Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What Is the Gospel?

Part 1 of the series The Gospel-Centered Life

You can listen to this sermon here.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4). 

Good News! 

Usually the media focuses on bad news. But sometimes there is news so good that it can’t be ignored.

I’ll give you a date in history and you tell me what was on the covers of newspapers on the following day. May 7, 1945? Germany surrenders in WWII! July 20, 1969? First man on the moon! November 9, 1989? The Berlin wall falls! February 28, 2010? The Canadian men’s hockey team wins the 2010 Olympic gold medal! 

The Greek word for “gospel” (euangelion) means “good news.” The gospel of Jesus Christ is the best good news.

What the Gospel Is 

The gospel is “of first importance” (v. 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.

The gospel could be summed up with three words: problem, solution, and response.

1. The problem was sin. 

Christ died “for our sins” (v. 3). Because God is a holy God, he hates our sin. Because he is a just God, he must punish sin. Unless we understand the problem of our sin, we will not be able to appreciate the gospel. (Unless you know how bad WWII was, you don’t really appreciate how good the news was that it had ended.)

2. The solution was Christ. 

We needed to be rescued (“saved,” v. 2). Christ our Savior took all of our sin—past, present, and future—and died in our place. He now offers us his perfect righteousness. “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Phil. 3:9). 

3. The response is faith. 

Salvation is “received” (v. 1) by faith (“believed,” v. 2). The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Salvation is totally the work of God.

The gospel says to us, “You are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, but you are more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.” J. D. Greear, in his book Gospel, writes, “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” (p. 57).

The Gospel Changes Everything

The gospel “shouldn’t be just a ticket to heaven but the core of our entire lives” (J. D. Greear, Gospel, p. 22).  In other words, our lives should be gospel-centered. “The gospel-centered life is one in which everything we do, think, speak, and act out is radically transformed by the grace of God seen through Jesus” (Tim Smith, "What It Means to Live a Gospel-Centered Life?").

We cannot effectively live the Christian life unless we constantly preach to ourselves the gospel. 

The truth of the gospel must move from our minds to our hearts. Our Christianity is often nothing more than “Bible story morality.” God desires more from us than behavior modification; he wants heart transformation. 

If we constantly preach to ourselves the gospel, our hearts will be changed and our obedience will be powered by desire.

The gospel gives us the desire to surrender our lives to God. “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one had died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

The gospel gives us the desire to share the gospel with others. “Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

The gospel gives us the desire to love others. “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:2).

The gospel gives us the desire to accept others. “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (Rom. 15:7).

The gospel gives us the desire to give. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

The gospel gives us the desire to rid ourselves of self-centeredness. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interest but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:3-8).

The gospel gives us the desire to forgive. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32; cf. Col. 3:13).

The gospel gives us the desire to avoid sexual sin. “Do you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 19-20).

The gospel gives husbands the desire to love their wives. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).

We don’t begin with the gospel and then move on to other things. The good news of Christ’s death and resurrection is for every moment of every day.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Our Response to God's Grace

Part 35 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.

So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts. Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible (6:21-24).

The Story 

What kind of book do you think the Bible is? Some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy.

The Bible does give us God’s rules and does tell us about some heroes, but it’s much more than a book of rules or heroes. As The Jesus Storybook Bible says, “The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!” (Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible, p. 17).

We’ve now come to the end of one of the Bible’s books: Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Ephesians begins by reminding us of the Story--the story of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. It also shows us that our motivation for pleasing God is found in a proper under-standing of the Story.

Paul's Closing 

In the days before post offices, telephones, email, and text messaging, letters had to be carried from one place to another. Tychicus , “the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord” (v. 21), was sent by Paul from Rome (where Paul was a prisoner; 3:1; 4:1; 6:20) to Ephesus and probably delivered Paul’s letter. Paul also mentions that Tychicus would be able to given the Ephesians an update on the apostle (“So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing,” v. 21; “that you may know how we are,” v. 22) and “encourage [their] hearts” (v. 22).

God's Action 

Paul began his letter by writing, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (1:3). These blessings are gifts of God’s grace. “Grace” is “undeserved kindness.” Grace is a recurring theme in Ephesians (1:2, 7; 2:5, 7, 8; 3:2, 8; 4:7). Paul praises God for his grace, not Christians for their religion. (Religion is about what I can do; grace is about what God has done.)

Without God’s grace, we would be hopeless in our helplessness. 

Right living flows from right doctrine. What you believe affects how you live. For example, a proper understanding of electricity will save a person from electrocution. A person who has a correct understanding of God’s grace will have a right response to God’s working in his or her life.

Our Response 

Paul ends his letter by saying, “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love in corruptible” (v. 24). Jesus was once asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?” He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37; cf. Deut. 6:5). Jesus also said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

The proper response to God’s grace is to love him, which results in our obedience to him. 

“In many ways the benediction is an appropriation of the entire letter. God has provided all you need in Christ; therefore, live worthy of the gift” (Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, p. 366).

Motivated by Love 

Love is always the best motivation for what we do. Recently I watched a video on the internet called “What Is Love?” It shows a man named Bob caring for his wife who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In the video, Bob says, “You see, God has loved us so unconditionally, and I understand that God has put his love in my heart. And because I realize how much God has loved me, that’s how I too can love my lovely wife.” 

When we think about what God has done for us through Christ and his cross—none of which we deserved—we respond with love and strive to glorify him.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What the Cross Says About God's Mercy

Part 6 of the series The Cross: What It Says About God

You can listen to this sermon here.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5). 

The Mercy of God 

I’m sure you’ve seen TV commercials by charities like World Vision that show children in great need. It’s one thing to say you care about needy children; it’s another thing to actually pick up the phone, dial the number, and sponsor one of those children. That is an act of mercy.

Numerous times the Bible says that God is merciful. How can we be sure that God is a merciful God? The cross reveals the mercy of God.

Saved from What? 

Paul describes God as “our Savior” (v. 4) and also states that God has “saved us” (v. 5).

Salvation is deliverance from sin's penalty. 

This is a very narrow definition of salvation. Salvation is also deliverance from sin’s power and presence. In Titus 3:4-5, salvation is seen as a past event (“he saved us”), emphasizing deliverance from sin’s penalty. 

God saved us “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared” (v. 4; cf. 2:11). In other words, those who are saved see in the cross God’s “goodness” and “loving kindness.”

Saved How? 

God saved us “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (v. 5). 

God’s “mercy” is his “goodness toward those in misery and distress” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 200).  David said to God, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great” (2 Sam. 24:14). The two blind men cried out to Jesus, “Have mercy on us, Son of David” (Matt. 9:27). The writer of Hebrews urged his readers to “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

Salvation is a gift of God's mercy, not a reward for our good works.

In his letters, Paul often emphasizes that we are saved by trusting in Christ and not by what we do. “By works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). “So then [salvation] depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). “We know a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16).

Does this mean that good works don’t matter? No! Paul’s desire is that “those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (v. 8). We are not saved by good works, but we are saved to do good works (cf. Eph. 2:8-10).

When God saves a person, he or she becomes a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). This is accomplished “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (v. 5).

Verse 5 does not teach baptismal regeneration, which is the belief that spiritual life begins with baptism. The ESV Study Bible says, “Some have understood this as saying that baptism (‘the washing’) causes salvation. However, in this context human deeds are clearly downplayed (‘not because of works’) and the emphasis is on divine action and initiative (‘he saved us’). The ‘washing’ described here is the spiritual cleansing, which is outwardly symbolized in baptism.”

“Good" People Don't Go to Heaven 

If it were possible for us to earn salvation, why did Christ have to die for us? God makes no mistakes. He didn’t say, “Oh, if I had known that people could have been saved by their good works, I wouldn’t have given up my Son to die.”

The cross shows us our desperate need of God's mercy and the folly of thinking we could ever be good enough to gain salvation. God saw us in our misery and distress. 

We were unable to do anything to save ourselves. So God showed us mercy. He sent Christ to die for us. Christ suffered for our sins so that we could be delivered from sin’s penalty.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spiritual Warfare

Part 34 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (6:10-20).

An Unseen Battle

Within our human bodies, a battle is raging. Antibodies are fighting against bacteria in order to prevent sickness and disease. This battle can’t be seen with our eyes. Before the discovery of antibodies and bacteria, people would have been totally unaware of its existence. Whether we realize it or not, we are engaged in a spiritual battle. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” but against the devil and his forces (vv. 11-12).

Be Strong in the Lord! 

In this battle, we must remember two truths.

1. Our strength comes from God. 

We are to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (v. 10). “Be strong” is a passive verb. We are to be made strong. It is God who makes us strong (like a solider is made strong by being in a tank). God said to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9; cf. Deut. 31:6).

2. Our enemy is dangerous but defeated. 

The devil has many “schemes” (v. 11; cf. 2 Cor. 11:14; James 1:14-15). “Evil rarely looks evil until it accomplishes its goal; it gains entrance by appearing attractive, desirable, and perfectly legitimate. It is a baited and camouflaged trap” (Kylne Snodgrass, Ephesians, p. 339). Peter writes, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Two of the devil’s favorite areas of attack are marriages and church unity.

We should be careful to not fall for the devil’s traps, but we don’t need to fear him. He is a defeated enemy. His defeat is sure because of the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. Eph. 1:20-21).

Stand Firm! 

Paul emphasizes the word “stand.” It occurs three times in this passage (vv. 11, 13, 14). How can we stand against the enemy’s attacks and not fall to temptation? There are two keys to victory.

1. Resist the enemy with the word of God. 

In verse 13, the Greek word for “withstand” (anthistemi) can also be translated “resist” or “oppose.” When Jesus was tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1-11), he resisted the enemy by quoting Scripture (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). After resisting the devil three times, the enemy “left him” (Matt. 4:11). James tell us, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7; cf. 1 Peter 5:9). If we don’t know what God’s word says, we won’t be able to effectively resist the enemy (cf. Eph. 4:14).

2. Always be alert and pray. 

We must not be complacent. We need to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (v. 18). Jesus told his disciples, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). It’s sometimes said that God’s word is our only spiritual weapon, but prayer is also to be used as a weapon in our spiritual battles. Prayer demonstrates our dependency on God and releases the power of God.

We must not only pray for ourselves but also for one another. Paul asked his readers to pray for him (vv. 19-20). (Notice that Paul’s prayer request was that he would proclaim the gospel boldly, not be released from his “chains.”)

Don't Neglect Bible Study and Prayer 

Imagine a solider going into battle without his gun. That’s like a Christian going through life without knowing the Bible. Imagine a solider being surrounded by the enemy and not radioing for help. That’s like a Christian not spending time in prayer. If we are to have victory against the enemy, we must not neglect Bible study and prayer.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Jesus Is the Resurrection and the Life

You can listen to this sermon here.

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (vv. 17-27). 

Living in a Fallen World 

In the Gospel of John, John records seven of Jesus’ miracles. He calls these miracles “signs” because they showed that Jesus is the Christ (i.e., the Messiah). Near the end of his gospel, John writes, “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” (20:30-31). The raising of Lazarus is the final and ultimate sign that Jesus is the Christ.

Jesus loved his friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (vv. 3, 5, 36), yet Lazarus died. Verses 5 and 6 seem to be contradictory: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (vv. 5-6). Why didn’t Jesus immediately travel to Bethany to heal Lazarus? When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, both Martha and Mary said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vv. 21, 32).

Being loved by Jesus does not eliminate sorrow from our lives. 

However, every difficult circumstance gives us an opportunity to glorify God. When Jesus heard that Lazarus was ill, he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (v. 4).

The Resurrection and the Life 

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, “Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days” (v. 17). R. C. Sproul writes, “The fact that Lazarus had been buried for four days may seem like an insig-nificant detail, but it helps us get at the reason for Jesus' delay in going to Bethany. Among the rabbinic teachings in Jesus’ day was the idea that when a person died, the person's spirit hovered over the body for three days, and if, somehow, the body was resuscitated, the spirit returned to it. But according to the rabbinic tradition, the spirit departed after three days and the body was beyond all hope of resuscitation at that point. In light of this teaching, it seems likely that Jesus wanted to get to Bethany after the three days had passed so that, once He had raised Lazarus from the grave, the Jewish authorities could not say Lazarus' spirit had been lingering and his body had merely been resuscitated. By delaying His return, Jesus let enough time pass to make it absolutely certain that the raising of Lazarus was completely against nature and could not be seen as anything other than a miracle” (John, p. 204).

Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (vv. 25-26). Martha was thinking of the future resurrection of believers: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (v. 24). (The question of a resurrection was hotly debated in Jesus' tine. The Pharisees believed there would be a resurrection, but the Sadducees did not.)

Like Martha, we too are looking forward to a future resurrection day: “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Cor. 15:51-55).

But all who are in relationship to Jesus through faith have eternal life right now. One interpretation of Jesus’ statement “takes the first half of Christ’s words physically and the second half spiritually. It would give us a meaning something like this: ‘He would believes in me, even though he should die physically, yet he will live physically [that is, there will be a final resurrection]. And whosoever is spiritually live and believes in me shall not die spiritually’” (James Montgomery Boice, John, vol. 3, p. 853). In the original Greek, Jesus’ words read like this: “Whoever lives and believes in me will absolutely never die” (Gary M. Burge, John, p. 317).

Faith in Jesus brings eternal life now and resurrection life later. 

Verse 35 says that when he came to the tomb of Lazarus, “Jesus wept.” “Jesus joins his friends’ sadness with heartfelt sorrow, yet underlying it is the knowledge that resurrection and joy will soon follow. Jesus’ example shows that heartfelt mourning in the face of death does not indicate lack of faith but honest sorrow at the reality of suffering and death” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2046).

The death and resurrection of Lazarus foreshadow the death and resurrection of Jesus. (Of course, one big difference is that, unlike Jesus, Lazarus eventually died again.) The death and resurrection of Jesus provide hope to all who trust in him.

Do You Believe This? 

Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” (v. 26). You must decide whether or not you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

Harry Houdini is considered to be the greatest escape artist of all time. In the early 1900s, he fascinated the world with his performances. He would free himself from straitjackets, handcuffs, chains, and ropes. As he grew more popular, his escapes became more daring. He escaped from being buried alive, from being immersed in water inside a coffin, and from a water torture chamber. It seemed Houdini could escape anything. Nothing could hold him down.

As he was nearing death, Houdini told his wife that, if possible, he would communicate to her from the other side. He thought if anyone could escape death, he could.

Houdini died on Halloween 1926. And for ten solid years, his wife held on to the hope that her beloved husband would communicate to her, that he could somehow escape death as he had escaped everything else.

Finally, on the ten-year anniversary of Houdini’s death, she tried on final séance—to be broad-cast all over the world on radio—on final opportunity for her husband to prove he could escape death and communicate with her. After numerous intense appeals to awaken Houdini from his deathly slumber, the host yelled out: “Houdini! Are you there! Are you here, Houdini? Please manifest yourself in any way possible. We have waited, Houdini, oh so long! Never have you been able to present the evidence you promised.”

Hearing nothing, like always, the host turned to Houdini’s wife and asked for her response. She replied, “Houdini did not come through. My last hope is gone. I do believe he cannot come back to me or to anyone. It is finished. I turn out the light” (story taken from Creature of the Word, p. 117).

What Houdini could not do, Jesus has done. He has escaped death. He is the resurrection and the life. In him there is hope. Do you believe this?