The Meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection

April 19, 2019

How can we express what the resurrection means? It means vindication. Jesus really is the Messiah, the Anointed One, who fulfills the promise made to David. The chief priests had rejected him. The crowds had cried, “Crucify him!” Peter preached that the resurrection gives us the certainly “that God has made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

It means forgiveness. The wages of sin is death. God warns against eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17, ESV). The sacrificial system of the Law of Moses was a pointer to what God would someday do on the cross. Life was in the blood. A life was accepted in exchange for the life of a sinner. “He (that is God) made him who did not know sin a sin offering in our behalf, in order that we may become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

It means reconciliation. Adam and Eve had walked with God in a way that it is difficult for us to imagine. Our only hint is in Genesis 3 when they heard the sound of God walking in the garden, and they knew what the sound meant, so they hid themselves because of their sin. Paradise was lost. Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden. Yet, God has sought to reconcile the world to himself. Because of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence. As Christians, we become a temple of the Holy Spirit. We look forward to once more having access to the Tree of Life and walking in God’s glorious presence.
It means transformation. Yes, I need to be forgiven of my sin, but I also need a moral makeover. I need to become a better person. Following Jesus and putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit is the process of that moral transformation. God’s desire is that we be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).

It means eternal life. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead anticipates and is the basis of the resurrection at his coming. Death has been conquered. Yes, we may still have to experience physical death, but those who are in Jesus have life and hope of eternal life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24, ESV). “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11, ESV).

How wonderful and marvelous — He is risen!


He Set His Heart

April 12, 2019

The Babylonian Captivity is difficult to imagine. The temple was destroyed, and much of Israel’s religious practice had to cease. How do you keep the faith alive in such a hostile environment? Part of the answer is found in the life of Ezra, a priest and scribe.

For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. (Ezra 7:10, ESV)

Set His Heart to Study the Law. The phrase “set his heart” is the main verb of this sentence followed by three infinitives, things that Ezra does. Let me suggest that Ezra sets his heart to do each of them, to study, to do, and to teach.* The first thing to notice is that Ezra as priest and scribe studied the law. But I appreciate how it is expressed: “Ezra had set his heart.” The verse not only expresses the idea of Ezra studying but also the commitment that Ezra made to study. Commitment is important in accomplishing goals. As a scribe, Ezra may have made hand copies of Bible scrolls. Having grown up in a world with photo copiers, it is difficult for me to imagine hand copying anything of significant length, but I suspect the discipline would make the text of a copied book very familiar. Study takes effort because it is more than reading. It is the attempt to understand. It involves working through some difficult passages. It requires understanding certain passages in light of other passages.

He Set His Heart to Do It. The study of the Bible is not to be just an intellectual exercise. It is to be applied and lived. Ezra understood that and modeled it. We have sayings like “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one.” The reality is we need both, but the saying emphasizes that we need to see it lived. Those who proclaim God’s word must also walk the walk. People must see in us that we take the Word of God seriously in our own life. The scripture must be transforming those of us who preach and teach. Ezra is a positive example of this.

He Set His Heart to Teach. In Ezra 8, we see that Ezra is commissioned to return to Jerusalem. He is a prepared man for an important work. When he arrives in Jerusalem, he is confronted with a problem, “the people have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations” (9:1). Teaching also includes correction. One of the great teaching scenes in the Old Testament is in Nehemiah 8:1. The people are gathered to the Water Gate in Jerusalem. Ezra reads from the law from early morning to midday. Helpers were moving among the crowd to help the people to understand (Neh. 8:7).

Ezra had a tremendous task of bring Israel back to Torah. And in fulfilling that task, he leaves us a powerful example. We also need to study scripture, practice scripture, and teach scripture. Ezra was faithful in these things because of his commitment. He set his heart.

*Devotions on the Hebrew Bible, ed. Milton Eng and Lee M. Fields; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 161.


A Nudge

April 5, 2019

I recently visited the congregation where I attended from infancy through college. It’s nostalgic going back. Of course, I hoped that maybe I would recognize or know someone from the past. I’ll confess that I don’t look like what I did in college, so recognition on their part was going to have to come my name not necessarily my face. And yes, there were people I remembered, and who remembered me.

After the service, the song leader came up and greeted me. I didn’t recognize his face, but once he said his name, I exclaimed, “You’re an important person in my life.” He smiled. He knew what I was talking about, so let me tell you the story.

I was fourteen years old, a church attender, a participant in the youth group activities, but not a baptized believer. I’ve mentioned in lessons that there were times I gripped hard the pew in front of me during the invitation. I was struggling. What was my problem? I was shy and nervous about getting in front of the group. When closing in on 39 years of preaching that may sound odd, but this was my 14-year-old self.

My important Sunday was the beginning of a gospel meeting. I went home for lunch with a friend. We went back to the church building and joined a group doing a nursing home sing. After the singing, the youth who had gone were sitting around hanging out. While I was sitting there in the auditorium with my friend talking, my “important person” came up and sat beside me. He was several years older. I don’t know exactly what he said, but the gist was, “Do you want to be baptized?” I said yes and confessed my fears.

My “important person” stayed with us. When worship started, he seated my friend and I on the second pew and sat with us. It’s not a long walk from the second pew. I now had this support that helped me go forward. And of course, once I was there none of my fears were real.

After I was baptized, I was warmly greeted. But I remember one voice saying, ÒI thought he already was a Christian.Ó My “important person” knew my true spiritual condition, and he was willing to address it.

Would I have become a Christian without this incident? I don’t know. Fortunately, I was wise enough not to turn down help the first time it came my way. Putting off responding has risks. Hearts can cool, and sin can deceive.

In writing about this “important person” who gave me a nudge, I want to encourage you to look around for people in your own life who need a nudge. Many spiritual encounters are not about a long, prepared lesson. It is about saying something meaningful that helps to move someone a step closer to God. It was life changing for me, so I’m thankful for my “important person” who gave me a nudge.


Outposts of Heaven

March 29, 2019

I’m a citizen of the State of Michigan. I live here. I’m a citizen of the United States of America. I live here. But Paul claimed, “But our citizenship is in heaven…” (Philippians 3:20, ESV).

I obviously don’t live in heaven at the moment, although I want to be headed there. What does it mean for me to be a citizen of the New Jerusalem? Paul used this language in a section of ethical instruction – “join in imitating me…” (Philippians 3:17, ESV). This occurred in a context where for some “their god is their belly.” The context is dealing with ethical living. So why did Paul bring up the subject of “our citizenship is in heaven.”

It helps to understand something about the Roman world. Paul was writing to Philippi, a Roman colony. How would they have understood citizenship? What insights do we gain? C.B. Caird explained the background.

Paul was by birth a Roman citizen, and Philippi was a Roman colony, i.e., a city situated in one of the provinces, but with the full rights of Roman citizenship… Citizenship of Rome had first been extended to the whole of Italy, and then under the Empire, had been granted to cities in the provinces where veterans from the army were settled, and occasionally to individuals distinguished in public service. The purpose of this policy was that the colonies should be centres of Roman culture, law and influence through which eventually the provinces would become thoroughly Roman; and so successful was it that even in the course of the first century A.D. many of the most distinguished figures in Roman life were of provincial extraction. With this model in mind Paul depicts Christians as holders of the citizenship of heaven, established in the provinces of God’s empire as the means by which the whole might be brought within the influence of his reign.*

While we are on our way to that heavenly city, we are to spread the culture and influence of Jerusalem that is above. We are to live in this world like citizens of heaven. Our moral life should be showing what God and Christ are really like. We should be influencing people to join us in our journey to heaven, so that we are helping extend the borders of the kingdom. Christians are outposts of heaven.

*G.B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, pp. 179-180


False Reports

March 15, 2019

Although the Internet makes spreading a false report easier to do, it is obviously not a new human problem. Moses address the problem over three millennia ago, “You shall not spread a false report” (Exodus 23:1, ESV).

And before the Internet, we still had photocopiers. I remember the first time someone handed me an article that this person wanted placed in the bulletin. My response was I would run the article if it was true, but I wanted to research it first. This person’s body language indicated surprise and maybe some impatience at the idea of research. After all, the article was so urgent.

Researching the article in the 1980s meant going to the public library. It was a more difficult and time-consuming process. But in this case, the article turned out to be a false report.
Since that first experience with a false report that someone wanted me to duplicate for others, I’ve come to realize that there are many of these false stories out there. And the false stories don’t seem to die. Once released to the public, they have a life of their own. The truth is out there too, but it never seems enough to rid us of the false report, because people don’t check the facts before repeating the report.
The Internet speeds up this process. We can spread a false report to hundreds of people in our news feeds on social media at the click of a few buttons. But the Internet also allows us to use a search engine and gather information on the report. Most of the time, you can tell quickly whether something is true or false.

False reports harm someone. The report may cause prejudice against an individual where people know the report but not the person. This prejudice may impact the person targeted in the false report financially and even in judicial settings. False reports can be divisive. Douglas K. Stuart observes, “False reports could also create factionalism as one group believed the report about a member of another group, and the person’s own group determined that the report had to have been started by the other group.”*

Before sharing a report on the Internet or conversing about it with others, ask these basic questions Is it true? How do I know that it is true? Have I confirmed the truthfulness of this by a reliable source (which from observation needs to be more than a friend posted this)? Don’t spread a false report.

*Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary, 524.


What Spills Out

March 11, 2019

A man had a short temper. He seemed nice enough until he lost his temper, and then, he could inflict emotional pain with his words. The outbursts would come with the frustrations and accidents of life, and those kinds of moments always come. In his book, After You Believe, N.T. Wright tells this story.

A famous preacher had a friend who was well known for his short temper. One day, at a party, he asked this friend to help him serve some drinks. The preacher himself poured the drinks, deliberately filling several glasses a bit too full. He then passed the tray to his friend. As they walked into the room to distribute the drinks, he accidentally-on-purpose bumped into the friend, causing the tray to jiggle and some of the drinks to flow over the brim and spill. “There you are, you see,” said the preacher. “When you’re jolted, what spills out is whatever is filling you.”

When you are jolted, what spills out reveals your character. In a discussion about unclean foods, Jesus makes the same point.

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20–23, ESV)

That is why Jesus talks about trees and their fruit. (Matthew 7:15-20, 12:33-37). A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. Somehow, I don’t think Jesus is giving a lesson on tending orchards. He instructs us to “make the tree good.” Jesus’ solution for behavior (“fruit” in Jesus’ parable) is to transform us on the inside (“make the tree good”). When our character is transformed to be more Christ-like, we don’t have to worry much about the actions that spring from such character. After all, good trees (people) produce good fruit (behavior).

This really is God’s plan. When Jeremiah prophesies of the new covenant, it is about “the law written on hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). When Paul summarizes the big picture of what it is all about, he says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29, ESV, my emphasis). We are to be like Jesus.

Character transformation is a lifelong process. We must cooperate with God to allow Him to change us on the inside. It takes God’s word. It takes prayer. It takes effort. It takes time. When you are jolted, what spills out?


Passing Through Vanity Fair

February 22, 2019

John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is a wonderful, allegorical tale of Christian living. Christian, the main character, and Faithful come to the town of Vanity where there is a yearlong fair. The fair is named Vanity Fair because all is lighter than vanity. All that come there and all that is sold there is vanity.

Therefore, at this fair are all such merchandise sold as houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures; and delights of all sorts, as harlots, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.

And moreover, at this fair there is at all times to be seen jugglings, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind.

Here are to be seen, too, and that for nothing, thefts, murders, adulteries, false-swearers, and that of a blood-red color.

The Prince of princes himself, when here, went through this town to his own country, and that upon a fair-day too; yea, and, as I think, it was Beelzebub, the chief lord of this fair, that invited him to buy of his vanities, yea, would have made him lord of the fair, would he but have done him reverence as he went through the town.

It was Bunyan’s way of warning about worldliness. It was his colorful way of picturing the warning of 1 John.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17, ESV

The desires (lust) of the flesh is the fulfillment of physical desires in wrong ways. This desires of the eyes is covetousness. Covetousness is an unreasonable desire for what we do not possess. Pride in possessions is arrogance, arrogance that forgets dependence on God.

The town of Vanity is no lasting city. All that it contains is temporary and fleeting. We must be pilgrims to the Celestial City (heaven) and not linger or be caught up in Vanity Fair. The danger is real. It takes prayer, stewardship, and discernment not to be charmed by Vanity Fair.