is about reversal of fortunes. The tables begin to turn when the king couldn’t fall asleep (Esth. 6:1). This is the first in a series of “coincidences” that lead to the downfall of Haman and the deliverance of the Jews.
[8] Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”
[9] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, 291.
[10] Tim Keller, “The Man the King Delights to Honor” (sermon).

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

If I Perish, I Perish

Part 2 of Turning the Tables

Text: Esther 3:1-6; 4:1-17




“Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esth. 4:16). 


The God Who Didn't Speak

In the short story “The Adventure of the Silver Blaze,” one of the clues that helped Sherlock Holmes solve the case was “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Inspector Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.” [1]
The dog not barking was an important clue for Holmes. It told him that the crime was committed by someone the dog knew well. [2]

In the book of Esther, there is the curious incident of God. “But,” you say, “God is silent in the book of Esther. The author doesn’t even mention God.” That is the curious incident.

Karen Jobes writes that “the complete absence of God from the text is the genius of the book.” [3] The author of the book of Esther intentionally leaves out any mention of God to show us that even when God is silent, he is still working in the lives of his people. We shouldn’t interpret God’s silence as his absence.


What to Do When God Is Silent

Esther had to make a very difficult decision. She was asked to do something that would put her life at risk. Perhaps she thought to herself, “I wish God would clearly show me what I should do.” But God was silent.

Like Esther, we’re often unsure what we should do. Of course, we have the Bible (i.e., God’s word), but it doesn’t always give us the answers we’re looking for. God is silent. What should we do when God is silent?

Do what you’re convinced is best, and leave the rest to God. 


Haman's Genocidal Plot 

In chapter 3, we are introduced to a man named Haman. Haman was an extremely proud man. The King promoted Haman to an important position (3:1). Everyone who occupied a lower position than Haman was expected to bow down and pay homage to him. And everyone did, except for Mordecai (3:2).

Mordecai’s insubordination caused Hama to be “filled with fury.” Haman was so angry that we wanted Mordecai to be killed. But he wasn’t satisfied with executing only Mordecai. Haman had learned that Mordecai was a Jew (3:4). So Haman “sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus” (3:6). [4]


For Such a Time as This

Mordecai asked Esther to “plead with [the king] on behalf of her people” (4:8). But Esther told Mordecai that “if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live” (4:11). And Esther wasn’t sure that she would be granted access by the king. She said, “I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days” (4:11). Maybe by this time the king had lost interest in Esther.

Mordecai challenged Esther to act by telling her, “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14). She had not come to be queen by chance. Maybe “all of the previous circumstances of Esther’s life that led her to the Persian throne may have been just for this moment when she can intercede for her people.” [5] But even if Esther didn’t act, God would use someone else to accomplish his plan: “If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place” (4:14). [6]


The Right Inspiration

Finally, Esther said, “Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (4:16). She was going to do what she was convinced was best, and then leave the rest to God. After reading the book of Esther, many people will say, “I want to be like Esther!” But if Esther is our inspiration, our enthusiasm won’t last.

Our inspiration needs to be Jesus. Like Jesus, Esther saved her people by identification and mediation. But Jesus didn’t say, “If I perish, I perish.” He didn’t risk his life for us; he laid down his life for us. The cross was an absolute certainty. [7]


Why Are You Where You Are?

We were saved by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-9) to be his “workmanship” (Eph. 2:10). In other words, God intends for us to do certain things. How would your life change if you believed that you are where you are for a purpose?

____________________

[1] Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Silver Blaze,” in The Complete Adventures of and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, 172-87.
[2] I got the idea to use this story from reading Iain Duguid’s chapter on Esther 4:1-17, “The Dog That Didn’t Bark” (Esther and Ruth, 45).
[3] Karen Jobes, Esther (NIVAC), 41-42.
[4] Haman’s plan to kill all the Jews in the kingdom reminds us of what Hitler attempted.
[5] Jobes, Esther, 134.
[6] Is “from another place” a euphemism for God? “This understanding is problematic, for it is not a choice between Esther’s delivering the Jews or God’s delivering them. Rather, it is a question of what human agency God will use to deliver the Jews…” (Jobes, Esther, 133-34).
[7] This thought was taken from Tim Keller’s sermon “If I Perish, I Perish.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Perfect God Works Through Imperfect People

Part 1 of Turning the Tables

Text: Esther 1:1-2:18




The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti (Esth. 2:17). 


A Book About Reversal of Fortune

“The tables are turned.” The saying comes from board games. The tables are turned when you go from a losing position to a winning position (i.e., experience a reversal of fortune). The book of Esther is a book about reversal of fortune. In the NIV, Esther 9:1 says, “Now the tables were turned.” [1]

The book of Esther was written around 400 B.C. by an unknown author. It has been popular among Jews. (It tells about the origin of Purim.) [2] But it has been unpopular among Christians. (No Christian commentary on Esther was written for the first 800 years of the church.)

The story of Esther takes place during the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes). It was a time when a man was judged according to his wealth and power, and a woman was judged according to her beauty—so in some ways, the world hasn’t change much at all.


Where Is God? 

Surprisingly, the book of Esther never once mentions God. Was it an oversight by the author? (“Oops!”) No, a Jewish author would not forget to mention God. It had to be intentional. But why? Karen Jobes writes that “the complete absence of God from the text is the genius of the book.” [3] The book of Esther shows how God—even when he seems to be absent—is working out his good will in and through the lives of his people. [4] Joyce Baldwin comments, “The unseen hand behind the events in Susa is no less active in guiding history today. The book of Esther is still relevant.” [5]

Debra Reid writes that God is “the ‘hidden’ God in the text [of the book of Esther] rather than the ‘absent’ God.” [6] God’s hiddenness is not absence. We believe that God’s isn’t absent, but we still struggle with the hiddenness of God. We say, “Why can’t I experience a miracle? Why can’t I see a vision?” But Esther never experienced a miracle or saw a vision.


Esther Wasn't Flawless

Up to this point in the story, what do you think of Esther? Esther was a beautiful woman (2:7), and she was given lots of cosmetics to make her look even more beautiful (2:9). But Esther wasn’t flawless. (1) She apparently broke the Jewish dietary laws since she didn’t refuse “her portion of food” (2:9). [7] (2) She slept with a man who wasn’t her husband (2:16-17). (3) Some would say that she became queen by just doing whatever the men in her life told her to do (unlike Vashti).

Though she wasn’t flawless, God was going to use Esther to save her people from destruction. [8] Maybe you’re thinking, “Why didn’t God choose to use someone who was more worthy?” If that’s what you’re thinking, then you really don’t understand the message of the Bible. The message of the Bible is that God is a God of grace.

God works his will through us, in spite of our failures and shortcomings. 

If you think that God can’t use you to do amazing things because of your past failures or your present shortcomings, you’re wrong. Iain Duguid writes,
Here is hope for all those who find themselves in difficult circumstances in the present because of their past sin and compromise. Here is hope for people who married a non-Christian husband or wife, even though they knew it was wrong. The person who chose a career based on all the wrong motivations, or who has wasted a lifetime in pursuit of the wrong goals can discover that God is sovereign even over those sinful choices and wasted opportunities. Perhaps he has brought us to where we are today so that we can serve him in a unique way. If so, that doesn’t make those wrong decisions and sinful actions right. But it should cause us to give thanks to God that he is able to form beautiful pictures out of our smudged and stained efforts. Past failures do not write us out of a significant part in God’s script for the future. [9]
We’re not flawless, but neither was Esther.


[1] The ESV has a more literal translation of the original Hebrew: “the reverse occurred.”
[2] The book of Esther must have a source of hope to Jews living during the days of the Nazi Holocaust.
[3] Karen Jobes, Esther (NIVAC), 41-42.
[4] Theologians call this the providence of God.
[5] Joyce G. Baldwin, Esther: An Introduction and Commentary (TOTC), 42.
[6] Debra Reid, Esther: An Introduction and Commentary (TOTC), 48.
[7] Esther is often compared to Daniel, another young Jew who lived in a foreign land. Unlike Esther, Daniel didn’t hide his Jewish identity and “resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food” (Dan. 1:8).
[8] The deliverance of the Jews was crucial for two reasons: (1) God kept his promise to bless Abraham’s descendants, and (2) the Christ was to be born a Jew.
[9] Iain M. Duguid, Esther and Ruth (REC), 29.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The First Church

Part 3 of Witnesses

Text: Acts 2:42-47



And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). 


Learning from the Past

It’s fascinating to look back at how people lived in the past. Sometimes we can learn from them. For example, people of the past would avoid going into debt over things they didn't really need--like the latest TV we really can't afford.

In Acts 2, we read about how the first Christians [1] lived. They lived in a very different time and place, but they believed in the same gospel. And we can learn some things from how they lived.


How the First Christians Lived

Prior to the Day of Pentecost, there were “about 120” followers of Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 1:15). Then on the Day of Pentecost “about three thousand” people [2] put their faith in Jesus and were baptized (Acts 2:41). In verses 42-47, we are given the activities of the earliest church.

1) It was a learning church. [3] “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (v. 42). Before his ascension, Jesus told the apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). They had a hunger for God’s word.

2) It was a loving church. “They devoted themselves to…the fellowship” (v. 42). The basic idea of “fellowship” is sharing. [4]

3) It was a worshiping church. “They devoted themselves to…the breaking of bread and the prayers” (v. 42). It’s unclear whether “the breaking of bread” refers to the Lord’s Supper or a larger meal. “What makes the choice hard to decide is that the Lord’s table was part of a larger meal in the earliest church.” [5] Perhaps it refers to both.

4) It was an evangelistic church. Verse 47 tells us that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The good reputation of the church (“having favor with all the people,” v. 47) impacted their witness. Evangelism is something the Lord does through his people. 


True Fellowship

The first Christians were sharing people. They “had all things in common” (v. 44). The gospel wasn’t something these people merely believed with their minds; it changed their lives. They had “glad and generous hearts” (v. 46). Their sharing was not a duty; it was a delight.

Since Jesus—our Lord and Saviour—has given his life for us, we should be moved in our hearts to be sharing people. 

First, they shared their time. They were regularly spent time together (“all who believed were together,” v. 44; “day by day, attending the temple together,” v. 46).

Second, they shared their money. They “were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (v. 45). Is this a command for us today? No, description does not equal prescription (cf. Acts 5:4). But we should not be quick to dismiss it. “How easy it is to justify our lifestyles and our attachment to things by writing off threatening texts.”

Third, they shared their food. They were daily “breaking bread in their homes” with one another (v. 46).
Darrell Bock writes, In our culture, our individual needs and rights come before any needs of the group. The biblical picture is not of what someone receives from the church, although one does receive a great deal, but of what one gives and how one contributes to it. 
What's the one thing you don't have to teach a child? Selfishness. It comes naturally to all of us. It's very difficult to teach a child to share. Most toddlers' favourite word is "Mine!"

Our motivation for being generous should come from the truth of the gospel. The gospel changes my motivation from "This is what I'm supposed to do" to "This is what I want to do."


[1] I believe that the NT church began on the day of Pentecost. I am defining “Christians” as followers of Christ who have lived since that day.
[2] Many of the three thousand were Jews from other countries, so verses 42-47 would not be describing them.
[3] This outline is taken from John Stott’s commentary on Acts (The Message of Acts, 81-87).
[4] Ajith Fernando, Acts, 120.
[5] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, 150-51.
[6] John Piper, “The Fear of God and Freedom from Goods,” desiringgod.org.
[7] Bock, Acts, 155.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

It's All About Jesus

Part 2 of Witnesses

Text: Acts 1:41




“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). 


The Start of Something New

Jesus told his followers that after he ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit would begin to do a new thing. [1] The Holy Spirit would “come upon [them]” and give them power to be witnesses (Acts 1:8)—witnesses of what God had done through the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

The events of Acts 2:1-41 took place on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after the start of Passover (during which Jesus was crucified) and ten days after the ascension.


Confusion About the Holy Spirit

Luke writes that his “first book” (i.e., the Gospel of Luke) was about what “Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). The book of Acts is about what Jesus continued to do and teach through the church in the power of the Holy Spirit.

There’s a lot of confusion about the Holy Spirit. Many people think the Holy Spirit is merely a force, not a person. But the Bible refers to the Spirit as a “he,” not an “it.” He’s the third person of the Trinity. [2]

And there are different views among Christians on the gifts of the Holy Spirit (also known as spiritual gifts). A spiritual gift is an ability given by the Holy Spirit for service. The two basic views about spiritual gifts are cessationism and continuationism. Cessationists believe that some of the spiritual gifts are no longer in operation today (e.g., the gift of tongues). Continuationists believe that all of the spiritual gifts are still in operation today.

In Acts 2, we read about how the followers of Jesus “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (v. 4). What was the main purpose of the Holy Spirit’s activity on the Day of Pentecost? And what is the main purpose of the Holy Spirit’s activity in our lives today?


Pointing People to Jesus

On the Day of Pentecost, Jerusalem was filled with people who were visiting the city from other countries (vv. 8-11). The people were “bewildered” (v. 6), “amazed” (vv. 7, 12), “astonished” (v. 7), and “perplexed” (v. 12) that the followers of Jesus (“Galileans,” v. 7) were able to speak in many different languages. Some thought they were drunk (“They are filled with new wine,” v. 13). The apostle Peter explained to the people that the gift of tongues was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,” v. 17; cf. Joel 2:28-32).

What Peter really wanted to do was point people to “Jesus of Nazareth” (v. 22). [3] He proclaimed to the people six truths about Jesus.

1) Jesus was “accredited” (v. 22, NIV).
2) Jesus was “delivered up” (v. 23).
3) Jesus was “crucified” (v. 23).
4) Jesus was “raised” (v. 24).
5) Jesus was “exalted” (v. 33).
6) Jesus was made “both Lord and Christ” (v. 36).

 After hearing what Peter had to say about Jesus, the people ask, “What shall we do?” (v. 37). Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized [4] everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). Sometimes what people need to hear is not what they want to hear.


The Main Purpose of the Holy Spirit

During the Last Supper, Jesus declared, “[The Holy Spirit] will glorify me” (John 16:14). Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon “The Holy Spirit’s Chief Office” said, “It is the chief office of the Holy Spirit to glorify Christ.” [5]

The Holy Spirit’s main purpose is to point people to Jesus. 

We can point people to Jesus through both our words and deeds. Acts 2 is mainly about the words of Jesus’ followers, but Acts 2 also says that the followers of Jesus had “favor with all the people” (v. 47). They were pointing people to Jesus through the kind of lives they lived. Our neighbors or coworkers should say of us, “He/she is a good person.” If they say, “He’s a jerk,” or “She’s a gossip,” they’ll disregard any words we say about Jesus.

The new thing that the Holy Spirit is doing in these days is all about Jesus.


[1] This doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit was inactive prior to Acts 2. The second verse of the Bible says, “The Spirit was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2).
[2] A person is not necessarily a human being (e.g., an angel is a person but not a human).
[3] Preaching is not really Christian preaching if it doesn’t point people to Jesus. If someone from a different religion can agree with everything a preacher says, it’s not Christian preaching.
[4] Baptism is not something we must do in order to be saved. “The willingness to submit to baptism is an outward expres-sion of inward faith in Christ” (ESV Study Bible).
[5] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Holy Spirit’s Chief Office.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In the Meantime

Part 1 of Witnesses

Text: Acts 1:1-11



“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). 


Living Between Two Great Events

The Acts of the Apostles is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke. [1] Luke writes that his “first book” (i.e., the Gospel of Luke) was about what “Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). The Acts of the Apostles is about what Jesus continued to do and teach through the church.

We are living in the time between two great events: the ascension [2] and the second coming. You could say that we’re living in the meantime.


The One Thing We Must Not Do

In the meantime, there is one thing we must not do. What is the one thing we must not do? We must not do nothing. [3] After Jesus ascended to heaven, the apostles were mildly rebuked by the two angels: “Why do you stand looking into heaven?” (v. 11).

 Jesus went up to heaven, and one day he’ll return; in the meantime, we have work to do. 


People Like Us

Though they lived in a different time and culture, the apostles and the other followers of Jesus were people like us. Like us, they struggled with fear and doubt.

The resurrection of Jesus was not something that was easy for them to believe. [4] This is why Jesus gave them “many proofs” (v. 3). [5] What kind of evidence would you need in order to believe in the resurrection? That’s the kind of evidence that they were given.


The Ascension and the Return

“As [the apostles] were looking on, [Jesus] was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (v. 9). We shouldn’t downplay the significance of the ascension. Jesus is now “exalted at the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33; cf. Psalm 110:1). The apostle Paul writes, “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34; cf. Heb. 7:25).

The two angels said to the apostles, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (v. 11). Jesus will one day return bodily [6] and visibly. As we await the return of Jesus, we are to be doing the mission he gave us.


The Mission

After Jesus ascended to heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit to indwell his followers. [7] The Spirit would provide the necessary power for mission. Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (v. 8). [8] The message of biblical Christianity is not “God loves me, period…” the message of biblical Christianity is “God loves me so that I might make him—his ways, his salvation, his glory, his greatness—known among all nations.” [9] We can be witnesses anywhere—on the other side of the world (e.g., as a missionary in China) or here in Halifax.

Many of us have probably heard the saying, “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” [10] There are some Christians who talk about the gospel too much and live the gospel too little. But most Christians wouldn’t fall into that category. And the truth is, people need to hear (or read) words in order to be saved. Justin Taylor has said, “The Good News can no more be communicated by deeds than can the nightly news.” [11]


Time Is Precious

We are often guilty of wasting time--even "killing" time. We would probably waste less time if we could see the time of our lives ticking down.

We are living in the time between two great events: the ascension and the second coming. Jesus went up to heaven, and one day he’ll return; in the meantime, we have are to be witnesses of what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We need to live the gospel, and we need to share the gospel.


[1] Both books were written by Luke to a man named Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1).
[2] The Gospel of Luke ends with the ascension (24:50-53); Acts begins with it (1:6-11).
[3] Yes, I know this is a double negative. In other words, we must do something.
[4] Some of them even doubted right up until the time of Jesus’ ascension (Matt. 28:17).
[5] Jesus was with his followers for “forty days” (v. 3) between his resurrection and ascension. If the resurrection had happened on the date of this year’s Easter Sunday (March 27), then the ascension would have happened on May 6.
[6] Jesus did not cease to be human when he ascended. He will return as a man.
[7] This is why Jesus leaving his followers was not a bad thing. The risen Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “Do not cling to me [i.e., hold on to me], for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17).
[8] “The geographical scope of Acts 1:8 provides a rough outline of the entire book: Jerusalem (1-7), Judea and Samaria (8-12), the ends of the earth (13-28)” (J. B. Polhill, Acts, 86).
[9] David Platt, Radical, 70-71.
[10] This saying is commonly attributed to Francis of Assisi.
[11] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/mayweb-only/120-42.0.html?start=2

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

We Are All Witnesses

Part 3 of Unexpected

Text: Luke 24:39-53




“You are witnesses of all these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothes with power from on high” (Luke 24:48-49). 


Witnesses

In 2005, Nike introduced a new marketing campaign featuring basketball superstar LeBron James and the slogan “We Are All Witnesses.” Fans were able to access an online “Witness Board” featuring shared testimony about James. Nike selected notable testimonials each day from a fan as the prize-winning “Witness of the Day.”



After his resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus told his followers, “You are witnesses of these things [i.e., his death and resurrection]” (v. 48). Though we haven’t seen these things with our own eyes, we too are to be witnesses of what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.


People Like Us

The original followers of Jesus lived in a time and culture very different from ours, but they were like us in many ways. For example, they were fearful people. When the risen Jesus appeared to a group of them in Jerusalem, they were “startled and frightened” (v. 37). [1]

It was these fearful people who were to be “witnesses” (v. 48). How can fearful people share the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus? 


A Daunting Task 

The followers of Jesus were to spread the gospel “to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (v. 47). Remember what had happened in Jerusalem earlier than weekend: (1) Jesus had been arrested; (2) ten of the disciples had deserted Jesus; (3) Peter had denied knowing Jesus; (4) Jesus had been crucified. The gospel would have been a very unpopular message in Jerusalem—and a dangerous one to share! The task that Jesus gave to his followers wasn’t an easy one. And it's still not easy!


Power Supply

Jesus said to his followers, “Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you” (v. 49). This promise was the promise of the Holy Spirit, who would indwell believers after the ascension of Jesus. To be effective and courageous witnesses, they needed the Holy Spirit’s presence: “But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (v. 49; cf. Acts 1:8).

If God wants us to be witnesses, he will give us the power to be witnesses. 

Peter probably seemed like an unlikely person to be an effective and courageous witness. He had a habit of sticking his foot in his mouth, and he denied knowing Jesus. But in Acts 2, we see that Peter had been transformed. He is proclaiming the gospel of Jesus on the streets of Jerusalem. The only explanation is that the Holy Spirit made him a changed man.

Maybe you don't think you're able to be a witness. Most of us are not theologians. But we all can simply tell our story--the story of what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.


[1] The original followers of Jesus were also skeptical people. They thought that the risen Jesus was a “spirit” (v. 37), and Jesus had to prove to them that he had a real physical body: “Touch me, and see” (v. 39); “Have you anything to eat?” (v. 41).

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

From Despair to Hope

Part 2 of Unexpected

Text: Luke 24:13-35




“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21). 


Life Without the Resurrection

In Luke 24, we are introduced to two followers of Jesus. The name of one of the men is Cleopas, and the other is unnamed. They are walking home from Jerusalem, the city where Jesus had been crucified on Friday. It’s now Sunday.

Before they their departure from Jerusalem, they had heard the reports about the tomb of Jesus being empty. But the two men don’t believe a resurrection has happened. That’s impossible!

They once had great hopes for what Jesus could do. Now he’s dead, and they are left feeling disillusioned and disappointed.


The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

The two men on the road to Emmaus didn’t understand the death of Jesus and didn’t believe in his resurrection. [1] The crucifixion of Jesus had crushed their dreams. They said, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (v. 21). [2] They knew the tomb of Jesus was found empty (v. 24). And they had heard the women say that they had “seen a vision of angels, who said [Jesus] was alive” (v. 23). But the women’s story sounded like “an idle tale [i.e., nonsense]” (v. 11). [3]

We who are Christians understand the significance of the death of Jesus, and we believe in his resurrection. But as we go about our daily lives, it’s possible for us to forget about the cross and the empty tomb. The death and resurrection of Jesus tell us truths we need to hear each day.


What We Need to Hear

The apostle Paul writes that the gospel is “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). The most important truth we need to understand is the gospel. The basic facts of the gospel are (1) “that Christ died for our sins,” (2) “that he was buried,” and (3) “that he was raised on the third day.” The gospel is the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What do the death and resurrection of Jesus say to us?

1. The death of Jesus tells us that we are valued by our Creator. 

The psalmist asks, “What is man that you [God] are mindful of him” (Ps. 8:4). Not only did God create us, but he also died to save us. Tim Keller writes, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves that we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” [4] J. D. Greear states, “There is nothing we could ever do that would make God love us more, and nothing we have done that makes Him love us less.” [5]

2. The resurrection of Jesus tells us that there is hope for a better tomorrow. 

C. S. Lewis writes that “creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exist. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” [6] We long for something more because we were made for something more.

One popular view of death is that it’s simply a natural part of life that we must all embrace. But no matter how often we tell this to ourselves, death never becomes easy for us to accept. Death is an unhappy ending to life, and we naturally crave happy endings.

When we are a fan of a baseball team, we long for a happy ending to the season. When we read a novel or watch a movie, we want the story’s main characters to live “happily ever after.” Years ago, instead of “happily ever after,” stories ended with the words “happily until they died,” which doesn’t sound quite as happy. But it’s true that every life ends in death. And death is sad. It’s not a happy ending.

Thankfully, God did not accept death but sent Christ into the world to defeat it. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection began the countdown to when God would rid his creation of the curse. When “[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more” (Rev. 21:4). 


Recapturing the Excitement

In my opinion, the story of Jesus appearing to the two men on the road to Emmaus is one of the most exciting stories of the Bible. They were walking and talking with the very one whose death they were grieving. When they realized Jesus really had risen from the grave, they went from despair to hope! [7] “They rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem” (v. 33). “What they had seen [three days earlier] is not the end of hope, but its beginning.” [8]

We need to recapture the excitement that comes from understanding and believing the gospel. The resurrection of Jesus is not merely a great event from the past, but it is something that can changes our futures!


[1] In the Gospel accounts, the first skeptics of the resurrection are Jesus’ followers. If the story of the resurrection was a lie invented by the followers of Jesus, it would have been told in a way more flattering to the inventors of the lie.
[2] They were looking for someone to lead them to victory against the Romans. They saw the cross as a defeat.
[3] Observation: It was the women who went to the tomb to finish the work of Jesus’ burial. Even today, it’s the women who are often willing to do undesirable jobs.
[4] Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 48.
[5] J. D. Greear, Gospel, 57.
[6] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, “Hope.”
[7] The two men recognized Jesus when he broke the bread (v. 30). This is reminiscent of when Jesus broke the bread during the Last Supper (Luke 22:19). As the two men didn’t “see” Jesus even though he was with them, during the Lord’s Supper Jesus is with us even though we can’t see him.
[8] Darrell Bock, Luke, 614.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Empty Tomb

Part 1 of Unexpected

Text: Luke 24:1-12





But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened (Luke 24:11). 


Totally Unexpected

Have you even seen something totally unexpected? Sometime we see something totally unexpected in a picture we took. The "Solway Firth Spaceman" is an example of this.

In Luke 24, we read about some other people who saw something totally unexpected: a tomb with no body.


Perplexed 

The women were “perplexed” (v. 4) when they found the tomb of Jesus empty. The empty tomb still causes people to be perplexed. [1] Some people are perplexed (like the women) because they don’t know what to think of the empty tomb. Other people are perplexed (like the apostles) because to them the story of the resurrection sounds like an “idle tale” (v. 11). How should we respond to the empty tomb? 


He Has Risen!

As the perplexed women stood in front of the empty tomb, two angels appeared to them. They said to the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (vv. 5-6). Then the angels reminded the women that the resurrection shouldn’t have been a surprise to them: “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (v. 6).

This is what we call the gospel—the good news. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. Our hope is based on these two events. But often when we share our good news with others, it doesn’t get a positive response.


A Story That's Not Easy to Believe

The women returned to the rest of Jesus’ followers and told them what they had seen (i.e., the empty tomb) and what they had heard (i.e., “He has risen”). But when their words “seemed to them an idle tale [i.e., nonsense], and they did not believe them” (v. 11). If the followers of Jesus didn’t respond positively to the story of the resurrection, we shouldn’t be surprised if people today don’t. The story of the resurrection isn’t easy to believe. When we share the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we shouldn’t expect people to immediately believe. Patience is needed.

Two details in Luke’s account of the resurrection provide evidence that it’s not 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. 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.” [2]

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.” [3]


Responding to the Empty Tomb

When Peter heard the women’s story, he “rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened” (v. 12). Did Peter fully believe in the resurrection after he looked inside the empty tomb? Most commentaries on Luke say that “marveling” doesn’t indicate complete faith. Instead, Peter probably experienced the “first steps of faith.” [4] How should we respond to the empty tomb?

Because the tomb is empty, we must marvel at it. 

Maybe you don’t believe in the resurrection. Maybe today you, like Peter, could take the first steps toward belief in the resurrection. Or maybe you’re a Christian who has some doubts about the resurrection. Those who have doubts about the resurrection should spend time thinking, “What happened?” It can’t be denied that something happened. [5] The empty tomb of Jesus shouldn’t be ignored. Why? Because if the tomb is empty because Jesus rose from the dead, everything changes.


[1] Most scholars—Christian and secular—think that the tomb of Jesus was empty.
[2] Darrell L. Bock, Luke, 607.
[3] Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, 1899. The NIV says “wondering.”
[4] Grant Osborne, The Resurrection Narratives, 114. The enemies of Jesus claimed that the disciples of Jesus stole his body from the tomb (Matt. 28:13).
[5] In the second century, Justin Martyr wrote that this lie was still being circulated in his day (Dialogue with Trypho).

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

God Is Good

Part 4 of the God Is series

Text: Psalm 118



Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Ps. 118:29). 


Getting What's Needed, Not What's Wanted

Five days before his crucifixion, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. We call this day Palm Sunday. The event itself is known as the Triumphal Entry. [1]

 The excited crowds recited Psalm 118. The psalm says, “Save us, we pray, O LORD!” (v. 25). [2] They wanted salvation from the Romans. But what the people wanted on that day wasn’t what they really needed.


What a Good God Gives

Psalm 118 begins and ends with the following exhortation: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good” (vv. 1, 29). Because God is good, “all that God is and does is worthy of approval.” [3] But it’s easy to doubt God’s goodness when he doesn’t give us what we want.

God doesn’t always give us what we want, but he always gives us what we need. 

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the people cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt. 21:9). “The Son of David” was a messianic title. John writes that the people called Jesus “the King of Israel” (John 12:13). The people also “took branches and went out to meet [Jesus]” (John 12:13). About two hundred years earlier, a Jewish rebel group known as the Maccabees liberated Judea from Antiochus and the Greeks. One of their victories was celebrated with palm branches (1 Macc. 13:51). It’s clear that the people thought that Jesus could be a king to lead them against the Romans. But what the people needed was a different kind of salvation.


We Need Jesus

Psalm 118 says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22). Originally, the rejected stone referred to Israel, but several NT writers apply this verse to Jesus. [4] Peter declared to the people of Jerusalem,
Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead…. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:10-12). [5]
What we needed came at an amazing cost to God. 

Five times Psalm 118 states that “[God’s] steadfast love endures forever” (vv. 1, 2, 3, 4, 29). We can trust a good God who loves us this much.


The Best Gift

When thinking about God’s goodness, we could list all of the good gifts from God. But the gift of Jesus is really all we need to prove God’s goodness.


[1] All four Gospels give an account of the Triumphal Entry (Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19).
[2] When the people cried out “Hosanna!” they were saying, “Save us!” By the first century it had become a cry of praise to God.
[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 197.
[4] Psalm 118:22 is quoted in Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7. 
[5] “There is no warrant here for the preacher’s favourite comment on the fickleness of a crowd which could shout ‘Hosanna’ one day and ‘Crucify him’ a few days later. They are not the same crowd. The Galilean pilgrims shouted ‘Hosanna’ as they approached the city; the Jerusalem crowd shouted, ‘Crucify him’ (R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, 430).