Saturday, March 31, 2018

The First Day of the Week

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. (John 20:1)

Why the first day of the week?  Did Christians move the Sabbath Day to Sunday from Saturday?  Why is Sunday more important than Saturday to Christians?  Well, let's look at creation.  Saturday is the day of rest that God took after creation.  He rested on the last day, and he established the week. This example sets the stage for all of human life.  We must rest from our labors.  This is not only loving our God by respecting his Sabbath but loving our neighbors by not forcing them to work too hard, by giving them breaks in life.  By giving them decompression.  This is a good commandment to have.

What is significant about the first day of the week in creation?  The beginning of creation!  The day where there was nothing but darkness and void, and then God said, "Let there be light!" and creation officially began! This is important to Christians, because Jesus' resurrection signifies the beginning of a new creation.  Paul tells us that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ came out of the tomb with a new body, like the old one but imperishable.  Like the old one but impermeable.  Like the old one but indestructible.  This is the significance of the first day of the week--new creation begins.  This is the moment when Christ shows us what the new creation looks like, and this is the moment in which new creation is begun in all who believe in him.  Christ breathes his Holy Spirit on the apostles.  Christ stays with his disciples for forty days, no longer speaking to them in parables but intensely coaching them on the nature of reality, the reality of the new creation.

Christ had driven seven demons out of Mary Magdalene.  She was already changed by Jesus.  But she still reveals that she is not yet a new creation when she repeats that someone has taken the Lord's body and she doesn't know where it is.  When she faces Jesus himself, she assumes him to be the gardener, and she asks for Christ's body from him.  Then Jesus reveals himself to her, the first revelation of the new creation, and thus begins the forty days of education about the reality of things.  Now, no one gets a new, imperishable body while still living life on earth, but the Christian life is one of internal change.  The new body will come, but in the meantime the spirit of the believer is being changed to accommodate the new body.  New Creation is happening inside to meet the new creation that will happen outside.

This new creation is a work of God alone.  We cannot change ourselves.  God must do it.  The stone is rolled away before Mary arrives, even though she came early.  God has already done his work.  In her unbelief, she thinks that Jesus' body has been taken away.  When the disciples leave the area, she stays and weeps for a dead Christ.  Then angels reveal themselves to her, and she still doesn't believe.  Christ then approaches her, and she mistakes his identity, still not believing.  It is only when Jesus calls her by name that she wakes up to the reality that is happening.  The interior change begins.  Before, he cast out the demons to prepare the soil, but now the spiritual recreation has begun.

But Mary has faith, and that is what gives us hope.  God has given her the faith she needs to seek him.  Remember, Christ tells us to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.  Granted, Mary did not know that Christ was alive, and so she was seeking a dead Jesus, but seek him she did.  She sought him out of faith.  She got up early and went to the tomb out of love for her savior. When she finds him missing, she immediately goes to Peter and John to help her find his body.  When Peter and John leave, she remains weeping for her Lord.  She then stoops to look into the tomb, even though she knows his body is not there.  The suddenly appearing angels don't even stir her heart away from her quest for Jesus.  Even when Jesus appears to her, she is too focused on finding her Lord to realize that she has indeed found him.  Well, he found her, but her faith made herself available to him at the tomb.

Now, we know about the new creation, and we do not seek the living among the dead.  We don't have to go to the tomb to seek a body, because we know that Christ is risen.  We know that he is alive, and that we have seen him.  Mary went back to the disciples after Jesus spoke with her, and she said to them, "I have seen the Lord."  We can say that, too, because we read these words in the scriptures, and our faith grasps hold of them. We, too, have seen the Lord, because he has first seen us, and he has begun to change us into a new creation, on the first day of the week of our lives.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Light Shall Shine Out Of Darkness

"Light shall shine out of darkness." 2 Corinthians 4:6

In the darkness, where formlessness and void persisted, where there was extreme nothingness, God declared light to the darkness, and light did explode out of the darkness.  God then declared the light to be good, and so it was.  He also declares his light to be good within us.  We are born in darkness, we are formless and void, we have no essence in and of ourselves.  Nothing good is within us, and then God places the goodness within us--his own goodness.  He is the ultimate good and the source of good in the universe.  His is the light.  He is the light that shines in the darkness, and his Spirit he places within us is light that shines out of our darkness.

God said that light shall shine out of the darkness.  Our hearts are black and dismal, and yet he has given us the light in the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  To know that Christ is God is to have the ultimate knowledge of the light.  To know in our hearts the truth of Christ as the only propitiation for our sins is to have the light shine brightly in the darkness of our souls.  God puts this knowledge in our hearts, and our hearts react by turning from darkness to light.  We are weak vessels--humans--and so this blinding power of light cannot come from ourselves.  It can only come from God, who is outside our darkness. He places the light, like a candle, in the darkness of the room of our souls, and yet this candle burns with the light of a thousand suns, obliterating all the blackness and evil within us.  Try as we might, our darkness cannot comprehend the light.  It cannot overcome the light, and it is shut out.  We must understand--and also preach--that this light is from God and not ourselves.

To make this clear, the external Christian life is one of persecution and tribulation.  This is important to have.  We must be afflicted, so that our internal perseverance can be shown.  We must be forsaken on the outside to reveal the light on the inside.  When the body is destroyed the impermeable light inside is revealed.  If we are doing well on the outside, not only is it impossible to see the light on the inside, but people will assume there is only darkness on the inside.  This is a conclusion we do not want the world to make.  This is how Jesus lived--suffering on the outside, continually showing the light on the inside.

Passion Sunday is just as important as Easter Sunday.  Christ's resurrection is the revelation of the light, but Christ's crucifixion is the revelation of the darkness out of which the light shines, for that stark contrast.  We not only carry around in us the living Christ but also the dead Christ.  In fact, we primarily carry to the world the dead Christ, so that the living Christ can be revealed.  Without the dead Christ, the living Christ is without the magnitude of impact he needs.  We show the dead Christ in our sufferings and the living Christ in our redemption.  We must preach sin and death before the world can possibly understand salvation and everlasting life.

Allow yourself to be delivered over to death.  Die to your old, sinful life.  Die to your unbelieving friends and family.  The world will gladly help us in this goal, because the light inside must be shrouded in the dark agony of death.  The contrast must be seen, and the unbelieving world is willing to assist.  For Jesus' sake we must persevere through suffering, not lay fallow in outward prosperity.  The more mortal we are to the world, the more immortal Jesus becomes through us.  The weaker we appear to the world, the stronger Jesus appears.  The more we die, the more the light of life manifests itself outwardly.  When the light reaches the world in this way, the darkness of individuals will be touched by the light.  They, too, can now suffer on the outside as Christ changes their hearts on the inside.  The shadows of evil will begin to die, and those the Lord wills will be changed.  The contrast must be seen!  Passion precedes Salvation.  Persecution precedes perseverance. Let your worldly lives be destroyed, so that the light of God in Jesus Christ can show forth and bring life to an unbelieving world.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Repentance and Time

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

This verse answers the question that all Christians have from time to time: why does not God just wrap it up?  Why does he linger in ending this fallen world once and for all?  Can't he see things keep getting worse?  Can't he just put the world out of its misery?  We are ready for eternal life, the main story, to get started.  We are tired of the world, the flesh, and the devil rearing their ugly heads at every turn.  This is torture!  Come on, God! Wrap it up!

But the verse in question is deep in thoughtful ideas about this subject.  For instance

1) There is a difference between slowness and patience. Slowness implies that we are waiting for God.  Patience implies that God is waiting for us.  Slowness implies a lack of understanding of the way reality works.  Patience implies that the gospel is a firm reality in present life and must be responded to by each individual.  These words of scripture stir up our sincere minds.  Are our sincere thoughts stirred? Do we have a sincerity about the truth that is necessary for a solid faith? How do we stir up that sincerity?  We read the scriptures, of course.  The Bible is the surest way to stir up a sincere mind.  Insincere minds will reject its words.  Sincere minds will be stimulated.  Our faith must be sincere to be accepted by God.  We can't just say we believe.  We must believe with all our hearts, soul, strength and mind.

2) Both Old and New Testaments are equally important. God is the same God in both.  The New Testament helps explain the difficult parts of the Old Testament, but that does not make the Old Testament any less vital.  In fact, it makes the older texts more vital.  The Old Testament, we are told, is a different religion.  Or, we are told, God changed from the Old to New.  Being immersed in both will inform our souls that there is no change in our Lord.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

3) At the same time, the unbelieving world will continually attack the scriptures as being false.  They do this by attacking primarily the Old Testament, although they do attack both testaments.  How we react to the Bible is a great divider.  More and more people are taking sides for and against the Word of God.  More people who said previously that they believed--and who still say that they believe--are casting down the validity and veracity of the sacred scriptures.  Actual confessing Christians say that they are not necessary.  And yet they are the only texts that stir up the sincere Christian mind.  How do we react to God's Word?  I think the great dividing line will fall on the Bible and what it says about the truth.  We will face God and confess to believing his whole Word, not just the parts we liked.  They who reject the Bible reject Christ and reject all of the faith.

4) God does not wish any to perish. Alas, many will.  The world attacks the truth that is found in God. The world confidently stays lost to God and perishes. Confessing Christians reject God's word and perish.  The world laughingly rejects God's son and perishes.  So many perish.  It breaks the heart in two. But God does not wish any to perish, and so he provides time: not slow time but patient time, so that all will have a chance to accept or reject the gospel. We have grown up in a world where lies are intensely affirmed as true, and we aren't even aware of a possible alternative until God's Spirit unlocks true truth for us.  In Peter's time--and our own--the world denies any catastrophic events in earth's past.  The world denies the flood.  Peter tells us that believing that the flood happened is important, because it (1) reveals the nature of everything and (2) gives us promise that something catastrophic will happen again.  Remember slowness v. patience?  Patience is more hopeful, because at the end of God's patience comes catastrophe.  At the end of slowness comes catastrophe, too, but with patience comes a purpose.  God is being patient with us, because he wishes that none will perish.

5) The sincere mind, stirred up by the scriptures, the knowledge of truth, knowing that a catastrophe will come, and an awareness of God's patience, realizing that he wishes none to perish--all these things should give us hope for the gospel.  But we must never forget that the true gospel involves repentance.  God wishes that none perish but that all come to repentance in this patient time he is giving us.  Because the gospel involves repentance, it involves something to repent of.  The gospel always must include sin, something to repent of, or else those who hear this "half" gospel will be lost forever.  Repentance means you know that you are guilty of sins against God, sins that you would never be able to atone for.  Repentance means admitting that you are guilty before a holy God, and this repentance only occurs when one knows the truth that can only be found in Jesus Christ.  He took the punishment we deserve.  He atoned where we could not.  We cannot atone for our own sins.  He atoned for the sins of the whole world of those who believe in him.  This belief--this true faith--a faith only found with a sincere mind, stirred up by the scriptures--this faith brings us to repentance.  This faith saves us.

God is not being slow.  He is being patient, so that you will find yourself on the correct side of the dividing line--the repentant side.  Read the scriptures for yourself.  See what they say about your hopeless condition.  Read what they say about the only one who can save you.  Stir up your sincere mind and allow God's spirit to drive you to your knees in repentance.  The catastrophe will come, and it will come like a thief in the night, at a time when we least expect it.  All will end.  You could be washing the dishes.  You could be driving to the grocery store.  You could be walking the beach.  We won't know when the catastrophe will come, when everything will be burned up.  Now is the time for salvation, now is the time for repentance and belief in the one, true God and his son Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Repentance and the Kingdom

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 4:17

Jesus repeats these words of John the Baptist when he begins his ministry in earnest. Within this simple sentence is packed the gospel message, if we choose to see it:

1) The word "repent" begins the sentence.  This is from the Lord's own mouth.  Many content that it was an addition to the gospel added by church fathers. Here it is coming from Christ himself. Many contend that repentance is a work that needs to be performed before God can save you. From careful study and even experience, we see that repentance and faith go together: you cannot have one without the other. If one does not have faith in Jesus Christ for the deliverance from and forgiveness of sins, he will not repent.  Repentance is an immediate and continual fruit of the Spirit of God communing with one's soul.

2) The last word in the English sentence is actually the second word in the Greek sentence.  The word means "is drawing near" and the NASB uses "at hand", which gives an impression that the kingdom is "within one's reach."  Now, this does not mean that we are capable of taking the kingdom of heaven under our own power, but it does imply an action on our part, an action that comes as a fruit of faith, and that is grasping the kingdom of heaven.  But "is drawing near" is very good, too, because it implies that God is the one doing the drawing.  We were not looking for the kingdom of heaven, because we are ensnared by sin, and we do not want it.  However, it draws near to us anyway, because God will have us.

3) Now that we have repentance and "at hand" in place.  It's time to look at what we are getting.  Repentance is the turning of the heart from one kingdom to another.  God has drawn his kingdom of heaven near.  We are to repent, which means to alter our course from the one toward destruction to the new path of everlasting life.  What kingdom have we been born into?  Well, the kingdom of Satan, of course.  Christ calls him the prince of this world.  We gave it to him by disobeying God and allowing ourselves to be ensnared by the devil.  Now, all people are born into this unholy kingdom.  What do we do?  Well, there is nothing to do.  We are in an insurmountable bind.

4) But God has brought the kingdom of heaven near to us, and what happens is we switch our allegiance from one kingdom to the other--from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of heaven--through repentance, and repentance is a gift of God by faith.  Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world, and just previously in this chapter, Jesus was offered, by Satan, the kingdoms of the world, because they were his to give. Jesus taught us how to pray, "thy kingdom come."  When Jesus shares the parable of the wheat and tares, he explains, "as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one."  He lays the two kingdoms out for clarity.

5) This sounds so easy.  Repent to turn from the kingdom of destruction, wherein you stay at your own peril, to the kingdom of eternal life.  And yet, we don't do it, because we don't fancy ourselves to be in need of repentance.  This is the curse we live under: not only lives of destructive sin but a complete denial of our sinfulness.  The Holy Spirit not only makes us aware of our sin but give us the means to repent against it.

6) When the kingdom draws near to us, several things happen.  First, we are made aware of our sin and our need for a savior.  Second, we are made aware of our savior as the only means of our escape from the kingdom of destruction.  Third, we are given the faith to believe the savior. Fourth, our faith gives us the ability to repent and turn from the ugly kingdom to the beautiful kingdom.  Finally, as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, we pray for the people who refuse to repent and who remain in the old city.  We are aware of their predicament, we pray that we won't slip into their predicament, and if we feel ourselves stumble, we are quick to confess our sins and receive Christ's continual forgiveness for our sins, made possible by his death on the cross, a substitute death for the one we deserve.

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  It has drawn near, and it is within your grasp.  Put your faith in the savior and repent.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Repentance and Rebellion

"They have refused to repent." Jeremiah 5:3g

At the end of Genesis 18, the Lord tells Abraham of his intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, because of its thorough wickedness.  Abraham begs him to spare the cities, if he can find 50 righteous men.  God agrees, but after a comical exchange (at least it would be if it weren't so tragic), Abraham haggles him down to ten righteous men.  As we find out, God destroys Sodom, Gomorrah, and the nearby cities, because he is unable to find ten righteous men.  This definitely is tragic, but these are pagan nations. In Jeremiah 5, God is telling Jeremiah about Jerusalem, and his words sound eerily similar.  This is not a bunch of pagan cities; this is God's own city, Jerusalem. We can shake our heads at the ungodly of this world, the heathen, but within the church are many who are not regenerate, and if this passage is any indication, the unregenerate are many and the saved few.  From this passage in Jeremiah we learn...

1) Try as we might, it seems impossible to find a regenerate person.  We have enough tears praying for and pleading for the people outside the church, but we can search throughout the church and find many that seem just as lost. First John reads that one of the signs of a true Christian is that he likes hanging out with and discussing God with other Christians.  Are there many that we can share lengthy discussions about God with in the church? Does it not seem that congregants want to talk about anything BUT God?  And Jesus Christ is way off topic, it seems. Subjective Christianity seems to be the norm these days.  But, we shouldn't be surprised.  Repentance is not taught in our churches.  That is why God tells Jeremiah to, "roam to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and look now and take note."  There is no specific denomination that is pure.  There is no sect of Christianity that has complete knowledge of God.  The true, invisible church stretches across all boundaries, consists of individuals, and it is the only church that God can see.  We have to preach to the unconverted and "converted" alike, as if no one were saved.  However, we must show love as if everyone were saved.  We cannot just let someone stay lost, as if they deserved it and we didn't.  We all deserve eternal death.

2) Look at the marketplace of ideas and find that not many know what true Christianity even IS. So many contradictory theological ideas permeate the world we know. Heresies abound, especially those that have been conquered in the past.  They rear their ugly heads again and again, as if they were new and fresh and cutting-edge.  The same deadly sins run rampant within the church as they do outside.  God tells Jeremiah to, "seek in her open squares, if you can find a man, if there is one who does justice, who seeks truth, then I will pardon her." Here we hearken back to God's discussion with Abraham.  Can we find a man who does justice?  Can we find a man who seeks the truth?  Notice that the two go together.  We have many in the world, inside and outside the church, who strive for social justice, but the truth of Christ is nowhere to be found near them.  Likewise, we have many who know ABOUT Jesus, who study and learn all about him, but their hearts remain turned inward, and they don't know what to do with such knowledge.  They haven't been inspired by the Lord toward good works.  They have no urge to share or live the gospel to anyone.  Or the gospel they share is a secular invention that sounds like Christianity but does not come from the scriptures.  God's church is saved, indeed, but the church that we see with our eyes is not the church that God sees with his.

3) The visible church speaks highly of God and pretends to follow his precepts, but God tells Jeremiah that this swearing is a false one.  We cannot assume that anyone who speaks of Jesus in an uplifting way is a Christian.  It seems logical, but experience and the confirmation of God's word tells us that many in the church are hypocrites.  Indeed all of us are, especially me, in many ways, but the true Christian tries to walk upright, to be righteous, and when he fails--as he inevitably will do--he repents, because God's Spirit brings him to his knees.  Each time, living righteously comes easier, and yet still he fails, but then repentance comes easier, too.

4) God knows his people.  His eyes seek out the truth.  His Spirit abides in those whom he loves.  He disciplines his children, but his wrath abides on those who are not his children.  Discipline draws a child TOWARD the parent, but the enemy of God is driven away from the one who created him.  God allows his children to be smitten, and they are sanctified.  God allows the unregenerate to be smitten, and the hate for him builds.  They do not weaken.  They stand proudly upright and look their maker in the eye with defiance.  They clench their jaws against him.  He consumes them with truth that burns like fire, but the unregenerate refuse to hear, to learn.  They make their faces harder than rock.  They refuse to repent.

5) Just as there is no distinction between individuals in Christ, there are no people groups who are excluded from salvation--all one needs is a true faith in Jesus--so there is no distinction between the unregenerate.  Jeremiah figures that perhaps the poor and uneducated person is merely unable to understand the great gift that God has extended to his people.  Surely the great, smart ones will know the way of the Lord and his ordinances.  God responds in the negative.  They, too, have broken their bonds.  They have, like Adam, placed themselves upon the pedestal of self-idolatry.  They only live for themselves.  No one type of person is exempt from sin.  The rich fall short just as the poor.  The World has an excuse, because it does not know God (even though in their heart of hearts they do know God, and so they do not have an excuse), but the people in the Church have no such excuse, because they've heard the gospel, they have rejected it, and yet they pretend to be saved.  They hang around as if salvation could be contracted from others in the group, like an illness.

Here's the solution to this problem: all of us deserve everlasting death, but God sent his son, Jesus Christ, not to the hypocrites, because they don't need to be saved, in their own minds.  They are doing just fine, these pretenders. No, Jesus came to the broken sinners of the world, the ones who admit they have sin in their souls.  He came to save sinners, and the sinners drew to him.  Indeed, sinners who know they are sinners, who understand their condition and their fate, draw near to Christ when they feel his presence.  The hypocrites, the ones who say they have no sin, grumble when they see sinners coming to Christ.  Why should Christ come to THEM? Aren't WE his church?  Aren't we the ones who are God's chosen people?  An unrepentant sinner who has been in the church all his life and who believes that he is on the fast track to heaven, he doesn't understand why Jesus would choose people he wouldn't have anything to do with himself.

Jesus responds: these are lost sheep, each going his own way, and the Lord himself has gone out of his way, in much pain and suffering, to condescend to these lost sheep of Israel, and he has sought them out, and he has found them, and he has not lost a single one.  The sheep who aren't "lost" (which is nonsense, because all are lost, it's just that many don't believe it) watch in awe as the Lord searches the whole earth for his own.  The sheep from a different flock, who don't hear the Lord's voice, because their shepherd is another, scoff at the foolishness of Christ in seeking after those losers. He takes the lost sheep from the ends of the earth, the darkness where it had kept its head for years, since birth, and he picks it up, immobilizes it by checking its limbs, and he puts it over his shoulders and carries it back to the rest of his flock in his fold.  And all the angels in heaven rejoice when they discover that the Lord has achieved his purpose in saving what was lost.  That salvation involves repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  It doesn't matter if you are outside the church or in the church, if you don't have faith in Christ, you won't repent, you won't want to repent, or you think you have already repented, when you actually haven't.  Repentance is the primary sign of faith, and without faith one isn't saved.  Don't think you're saved just because you're "out to pasture" in the church. A saved sheep is one that was once lost but now is found.  He is a rebel who has laid down his arms and comes willingly to the king's court in sorrow and penitence.