Wednesday, April 25, 2007

To Whom Should You Give?

The "Internet Monk" has posted an insightful article (read it here) about giving money to panhandlers that will be of interest to many readers, especially those who attend IBC and deal with this on a regular basis. I agree with most of what he has written. However, I also found some of the comments as insightful as the article. A meeting with a representative from a local homelessness ministry today helped reinforce the need for compassionate social action. However, I still believe that underlying most of what we see is an illegitimate way of life. I appreciated the iMonk's comment about the biblical principle that if a man doesn't work, he shouldn't eat. While there are certainly exceptions to this (those who are disabled and unable to work, etc.), there is still wisdom here. None of us want to be found without compassion for the poor, the needy, the infirm, etc. But we must all be found faithful as stewards, and enabling illegitimate living is both unwise and unsafe. My philosophy is found in Acts 3 -- "Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, I give to you." Offer them Jesus Christ first and foremost. Only as Christ transforms their lives will real help and change be found.

Monday, April 23, 2007

False Familiarity and True Family: Mark 3:20-35

Download the mp3 here

You have heard it said that familiarity breeds contempt. I read a story this week that illustrated that fact pretty well. If you know anything of the history of some countries in West and Southern Africa, you know that diamonds were once found in abundance in those places. The story I read was written by a preacher, so immediately we wonder if he’s telling the truth or just preaching. He tells of a traveler in Africa who came upon a group of boys playing a game that looked like some version of marbles. Upon closer inspection, the traveler observed that these boys were playing marbles with diamonds. They did not understand the value of the objects which were, in their hands, nothing more than playthings. There is, in this story, both an understandable naïve innocence and a tragic irony. What was considered of great value in other parts of the world was so common to them that they misunderstood it’s significance. Familiarity, for those boys, bred contempt.[1]

In the passage from which we read today, we see this played out before our very eyes. Here we find those who, from an entirely human and earthly perspective, are the closest to Jesus, showing their familiarity to breed contempt for Him. And we find here a great contrast between false familiarity and true family.

I remind you that this passage is laid out like a sandwich. This is a literary devise known technically as intercalation, and it is characteristic of Mark’s gospel. It is found approximately ten times in this short book of the Bible. These sandwiches serve to create suspense, which in turn captures the interest of the audience, as well as providing commentary. The two stories which are woven together illuminate and explain one another by means of comparison or contrast. If a sandwich is an appropriate simile for this kind of writing, then the bread is found in the verses we read just a moment ago, and the filling is found in verses 22-30, which we examined last week. Mark interrupts this story about the family of Jesus by interjecting the account of the scribes coming from Jerusalem and accusing Jesus of being in league with Satan. There, we read of that pronouncement of the unforgivable and eternal sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. We examined that last week. By interjecting that account into the midst of this one, Mark creates suspense – we want to find out how this looming confrontation between Jesus and His family will play out. And the two stories dovetail together to make a common point. We will try to shed some light on that point as we examine these outer brackets of the narrative today.

As we read verses 20-21, we find ourselves faced with

I. The Irony of False Familiarty (vv20-21)

This is the first encounter we have of the family of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. Verse 31 explains that these are His mother, whom we know is Mary, and His brothers, whom we discover elsewhere in the New Testament include brothers named James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. We also find mention in Matthew 13:56 of His sisters. Though some translations include “sisters” in verse 31, the most reliable Greek manuscripts do not. Joseph is not mentioned in this passage—in fact, he is never mentioned anywhere in the Gospels after the scene in the Temple when Jesus was twelve years old except for a passing reference in John 6—leading some to assume that at this point he had died.

Word has circulated throughout the region concerning Jesus, and some 25 miles away in Nazareth, the family heard. Let’s consider their information, their accusation, and their intervention.

A. The information they received.

His own people heard. Heard what? Mark does not tell us what they heard, but the context is full of clues as to what they might have heard. They might have heard that He had encountered some strong opposition from the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Herodians, Israel’s religious and political leaders. They might have heard that enormous crowds were gathering around Him everywhere He went, to such an extent that He could not even eat a meal. They might have heard that He had returned to a fixed location from His journeys into outlying areas. They might have heard that He had gathered unto Himself a ragtag group of associates consisting of at least four fishermen, a tax-collector, and a nationalistic zealot. They might have heard that He has been out making radical claims about Himself and performing amazing signs and wonders. It might have been any of these or some combination of them that they heard.

When you are faced with a problem that has arisen because of some rumor or report you have heard concerning another person, you must take that information in the context of what they already know to be true of the individual. What did Jesus’ family already know about Him? Take His mother for instance. Let’s not forget that she had received an announcement from an angelic messenger that she would conceive a child in her state of being a virgin, and that this child would be “great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:32-33). And she had believed that report. She had been told by shepherds that they had seen a vision of angels who had announced that the Savior had been born, and was lying in a manger wrapped in cloths. And the Bible tells us that she had “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Though this was the context of information she knew to be true of Him, still she failed to understand Jesus fully.

Whether it was the mundane daily tasks of motherhood, the feedings and the cleanings and all the rest, that caused her to lose sight of the true nature of who Jesus was, or her own preconceived notions of what all this meant for her and the rest of the world, it was not long before she began to develop misunderstandings. When Jesus was at the Temple at age 12 and went missing from the family, she tried to rebuke Him saying, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been looking anxiously for You.” But Jesus knew who He was, even if she failed to comprehend it fully. He said to her in that moment, “Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” And the Scriptures say, “But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them” (Luke 2:48-50). Again, at the wedding of Cana at Galilee, though Mary had great faith in the abilities of her Son, she still failed to understand His nature or His mission. When she told Jesus that they had run out of wine, He said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4).

Now on top of all this comes this new report of His activity in and around Capernaum.[2] What would they do with the information they received? Notice …

B. The accusation they suggested.

“He has lost His senses.” He’s flipped His lid; He’s gone berserk. The Greek word used here is the source of our English word “ecstasy.” Euripides used the term to describe someone who was “deranged in his mind with a sudden madness.”[3] So one Greek scholar says the sense here is that “he is a fanatic, he has lost his grasp on himself and concrete reality.”[4] In spite of all they know to be true of Jesus, the dots just don’t connect.

This is where the two stories of the sandwich come together. The information is out there for all to see. But how and why He does what He does is subject to multiple interpretations. The scribes say it is because He is possessed by an evil spirit, Beelzebul, Satan himself. The family doesn’t want to go that far, but suggest He is insane. The two accusations are not that far removed in antiquity. Most cases of mental illness in those days was attributed to demonic activity, so though they were perhaps more benevolent in their wording, they were still in danger of committing the same error as the scribes. Both offer mistaken speculations about His nature and His work, neither of which had any inkling of truth. They are like those described by C. S. Lewis who refuse to acknowledge Jesus for who He claimed to be. Lewis said, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.”[5] This is exactly how His contemporaries who misunderstood Him labeled Him: lunatic or demoniac.

I would imagine that today within the sound of my voice are those who have been so passionately devoted to Christ that others have labeled them as fanatics and lunatics as well. Also, I imagine that there are likely some who, for fear of such labels, have hesitated to pursue Christ with wholehearted exuberance. Why is it that people committed passionately to Christ are always quick to be labeled as fanatics? We do not accuse scientists committed to their theories of insanity. We call them misunderstood geniuses. We don’t accuse soldiers who abandon all caution and concern for their own well-being for the cause of their country fools. We call them heroes. Explorers and adventurers go off and face unspeakable danger to satisfy whatever drive they possess to go where no man has gone before, and we call them brave and courageous. A man can be consumed with passion for his business ventures and professional success that we call him an entrepreneur and seek his advice. But let a man become passionate in his devotion and service to Jesus Christ, and he will be dismissed with all sorts of labels, even by his own family. Let us throw aside the fear of this and embrace the reality that even Jesus faced this opposition, but it did not divert Him from His mission or undermine His confidence in God’s sovereign plan for Him. If He is a fool, then let us join Him in His folly with all abandon and count it a joy to be labeled with Him!

Jesus’ family and His most ardent opponents had all the right information, yet they made the wrong accusations. And in the case of His family, this drove them to action.

C. The intervention they attempted.

Because they feared He had lost His mind, Jesus’ mother and brothers set out from Nazareth to Capernaum to take custody of Him. The wording here implies that they were willing to take Him by force and against His will if need be. It is the same word used in Chapter 6 when Mark describes Herod’s arrest of John the Baptist, and it is used 6 times in Chapters 12 and 14 to describe the arrest of Jesus. Only here in Mark 3 it is used of His family to say that they are going to seize Him. Now, why are they going to do this? We have to be careful when we try to determine someone’s motives. It isn’t explicitly stated here, but if we assume the best of them, then we may surmise that they are concerned for Jesus’ own well-being. If they have determined that He has truly lost His senses, perhaps they fear that He will continue to neglect His own personal care, or encounter harsh opposition from the authorities, and they want to protect Him from that. This is certainly a possibility.

We also have cultural reality to reckon with as well. What we find when we survey the value systems of the world through all of history is that different cultures wrestle with different priorities. For us in the West, the issue is “guilt and innocence,” or perhaps we could say, “right and wrong.” However, in some cultures, for instance among certain tribal peoples in African, Asian, and South American cultures, the issue of “fear and power” is more important than “right and wrong.” This is why the occult and spiritism, with their witch doctors and voodoo-style rituals, thrive among the peoples of those cultures. But in the Middle-East and certain other Asian cultures, the weightiest matter is that of “honor and shame.” And in these cultures of honor and shame, what a person does speaks not only of him as an individual, but also bears on the reputation of the family. And to bring shame upon one’s family is near unpardonable in those cultures. This was the culture in which Jesus lived, and so it very well may be the case that, perhaps in addition to their concern for His own welfare, His family sought to protect their own honor by removing Jesus from the spotlight of attention. Why can’t He just give up this nonsense of teeming crowds, spectacular cures, questionable company, and just return to Nazareth to take over Joseph’s carpentry business, you know, settle down, start a family and live an ordinary life? Whatever their motive, they came to take Him back, even if it meant dragging Him against His will and put an end to the spectacle He was creating.

The two stories in this passage of Mark, this sandwich, weave together at this very point as well. Though their intentions may have been very good and respectable, in contrast to those of the scribes from Jerusalem, both of these groups were guilty of seeking to divert Jesus from His divine mission, and as such, both parties are guilty of the same sin. They both misunderstand Him, and they both are engaged in an effort to stop Him in the tracks of fulfilling His purpose. Peter, one of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, will learn later in Mark 8 that to attempt to do so is Satanic. When Peter objected to Jesus’ statement about going to the cross, Jesus said to him very bluntly, “Get behind Me Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”[6]

So here is the irony of false familiarity. Though they received perhaps accurate information, they jumped to the wrong conclusions, made false accusations, and took dangerous actions. Mark’s first-century readers would perhaps be encouraged by this, for many of them experienced this first-hand when their zeal for Christ caused them to be ostracized from their families, labeled as fanatics, and perhaps were the objects of harsh persecution from their loved ones. In our own day this continues for many of us as well. And we can take comfort in knowing that even our Lord Jesus Christ was not exempt from it.

But from dealing with the irony of false familiarity, Jesus moves on to speak about …

II. The Intimacy of True Family (vv31-35)

I am committed to preaching through books of the Bible, passage by passage in context. Sometimes it is amazing when we turn to a passage and fight it fitting exactly where we find ourselves in our own lives and surrounding circumstances. For instance, last Christmas (2005) when we drew near to Christmas, preaching through Philippians, we found ourselves at that great incarnation passage of Philippians 2:5-11. Without any contrived effort on my part, just a few months later, we were upon Easter and turning to Philippians 3:10. That is wonderful when it works that way. And then there are times when, humanly speaking, I am glad we don’t open to a certain passage on a certain day. Case in point: I thank God I am dealing with this text today, and not on May 13, for this is hardly what you want to hear when you come to church on Mother’s Day.

When Jesus speaks of the intimacy of true family here, we might wish He had given us four foundations for fantastic family feelings, but He didn’t. If you come to this passage looking for how to make your own home-life happier and more secure, you won’t find it. But if you come looking for God’s grander purpose for the family, you will find good news in what He has to say.[7] He offers a contrast, a controversy, and a comfort.

A. The Contrast of True Family (vv31-32)

When Jesus’ family arrives, things are not as we might expect. There are no tearful exchanges of greeting. In fact, we do not read that they ever even saw or spoke to each other. He knew why they had come and what they intended to do. He knows everything. And so He remained in the house about the business of the Kingdom with those whom He had called while they remained outside calling for Him. And herein is the contrast. While we might expect one’s house to feature family on the inside, and crowds on the outside, here it is the opposite. His mother and brothers are standing outside, while a crowd of people, who to them are perfect strangers, are seated inside. His mother and brothers are calling for Him over the crowd, and sending word through intermediaries, but those on the inside speak to Him directly and pass their message on, “Behold Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.”

This contrasting scenario reminds us that in the family of God, there are only two kinds of people: those sitting inside at Jesus’ feet and those standing on the outside with false assumptions about Him.[8]

B. The Controversy of True Family (vv33-34)

Now correct me if I am wrong here, but doesn’t it appear that Jesus has given His own family the brush-off? It does appear that way. And if He is God Incarnate, is He not the same God who gave the fifth commandment to honor one’s mother and father? Indeed, He is. But does this statement not fly in the face of that commandment? Not necessarily.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus says much about honoring one’s family. He rebukes the Pharisees for designating their wealth as Corban, or “consecrated to God,” rather than helping their fathers and mothers in their times of need. Even at the cross, where our Lord only spoke seven phrases, one of them was to commit His mother into the care of John. It is obvious that Jesus upholds the commandment to honor one’s parents. But here, His attitude and His words are strikingly controversial as He says, “Who are My mother and brothers?” And then looking around at this ragamuffin bunch sitting around Him, He says, “Behold, My mother and My brothers!”

It is not that family is unimportant to Jesus. But, He understood from birth that His family was more inclusive than those who were related to Him by blood. His Father was God, and no mere human could lay claim to Him on the basis of genetics. And this controversial statement stands as a warning to us who would assume membership in the true family of Jesus on the basis of familiarity. You may have been raised in a Christian home, attended church, been baptized, confirmed, become a church member, and contributed financially to the church, but these are not the basis of entry into the intimacy of true family. God is in the business of adopting sons and daughters. And if your mother or father was a son or daughter of God, that doesn’t make you His grandchild. You cannot become part of His family by proxy; you can only do so personally. There is no claim of culture, heritage or genetics in this family. If you think that is controversial for us; how much more so for Jesus who said this of His own mother and brothers?

Jesus goes on now to speak finally of …

C. The Comfort of True Family (v35)

Rather than closing off access to this true family of God, Jesus flings the door open wide with a wonderful “whoever.” “Whoever does the will of God, He is my brother and sister and mother.” It is not that family relationships are unimportant, but rather that a higher priority must be placed on devotion to God. All other allegiances, including to our own earthly families, take a backseat to this higher purpose of sitting at Jesus’ feet and doing the will of God. Anyone who is willing to make that the highest priority of life is welcomed into the intimacy of true family. This family is open to all persons, regardless of their ethnicity, their social class, or their gender. It is even open to Jesus’ mother and His brothers. But like everyone else, they must recognize Him for who He really is, and understand His mission to save us from sin, and submit to God by faith in Christ personally. We are fortunate to have the rest of the New Testament, for in it we find Mary numbered among the believers in the early church, and we find James as a leader in the Jerusalem congregation, even penning the epistle of the New Testament that bears his name. And it is widely agreed that Jesus’ brother Judas is the author of our New Testament book of Jude. So at least these three found their way beyond their biological relationship to Jesus into the spiritual one which opens the door to the true family of God.

How comforting must these words be to that first century Christian who lost his or her family because of their loyalty to Jesus. Here they have the promise of Christ Himself that they are not orphans, but have become a part of an even greater family whose bonds are forged by commitment to God through Christ, and which are stronger than any earthly or genetic ties. Still today, one’s commitment to do the will of God may force him or her to make that wrenching choice between their biological family and their faith in God. And when they choose God over all earthly relationship, they find that God has put them in the loving care of new brothers and sisters, new mothers, and yes, even a new Father in heaven.

Perhaps you find yourself without a home or family to call your own: an orphan, a widow, a victim of abandonment, a single parent, whatever the case may be. Look around at those seated around you today. Perhaps here in this crowd are those who will become for you a mother, a brother, a sister, as you come into the family of our Father God. Who are your mother, your brothers, your sisters? If you belong to Christ, then they are those who likewise have been adopted into the family of faith. And in place of our broken relationships, our ostracism, our persecution, we will find the intimacy of true family in the Church of Jesus Christ as we sit at His feet and devote ourselves to doing the Father’s will.

God makes this opportunity available to us all if we will recognize that we are separated from Him because of our sins, and see Christ as the answer, His death taking our punishment, His life affording us a righteousness we can never earn on our own. And if we turn from our sin and embrace Him as Lord and Savior by faith, we enter this true family forever.

[1] Vance Havner, Playing Marbles With Diamonds (Grand Rapids, Baker: 1985), 19.

[2] Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), 82.

[3] Ceslas Spicq (Translated & Edited by James D. Ernest), Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1994), 2:24.

[4] Ibid, 2:28.

[5] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 3, final paragraph. (Because this book is available in so many editions, I have opted to cite it this way to make it easier for the reader to locate).

[6] James R. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 126.

[7] David E. Garland, The NIV Application Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 139, 140.

[8] Edwards, 125.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Reading Over My Shoulder

From Robinson & Pierpont, The New Testament In the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform

"The consensus-based approach does not appeal to favored individual manuscripts, local texts, or minority regional texttypes, nor to subjective internal criteria that adopt an amalgam of individual readings with ever-changing degrees of minority support. The appeal is to the combined evidence that has been preserved among the extant Greek witnesses." (xxiii)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Reading Over My Shoulder

  • From Susan Wise Bauer, History of the Ancient World

EGYPT: Narmer himself reigned for 64 years and then went out on a hippo hunt, a quest traditionally undertaken by the king as a display of his power over civilization-threatening enemies. According to Manetho, he was cornered by the hippopotamus and killed on the spot.
INDIA: Manu Vaivaswata was washing his hands one morning when a tiny fish came wriggling up to him, begging for protection from the stronger and larger fish. ... Many had pity and saved the fish. Past danger of being eaten, the fish repaid his kindness by warning him of a coming flood that could sweep away the heavens and the earth. So Manu built a wooden ark and went on board with seven wise sages, known as the Rishis. When the flood subsided, Manu anchored his ship to a far northern mountain, disembarked, and became the first king of historical India. The seven Rishis, meanwhile, became the seven stars of the big dipper. The year was 3102.
Despite the growing prosperity and reach of the Indus towns, the epics of India tell not of advance, but of decline. The flood had washed away the previous age and begun a new one; the age of towns was the Kali Yuga, the Age of Iron. It began when Manu descended from the mountain and it was an age of wealth and industry. It was also an age in which truthfulness, compassion, charity, and devotion dwindled to a quarter of their previous strength.
In the Indian cosmology, the previous three ages of Gold, Silver, and Copper ... had each seen spiritual awareness diminish by one quarter. The Iron Age, being the fourth, is the most wicked of all.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Reading Over My Shoulder

From Robinson & Pierpont, The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform

"Early manuscripts were written in capital letter format (uncial or majuscule). They lacked word division and possessed few (if any) diacritical marks, paragraph breaks, or marks of punctuation. These distinctions appear systematically only after the commencement of the minuscule era during the 9th Century."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Believing the Minority Report: Numbers 13-14:9

DISCLAIMER: Below is the transcript of a message I delivered on Sunday evening, April 15, 2007 in the Chapel at Immanuel Baptist Church. It was an evening when a torrential downpour and tropical-storm force winds kept many of our faithful Sunday evening attenders at home. There were about a dozen in attendance. Some were discouraged that more people did not hear me deliver this challenge, but I was not. I believe firmly in the sovereignty of God. When I prayed for God to lay upon my heart the words that those present on Sunday evening needed to hear, I believe God already knew who would be there and who would not. For the reader dropping by who does not know Immanuel's history or present cultural setting, much of this message will be meaningless. For the pastor who is searching for a nifty sermon to preach (Shame on you! Get in the Word for yourself!), this will not suffice in your setting. Some may even brand my hermeneutics (not to mention my homiletics!) in this message abysmal or even dangerous. I will take my lumps where I may deserve them. Some may enter here who are former Immanuel members or staff and who may feel that I am criticizing their actions and attitudes in the past. I would simply say, if the shoe fits, ... . Others may not appreciate what are perceived to be jabs against growing suburban churches, Baptist entities, particular pastors or leaders. They perhaps have read it rightly. More than any of this, however, this is a message of challenge, from a pastor's deeply burdened heart of love and concern for both the church and community. I reprint it here for the benefit of those who were unable to attend on Sunday night as well as any others whom it may benefit, and welcome comments to be posted (as always!).


I want to focus on this passage tonight because, as I was reading it devotionally this week (what, you don’t read Numbers for your devotions?), it struck me as having some interesting parallels with Immanuel Baptist Church and our community.

You know the back-story probably. Israel has come forth from Egypt through a miraculous deliverance by way of the Red Sea. They journeyed to Mt. Sinai and received the Law and renewed their covenant with God. Now they are en route to the land “God is going to give them,” the land that God promised to Abraham and his descendants. Under the Lord’s direction, Moses sent twelve spies into the land, one leader from each tribe. He sent them in with specific instructions about what to look for. And they came back with a report to bring. Ten of the spies agreed that the land was great, but that Israel was poorly equipped for the battle to take the land that would surely ensue. Only Caleb initially spoke out confidently that they would have victory. Later we find that Joshua joined Caleb in his optimistic faith, but still they were a minority. Most people believed the report of the other ten. In their minds, leaving Egypt was a huge mistake and now they should just cut their losses and turn back for Egypt.

Now it is interesting to me that the Lord ordered this spy mission, even though in His divine omniscience, He knew that the majority report would be negative. What was God’s purpose in this? Why would He want the people to be overwhelmed with pessimism in advance of the coming entry into the land? While we can’t always know His purposes with precision, we know that often He moves in such a way that we are presented with a dilemma: human wisdom vs. the promise of God. In this case, human wisdom said, “We’re crazy to try this,” but the promise of God said, “I am giving you this land.” So which would they believe?

I said that this story had some interesting parallels to IBC. What are they? First and foremost, I believe that the Lord has given us this land, our community. I believe He gave it to our forefathers long ago, and like Israel, when a famine struck many sought the shelter of the greener pastures of Egypt. But the Lord affirmed that this is the land He has given us when the church voted to stay put instead of fleeing to the suburbs. That vote could have gone either way; God could have put it in the heart of the majority to move, but He didn’t. You decided it was God’s will to stay. I believe you made that decision, not on human wisdom, but on your confidence that God has given this land to you.

Listen to what Urban Ministry strategist Ray Bakke says: “Evangelicalism … lacked a conscious theology of place. When a church’s location became inconvenient, it simply relocated to a new place, often near a freeway (reflecting our society’s shift from a walking to an automobile culture). Along the way, we abandoned real estate that had been prayed for fervently by Christians before us—and along with it abandoned any commitment to the neighborhoods we left behind. I think it is much more than a practical, operational church decision when a church relocates in such a manner. It is a theological bias toward individualism and away from a biblical holistic theology, which for me includes not only the physical aspects of persons but also the geography in which we have identity and security. Does God care only about people, or does He also care about places, including cities? And if the Holy Spirit of Christ is in us, should we not also care for both urban people and urban places? … God’s kingdom agenda seeks the personal salvation of all persons and the social transformation of all places.”[1]

God has given us this land for the purpose of salvation, transformation, and glorification: the salvation of souls, the transformation of a community, and the glorification of God. But we have yet to overtake it. In fact, some might argue that we have been wandering in the wilderness without direction or purpose. I wouldn’t say that, but certainly some would – and some have. Just this week, I was talking with a former member of this church who said to me, “You know Immanuel messed up when they decided not to move. Ever since then, it has just gone downhill.” You have probably heard those things said too. Maybe some of you have said those things. Those who say this are believing the report of Shammua, Shaphat, Igal, Palti, Gadiel, Gaddi, Ammiel, Sethur, Nahbi, and Geuel.

The majority report says something like this: Immanuel should have moved. Immanuel is dying. Immanuel is full of old people and can’t survive. Immanuel will never reach that community unless they buy some property, build a gym and raise up a rock and roll band for worship services. Immanuel can’t do anything positive as long as that motel is next door. If all we have is human wisdom, those statements appear to be true. But we have more than that. We have a promise from God that this is the land He is going to give us.

Now, how will God give us this land? I want to lay out some truths from this passage and apply them to our setting.

First, we need to send out spies. Now, I don’t mean a covert operation of peeking in windows and snooping through people’s mailboxes and trashcans. I mean people who will go into the land God has given us with their eyes wide open looking for some specific things. I think we need to begin a regular practice of prayerwalking in our immediate church community, this land God has given us. God directed Israel to send some specific people – the strong leaders of the nation. You know as well as I do that there are certain people gifted with what I call, “E.F. Hutton-ness.” You remember those ads, “When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen.” Who are the E. F. Huttons in the church? Who are the ones that are able to influence the people? Who do you trust when they speak? Maybe they hold a title, maybe they don’t, but these are the people we need to send out on prayer journeys. They may do it on foot, and certainly much of our effort needs to include this, but they may also do it in cars. They just need to get out there and slowly, purposefully, take in the sights, the sounds, the smells of our community, and they need to converse with God and with one another as they do so.

Moses gave his spies a list of things to look for:

· What is the land like?

· Are the people who live in it strong or weak?

· Are they few or many?

· Is the land good or bad?

· Are the cities open camps, or are they fortified with walls?

· Is the land fat or lean?

· Are there trees in the land?

· What fruit does the land produce?

As our “spies” go out, they need to look for these same sorts of things. What is the land like? How has it changed for better or worse since the last time you really slowed down enough to notice? What signs do you see of “goodness” and “badness”? Do you notice any beauty, any signs of life, any signs of concern for the community in the homes and yards of the people? Are there obstacles you see? Do you see people living behind “fortresses,” or are they living “openly”? What does that mean? It means do you notice a lot of gates and fences? Do people have their front doors open? Are their blinds closed and curtains drawn? Are they out and about or are they locked away behind their doors? Does the land look like it is home to wealthy people, poor people, middle income people? Singles, families, young, old? Are they strong or weak? By that I mean, do you see anything to indicate where people are spiritually? Journey through on a Sunday morning – are people at home or are they heading out to church? Are there few or many – how many vacant properties do you notice? How many cars are in each driveway? How many people are in the yards? What language do they speak? Most of us probably have preconceived notions of how we would answer these questions, but check it out. Walk through, drive through, and see what is really there. And talk to God about it.

Notice the final thing Moses says, “Make an effort then to get some of the fruit of the land.” I don’t mean plunder someone’s apple tree. I am talking about spiritual fruit. If you see someone out and about, talk to them. Steve Hawthorne and Graham Kendrick wrote one of the earliest and most thorough books on prayerwalking, entitled (ingeniously enough), Prayerwalking. In it, they include a quote from a pastor in Austin, TX who prayerwalks his own church community. He says, “Why do we get all covert and secretive? Just tell them what you’re doing. We’re here walking in your neighborhood praying for you. We’re praying that God would bless you. How many times have people ever heard that? They think God is against them. We’re content to leave it at just praying for them in Jesus’ name, but if they want to know more, we’ll tell them more.” And who knows, some of these for whom we stop and pray and talk to may be the firstfruits of a spiritual harvest to be reaped in the land God has given us.

Why did Moses want them to bring back fruit? They brought back a cluster of grapes that was so large, it had to be carried on a pole between two men, as well as figs and pomegranates (do you like pomegranates?). But why was this important to Moses? Because this fruit becomes a tangible object to say, “If we are faithful to our task which God has set before us, we shall enjoy this kind of fruit in abundance.” How encouraging would it be for you to have our prayerwalkers come back and say, “We met a guy named Fred, and we told him we were out praying for God to bless him and everyone else in this community, and as we talked, we shared the gospel with Fred, and he prayed to receive Jesus and plans to be in church with us next Sunday!”

But we have to keep looking at the land through the eyes of the Lord. This is where the majority made their mistake. They saw it for what it was surely enough. In verse 27, they say, “It certainly does flow with milk and honey and this is its fruit.” But then they use an enormous word in verse 28. That word is Nevertheless. With that word, they shift their focus from seeing the land through God’s eyes to seeing themselves through the world’s eyes. They are huge, they are strong, and we are like grasshoppers in their sight. I think we have heard this for too long, and the problem isn’t that it has been said. The problem is that we have believed it. The fear of man has overshadowed our faith in God. We’re small, we’re dying, we’re old, we’re weak. We can’t do it. We should have moved out years ago. We should head off to the suburbs where its safe and nice. Let’s get a new leader who will take us there now. What did Joshua and Caleb do when they heard all this? They tore their clothes. This is an ancient expression of righteous indignation. It made them mad! And sometimes I feel like doing the same thing. I hear all this whining, and excuse making, and all the “wisdom of the experts,” and I just want to tear something up!

Let me ask you a question: Do you believe God has given this land to us? If so, then how can we not agree with Caleb and say, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it!”

How on earth will they do this tremendous thing? Joshua and Caleb laid out a strategy. It is very simple.

· If the Lord is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us.

o Our first priority must be pleasing the Lord. What would please Him? I believe there are any number of things we could do that would please Him. Three things I know would not: 1) Doing nothing; 2) Grumbling and complaining; 3) Giving up. These things we must not do. These things will certainly not please Him, and will not lead to victory.

· Do not rebel against the Lord.

o Each of us must make personal faith and obedience a priority in our lives. We must not ask, “What should the pastor, or the deacons, or the PBA, or the BSC, or NAMB do?” We must ask, “What should I do that I may show my faith in God and obey Him personally?”

· Do not fear the people of the land.

o This is connected to another statement: “The Lord is with us.” If we aren’t sure that the Lord is with us, then we probably have a lot to be afraid of. But if we know He is with us, then what do we have to fear? If God is for us, who can be against us, Paul said. Does this mean there is no danger? No. Does it mean that we will always be safe? No. Does it mean that we may not suffer? No. But are we saved? Yes. Then what can man do to us? We may have to suffer. We may have to face danger. Why should we feel like we are immune to this when a majority of God’s people in every other culture through every generation of Christian history have had to deal with it? But what do we have to be afraid of, if the Lord is with us? They’re just people. They might intimidate us, but they don’t intimidate God. He loves them. Christ died for them. And the only way their lives will ever change is if they learn this and accept Him for themselves. But as Paul says in Romans 10, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?”

So tonight, what I want to say to you is that I want to see this church make an impact in this community. But I can’t do it by myself. I can’t do much of it at all as long as I have to prepare three sermons every week, attend meetings, be at the hospital every time one of us has a major or minor affliction, be at the beck and call of every hurting church member who needs a few minutes of time for counseling and encouragement. I don’t begrudge those things – you rightfully expect those things of me, and I gladly do them, because I have answered God’s call to serve His people. But, there aren’t enough hours in the day, nor enough days in the week for me to do all of this in addition to being the primary force working for salvation, transformation, and glorification in the community. And the answer is not hiring more help. One, that is impractical – we can’t afford it. Two, it is impossible – you can’t pay someone to have a burden. You can pay them to do a job, but not to have a burden. Besides this, people don’t want to hear from a paid professional. This is not the 1950s. In the 1950s, preachers occupied a place of prominence in our culture. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, preachers, politicians – those were the people we trusted. Not anymore. Everybody thinks we are out for personal gain. “Oh, you want me to come to that church so you can get my money to pay your salary or to build your bigger buildings.” Think about it. Some of you can remember those days. How many preachers did you know of in the 1950s who were involved in a moral or financial scandal? How many do you know today? Times have changed, and they don’t trust us anymore. They think we’re up to something.

They don’t want to hear from us – they want to hear from you. Regular people who love Jesus. You don’t get paid to do it, you just do it because they love Him. You are the ones who said so long ago, “This is the land God has given us.” You are the ones who had that burden. So, tonight, I am asking for spies—twelve prayerwalking saints who will commit to 40 days of prayer journey. I don’t think it necessarily has to be 40 consecutive days, but it wouldn’t hurt. Maybe 40 prayer journeys over two or three months or more. And we don’t need Shammua, Shaphat, Igal, Palti, Gadiel, Gaddi, Ammiel, Sethur, Nahbi, and Geuel. We have heard their report. I hear it nearly every day, and frankly I am sick of hearing what they have to say. I didn’t come here to preach Immanuel’s funeral. We need hear from Caleb and Joshua. We need those “E. F. Huttons” who, when they talk, people listen. We need those who will see things through God’s eyes, not who will see ourselves through the world’s eyes. We need 12 like Caleb and Joshua. Why 12? I don’t know, I am not a numerologist, but the number 12 sure does seem significant in the Bible doesn’t it? Twelve tribes, twelve spies, twelve apostles. And they need to commit to 40 days of prayer journeys. Why 40 days? Again, there seems to be some significance to it – How many events in the Bible take place over 40 days? But I think if we’ll do it, send out those 12 Calebs and Joshuas on 40 prayer journeys, I think we’ll see some of that fruit – some of those sweet grapes, and figs, and pomegranates that will be the firstfruits of a spiritual harvest. But I know this much for certain – abundant reaping will only come as a result of abundant sowing. We have the seed, but it is going to rot in the barn unless we cast it on the soil. Then it will produce a harvest.

Maybe you are one of those. Maybe you know someone who is. Maybe they aren’t even here tonight. Don’t tell me who they are – tell them. Go to that Caleb, that Joshua, that they have a task to do. Say this to them, “You know our people love you and respect you. I think they’d listen to you. Why don’t you take this challenge – be one of the twelve who will go out praying in our community for 40 days. We want to hear what you have to say.” I am going to call this Operation 1330, because in Numbers 13:30, Caleb said, “Let’s do it.” I am going to hold this open for awhile and see what happens. Ask that person, “Would you tell the pastor you want to be part of Operation 1330?” And as they come in, I am going to send them out, in groups of 2, 3, 4 at a time, and ask them commit to 40 prayer journeys. We will map it out, we’ll be strategic with it. And we will pray for them, and we will listen to them, and we will see what God will do with it. But I tell you, if I didn’t think the Lord was on our side, if I didn’t think there was victory to be had, if I didn’t think our best days are ahead of us, I would only be wasting my own time and yours here. That’s not preacher pep-talk; that is a rock solid confidence in God’s faithfulness to His people and to His own Word. Let’s pray.

[1] Ray Bakke, A Theology As Big As The City, 60-61, 66.

Reading Over My Shoulder

From Darrell Bock, The Missing Gospel

"Here is the argument they (recent scholars who emphasize the Gnostic gospels) make: These documents, and others like them, show that all of us, from historians and theologians to believers, really have misunderstood the faith that has changed lives and inspired centuries of art and architecture and, yes, even war. The documents represent a historical exposé of our faith’s origins and reveal the diversity of early Christian views. They open the possibility for new vistas and new ways of thinking about religion that breathe life into an old faith suffering a kind of religious arthritis. And the beauty of it all is that these new vistas are really the views of other ancients whose perspectives have been buried in sand for centuries."

What they claim: "Orthodox Christianity is really the product of a late second-century church father, Irenaeus, and those who followed him. ... The new school claims that Irenaeus won and was the key architect of orthodoxy. The claim is that this orthodoxy (or the claim of a defined, legitimate Christianity) emerged even more clearly in the third and fourth centuries. So the new school argues that the Christianity we know has roots that do not really go back to the time of Jesus or even to the apostles in a way that precludes other alternative views of Christianity. . There is no doubt that Irenaeus is a major figure for the church, but it is possible to see what Christianity, including orthodox Christianity, looked like before him. ... All the passages we examine from the 'orthodox' side precede Irenaeus and his supposed organization of themes for the orthodox view."

From R. C. Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas

(Summarized) The decline of Athens came as a result of heavy taxation under Pericles; defeat in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC); crass politicization of education, economics, law, and public works; decline in substantive thinking and civic virtue. In this environment, the Sophists arose, who abandoned formal philosophical pursuits in exchange for pragmatism and skepticism. Some, like Gorgias, sought persuasion through rhetoric instead of philosophical truth. Gorgias denied absolute truth. Thrasymachus attacked the quest for justice. Protagoras established man as the measure of all things. Then arose Socrates whom some have argued was the savior of Western civilization. He realized that the death of truth would mean the death of virtue, and thereby, the death of civilization. To Socrates, virtue amounted to right knowledge.

From Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont, The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform

(Summarized) The Byzantine texttype preserves the type of the NT text that dominated the Greek speaking world from the 4th to 16th Centuries. Western and Alexandrian mss. differ more from one another than either does from the Byzantine, suggesting it is a common source to both. Modern eclectic theory (such as that behind NA27 and UBS4) produces a sequence of favored readings that at times—even over short segments of text—has no demonstrated evidence in any known mss., versions, or fathers.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Mark 3:10-30 -- The Unforgivable Sin

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As we return to the Gospel of Mark today we jump back into a passage that is often the subject of much discussion and debate. Our Lord has pronounced that there is an eternal sin that can never be forgiven. That ought to get our attention immediately. In dealing with this passage, it is both unnecessary an inappropriate to introduce it by way of an amusing story or humorous anectdote. The Word is fired forth as a bullet from a gun, and we must understand it rightly lest it mortally wound us for eternal destruction.

There are not many weeks that go by when I don’t counsel with some person about whether or not they have committed this sin. If there is a sin that can never be forgiven, then we are right to be concerned about it. And it will be our goal today to discover what this sin is, how it is that a person commits this sin, and how we might discern whether or not we are guilty of it.

Mark characteristically employs a literary device in this gospel known technically as “intercalation.” It has been more descriptively labeled a “sandwich.” It occurs when one event is inserted into the middle of another. Here, we begin reading about the family of Jesus in vv20-21. Word has reached Nazareth concerning the activity and popularity of Jesus, and His family is concerned that He has gone off the deep end and that the controversy He is sparking will bring harm to Himself and shame to His family. So they set out from Nazareth to apprehend Him, thinking it to be for His own good as well as theirs. But this story of His family’s concern for Him is interrupted. Mark will return to it in verses 31-35, but for now he turns our attention to conflict arising from another quarter. Before the family arrives from Nazareth, a delegation of scribes arises from Jerusalem with a more severe charge than insanity. If we are right to call this a sandwich, then the account of Jesus’ family are the bread, and the conflict with the scribes are the peanut butter and jelly. So we will be like a kid with an Oreo, and we will remove those outer cookies in order to dive into the filling, and return later for the cookies when we are done. We deal today with the conflict with the scribes, and come back next time with the issue of His family. And in the conflict with the scribes, we encounter this disturbing pronouncement concerning the unforgivable sin. But before we deal with the pronouncement, we will look at the path toward the unforgivable sin.

I. The Path Toward the Unforgivable Sin (v22)

The scribes were those who were the “experts” in matters of the religious law and traditions. When there was some question about the meaning of Scripture or some theological or moral issue, the scribes were able to issue binding decisions on the interpretation of a passage, the morality of a particular action, or the orthodoxy of a certain doctrine. They were the people’s professors, preachers, moral advisors, and lawyers.

Thus far in the Gospel of Mark, we have not read of Jesus going to Jerusalem. We know from Luke 2 that He was there as a baby when He was presented at the Temple, and that He was there at age 12 when He accompanied Joseph and Mary for a Passover celebration. If the popular harmonies of the gospels are correct, then John’s Gospel tells us that He has visited Jerusalem two other times since the beginning of His public ministry, once for Passover in John 2, and again in chapter 5 for an unnamed Jewish feast. Aside from these brief sojourns, His entire public ministry has taken place primarily in the region of Galilee with home of Peter and Andrew in the town Capernaum serving as a home-base. But His few and brief appearances in Jerusalem caused quite a splash – in John 2, He cleansed the temple by driving out the merchants and moneychangers. In John 5 He publicly healed a paralytic on a Sabbath day, arousing controversy.

He had not found favor in the eyes of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and so when word began to reach them about His popularity in the outlying regions, they knew they had to take action.

A. Notice the Action that Jesus’ Ministry Prompted (v21a)

The scribes came “down from Jerusalem.” Now if you look at a map, you will see that Capernaum is north of Jerusalem. We would say, “they went up from Jerusalem.” We don’t go “down to New York City.” We go up. But for the faithful Jew, Jerusalem is always up. Not only was it 3000 feet higher than Galilee in relation to sea level, but theologically and politically it was the highest place in Israel. It was the seat of authority, both in terms of government and religion. So it is always, “up to Jerusalem,” and “down from Jerusalem.” But in this instance, their trip down to Capernaum, long and arduous as it was, was only the beginning of a slippery descent that would take them further down than they wanted to go.

This was no fact-finding mission; it was a fault-finding mission. They were on a mission, and that mission was to divert people’s attention away from the newfound sensation of Jesus and restore confidence in the established religious institution of Israel. If we follow the progression of opposition to Jesus as we have seen it thus far in Mark’s gospel, we will notice how quickly it escalated. It began at 2:7 with some of the scribes reasoning in their hearts about the radical claims of Jesus. Later in Chapter 2, they were questioning His disciples about why He kept company with tax collectors and sinners, and why they did not fast like John’s disciples and the Pharisees. In 2:24, they confronted Jesus to His face about why His permitted His disciples to violate the Sabbath. In 3:2, they came into the synagogue in order to accuse Him before all the people. Having come away on the losing end of that encounter, they began to conspire with the Herodians about how they might destroy Jesus. Quickly things have progressed to this point now where the religious officials in Jerusalem have dispatched a delegation on a tortuous journey in order to put an end to the ministry of Jesus.

B. Notice the Allegations that Jesus’ Ministry Prompted (v22b)

They “were saying” things about Him. The verb is imperfect in Greek, suggesting that they were repeatedly saying these things. Who were they saying them to? We don’t know exactly, but we do know from the following verse that they were not in the presence of Jesus when they leveled these accusations. They continually denigrated Him behind His back in order to turn the tide of public opinion by their vehement renouncement of Him.

1. They Accused the Nature of Jesus

“He is possessed by Beelzebul.” Some translations have the name “Beelzebub,” here, but it is of no consequence – the same person is in view in both cases. Baal-zebub was the Syrian god worshiped in the Philistine city of Ekron. The name is sometimes suggested to mean “Lord of the Temple,” or “Lord of the House,” but can also mean, “Lord of the Flies.” Excavations in Philistine cities have uncovered golden images of flies. It was a common practice to ridicule pagan gods by altering the spelling of their names to mean something different, and apply those names to the devils and demons of one’s own religion. So, Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies, became Beelzebul, Lord of the Dung Heap, and was used by the Jews to refer to Satan.

It is clear that this is what the scribes meant here – Jesus Himself understood their intention. They did not see Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, the virgin born incarnation of God. They viewed Him as a demonic, or worse, a satanic rabble-rouser. To them He was not Lord of Heaven and Earth, but Lord of the Dung Heap, one not to be followed or obeyed, but to be shunned, resisted, and destroyed. It was an outright attack on His nature.

2. They Accused the Power of Jesus (v22b)

“He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.” At issue here was His work of casting out demons. Jesus had cast out “many demons,” according to 1:34. They could not deny that it had happened. It took place in plain sight of many witnesses. Their accusation strikes at how and why He did this. How did He do it? He did it with divine authority and power – the power of the Holy Spirit working mightily through Him. But they said, “No, it is by the power of Satan that He casts out demons.” Why did He do it? He did it to break the power by which Satan held humanity captive; He did it out of love and compassion for those He came to save. But they judged His motives as being something less than pure, even hellish.

You must understand the severity of these accusations. We live in a world today full of antagonism toward Christians, Christian theology, and the Christian church. But by and large, even the most ardent opponents of Christianity in our day are reluctant to say these sorts of things about Jesus Himself. You will have a hard time finding anyone who claims that Jesus was an agent of Satan operating by the powers of hell. More often than not, the enemies of Christianity in our day will say that Jesus was a good man, a moral teacher, an innocent martyr for the cause of goodness, who operated in love and justice. They would reject the notion that He is divine or that His death and resurrection have any significance for humanity at large, but they would not condemn Jesus as a demoniac or a colleague of Satan. Yet this is exactly what the scribes were doing. And this kind of criticism of Jesus continued even after His death in the writings of the Rabbis. In the Babylonian Sanhedrin portion of the Talmud, compiled between 100 and 500 AD, Jesus is described as one who was going to be put to death because He practiced sorcery and enticed people and led them astray. They could not deny what He had done, therefore they had to attack His nature and the power by which He did these things.

Jesus rarely expends a lot of energy defending Himself. Typically we see Him doing His work and letting others say what they will about Him. But that is not the case here. So radical are the claims of the scribes that He responds instantly and pointedly with …

B. The Pronouncement of the Unforgivable Sin (v23-30)

Unlike the scribes, Jesus does not subversively campaign against the scribes. He calls them out, calling them to Himself where He might set them straight. In so doing, He pronounces logical parables, a graceful promise, and a terrible proclamation.

1. The Logical Parables of Jesus (v23-27)

A parable is a saying or a story that is intended to provoke deeper thought. Not all parables are alike. The word “parable” is used in Scripture for proverbs, allegories, riddles, dark or mysterious sayings, illustrations, contrasts, word-pictures and stories. Three brief parables are given here to counter the accusations of the scribes with very simple logic. Each one goes a step farther in answering the question in v23, “How can Satan cast out Satan?”

The first two parables parallel each other. “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” If Jesus is a member of the kingdom of Satan, then why does He work to destroy that kingdom? Nothing will destroy a kingdom faster than a civil war. “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” This truth applies on the grand scale of nations and the small scale of households. And both of these parables serve to illustrate the utter foolishness of suggesting that Satan has risen up against himself. “If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished.” In other words, “If I am operating by the power of Satan for the destruction of my own kingdom, then you have nothing to worry about. We’ll both be out of your way in no time.”

We can put the logic in the form of a syllogism here. 1) The exorcisms that have taken place show that Satan’s kingdom is under attack. 2) These attacks cannot be coming from inside Satan’s kingdom. 3) Therefore, the attack must be coming from outside the kingdom of Satan. And the third parable Jesus gives expands upon that conclusion.

Verse 27 says, “No one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.” Everyone would readily recognize the truth of this saying. If you go in and try to rob a strong man’s house while he is home, you better be able to tie him up or else he’s going to whoop you. The strong man in this parable is Satan. His house is that spiritual realm in which he operates for the destruction of the image of God in humanity as he wages war with God. Now, if Jesus is operating by Satan’s power, then He is subservient to Satan—of lesser power than Satan. He can’t plunder the house unless He is strong enough to bind the strong man. If He is plundering the house, and He is by setting free those who have been captive to Satan, then He must be greater than Satan.

So if He is operating from outside Satan’s kingdom, and if He is greater than Satan, then Jesus must be operating in the power of God. The scribes had seen the evidence, but came to a different conclusion. But contrast their conclusion with that of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus in John 3 saying, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.” He understood the logic that Jesus set forth in these parables. The scribes did not. It is no wonder then that we find Nicodemus with the followers of Jesus by the end of John’s Gospel. He could not escape the logical conclusion of who Jesus was. The scribes were trying fervently to avoid that conclusion.

The occasion here provides an opportunity for us to hear, in addition to His logical parables, …

2. A Gracious Promise of Jesus (v28)

A promise is only as valid as its maker. Anyone can make any promise at any time. I can promise you that I will give you a million dollars if you come back to the worship service tonight. But you are a fool to believe that promise because I am powerless to deliver on the promise. But when Jesus makes a promise, it is one you can trust. He speaks with tremendous authority, saying, “Truly I say to you.” This formula is found somewhere around 100 times in the gospels. It does not occur at all in pre-Christian Jewish literature or in the writings of the rabbis. It is used by Jesus to say, “I speak in My own name, and with My own authority, and assure you that what I speak is Truth.” And with that divine authority, He says, “All sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter.”

Bask for a moment in the glory of His gracious promise. What have you done? What have you said? In your entire life, can you even count the number of times you have transgressed the holy standards of God? Have you done unthinkable things in your past for which you carry around a tremendous burden of guilt and shame? Whatever those things may be, Jesus says by the authority of His own divine nature that all those things shall be forgiven by God. There is no promise more comforting in the Bible than this one. Everything you have ever done can be washed away because Jesus Christ took your punishment for you when He died on the cross, and He defeated your sins and their penalty through His resurrection. If you believe this, and turn to Him in repentance and faith, then there is nothing you have ever done that God will not forgive.

Many people are in such a hurry to get to the next verse that they miss the wonderful truth of this promise. God is willing to forgive every person of all their sins if they accept His offer of salvation in Jesus Christ. Yet there is a warning to us all that comes in the form of …

3. The Terrible Proclamation of Jesus (v29-30)

I use the word “terrible” here in the sense of its truest meaning. It is terrible in that it ought to provoke terror in the hearts of those who hear this warning. There is a sin that can never be forgiven. Those who commit it are guilty of an eternal sin. So, what is this unforgivable and eternal sin? It is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Three questions arise: What is this sin? Why is it unforgivable? Have I committed it?

What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? If you take verse 29 away from its context, then you leave the meaning of this phrase open to all sorts of conjecture and speculation. Don’t do that. Leave it attached to its context, and it becomes clear what the sin is. Jesus made this pronouncement, v30 tells us, because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” That is putting it nicely. They were saying that He was possessed by Satan himself and that He worked by the power of Satan.

To blaspheme is to speak slanderously against someone else. With reference to God, it is to speak or act in blatant irreverence or defiance toward Him. To blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to ascribe the power by which Jesus worked, the power of the Holy Spirit, to the power of Satan. It is a total perversion and repudiation of the truth and rule of God, whereby one sees the good works of God manifested through Jesus Christ as evil and serving the purposes of Satan. It is committed when a person beholds Christ and says, “This is the devil,” or else looks at Satan and says, “This one is God’s Son.” In Paradise Lost, Milton says that Satan “felt how awful goodness is,” and therefore said, “Evil, be Thou my God.” This is a fitting description of the corrupted sense of judgment which calls evil good and good evil, which calls light darkness and darkness light, which calls Jesus Satan and Satan God. This is clear to us when we examine this statement in its context. If we remove it from its context, we would have to admit that God has left us hanging with a great threat that we know not how to avoid. But He hasn’t. The text is clear that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the sin of labeling Jesus as a Satanic agent of evil serving to further the kingdom of the devil rather than the divine Son of God on mission to establish the Kingdom of God. It is the stubborn and persistent refusal to acknowledge that God, rather than Satan, is at work in and through Jesus Christ to establish His kingdom.

Why is this sin unforgivable over all others? Because a person whose sense of judgment is so corrupted and so perverse is beyond repentance. If they wanted to repent, they would be incapable of doing so, for they cannot tell good from evil, light from darkness, God from Satan. How then can they know what to turn away from and to what or whom to turn. If Jesus is of Satan, then from where will forgiveness come? What other means has God provided for the salvation of our souls? If we reject the salvation God has provided in Christ, then there is no other Savior, and therefore no other offer of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

Final question: Have I committed this sin? I began by saying that nearly every week I talk with someone who fears that they have. Last week, three people expressed this to me. One on our church steps, one in email, another who came in off the streets seeking help. It is a relevant question to ask – if there is an unforgivable sin, I want to be sure I haven’t committed it, don’t you? To this question we begin by saying that Jesus did not even say that these scribes had committed this eternal and unforgivable sin. But He did indicate that they were in the danger-zone, rapidly approaching it. He warns them that if they persist in their deliberate rejection and antagonism toward Him, that they will arrive at the place of unforgiveness and eternal guilt. If you are concerned that you might have committed this terrible sin, then your concern and anxiety is a witness to the fact that you have not. If you had, then you would be unconcerned about it. If Jesus is Satan, then who cares if you have resisted and rejected Him? But, whatever it is that causes you to feel as if you might have crossed this line, take that as an indicator of your need for repentance and find the forgiveness that God has promised to all who will turn from sins and call upon Christ as Lord and Savior. There is no record anywhere in Scripture that God ever refused forgiveness to anyone who sought it through repentance and faith. Rather, we find these promises: “A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psa 51:17); “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9); “All sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter” (Mark 3:28). Take God on His word with these promises and find the forgiveness for which your soul longs by clinging to Christ and His saving work on the cross and in His resurrection, and turning from those sins which hold you in shackles.

While you still have life and breath in you, no matter what you have done in the past, there is hope for forgiveness. But if you persist in your rejection of the offer of salvation God has given in the person of Jesus Christ, the day will come when you will draw your last breath, and at that point it will be too late. In that moment, it will not matter if you committed this unforgivable sin, for you will have wasted your opportunity to find forgiveness for any sins you have committed, and your fate will be no different from those who have called Christ Satan, evil good, and darkness light.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Why Easter Is Important -- 1 Corinthians 15

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Just recently, the Discovery Channel aired a documentary produced by James Cameron (of “Titanic” fame) and Simcha Jacobovici claiming that the family tomb of Jesus, including the tomb of Jesus Himself has been found in Jerusalem. And the remarkable thing of it all is that supposed confirmation this gives to the claim that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Here are His remains, in a family tomb, together with his father Joseph, his mother Mary, his wife Mary Magdalene, his son Judah, and the disciple Matthew. Well, what are we to make of it? We cannot simply ignore the claim. If it is true, then the conspiracy theories of The Da Vinci Code and the entire genre of literature spawned by it’s popularity are closer to the truth than the Bible. If it is true, then we have wasted countless hours, countless dollars, and even countless lives through two millennia of Church history. If it is true, then not only could we all have slept in a little longer today, but we can and should every Sunday. If it is true, then the best we can do today is color some eggs, tell stories about bunnies which lay chocolate eggs, and then go fishing. And, by the way, you have no reason to expect a day off from your employer today, tomorrow or two days ago on Friday. Basically, it the claims of this documentary and other theories about a non-risen Christ are true, then the best thing Christians can do for the world is shut down all the churches and all the organizations and institutions established in the name of Christ over the last 2000 years, and go hide our heads in shame and embarrassment about the lie we have all believed. If it is true.

So what do we say to it all? Some have said, “So what?” Some have said that without a risen Christ, they can still go on and play church on Sundays and do nice things for people. They seem to think that removing all the spectacular from Christianity makes it more intellectually palatable for the rest of the world, so why not jettison belief in the resurrection, the miracles of Jesus, the virgin birth, and every other supernatural claim of the Christian faith, and reduce it all down to moral improvement through the passing along of practical wisdom in the form of parables and proverbs. I think they are wrong. First, they are wrong because without a risen Christ, there is no need to play church. Second, without a risen Christ, there is no reason to do anything good for anyone – after all, we should just eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Third, removing the spectacular does not make Christianity more intellectually palatable, but rather exposes it as a sham and superstitious system of mythology and worthless traditions. Fourth, they are wrong because wisdom in the form of proverbs and parables are powerless to transform people’s lives. Fifth, they are wrong because they have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and fallen for the presupposition of the world which says that dead men don’t rise.

Rather than saying, “So what?”, I say, those documentarists have a tremendous burden of proof to shoulder. The tomb they have popularized is not a “new discovery.” This tomb was found in 1980, and was outrightly dismissed at that time by the entire academic community. The only reason that the thing is remotely of interest today is because of the craze of interest in debunking Christianity that has been throttled in recent years by the popularity of The Da Vinci Code. Secondly, we say that it would make no sense for the family tomb of Jesus to be found in Jerusalem. They had lived their entire lives mostly in Nazareth, and that is where we would expect the family to be buried. Thirdly, the entire claim of this documentary rests on the occurrence of names. The names on the ossuaries in this tomb are Joseph, Mary, Jesus the son of Joseph, another Mary (who is claimed by the documentary to be Mary Magdalene), Judah the son of Jesus, and Matthew. And the makers of this film claim that by virtue of statistical analysis, this must be the family of Jesus the Christ. The fact of the matter is that the name they claim to be Mary Magdalene is nearly illegible and has been understood by others to read differently. Add to this that it is highly unlikely that Jesus would ever name a son Judah, because of its connection to Judas. Add to this that it certainly seems unlikely Matthew would have been buried in Jerusalem, for though traditions vary on where he spent the latter part of his life, no tradition exists that assigns his latter days to Jerusalem. Also, it is an undeniable fact of historical record that many men and women in the first century Jewish world had the same names. There is a terrible lack of originality involved in the naming of sons and daughters. A more accurate statistical analysis than that which was done by the makers of this documentary would reveal that Joseph, Judah, Jesus, and Matthew are four of the top nine most popular names among Hebrew men in that day and time. Mary is far and away the most popular female name. If you were to stumble across a small family cemetery today with stones bearing only first names like Joseph, Rose, John, Edward, and Robert, you would no sooner assume this to be the Kennedy family’s graves than any other family’s, because of the commonality of those names.

We have discussed in times past the evidences of the Resurrection. We have spoken often of the universal agreement among those believers and unbelievers alike in first century Jerusalem that the tomb which had contained the body of Jesus was found to be empty on the Sunday morning after He died. So then arise the theories of how it got to be that way. First is the direct claim of Jesus Himself that He would rise from the dead. Second is the echo of that claim in the mouths of disciples who had initially doubted that it actually occurred. In saying this, they are either right or wrong. It is not my purpose today to talk about why I believe He lives. I have done that before. In fact, I did it last Easter Sunday morning. You can get a copy of it in written form or perhaps on tape. I can point you to numerous other scholarly resources on the subject. No, today I do not intend to discuss why I believe Christ is risen, but rather why it matters.

John Stott has said that “Christianity is in its very essence a resurrection religion. The concept of the resurrection lies at its heart. If you remove it, Christianity is destroyed.” Now to some in our world today, that is music to their ears. They want nothing more than for Christianity to be destroyed. But I suggest to you that the Christianity that most of them see regularly has already been destroyed because it has lost the significance of the fact that we worship and serve a risen Savior. Why is His resurrection significant?

I. The Resurrection is Significant for the Savior

There have been several movements in academic theology to search for the “Historical Jesus.” I suggest to you that the Historical Jesus is the Biblical Jesus, and that is a Jesus who was God incarnate, crucified for our sins, and risen from the dead. If you subtract one of those elements, you do not have the Biblical Jesus, and therefore you do not have the Historical Jesus. In First Corinthians 15 that Paul goes to great lengths to establish that Christ is Risen from the dead. It was prophesied in Scripture (vv3-4), it was testified by eyewitnesses (vv5-8), it was manifested in changed lives (v9-10). Now, why does He go to such great lengths to establish the resurrection as a fact?

A. The Resurrection Affirms the Deity of Christ

Nowhere in Scripture are we led to believe that the resurrection established the deity of Christ—that is, that He was not God until He rose from the dead. Rather, we find in Romans 1:4 that He was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead. The resurrection declares that He is the Son of God. The phrase “Son of God,” does not mean that He is less than God or something other than God, but rather that He and God are of the same exact nature and substance. Jesus had claimed this for Himself. In John 10:30, He said, “I and the Father are One.” Many people have gone to great lengths to suggest that He did not mean that He was God. However, the people around Jesus when He said that understood exactly what He meant. The Bible says in John 10:31-33 that they picked up stones to kill Him, accusing Him of blasphemy saying, “because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” They knew what He meant. He was claiming to be God. Now anyone can claim to be God. Many people have made that claim in history. Why believe Jesus over any of them? Because Jesus said He would prove it. When the scribes and Pharisees demanded a sign from Him, He said in Matthew 12:39, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign ; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” He claimed that He would prove that He was indeed who He claimed to be by conquering death and coming out of the grave. And Paul says in Romans 1:4 that the resurrection of Christ from the dead POWERFULLY DECLARES it as a matter of fact.

B. The Resurrection Affirms the Sovereignty of Christ

In Matthew 25, Jesus says that He will judge all the nations. On what basis does He make that claim? What reason do we have to believe Him? How can a dead man judge the world? In Acts 17:31, Paul proclaims that God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, meaning Christ, having furnished PROOF to all men by raising Him from the dead. He will judge the nations because He is sovereign over the nations, and His resurrection proves this.

C. The Resurrection Affirms the Purity of Christ

Jesus told His disciples before He went to Jerusalem in Matthew 20 that He would be delivered over unto death, He would be mocked and scourged and crucified, and “on the third day He will be raised up.” And when they found the tomb to be empty, an angel said to them, “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.” JUST AS HE SAID. Those are important words. You see, Jesus said He would rise from the dead. What if He didn’t? What kind of person makes statements like that are not true? Jesus would be a liar. And so what? He’d be in good company – the world is full of liars. There isn’t a one of us who haven’t told a bold-faced lie, maybe this week, and maybe even today. So what? Jesus is a liar. Well, if He is a liar, then He cannot be the Savior. For in order to be the Savior, He has to be able to die in our place, that His death might pay for our sins. And His death cannot pay for our sins if He has His own sins to pay for. C. S. Lewis has well said, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.” Is He a liar? Or did He rise from the dead, just as He said He would? It is a significant question for understanding who Jesus is.

D. The Resurrection Affirms the Victory of Christ

If Christ is not risen from the dead, then He is merely a guy who died on the cross, just like any number of other first century subjects of the Roman Empire. His mission, His claims, He Himself, lie defeated in a grave somewhere – either the one found by the Discovery documentary or some other one somewhere. Let us gather some flowers and place on His tomb, or better yet, let’s just forget everything we have ever known about Him. But Paul has gone to great lengths in 1 Corinthians 15 to demonstrate that Christ is risen from the dead. Skeptical Thomas was confronted with His wounded hands and pierced side, and called Him Lord and God. He is victorious over death, victorious over our sins, and victorious over Satan, and this is affirmed by His resurrection.

So it matters! Without the resurrection, Jesus is not who He claimed to be, He is not who the Bible says He is, and He is not who we have gathered to worship today. It is significant for the Savior that He be risen.

II. The Resurrection is Significant for the Scriptures

Turning our attention back now to 1 Corinthians 15, you will notice Paul says in vv3-4 that the death and resurrection of Christ are of first importance, and that both happened according to the Scriptures. In fact through the rest of this chapter, Paul strings together one Old Testament quotation after another, demonstrating that the resurrection was not invented by those who wrote the New Testament, but rather it had been proclaimed in advance by those who wrote the Old Testament.

Verse 27 contains a reference from Psalm 8:6. Verse 32 is lifted from Isaiah 22:13. Verse 45 comes from Genesis 2:7. Verses 54-55 is a restatement of Hosea 13:14 and Isaiah 25:18. The Hebrew Bible was divided into three sections – the Torah, the Nebiim, and the Kethubim. Those three words give us the acronym Tanakh, the name by which the Hebrew Bible is known. And it is of interest that Paul uses quotations from each of those three sections, just as Jesus did in Luke 24:44-47. There He said to His disciples after His resurrection, “‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses (that’s the Torah) and the Prophets (that’s the Nebiim) and the Psalms (the Kethubim) must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’”

The resurrection is significant for the Scriptures in at least two ways.

A. The Resurrection Affirms the Unity of the Scriptures

The Bible was written in three different languages on three different continents by more than 40 different writers, most of whom never knew each other and lived in different places, times and cultures. It was written over a period of 1600 years, yet it has one single theme and purpose: the creation, fall, and redemption of humanity for the glory of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament and takes central focus in the New Testament. There we find reference to it over 100 times. It is mentioned directly or indirectly by every New Testament writer. So, without the resurrection, we have a disjointed collection of poems and stories, randomly assorted and without purpose.

B. The Resurrection Fulfills the Prophesies of the Scriptures

This is what Paul means when he says, “He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” It is what Jesus meant when He said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day.” Where is it written?

In Hosea 6:1-2, we read this: “Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, That we may live before Him.” Certainly those who heard these words initially understood this to mean that if they trust in the Lord, He would raise them up from their sufferings. However a long line of rabbinic traditions assigns this to a future belief of resurrection from the dead, and Paul says that Christ is the firstfruits of resurrection.

In Psalm 16:8-11 we read: “I have set the LORD continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” After the Resurrection of Jesus, both Peter and Paul referred back to this Psalm as a prophecy of Christ’s resurrection. Peter said in Acts 2 that David could not have been referring to himself, for he died, and was buried, and the whereabouts of his tomb was still known to them in that day. But rather, David was looking ahead to the Messiah, the coming descendant of David who was the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ. Peter said, “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.”

Also, when Jesus said on the cross, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me,” it was not a cry of hopeless despair. Rather, it was a citation of the 22nd Psalm in which we read this very same line in verse 1; in verses 7-8, we read, “All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, "Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him." Certainly these things took place in this exact way as Christ was on the cross. In verses 14-16, we read, “I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And my tongue cleaves to my jaws; And You lay me in the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots.” Again all of this took place as Jesus died on the cross. His hands and feet were pierced, His bones were not broken, He thirsted, they cast lots for His garments, and when they pierced His side, His heart flowed forth blood and water, melted like wax within Him. Yet in verse 22, the Psalmist says, “I will tell of Your name to my brethren;
In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.” He knows that death will not be the end. And just as he says, Jesus rose from the dead and testified to the glory of the Father in the midst of His disciples.

And in that remarkable passage, the 53rd Chapter of Isaiah, where the prophet so vividly recounts all that the Messiah would endure, 700 years before it happened, we read that He would be “pierced through for our transgressions,” and “crushed for our iniquities,” yet “He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days.” Thus the prophet knew that Messiah would have victory over His sufferings.

These are just a few of the prophecies fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so you see it is significant for the Scriptures, in that it establishes the unity of the Scriptures and fulfills the prophecies of the Scriptures. If Christ is not risen, then the Bible is just a book, not unlike any other collection of myths, superstitions and fairytales. But if He lives, it is a strong testimony that the Word of God is true, and therefore we should feed ourselves on it allowing it to point us to salvation and a life of bringing glory to God.

III. The Resurrection is Significant for the Saints

Finally, let me address why the resurrection of Christ matters to you, the individual, and to those who are born-again by faith in Christ in particular.

A. The Resurrection Gives Assurance of Our Faith

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14 that if Christ has not been raised from the dead, our preaching is vain, and your faith is vain. The word vain means “empty,” or “without meaning.” Then Paul says in verse 17 that if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless. Surely, we do not want to believe in things that have no value to us. But if Christ is not raised, there is no benefit of having faith in Him. It is worthless. Faith is only as valid as its object. If the object of our faith is Christ, and He is not risen from the dead, then our faith is empty. Really—what is the point of following a dead guy who claimed to be God, and claimed to be able to save us, and claimed He would rise from the dead, if indeed He didn’t rise from the dead? We are the biggest idiots on the earth if Christ is not risen from the dead. We have fallen for the biggest lie of history, unless He really lives. We might as well have faith in the Easter Bunny or the Great Pumpkin.

But Paul proclaims boldly in verse 20 that Christ has been raised from the dead, and as a result, he says in verse 32 that he is willing to fight wild beasts at Ephesus. Why face death for a worthless faith? Why not just eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die? Because Paul is assured that he is not facing death for human motives, but out of absolute confidence that his faith is not vain or worthless, but valid and valuable, because Jesus is alive.

B. The Resurrection Gives Assurance of Our Forgiveness

In verse 17, he says if Christ is not raised … you are still in your sins. What hope do you have to overcome the burden of guilt and shame we all carry for our sins if Christ is not raised? It is ridiculous to say that Jesus died for them if He is not risen victorious over them. We might as well point to the death of Ghandi, or Abraham Lincoln, or Alexander the Great and say they died for our sins. They are just meaningless words. But if Christ is risen from the dead, then He has conquered death, conquered the penalty of our sins, and stands victorious over them still, and is able to offer us forgiveness if we come to Him in repentance and faith.

In verse 18, Paul says that if Christ is not raised, then those who have fallen asleep in Christ (those Christians who have died) have perished. You see, Jesus claimed in John 3:16 to come into the world because of God’s infinite love for us to prevent us from perishing and give us eternal life instead if we believe in Him. But if He is not risen, then He cannot give us eternal life, and our only other option is that we perish. It means that Billy Graham will experience the same life after death as Adolf Hitler. It means that the most godly people you have ever known are no better off in the end than the most ungodly. And if that is the case, then what motive do we have for living rightly? If Christ is not raised, then it does not matter how we live, for there is no remedy for sin, and we will all perish alike. But if He is risen as He said He would, then we have hope of forgiveness, of reconciliation to God from our sinful state, and of an eternal life in heaven that we do not otherwise deserve. That brings me to the final thought.

C. The Resurrection Gives Assurance of Our Future

Notice what Paul says in verse 19 – “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” Some of you know first hand the cost of following Jesus. Some of you have experienced firsthand to some extent loss of a relationship, a job, or possessions because of your faith in Christ. Certainly we know many of whom it could be said that they lost everything for Jesus’ sake. Why do we do it? Why do others who face death every day for Christ do it? Because they believe that He has promised something greater than this life. Jesus said in Matthew 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” The pages of history are stained with the blood of the martyrs. We find their sacrifice noble, admirable, and heroic. I suggest to you that if Christ is not risen from the dead, they are not heroes, but fools. There is no future hope unless Jesus is alive. But because we believe He lives, …

A. We have the hope of a resurrection

Paul says in verse 20 that Christ is the firstfruits. Now, anytime we find mention of firstfruits, it is with confidence that second, third, fourth fruits and so on will follow. He says in vv21-22 that death has come to the entire human race through one man – Adam; and life will come through one man – Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the firstfruits, and after Him, those who are His. But if there is no firstfruit, there can be no second fruit. All we have to look forward to is death at best, hell at worst. But if Christ is risen, we have this hope, that we might rise from death also as He has promised to those who are His.

B. We have the hope of a renewed body

When God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, He did it because He loved them. Because of their sin, they entered a state of death where their bodies would be prone to sin, sickness, and suffering. God did not create human life in His image for it to be lived out in that way. So out of His love for mankind, He did not allow Adam and Eve to access the tree of life, from which they might eat and live forever. He does not want us to live forever like this. In verse 53, Paul tells us that there is hope of this perishable and mortal body becoming imperishable and immortal. Then we shall live forever in that place where the Bible says that every tear will be wiped from our eyes, and there will be no more death, no more mourning, no more crying or pain. But this is only true if Christ is risen from the dead. Otherwise, we just have to buck up and endure the lingering effects of sin, the dreadful misery of suffering, and the agonizing pain of sickness until it sweeps us away in death. And then, if the atheists are right, we just rot away to dust in the earth, or else if they are wrong, we endure unimaginable suffering for eternity in hell. But if Christ is risen then it means that these bodies can be restored, renewed into something better – something immune to pain and suffering and sin. And we all long to put on that weight of glory. It is the hidden desire of every heart if we dare to utter it. But it is nothing more than a pipedream—albeit a pipedream that is experienced universally by every human ever to live—unless Christ is risen from the dead. But I suggest that God has placed this longing in our hearts to direct us to Himself, where we might find salvation if we turn from our sins to trust this risen Christ. And having found eternal life through Him, this perishable will put on the imperishable and this mortal will become immortal, and then Paul says in verse 54, “will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’”

If Christ is not risen, the death is victorious over us. But if Christ is risen, then we will have victory over death, in like manner as He did. And we will taunt death by singing together that hymn of verse 55, “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” God gives us this victory, Paul says in v57, “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So you see, the resurrection matters. Take it away, and what are we left with? Nothing but hopeless despair. Live as you want to live now, for this is all there is. But Christ is Risen, and we celebrate that fact not just today but everyday as believe in Him and live for Him, knowing that this life is not the end, but that He has opened a highway to heaven for us through His own resurrection and the promise of ours as well.

THEREFORE, Paul says in v59, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. There is a better day coming because Christ has victory over sin and death and hell. And that victory belongs to you if you have turned from sin and trusted in Him as Lord and Savior. And if you have never done that before, why not today?