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.


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).

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

God Is Jealous

Part 3 of the God Is series

Text: Exodus 20:1-6

“I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (Exod. 20:5).

Good and Jealous?

We probably have all heard about a jealous husband who committed murder. With that in mind, it might distrube us when we read in the Bible that God is a jealous God. How can God be a good God if he is a jealous God?

The first time that God is said to be a jealous God is in Exodus 20. In this chapter, God gives the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel.

The Idol Factory

The first two commandments prohibit idolatry: (1) “You shall have no other gods before me” (v. 3); (2) “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything…. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (vv. 4-5). Idolatry is the worship of a God-substitute. [1]

We all know what pagan idolatry is, but there’s another kind of idolatry that could be called idolatry of the heart. [2] The apostle Paul writes that a “covetous” person is “an idolater” (Eph. 5:5; cf. Col. 3:5). The covetous person’s god is materialism.

Tim Keller defines idolatry of the heart as “the making of good things into ultimate things.” [3] He writes that an idol is “anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” [4] MMA fighter Ronda Rousey is an example of this. After losing her championship belt, she contemplated suicide. She thought, “What am I anymore if I’m not this?” [5] The human heart is an idol factory.

A Good Kind of Jealousy

After prohibiting idolatry, God declares, “I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (v. 5). Is jealously always wrong? What if a man never got jealous no matter what his wife did? There’s a good kind of jealousy that could be defined as “zeal to protect a love relationship.” [6] This is a jealousy that’s caused by love, not by insecurity. In the OT, God is described as the husband of his people, and idolatry is likened to adultery [i.e., unfaithfulness]. In Jeremiah 3:20, God says, “Like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me.” Paul asks, “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” (1 Cor. 10:22).

God’s jealousy is his passion to protect his rightful place in our hearts. 

God expects exclusive devotion. Jesus said that the most important commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). [7]

First Place

Why does God deserve first place in our hearts? God said to the people of Israel, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (v. 2). Before God gave to the people the Ten Commandments, reminded them who he is and what he had done for them.

God deserves first place in our hearts because of who he is and what he has done for us. 

What has God done for us? “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

God Is What We Need

When people are devoted to an idol, they are looking elsewhere for satisfaction. People who are devoted to idols say, “If I only could [fill in the blank], then I’d be satisfied.” But idols always end up disappointing us. God declared, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that hold no water” (Jer. 2:13).

Some people will say that God is being selfish be demanding first place in our hearts. But God is not being selfish because (1) God deserves first place in our hearts; and (2) God knows that we need him in order to be truly satisfied—to fill the emptiness in our hearts.

It's Good that God Is Jealous

Every baby is born with a desire for milk. What would happen if you gave a baby a bottle of Coke instead of milk? Nothing good. Whether we realize it or not, everyone is born with a desire for God. We are all worshipers. We either worship God or a substitute. As a baby’s health would be harmed by drinking Coke instead of milk, our lives are harmed when we worship a false god. For this reason, we can say it’s good that God is jealous. If he wasn’t jealous, it would mean that he really doesn’t love us.

[1] Romans 1:25 states that idolaters “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” 
[2] God says in Ezekiel 14:3, “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts” (cf. v. 4, 7).
[3] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, 162.
[4] Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xviii.
[5] http://espn.go.com/mma/story/_/id/14785901/ronda-rousey-says-considered-suicide-loss-holly-holm
[6] J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 192.
[7] This commandment is stating positively the negative commandment “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

God Is Merciful

Part 2 of God Is _____.

Text: Lamentations 3:1-33

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lam. 3:22-23). 

The God of the Old Testament

There are some parts of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, where God might appear to be severe and unloving. In his book The God Delusion, atheist Richard Dawkins writes,
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. [1] 
Is Dawkins correct? Is the God of the Old Testament a merciless monster?

A Book of Sadness

Lamentations is not one of the most popular books of the Bible. A “lamentation” is “an expression of great sorrow or deep sadness.” The author of Lamentations [2] mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. The reason for the destruction of Jerusalem was the people’s sin: “the Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions” (1:5).

A book like Lamentations gives extra credibility to the Bible. The Bible is not a book of propaganda. If it was, it wouldn’t include Lamentations—a book that might cause some people to question God’s love. “The Bible leans against our tendency to construct a god after our own image. We cannot approach the delicatessen of God’s person like we approach a buffet—taking a heaping of this and a dollop of that, while passing over what we deem unpalatable.” [3]

Rich in Mercy

Lamentations frequently mentions the anger of God, but God is not a merciless monster. For example, 3:1 says, “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath.” Many people don’t want to believe that God gets angry, but would God be good if he didn’t hate sin? The New Testament also mentions the anger of God. The apostle Paul writes that we “were by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament.

God does hate sin and will punish sin, but he always desires to show people mercy. 

The writer of Lamentations says, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23). God’s mercy is his “goodness toward those is misery and distress.” [4] God is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:3), evidenced by Christ being punished for our sin on the cross. This is why there is hope for us!

God will always show us mercy if we repent of our sin. “He does not afflict from his heart” (v. 33). “God’s first instinct is not to punish. He does so only when his patience with sinner does not lead to their repentance.” [5]

Our Response

How should we respond to the mercy of God? [6]

1. We should seek mercy from God. 

“Good” people don’t go to heaven. If it were possible for us to earn salvation by our goodness, why did Christ die? The cross shows us our desperate need of God's mercy and the foolishness of thinking we could ever be good enough to gain salvation. We are unable to do anything to save ourselves, but if we call out to God for mercy, he will give it to us.

2. We should show mercy to others. 

For Christians, there is always the danger of losing sight of what is most important. This is what happened to many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They were very good at doing religious things, but weren’t good at showing mercy to others. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite—two religious men—chose not to show the injured man mercy.
“Which of these three [the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan], do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robber?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “you go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 31.
[2] The traditional view is that Jeremiah was the author of Lamentations.
[3] Mark S. Gignilliat, “Not Just a New Testament God,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/february-web-only/exorcising-marcions-ghost.html. 
[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 200.
[5] ESV Study Bible.
[6] We should always ask, “So what?” when studying a biblical doctrine.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

God Is Holy

Part 1 of God Is ______.

Text: Isaiah 6:1-13

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3). 

A Life-Changing Experience 

Imagine reading the obituaries and seeing your name! It actually happened to someone—his name was Alfred Nobel. Nobel was the inventor of dynamite, and the newspaper described him as a man who had made it possible to kill more people more quickly than anyone else who had ever lived. This is not how Nobel wanted to be remembered, so he decided to use his fortune to institute the Nobel Prizes.

Seeing his obituary while still alive changed Nobel’s life. In Isaiah 6, the prophet Isaiah also saw something that change his life.

We Need a Vision of God 

Isaiah experienced this vision of God “in the year that King Uzziah died” (v. 1). It was an uncertain time for Isaiah and his nation. Like Isaiah, we are living in an uncertain time. During uncertain times, we need a vision [1] of God. In Isaiah’s vision, the holiness of God is emphasized. The seraphim cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts” (v. 3). What is the holiness of God, and how should we respond to it? 

Holy, Holy, Holy

If you were asked, “What do you think is God’s best attribute?”, what would you say? I’m guessing most Christians would say the love of God. But the angels seem to be most impressed by God’s holiness. In the Hebrew language, a word is emphasized by repeating it. [2] When the angels say, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts,” they are saying that no one is holy like God is holy. He isn’t just holy; he’s holy, holy, holy.

What did the angels mean when they said that God is holy? “Holiness implies absolute moral purity and separateness above creation.” [3] “God’s absolute holiness reveals how separate, different, or totally other he is in comparison to all other aspects of the created world.” [4]

When the Bible says that God is holy, it means that no one compares to God.

Isaiah 40:25 says, “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.” In our culture, holiness is often thought of as a negative attribute (e.g., people complain that someone has a holier-than-thou attitude). But the Bible describes true holiness as beautiful: “Worship the LORD in the splendor [beauty, KJV] of holiness (Ps. 96:9).

Our Response 

When we have a vision of God’s holiness, our lives can’t remain the same. That was true of Isaiah after his vision. We, like Isaiah, should respond to God’s holiness in two ways.

1. We should have an overwhelming desire to repent. 

Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (v. 5). Our sin is never so ugly as when we sense the holy presence of God. [This is sort of like how we feel when we think we’re good at something, and then we see how we match up against an expert.]

What’s amazing is that the holy God is quick to forgive. One of the seraphim “touched [Isaiah’s] mouth [with a burning coal from the altar] and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for’” (v. 7). 

2. We should have an overwhelming desire to serve. 

In John 12:37-41, John twice quotes the book of Isaiah: he quotes Isaiah 53:1 in verse 31, and he quotes Isaiah 6:10 in verse 40. Then in verse 41, John says something amazing about Isaiah’s vision: “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12:41). In other words, Isaiah spoke of Jesus in Isaiah 53 and saw Jesus in Isaiah 6.

Earlier in John 12, Jesus says that he will be “lifted up from the earth” (v. 32). In Isaiah’s vision, the prophet sees the Lord (Jesus) “high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1). And in Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant, he says that the servant (Jesus) would be “high and lifted up” (Isa. 52:13). Put it all together and John is saying that the one who was “high and lifted up” in Isaiah’s vision is the same one who was “lifted up from the earth” (i.e., crucified for our sins).

God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (v. 8). Isaiah answers, “Here am I! Send me” (v. 8). How could we not want to serve the holy God who died for us?

[1] I’m using the word “vision” loosely: seeing with the eye of faith through what is written in Scripture.
[2] For example, Jesus often began an important statement by saying, “Truly, truly.”
[3] ESV Study Bible, 1251.
[4] G. V. Smith, Isaiah 1-39, 190.