Resurrection (Easter) Sunday

When considering something so critical and potentially life changing, like the resurrection of Jesus, the facts need to be solid, witnesses have to be credible, evidence must be persuasive, corroboration is always crucial, and alibis have to be dismantled. But ultimately, facts about Jesus don’t save us, it’s faith in who He is that matters.

Let’s consider three things: Is the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection fake news, foolish thinking, or based on factual evidence?

Is the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection fake news? How do we evaluate the credibility of the New Testament accounts of Jesus and His miracles, especially the miracle of His resurrection? Michael Shermer, editor of “Skeptic” Magazine says miracles are a “reporting problem.” People made up stories, experienced hallucinations, spread myths, or were biased.

It’s seems that if fake news was spread, however, it was falsified, not by Jesus’ disciples, but by His enemies.

Matthew 28:11–15 As they were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders and agreed on a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money and told them, “Say this, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him while we were sleeping.’ If this reaches the governor’s ears, we will deal with him and keep you out of trouble.” They took the money and did as they were instructed, and this story has been spread among Jewish people to this day.

Out of bias and envy they spread “fake news” and rejected the miracle of the resurrection – they rejected Jesus.

Is belief in His crucifixion and resurrection foolish thinking?There is nothing foolish about the resurrection if you consider both empirical evidence and personal experience. The NT writers acknowledged that if Christ wasn’t raised, Christians are fools.

1 Corinthians 15:12–14 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, “There is no resurrection of the dead”? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith.

1 Corinthians 1:22–25 For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

It seems to me that purely scientific, humanistic explanations for creation and life take more faith than logic and are foolish. Big bang theories, evolution, and the like deny the existence of a Creator who works miracles.

So what is the factual evidence that Jesus lived, died, and rose again? We don’t question that a Julius Caesar lived and died because of theempirical evidence that confirms he existed. If we use the same thought and evaluation process, there is factual evidence that is more than enough to convince us that Jesus lived, died, and rose again.

The empty tomb reported by neutral observers (Matt. 27:62-66; 28:11-15)

Matthew 27:62–66 The next day, which followed the preparation day, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember that while this deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’  So give orders that the tomb be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come, steal him, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” “You have a guard of soldiers,” Pilate told them. “Go and make it as secure as you know how.” They went and secured the tomb by setting a seal on the stone and placing the guard.

The eyewitness accounts of credible, skeptical people (Luke 24:9-12; John 20:24-29). As we read through the four Gospel accounts of the resurrection, we quickly see the story of Jesus from different perspectives, emphasizing different things. There is enough discrepancy to show that there was no collusion, but enough substantial agreement to show that they were all independent narrators of the same great experience. They were different eyewitnesses just reporting what they saw and unintentionally included different supporting details of the same event.

Luke 24:9–12 Returning from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went away, amazed at what had happened.

John 20:24–29 Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were telling him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” But Thomas said to them, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in his hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” A week later his disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be faithless, but believe.” Thomas responded to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Perhaps no one in the first century was more skeptical than Saul of Tarsus. He was not inclined to visions or hallucinations. He had everything to gain by continuing to crush the reports and reporters of Jesus’ resurrection. He had everything to lose by changing from persecutor of Christians to preacher of Christ.

Billy Graham -“The stone at Christ’s tomb was not rolled away to let out Jesus but to let in the eyewitnesses to declare, “He is risen!”

The early corroboration of Jesus’ friends (Matt, Mark, Luke, John, Acts 2:22-24). After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the earliest report said 500 people saw Him. Then, Jesus was encountered numerous times by different groups.

There are more than a billion Muslims who don’t believe that Jesus was crucified. Many of them, based on the Qur’an, believe that God substituted Judas for Jesus on the cross. Here’s the problem, the Qur’an was written six hundred years after Jesus lived. Compare that to the first-century sources that are uniform in reporting that Jesus was dead. Not only do we have the Gospel accounts, but there are also five ancient sources outside the Bible from the first century (Josephus, Tacitus, Mara bar Serapion, Lucian, and the Talmud)

For a conspiracy to succeed, you need the smallest number of co-conspirators; holding the lie for the shortest period of time; with clear communication between them so they can make sure their stories line up.

Just weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, Peter in Acts 2:22–24

“Fellow Israelites, listen to these words: This Jesus of Nazareth was a man attested to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through him, just as you yourselves know.  Though he was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail him to a cross and kill him.  God raised him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by death.

The explanation of motive by Jesus Himself (Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34, 45) On three separate occasions, Jesus made it clear to His disciples that He would go to Jerusalem to be crucified and then rise from the dead. His purpose was to justify God’s wrath against sinful people, die as their death substitute, and rise from the dead to conquer death once and for all.

Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33–34 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death. Then they will hand him over to the Gentiles, and they will mock him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him, and he will rise after three days.”

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The need for a final decision of faith 
Is belief in the resurrection of Jesus, fake news, foolish thinking, or factual evidence? If there is a God, then miracles like the resurrection of Jesus are not only reasonable, they should be expected. You can know all the facts, hear all the witnesses, and examine all the evidence, but each one of us must come to a decision of faith and trust. Factual evidence is not the same as faith.

John 3:16–18 For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.

Belief in Jesus and his Resurrection results in personal forgiveness of sin because of His death in our place and new life because He conquered death.

Because He lives I can face tomorrow, because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives. 

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

 

Good Friday

What’s so good about someone being crucified on a cross?

After sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, it’s difficult to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked during the tyranny of the Roman Empire. In the first century, the word for cross, σταυρός (latin crux), was unmentionable in polite Roman society.

When the early disciples talked about the crucified Christ, every listener from Jerusalem to Illyricum (Romans 15:19) knew that Jesus had suffered a particularly cruel and shameful death, which as a rule was reserved for the most hardened criminals, incorrigible slaves, and egregious rebels against the Roman state. Cicero (Pro Rabirio Perduellionis Reo 5.16) decries the crucifixion of a Roman citizen, exclaiming, “The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes, and his ears.”

The story behind Jesus’ death on the cross discloses that He was rejected by the very people He came to save (Matthew 26:1-5), was deserted by His own friends (Matthew 26:47-4869-75), was strung up by the proper authorities (Matthew 27:22-26), and, apparently, was powerless to save His own skin (Matthew 27:38-44).

Following Christ’s resurrection, Peter served as faithful follower of the Lord proclaiming,

“You know the events that took place throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with Him. We ourselves are witnesses of everything He did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, yet they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree. God raised up this man on the third day and permitted Him to be seen.” Acts 10:37–40

The beginning of Christianity was cradled in what looks like disastrous defeat, and the unspeakable stigma of the cross exposed “Christians” to woeful contempt.  In fact, the word, “Christian” is found only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16) and when it is used, it’s a label formed by people who were not followers of Jesus to designate those who were. It’s a manufactured term with a derogatory slant, meant to be a dig.

Similar to Peter, Paul did not refer to Jesus’ death on the cross with embarrassment or skip over the awkward facts:

“I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)

“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed.” (Galatians 3:13)

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

The cross of Jesus was central to Paul’s preaching because the resurrection disclosed Christ’s suffering and death as the way of life for His believing followers in the world. Paul taught the early church that followers of the crucified Lord must also share the suffering of the cross:

“The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ—seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17)

“My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.” (Philippians 3:10)

As followers of Jesus today, we want to share in the celebration of the cross, we would just rather avoid it’s suffering and shame. The message of the cross, however, is about trusting God’s will in submission and sacrifice (Matthew 27:36-46) rather than fighting for control or positioning for comfort. The message of the cross is an antidote to our self-glorification and self-satisfaction. The message of the cross is hope for the tired and weary, rest for the rejected refugee, grace for the humbled, and mercy for the broken sinner.

The Gospel of Christ crucified transforms the cross from a symbol of Roman terror and political domination into a symbol of God’s love and power. The cross shows that the power of God’s love is greater than human love of power. The cross reveals the love of God at its best and the sin of man at its worst. Isaac Watts said it well, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” 

The death of Jesus on a cross on that Friday long ago was good for us.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Read thru the Bible

Want to read the Bible with others and me in 2019?

Here are a couple options: read thru the entire Bible (http://bit.ly/2F0ABCn) or just the New Testament (http://bit.ly/2s1xRgq).

The most important thing is taking time to know God through His Word on a regular basis and living it out each day with others.

“Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:16-17

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Revelation

Reading thru the Bible  over the last 365 days of 2018, I’m finishing with the vision revealed to the Apostle John who was exiled on the island of Patmos because of His testimony about Jesus some time after 90AD.

What John wrote in the book of Revelation fascinates us and has caused generations of Christ followers to wonder as we wait for the end times. We’re strangely curious about Bible prophecy. The visions of the future seen and written down by John are similar to political cartons of our day that would seem strange without specific context and knowledge of particular individuals or circumstances. The intense scenes of real events yet to come encourage us to persevere today and remain faithful in the days ahead (Revelation 13:10).

Revelation isn’t primarily about prophecy, though. It’s about a person: JESUS. The book of Revelation focuses our attention of the person, power, and, future program of Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world.

To him who loves us and has set us free from our sins by his blood, and made us a kingdom, priests, to his God and Father—to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Revelation 1:5–6

 In the same way Christmas is not just about Jesus coming as a baby in Bethlehem; it’s about Him returning as our King to judge the nations and the rebels of God.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever. Revelation 11:15

The book of Revelation isn’t just a fitting conclusion to the end of the year, but also to the end of Advent season as we anticipate the second coming of Jesus and his coming kingdom on Earth.

As we look back today over the events and activities of the past year (2018), we also look ahead with faith as we wait for our coming King.

He who testifies about these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! Revelation 22:20

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ in 2019 or until He comes back.

Wasted Wisdom


Why do really smart people do really dumb things? With regularity, we’re shocked to hear of great men and women who have thrown away their lives with foolish actions or words. Sure, younger people can do some pretty stupid things like I did when I was in my teens. But,  how is it that some who are older and, supposedly, wiser end up following the wrong people and worshiping the wrong things?

The greatest example of wasted wisdom is King Solomon of Israel. “God gave Solomon wisdom, very great insight, and understanding beyond measure” (1 Kings 4:29). Solomon composed 3,000 proverbs (Proverbs 1:1-7), wrote over a thousand songs (including Psalms and Song of Solomon), dissected biology, mediated personal conflicts, arbitrated injustice, and discerned between good and evil. During his lifetime, people came from everywhere on earth, sent by kings and queens, to listen to Solomon’s wisdom and stand in awe of his wealth (1 Kings 4:34). There was no one like him (2 Chronicles 9:22-23). Everyone wanted to be like him and be with him.

Tragically, “when Solomon was old, his wives seduced him to follow other gods…Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight and he did not completely follow the LORD….the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD God of Israel.” (1 Kings 11:4,6,9). As a result, his family fell apart and the kingdom of Israel was torn apart.

How could the wisest person who ever lived waste his life in the end? If it could happen to Solomon, then couldn’t it certainly happen to me.

How can I make sure that as I get older that I follow the Lord completely and whole heartedly? Here are some thoughts I’ve had after grieving Solomon’s demise and reflecting on his downfall.

Stay in the scriptures and in prayer to develop an ongoing relationship with God (Proverbs 1:1-7, 9:10, 14:26, 15:33, 22:4). Wisdom must be applied to life in dependence upon the Lord (Psalm 127:1, Proverbs 16:3). For all his wisdom, Solomon was seduced to follow other gods rather than stay true to the God who appeared to him — twice. Reading the Bible and talking with God is not just a matter of discipline or spirituality — it’s about a relationship with my Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer who loves me unconditionally, but cannot use me unconditionally. In order to finish well, I must actively and intentionally follow Jesus and obey Him.

Stay close to godly friends who will tell me the truth about myself. Who were the people in King Solomon’s life to remind him of God’s commands — especially about foreign women. Where were they when he needed them to counsel and correct him (Proverbs 11:14)? We all need friends who will speak the truth in love (Proverbs 27:6). We all need friends who will encourage us to keep going in pursuit of Jesus (Proverbs 17:17, Ecclesiastes 4:12). We all need friends who will keep a confidence (Proverbs 17:9). We need friends who will keep us grounded in Christlike humility. In order to have those kind of friends, I must first be that kind of friend. And the most important friendship for me as a married man is my wife (singular).

An accountability question that I try to regularly ask of my friends, co-workers, and other leaders is, “What do I need to know that I don’t know that you think or fear I don’t want to know?” In order to finish well, I must listen to godly friends who point me to Jesus and remind me of my humanity and my need for my Savior.

Stay away from foolish temptations that will lead me away from a life of integrity (Proverbs 2:10-19, 10:19). King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines who turned his heart away from the Lord. Solomon “loved” too many women. 999 too many. His heart was not completely with the LORD his God. It was his downfall. Satan’s time-proven tactic for trapping many really smart men and keeping them from finishing well is sexual immorality (Proverbs 5:3-6; 7:2-22). For men, careless eyes often leads to trouble. For women, is it careless words (Proverbs 14:1)? In order to finish well, you and I must avoid the situations and people who will seduce me to walk away from the Lord Jesus.

The heartbreaking part of Solomon’s story is that he knew what to do. He just didn’t do it. Near the end of his life, he wrote, “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)

In life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish. In relationships, it’s not how you much you know, it’s how you use what you know. Biblical wisdom is applied knowledge. The wise put into practice skills for understanding and living a successful life with Jesus (John 15:4-5, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25). 

As a husband and father, I’m concerned that I could throw away my relationships and influence. As a pastor and preacher, I’m terrified that I could encourage others in their race only to be disqualified in the end (1 Corinthians 10:12). Failure is not inevitable, but self-confidence could lead to a spiritual fall, as it did for Solomon, did so often in Israel’s history, and continues today. The temptations Solomon faced were not unique to him nor are they unique to us in this modern age. The Lord promises to give us grace to handle any temptation we might face as we keep our minds and hearts focused on Him (1 Corinthians 10:13). Solomon serves as a warning to us (Ecclesiastes 4:13): even really smart people can do really dumb things.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

 

Defenseless

Since the U. S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion 45 years ago today, January 22, 1973, it’s estimated that more than 60 million abortions have been performed in America. Unborn babies are living human beings (regardless of the circumstances of conception), created and loved by God and deserving, though defenseless, of our love and protection.

Some may see this as just a personal issue for each individual to decide or a political one for leaders to legislate. I believe, however, that this is the most significant moral dilemma of people today because it really is a matter of life and death. Also, it seems to me that it’s a spiritual attack of our enemy, the Devil, against the image and glory of God reflected in mankind — men & women, boys & girls, and babies inside & outside a mother’s womb. It seems to me that the debate about women’s rights, fairness, equality, and situational ethics really questions God’s goodness and sovereignty. The discussion either rejects God altogether or skeptically asks, “Did God really say…?”

“For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

Join me in praying for God’s truth and grace to be compassionatly communicated in personal conversations and public spaces. Pray for God to continue working through credible, loving organizations like Real Options for Women who provide help, hope, and support for expectant mothers and others. Ask God to help us and defend the defenseless.

follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Music and Memories

Music helps us connect life experiences with past memories. We need older songs to help us remember God’s Word and His faithfulness. At the same time, we also need new songs to make new connections. Words may challenge the mind, but music speaks to the heart.

This morning while reading through Psalm 9, I was reminded of a Keith Green song from years ago that helped me connect God’s Word during some difficult circumstances.

“I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders, I will be glad and exult in Thee.” 

I remember the verse because of a simple musical tune. I’m reminded of times as a much younger man when I was faced with decisions to either give in to doubt and become bitter OR trust the LORD and give thanks.
Now years later, I can rejoice in the God who delivered me and continues to lead me. The Keith Green song is definitely dated and probably wouldn’t mean much to my kids or a younger generation. They need new songs to remind them of God’s Word and His faithfulness.

And the reality is that I need new songs, too, to be reminded that God is still working in the world. He’s still making things new. And He’s still working in me.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.