Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Wrong Question, Part Two.

Our Ladies' Mid-week Bible Study is working through a book by Mindy Ferguson, entitled "Eyewitness to Majesty: Abandoning Self for Christ".  Yesterday, during the study, I expressed my disagreement with the question Mindy asked:

How do the actions of this loyal group of women challenge you to a deeper commitment to Jesus Christ?

In Part One, I explained that asking this question was the wrong question.  I outlined why these women, loyal as they were to the Lord Jesus Christ, were not at that particular time women I want to emulate.

The women at the foot of the cross had a measure of faith, but until they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they did not have the same understanding that we do.  They didn't understand that "Christ's death and resurrection are inseparable in effecting salvation."  ~Thomas Schreiner  They did not comprehend the darkness, the earthquakes, the temple veil that was torn in two from top to bottom, and they certainly didn't understand the Resurrection.

Apart from the resurrection of Christ, those women had no hope.  They were on their way to the tomb, bringing spices for the dead body of Jesus.  They fully expected to find His body there.  They were in mourning.

However, that very day, on the evening of the very day that the women were planning to cover the Lord's body with spices and wrap His body with fine linens, He appeared to them.  He spoke peace to them, and He breathed on them and said "Receive the Holy Spirit."

This is what compels me.  This is what challenges me to a deeper commitment to Jesus Christ!

It's all about JESUS.

It is Jesus Who speaks peace to me, no matter what storms I face.

It is Jesus who leads me to tread the path of life, rather than the path of death.  Those women were stepping heavily on the way to the tomb, not in joy and in faith, but in doubt and in sorrow, in grief and in pain.

Do you see the contrast between the path of death and the path of life that they were given?  Jesus breathed life into them, and they were now "in Christ."  If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.  The old things have passed away, and the new have come.

 How does the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ challenge you to a deeper commitment to Jesus Christ?  What change took effect on that first Easter Sunday?  How did the lives of those women and those disciples change?

What a change was wrought by the work of the cross and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He has moved us from condemnation to eternal life, and brought us into a living and personal relationship with Himself.

Even as mature Christians, we need to remind ourselves continually of the basis of our acceptance-it is entirely because of what Christ has done for us. Thus, faith in Christ is not a onetime event; we must live by faith each day. ~Derek W.H. Thomas. How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home (Kindle Locations 183-184). Kindle Edition. 
 It is the love of Christ that compels me.  We love Him because He first loved us.  The entire story of the Bible is HIS story.  It`s not about Samson or Rahab or Job or Matthew or Mary.  It`s about what God was doing in the lives of all of the people.  Oh, I know that Hebrews 11 outlines the lives of people of faith.  However, notice what the Bible says at the beginning of Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. ~Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV

It's all about Jesus.

The question should always be,

 "What does this event, this passage, this Bible story, this man, this woman teach us about Jesus?"

The resurrection of Jesus Christ took a doubting Thomas from confusion to faith.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ took mourning women from sadness to peace.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ changed Peter from a fearful Denier to a bold and fearless Preacher.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ makes ordinary sinners into saints whose lips drip with grateful praise.

There can be only one proper response to grace: a life of grateful holiness. Christ's atoning death was "in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:4).. . .Christians, whose sins are forgiven, now live in holy, obedient gratitude for the grace they have received. Grateful law-keeping is the saved sinner's response to received grace.
 The rest of our lives are a way of saying, "Thank you."
Derek W.H. Thomas. How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home (Kindle Locations 184-190). Kindle Edition. 
We love Him, because He first loved us.  When we experience forgiveness and reconciliation, we are compelled to live a life of gratitude.

If we love Him, we keep His commandments.
 Law-keeping out of love is the true path of holiness.
Derek W.H. Thomas. How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home (Kindle Locations 195-196). Kindle Edition. 

One day, I hope to sit with the group of women who stood at the foot of the cross.  I hope to hear them tell of the sorrow they endured as they witnessed the death of their beloved Lord.  But more than that, so much more than that, I know that they will speak of the wonders of the gospel, and the joy of being forgiven.  They will testify with gladness and gratefulness of the exceeding abundance of the Lord's provision for their sin.

Here's one more quote for you to ponder from the book I am currently reading:

For everyone "in Christ," there is no condemnation. What a beautiful statement that is. Repeat it to yourself: "I have placed my trust entirely in Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished for me in His life, death, and resurrection. I am in Jesus Christ, and there is no condemnation." What a sweet thing that is, what a glorious thing. A million questions arise, not the least of which is this: "How can God possibly love me so much?" But the truth of the matter is greater still: the blood of Jesus Christ has atoned for our past sins, present sins, and even future sins. Whatever sin you may commit tomorrow, there is no condemnation if you are in Jesus Christ. They are blotted out. ~Derek W.H. Thomas. How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home (Kindle Locations 196-200). Kindle Edition. 

Here's a question for you:

What compels you to a greater commitment to Jesus Christ?

The Wrong Question

I attend a weekly ladies' study group.  We're working through a book by Mindy Ferguson, called "Eyewitness to Majesty: Abandoning Self for Christ."  It's an in-depth study of the Apostle Peter as an eyewitness to the life of Christ.

It's been an interesting study.  The best part about any group study is the interaction with the other women in the group.  As we share our insights, we understand more about our sisters' journeys through this dark world, on our way to glory.

Last night, I shared my answer to a question, and I could tell by the response that I was not explaining my position clearly.  Hence this post.

On pages 130 - 131, Mindy Ferguson is leading the reader to think about the women who were at the foot of the cross.

She writes,

The women stood on the hill watching as Jesus was crucified.  Crucifixion was a slow and agonizing death by asphyxiation.

Mindy goes on to describe the suffering of our Lord, and quotes 2 Corinthians 5:21, explaining that Jesus became sin for us.

She writes,

I can't imagine how the women felt as they stood watching Him.  They saw the soldiers mock Him and spit on Him.  They watched Him breathe His last breath.  Yet these women stood beside Him.  They were Jesus' disciples.  They followed Him, believed in Him, and took care of Him.  They supported His ministry - even at the cross.

Then she asks this crucial question:

How do the actions of this loyal group of women challenge you to a deeper commitment to Jesus Christ?

That's the wrong question.

Let's think about this group of women for a minute.  There is no doubt that they loved Jesus.  They had followed Him for years, providing for Him and His disciples out of their means.  They had watched Him heal the sick and raise the dead.  They had heard Him preach the gospel and thunder the truth at the Pharisees.  These women believed He was the Messiah, and they loved Him very much.

But they didn't understand.

They stood there at the cross, weeping, mourning the fact that their Messiah was hanging there, suffering, bleeding, and dying.  They were brokenhearted.

...for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. ~John 20:9 ESV

You can see their bewilderment by reading Mark 16:1-7 and John 20:1-9.

On Sunday morning, the women went to anoint Jesus' body.  They were told by an angel, "He has risen.  He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you."  And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. ~Mark 16:6b - 8.

The man dressed in white told them that Jesus had risen.  He told them that He would be going ahead of them to Galilee, which is just what Jesus told his disciples a few days before His crucifixion.  (Mark 14:28)
The angel also told them to go and tell the disciples this good news.

But what did they do?  Look at Mary's words in the book of John:

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” ~John 20:1-2 ESV

She could have run to the disciples and said, "He is risen!  The Lord Jesus is alive!  He said He'd meet us in Galilee!"

She just didn't get it.  She did not understand.

When I think about the trauma those women went through, my heart breaks for them.  I am a mother, and I try to imagine, simply on a human level, what it would have been like to be the mother of the Son of God.  Mary knew that Jesus was the Son of God, but to watch Him mocked and beaten and scourged and crucified must have brought her unimaginable pain.

So, it's understandable that Mary Magdalene didn't rush to tell the disciples the good news.  It hadn't sunk in yet.  It wasn't good news yet.  She didn't comprehend that Jesus was alive.  She only thought they'd moved His body.  It wasn't until He spoke her name, "Mary," that she began to understand.

John 20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” Hearing only her name, Mary recognizes the voice of Jesus. As Jesus had taught prior to his crucifixion, “He calls his own sheep by name. … and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (10:3–4).~ESV Study Bible notes.

The Difference Between the Women at the Cross and Christians Today

The women at the foot of the cross were devastated.  They were in shock.  They mourned and wept, and could not comprehend the plan and purpose of God.  They watched Jesus die.  They thought He was dead.  On the first day of the week, they were heading to the tomb in order to treat His dead body with the respect that all of the dead were afforded.  It was their normal cultural practice.  In their eyes, He was dead.

He Was NOT Dead

But Jesus was very much alive!  That very evening, the evening of that day, Jesus did an amazing thing:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.~John 20:19-22 ESV

He appeared to His Disciples!  He stood among them!  He showed them His hands and His side!  And He spoke words of peace to them.

What grace!  These men and women had gone through four days of trauma, and Jesus spoke Peace to them.

The next thing He did is the point of this blog post:

He breathed on them and said to them, 

Receive the Holy Spirit.

The resurrection changed everything.

Let me repeat that:

The Resurrection Changes Everything.

See Part 2 to find out why I think it was the wrong question.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Greatly Loved

I read Matthew 21 this morning.  It's the familiar story of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  When you read it, right away you see the omniscience and omnipotence of the Lord Jesus Christ, as he sent two of His disciples to get a colt donkey that He could ride.


He knew precisely where the mare and the colt would be tied.
He knew that the disciples would be questioned, and He provided the answer ahead of time.


The colt had never been ridden, yet it submitted to Jesus.  Even the cloaks tossed on its back ought to have sent it into a tizzy.  Add to that the crowds of people, waving palm branches, crying out "Hosanna!  Hosanna!"  If you've ever been around an unbroken donkey, you'll know how astounding it is that Jesus rode it calmly into Jerusalem.

Exactly 483 years 

In Daniel, Chapter 9, verses 24 - 26, we read Daniel's confession as he cried out to God in shame because of the rebellion of God's people.  The angel Gabriel came to Daniel to tell him God's decree.

You are Greatly Loved

Gabriel said to Daniel, "O Daniel, I have come out to give you insight and understanding.  At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore, consider the word and the vision."

It struck me that Jesus, being OMNISCIENT, was well aware of the date when He sent the disciples to get the colt.  He knew that the angel Gabriel had been sent to Daniel to assure him that in spite of how terrible everything appeared to be, God was in control.  The time of transgression would end, and there would be an end to sin.  A full atonement for the sins of God's people would be made.

It's okay, Daniel.  You are greatly loved.

Jesus knew about Daniel's prayer.  He knew the angel would be sent to comfort him.  And He knew that exactly 483 years later, He would be riding the colt of the donkey, heading into Jerusalem in the midst of the crowds.

He also knew, in spite of the praise of the people, that they would turn on Him in a few short days.

Like Daniel, I am greatly loved.  How do I know this?  

I know this because I know that Jesus is omniscient, and on the day of the triumphal entry, He knew what He was about to face.  He loved me when He sat on that donkey and rode into Jerusalem.

He rode right up to the temple, then went in and cleansed it a second time.  This time He stayed, and preached, and healed the blind and the lame.  He did wonderful things, and the children knew it, and cried out again as they had in the streets, "Hosanna!  Hosanna!  Hosanna to the Son of David!"

You'd think the leaders of the people would have been blessed by this.  As they witnessed Him cleanse the temple of the money changers, the buyers and sellers who were cheapening the house of God, it should have crossed their minds that here was a man with authority.

As He gathered the people around Himself, teaching them, explaining to them the ways of God, they ought to have listened and taken His message to heart.

As He smiled at the lads who were raising their voices in songs of praise, they ought to have wondered, "Is this the Messiah that was promised?"

Instead these leaders, the chief priests and scribes, indignant and miserable, demanded to know:  "Do you hear what these boys are saying?"

Jesus answered, "Yes."  (Of course, He heard!)

He then quoted from Psalm 8:2 - "Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies" you have prepared praise.

Jesus greatly loved.

He loved the boys who had gathered around to praise His Holy name.

He loved the prophet Daniel, who fell to his knees and cried out to God on behalf of his people.

He loved this granny, Janet, who sits and types at her computer, thinking about how He set aside His majesty in order to atone for her sins.

When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have set in place, what is man, that You are mindful of him, and the son of man, that you care for him?

He greatly loved me, enough to set aside His position and authority as Creator of the universe.  He greatly loved me, keeping me in His mind as He set His face like flint, and went to the cross of Calvary.