March 5, 2000
God Leads in Worship
Mark 9:2-9 presents a powerful picture of the people of God worshiping God. When followers of Jesus find themselves assembled in His presence, extraordinary things happen. Worship is seeing God accurately and responding to Him appropriately.
I. God reveals the one to be worshipped (vv. 2-4)
Jesus takes Peter, James, and John on a little field trip. They climb up a mountain to have a little prayer meeting and a funny thing happens; they have an up close and intimidating encounter with God.
For just a moment the disciples catch a glimpse of the blazing glory of Jesus Christ. Peter, James, and John see Him for who He is — the Lord of glory. The disciples are stunned by Jesus. Later they would write in the epistles, “We beheld His glory.”
These disciples worshipped because they caught a glimpse of Jesus. Worship always begins with seeing God accurately. Books on worship fill the shelves of Christian bookstores and continue to roll off the presses. The problem with most of these is that they emphasize technique rather than substance. When you see Jesus accurately, the response of worship comes naturally.
Can you gaze at Jesus and see Him accurately as you sing old hymns and listen to the organ bellow? Yes! Can you gaze at Jesus and see Him accurately as you move to the sound of guitars and drums and sing choruses? Yes! The real worship question should not be style but substance — Are we gazing at Jesus accurately?
II. God stops our games of worship (vv. 5-6)
We often ruin worship with our little worship games — pretending to worship, pretending to be spiritual. God is not interested in religious pretense. He is interested in the response of genuine worship that comes from hearts that have been overwhelmed with the glory of God.
Here’s Jesus with his face and clothing shining like lightening standing with Moses and Elijah, and Peter says, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let’s put up three shelters, one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Luke adds, “He did not know what he was saying.”
Peter barges in and announces that he has a great religious idea: we can institutionalize this thing. God in a bottle. We all have a tendency to put God in a bottle and make Him dance to our tune. But our God is not a tame God. He is not a God on a leash.
Peter’s speech is interrupted by the voice of God, “This is My Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.”
Why is it so hard for us to stop and listen to Jesus? It’s because we are so caught up in ourselves and the details of our lives and the trinkets that we think will deliver to us what we want. We need to hear God say, “Stop! Listen to Jesus!”
Worship is a holy collision between a glorious Redeemer and a repentant people.
III. God announces the result of true worship (v. 7-9)
It’s interesting in this passage that Moses and Elijah were there. Many great figures walk the pages of divine history, but none are more illustrious than Moses and Elijah. Yet in the presence of Jesus, they are mere witnesses. No one stands as a peer alongside Jesus. He is the One to whom both the law and the prophets point. He is the purpose of the entire Bible and to miss Him is to miss it all.
We must not gather together in order to taste and sample sermons. We must not come to critique the music and the instrumentalists. We must come to worship. We must come to see Jesus accurately and to respond to Him appropriately. We must come to listen to Jesus Christ and to lift up our hearts and lives to Him. Seeing Jesus accurately results in responding to him appropriately. (Charles Zimmerman)
First Sunday of Lent
March 12, 2000
Splendor in the Furnace
(1 Peter 3:18-22)
I know that “all Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” but not all Scriptures are equally easy to understand. This is a passage you would never hear preached unless the pastor is going through 1 Peter or following a liturgical calendar.
You’ve heard the expression, “He can’t see the forest for the trees.” That means that sometimes we so focus on the details (trees) that we lose sight of the big picture (forest). If we are going to understand the trees of this passage, we must come to grips with the forest of the whole book.
I. Context: The Forest Before The Trees
Peter was writing to Christians who have suffered and were about to suffer far more than any one else in this room. He writes to explain how the dynamic of Christ’s life can be reenacted in ours. The entire letter is about how to live in such a way that troubles, trials, and tribulations refine and purify us rather than frustrate and defeat us.
II. Baptism: The Hard Part (vv. 19-20)
A. Different interpretations
There are basically two different interpretations of what this passage means. Some say that after Jesus died, He went and preached to the imprisoned spirits of the people who died in the flood of Genesis 6. The main problem with this interpretation is the silence of the Bible for such an event.
Others understand that Jesus preached to the disobedient of Noah’s day through Noah. In fact, 2 Peter 2:5 says that Noah was a preacher of righteousness. In Ephesians 2:17, Paul says a similar thing: “Christ came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.” We know that Jesus had never been to Ephesus.
B. Similar applications
Only a few people obeyed God, climbed into the ark and were saved from the water. When the great flood waves of troubles, trials, and tribulations hit you, you must climb into Christ by obeying Him. Don’t be like the disobedient. Be like Noah! You will find that as hard as it is, in the end obedience will lift you up.
III. Resurrection: The Easy Part (vv. 18, 21-22)
All through this letter Peter has been saying that obedience always looks like it will bring death, but in reality obedience always brings life. Often God’s commands make no sense from the vantage point of human reason. Obedience looks like it will surely bring death. Peter reminds us that there is always a resurrection on the other side of the apparent death of obedience.
A. The resurrection is intimately connected to Christ’s death (v. 18)
Jesus obeyed all the way to the cross. His obedience not only looked like it would bring death, it actually brought death. But he was made alive in the Spirit.
What if a friend came to see you one night and noticed that you had no lights turned on. He would certainly ask, “Why don’t you turn the lights on so I can see you as I’m speaking to you?” With great embarrassment you respond, “I can’t turn the lights on because I haven’t been able to pay my electric bill for six months so they shut off my electricity.” Your friend says that the first thing the next morning he is going to pay your electric bill. How will you know if your friend followed through and actually paid your electric bill? How do you know if your friend had enough money to pay your electric bill? The lights come on!
The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that the lights have come on. He was willing and able to pay our debt of sin and the proof of it is the resurrection.
B. The resurrection is intimately connected to Christ’s ascension (vv. 21-22)
Besides showing us that Jesus was the suffering servant, the resurrection also shows us that Jesus is now the king. He is the authority. He has the right to tell you how you should live. Jesus has the right to say, “No.” Jesus has the right to say, “Yes.” He has the right to override our reason and our feelings because He is the king. If you do not let Jesus tell you that some things are wrong even when they feel right, He is not your king. If you do not let Him red pencil your life, He is not your king.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ proved that He was willing and able to pay the debt that we owed. The resurrection also proves that Jesus is the king and therefore has the right to call us to obedience.
This is an extremely difficult passage to understand and the principles we learn from it are extremely important. Obedience always looks like it will lead to death, obey anyway because resurrection always follows obedience. (Charles Zimmerman)
Second Sunday After Lent
March 19, 2000
The Absolute of the Messianic Mission
Absolutes have always been uncomfortable realities. People don’t like to be told emphatically that certain things must be. After Peter declared that He was the Messiah (v. 29), Jesus began to teach them that He must suffer, die, and then rise again (v. 31). This twist marked a reality check for His disciples by introducing new content in His teaching, a new absolute for which they were not prepared: Contrary to popular messianic opinion, Jesus had not come to establish an earthly kingdom at that time. The necessities of the messianic mission are always uncomfortable realities that demand our embrace.
I The Absolute Puts Us at Risk (v. 32)
This absolute was scandalous. Maybe the most uncomfortable aspect of the messianic mission was its nature — it was public. Contrary to previously veiled allusions, Jesus spoke openly and in unambiguous terms about the need for His death and resurrection. The public nature of the messianic mission always is uncomfortable because it puts those at risk who choose to identify with the cause.
Risk is an uncomfortable thing, especially when it’s ours. Peter clearly understood Jesus’ words, but could not reconcile his view of “Messiah” (v. 29) with the apparent defeat about which Jesus now spoke. Peter’s primary concern, however, was probably that Jesus’ open indictment of the religious leaders (v. 31) might put his own life at risk. So he rejected the idea and began to rebuke Him. People usually don’t reject Christ out of humble concern for the good of His cause, but because of the risky position that identification with His cause creates for them.
II. The Absolute Points to Our Responsibility (vv. 33-34)
Absolutes demand something of us. Peter was an unwitting spokesman for Satan, and for us, because his mind was set on human values and viewpoints instead of God’s agenda. So Jesus rebuked him for the benefit of all — past, present, and future. The way of the Cross was God’s will and Jesus refused to compromise it, especially for the selfish interest of those He came to save. Any “dumbing down” of the messianic mission abdicates us of our responsibility and will always reap the Lord’s sternest rebuke.
To highlight this responsibility, Jesus offered a conditional principle for those who desired to “come after” Him (v. 34). He described the responsibility with two co-existent requirements. Negatively, one must say no to selfish interests and earthly securities. Positively, one must say yes to God’s agenda. During Jesus’ day cross-bearing would have brought to mind a man being forced to demonstrate his submission to Rome by carrying part of his cross to his place of execution. Consequently, “to take up one’s cross” was to demonstrate publicly one’s submission to the authority against which he had previously rebelled.
III The Absolute is Planted in His Reason (vv. 35-38)
We are responsible to the absolute of the Cross because it is rooted in the Divine economy. Jesus offered three explanations. First, security is a paradox (v. 35). He used a play on words to assert that the person who decides to maintain a self-centered life in this world will ultimately lose his life, his true self, to eternal ruin. Conversely, a person who chooses to deny himself in loyalty to Jesus will actually preserve it forever.
Second, the soul is priceless (vv. 36-37). Jesus used rhetorical questions clothed in economic terms to show the supreme value of eternal life. The person who pursues all earthly pleasures and possessions, if such were possible, at the expense of forfeiting eternal life with God is a fool, especially in light of the fact that he or she ends up with nothing to compensate for such an exchange.
Third, shame will be reciprocated (v. 38). To be “ashamed” of Jesus is to reject Him by unbelief and fear of the world’s contempt. In return, when Jesus comes in glory as Judge, He will reciprocate by refusing to claim as His own those who have pledged allegiance to this generation. Thus, they will experience the same shame by Him that they offered to Him. (Jim Shaddix)
Third Sunday After Lent
March 26, 2000
The Contrast of the Cross
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
The Cross of Christ stands in stark contrast to the belief systems of our culture. It is a contrast between people’s foolishness, which they actually think is wisdom, and God’s wisdom, which they actually think to be foolish. It is also a contrast between God’s true wisdom and man’s supposed wisdom, between God’s supposed foolishness and man’s true foolishness.
I. The Indictment of the Cross (vv. 18-19)
The contrast of the Cross is an indictment on the self-centered foolishness of humankind. Paul saw this as central to salvation, especially the aspect of progressive sanctification. The message of the Cross is the message of self-renunciation, of obedience to God which may lead to humiliation and death, but ultimately to preservation (Mk. 8:34-35) and exaltation (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 22:5). But to those who are perishing, this idea is preposterous.
True to form, Paul illustrated his point by an example in the history of Israel. Following the supposed wise counsel of man, they formed an alliance with Egypt as a defense against Assyria. Yet, only the miraculous intervention of God was able to save them (cf. Isa. 29:14; 2 Kings 18:17-19:37).
II. The Intelligence of the Cross (vv. 20-21)
The contrast of the Cross actually highlights the eternal intelligence of God. In Paul’s mind, all human wisdom was the same, whether that of the esteemed Jewish scholar or Greek philosopher. With all their supposed wisdom people have never been able to know God, much less come to a personal relationship with Him. As opposed to solving problems, mankind’s wisdom tends to increase the woes like misunderstandings, conflicts, wars, crime, mental breakdowns, and family problems. The more people look to their own wisdom, the worse their situations become.
God wisely established it this way so that people could not be saved by the wisdom of the world, but by dependence on the Divine. Because people cannot even recognize their problems, much less solve them, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who simply believe. What the world counts as foolishness, God chose to be the hinge of salvation. It is not self-confident learnedness but self-effacing faith that enables one to be saved.
III. The Integrity of the Cross (vv. 22-24)
In a values-bankrupt world, the contrast of the Cross is clothed with integrity. Unbelief can be expressed in various ways. The Jews wanted supernatural signs before they would believe. The Gentiles wanted proof through wisdom. But Paul would only preach Christ crucified, the only true sign and the only true wisdom. God very simply doesn’t accept those who reject that sign and that wisdom. The Cross, then, becomes a stumbling block and foolishness.
The only message a Christian has to share is the message of the cross. God, through His power and wisdom, initiated the terms on which people could be saved. In the preaching of Christ crucified God calls people by opening their eyes of faith to believe the gospel — God the Son became man, died to pay the penalty for our sins, and rose from the dead to give us new life.
IV. The Irony of the Cross (v. 25)
The contrast of the Cross culminates in the ultimate irony. Paul obviously is speaking from the unbeliever’s perspective in mentioning God’s foolishness and weakness. Tragically, the very part of God’s plan that seems most ridiculous and useless from man’s natural viewpoint actually demonstrates His greatest power and greatest wisdom. Even if God could possess foolishness, it would be wiser than mankind’s greatest wisdom. Even if God could exhibit any weakness, it would be stronger than the greatest of mankind’s strength.
The power of God is the only real power that exists. It is power that means something and accomplishes something. And while it is not power belonging to mankind, it is offered to mankind for salvation from sin, deliverance from Satan, and eternal life. That may be the greatest contrast of all! (Jim Shaddix)
Fourth Sunday in Lent
April 2, 2000
The Gift of Grace
As we observe the attitudes and actions of our postmodern culture, we may observe both the reality and relevance of this passage. In a society where absolutes are no longer tolerated, where the family is redefined to the extent that it has no clear meaning, where children walk into classrooms and shoot other children, these verses bring clarity and hope. Though they show us our nature apart from Christ, they also teach us of the great mercy and love our heavenly Father pours upon His own. They reveal that His grace has interceded on our behalf, even while we were hopelessly dead. And they encourage us to be about His work for which we were created in Christ Jesus.
I. And You Were Dead (vv. 1-3)
In the context of Paul’s prayer for the enlightenment of the Ephesian church, we are given a description of the seriousness of their previous condition. They were dead! This is the condition of all before trusting in Christ. Paul reveals that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. Not only are we going in the wrong direction apart from Christ, but we have completely missed the mark. John Stott describes in his commentary how all-encompassing our trespasses and sins are: “Together the two words [trespasses and sin] cover the positive and negative, or active and passive, aspects of human wrongdoing, that is to say, our sins of omission and commission. Before God we are both rebels and failures.”1 We formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh as slaves to sin. Our condition is so utterly hopeless that we are by nature, children of wrath.
II. But God (vv. 4-7)
“But God …” These are perhaps the most comforting words in Scripture. For though we were by nature dead, God has interceded on our behalf and made us alive by grace. And we have been given a place of honor; we are seated with Him in the heavenly places. And what is the motivation for such an act? It is God’s rich mercy and great love with which He has loved us, a love that is beyond our comprehension and yet is personal and knowable. Why has He done such a thing as this? Because He desires to show the “surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). We are no longer children of wrath but beneficiaries of God’s grace set on display for the universe to see.
III. We are His workmanship (vv. 8-10)
It is by grace we have been saved, through faith. We could not have achieved this status by our own merits for we were dead. But God has made us alive with Him, and though we don’t deserve it, we can marvel at the goodness of God revealed to us in this great gift. And we are His workmanship. As the potter molds the clay, so God has shaped us from something worthless into something beautiful and valuable. And He continues to mold us into the image of His Son Jesus Christ. He creates us to know Him and to make Him known. Our lives ought to be on display before the world as light in darkness in order that those who are still dead may see our good works and glorify our Father. We have the great privilege to live a life worthy of our calling, empowered by the grace that has set us free. Are we spending time marveling at the goodness of God? Do those around us see the grace of God when they peer into our lives? Are we praying for and taking advantage of the opportunities set before us to share the gift of grace? May we give to our culture living testimony of the grace of our Father. (Jonathan Kever)
1John R.W. Stott. The Message of Ephesians in the commentary series: The Bible Speaks Today. (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 71.
Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 9, 2000
Dieing to Self
Many people believe that the key to an abundant life is earthly pleasure. “Live life to the fullest!” they say, “Look out for number one!” Even Christians often find themselves in despair, giving in to their flesh, believing they are unable to avoid the patterns of this world. If only we could grasp fully what Jesus teaches in this text, That it is death to self that brings an abundant life.
I. The hour has come (vv. 20-23)
In these verses the author sets the stage for the climax of Jesus’ ministry. He begins by telling of a group of Gentiles interested in meeting with Jesus. They came first to Philip, perhaps because his name was of Greek origin. At any rate, Philip told Andrew, and both went to Jesus with the Gentile’s request.
Jesus’ answer probably caught the two off guard. He replied: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” This theme had been introduced in several earlier passages where Jesus stated that it was not yet time. But now, with the coming of the Greeks, Jesus declared that it was time for Him to finish His mission on earth.
II. Death bears fruit (vv. 24-26)
Jesus goes on to teach His listeners how they might bear fruit, live eternally, and be honored by their heavenly Father. What is it that bears fruit? Ironically, Jesus says it is death that bears fruit, and He illustrates this with a grain of wheat. How is it that we live eternally? Jesus states that it is by hating one’s life in this world. How do we receive honor from above? By following Him.
“What?” someone might say, “We’re supposed to seek death, hate our lives, and become followers?” The answer is yes! If we want to produce fruit in our lives we must die each day to self. This kind of death breads life, just like the grain of wheat. Hating our life in this world is to seek first the kingdom of heaven. When we become followers of Christ in these ways we realize what it means to really live. R. Kent Hughes derives an important application from these verses: “If your life is stagnant, if your spiritual potential is going unrealized, it may well be that you need to die, to lay down your life and be released. This was the key to the royalty in Jesus’ life, and it is an important principle in ours as well.”1
III. Jesus’ death bore fruit (vv. 27-33)
Jesus’ soul was troubled, and it wasn’t simply the recognition of His coming crucifixion. He knew that He was about to bear something much worse than the cross; He would take the sin of the world upon Himself and be separated from His Father. Yet, He had another interest in mind more important than a troubled soul. He desired that the name of His father be glorified, and He desired that all men, whether Jew or Greek, might be drawn to Him.
We see the fruit of Jesus’ self-denial in the hearts of sinners reconciled to the living God. May we follow our Lord’s example and be willing to die more to self and live more for Him in order that we too might glorify our Father in heaven. For it is in this that we discover what it means to truly live.
1R. Kent Hughes. John: That You May Believe from the series Preaching The Word. (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999), 301.
Sunday, April 16, 2000
The Word That Sustains the Weary
On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus mounted a donkey and rode down the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley and up through the Eastern Gate. The crowds hailed Him as their conquering Messiah. Sadly, they did not know that Jesus was not to be the kind of Messiah they expected. On this Palm Sunday we ask, “Are we to be happy for Jesus’ acclamation by the crowds? Do we join in and acknowledge His messiahship?” Or, is it a time for us to be sorrowful?” After all, we now know what Jesus suffered and why He suffered during His passion.
Isaiah helps us understand what is happening in the life of Jesus. We love the portrait of the Suffering Servant which is painted in Isaiah 53. “He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement that brings us peace was upon Him.” The present passage also speaks of a suffering servant and illumines our understanding of Christ. It is the story of a person who is willing to entrust Himself to God and to trust Him for vindication.
The Suffering Servant has been given a responsibility to teach and to be teachable. He is One who has learned to humble Himself under the mighty hand of God. Jesus was God in human flesh. Remember the picture of the young Jesus at the temple helping the aged Rabbis who had given their lives to the study of the Torah get a deeper grasp on the Word of God? He knew the word that sustains the weary. It was at least partially because He awakened Himself morning by morning to turn His ear to the One who could teach Him.
We need to be able to sense the emotional impact of the gospel. Maybe what we need is not necessarily to learn more facts or more differently nuanced truths about the gospel but to be inspired to act on what we already know. As we look at the life of Jesus, the Christ, He knew what God was calling Him to do, but He needed to learn that God’s grace would be sufficient to give Him the strength to be obedient to what He was being called to do.
The Servant of the Lord affirms that He has not been rebellious against God. He doesn’t turn away from hearing God’s instructions. Notice the progression here. He has an instructed tongue. It comes from hearing the word of God every morning, and not drawing back from Him. This Suffering Servant is a person who offers himself to God, suffers abuse but is confident that God will vindicate him.
This passage describes some of the things that happened to Jesus very well. He knew the words that sustain the weary. He applied Himself to hearing the word of God in new and creative ways every morning, and as we enter Holy Week, we see some of His passion foreshadowed for us. He says, “I offered my back to those who beat me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.”
A question that we may want to ask is, “What is it that Jesus was being called to do?” He was being called to be crucified. I don’t think there’s any way we can fully understand the humiliation that goes into that. It’s more than just being nailed to the cross. Isaiah writes about offering His back to those who would beat it. Jesus was scourged after a mockery of a trial. The cat-o-nine-tails was used on Him with its leather straps with pieces of bone tied in them. His back was literally torn to ribbons. After having endured the mockery of a trial, He was beaten. He offered His cheeks to those who would pull out his beard. After all, He was the One who taught His disciples to “turn the other cheek.” After the trial and the scourging, He was forced to carry His cross to the place where He would be nailed to it.
Jesus was called to endure abuse and mockery. But He says to us, “If you would follow after Me, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.” The cross is an instrument of execution and the call to follow Jesus is a call to be willing to lay down your very life in service to Him. It’s a call not only to be willing to die for Him but to be willing to live your life every day for Him. Dying is easy. If you know the Lord and you are confident that at the end of this life you will spend your eternity with Him, you can lay down your life. But following Jesus as Lord may mean doing some things that we would rather not do. It’s hard to be willing to learn to love those who are unlovely. It’s hard to offer your life to go to some hard place in this world to preach the gospel to people who may not listen to a word you say. It’s even hard to take a class of Junior High school kids and patiently and lovingly helping them to see that God is a God of love who wants to walk with them. But if the Sovereign Lord will help us, we can offer ourselves to Him, endure whatever abuse we have to from those who don’t understand, confident that in the end, He will vindicate us.
Jesus knew that abuse was awaiting Him in Jerusalem yet the gospel writers said that He set His face like flint with a resolve to go to Jerusalem, even though He knew that there He would be put to death. Isaiah says though, “I know I will not be put to shame.” Jesus was vindicated by His resurrection. For the joy set before Him, He was able to endure the cross, despising its shame and now He is seated at the right hand of the father. (Mark A. Johnson)
Sunday, April 23, 2000
The Greatest Event
I Corinthians 15:1-11
As we try to acclimate ourselves to a new millennium, we look back over the past events of history that have shaped the kind of society and culture we live in. Some years ago, the distinguished publishing house of Grosset & Dunlap brought together a panel of 28 educators and historians and asked them to select the hundred most significant events of history, then list those events in order of importance. After months of labor, the panel reported that they considered the most significant event of history to be the discovery of America. In second place was the invention of movable type by Gutenberg.
Eleven different events tied for third place, and five events tied for fourth place. The events tying for fourth were the writing of the Constitution of our country, the development of ether, the development of the x-ray, the discovery of the airplane, and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus tied for fourth.1
We gather together on this holiest day in all of Christendom to affirm that Jesus Christ is not fourth; He is first. There is no other person more important and no event more significant than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When Paul wrote to the dysfunctional church at Corinth, he affirms for us the central importance of the resurrection.
First, he says the resurrection of Jesus Christ is essential for our salvation. Paul reminded the Corinthians, “I want to remind you what I preached to you lest you believe in vain.” It is possible to believe in things in vain, to hope against hope for something to happen and to have the mistaken belief that if we just have enough faith it will happen even against all odds. The word of the cross and the resurrection is both a warning and a promise. It warns us that it is possible to believe things in vain — to place our hope in empty vanities that have no life transforming power. But, it is also a word of promise. Through faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ, your belief doesn’t have to be in vain.
Secondly, Paul tells us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical fact. Paul taught and preached the essential core of the gospel — Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve. This is for Paul what is important for us to know about Jesus Christ.
What helps us to understand that the resurrection happened is to look at the lives that were transformed by that belief. Peter went from being a sniveling coward to the bold preacher of Pentecost. This “Gang that couldn’t shoot straight” band of 11 rag-tag disciples went out and literally changed the course of history because of the resurrected Christ.
That would be an interesting historical footnote if it were not for the third truth Paul teaches. That is, The Resurrected Christ can forgive you of your shameful past. Paul never could get over the fact that Jesus would use him. He felt that he was unworthy because he persecuted the church. Yet, when Jesus called him, he responded and found that God’s grace to him was not in vain. Paul had as much to be forgiven for as anyone but he rejoiced that the resurrected Christ came and said, “I died for sinners. I’ll forgive you.” Paul now says, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect.” Anything that Paul did in his past was now forgiven by the blood of Jesus and the resurrected Lord. What shame is in your past? Would you like to know freedom from whatever shame in your past keeps you from living for God and knowing true peace? The resurrection is a word of hope to you that you can be a new person. (Mark A. Johnson)
1Bruce Thielemann, “Christus Imperator,” Preaching Today, tape 55, 1988.
Second Sunday After Easter
Sunday, April 30, 1999
A Refining Fire
A good definition of grace is “treating others better than they deserve to be treated.” We talk about grace a lot, using expressions like, “Only by the grace of God did I find the strength to carry on after my wife died.” Or, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” Grace is used in a lot of different ways. There is an interesting usage in this morning’s text. Luke writes, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.” Just how did that grace manifest itself? The portrait of the early church that Luke paints in these verses is a description of God’s grace at work in a congregation.
After a prayer meeting in which the Holy Spirit comes with extraordinary power and the place is shaken, perspectives are different. The believers had a prayer meeting in which their total focus was on God. They realized who was the Creator and who was the creature. When we have a focus totally on God, our own agendas and our own ways of doing things don’t seem to matter as much.
The passage we look at this morning is a summary passage. The believers were in one heart and mind. We find an echo of what was said earlier in the end of chapter 2. The church was unified in heart and in mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions were their own. This was not some sort of imposed Marxist Utopian socialism. Rather, people loved in the best sense of that word. They esteemed others more highly than themselves and because of that, they were only too glad to give of themselves to meet the needs of those who were less fortunate. There is one difference between this passage and the summation at the end of chapter 2 that is significant.
In this text, Luke points out that the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This is significant for a couple of reasons. They are speaking at exactly the point they bad been ordered not to — the resurrection of the dead — but also it indicates that they were giving words to their witness. That’s a function of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
In chapter 2, the emphasis is upon the signs and wonders that God was working through the apostles. I believe very strongly in lifestyle evangelism and in holistic evangelism as the most effective means of evangelism but there comes a time when our witness must be verbalized. People were getting saved because they were not only being influenced towards Christ by the quality of their lives and because the church helped them with a need, but also because the apostles were telling them that it was only through the resurrected Christ that they could have any hope of eternal life.
In Chapter 2, the summary statement speaks of the sale of possessions. Here the text speaks about the selling of houses and lands. The money was given without agendas or strings attached. It was put at the apostles feet and they distributed it as they saw fit.
In verse 36 (not a part of the lectionary reading) Luke gives us an illustration of the type of giving he is talking about. I’ve heard people talk about who’s going to be the first person they look up when they get to Heaven. I’ve not thought a lot about that, but I know who I’d most like to have as a church member — Barnabas. His very name meant, “Encourager.” Do you know who is the only person in the scripture that is described as being “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith?” It was Barnabas. He took a field he owned, sold it, and placed the money at the apostles’ feet. What would happen if someone in our church were to say, “I’ve had this piece of property but I feel strongly led of the Lord to sell it and give the proceeds to help some of the families in our church that are having a rough time right now?” God’s going to take care of me.
It’s a dangerous thing to make a point and then to say, “I don’t really expect any of you to do that.” But I’m not necessarily trying to say to you, “Sell all your possessions, divest yourself of your retirement nest-egg.” There was a mind-set in the early church represented by Barnabas’ action which said, “I’m going to look out for my brothers and sisters.” It was said of them, “Behold how they love one another!” Their love for one another and their example for us comes because of the grace of God which was upon them. (Mark A. John-son)
Sermon briefs this month are provided by: Charles Zimmerman, Professor of Preaching, Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, PA; Jim Shaddix, Assistant Professor of Preaching, New Orleans Baptist Seminary, New Orleans, LA; Mark Johnson, Pastor, Greenbelt Baptist Church, Greenbelt, MD; and Jonathan Kever, Managing Editor, Preaching.