One of the most amazing stories in the Bible is when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. To have the audacity to stand before a grave, with an audience where everyone knew the man was dead, and command him to rise from the dead is no little thing. A failure from Jesus at this miracle would have been catastrophic. Imagine if he had commanded Lazarus, and Lazarus did not rise? I mean why even try to raise the dead.
But Jesus’ purpose extended beyond even this event. He was revealing to his followers, the crowds, and even his enemies that he had authority over death. Jesus claimed, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Not only did Jesus make this claim for Lazarus’ resurrection, but more importantly, his own. The resurrection of Lazarus caused many to believe in Jesus, which is not surprising.
But not all believed. Lazarus’ resurrection caused many religious leaders to hate Jesus even more. Because people were following Jesus, he represented a loss of power, influence, and control for the religious leaders. They plotted not only to kill Jesus, but also Lazarus (John 12:10-11). How upset do you have to be to plot the murder of someone raised from the dead and someone who could raise the dead? They couldn’t stand the miracle.
But they are not alone. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day are representative of many in our day. Atheists and evolutionists reject the miracle of creation. Muslims reject the miracle of the incarnation and Jesus’ deity. Others simply reject the possibility of the miraculous because they can’t rationalize it.
But the issue is not really one of evidence or argument. It is ultimately an issue of authority. You see if there is a God who created everything, who came in human flesh, who died for the sins of the world, and who holds power over death, then that God has authority. We will have to answer to him. We are accountable to him. What it means when people can’t stand a miracle is that they don’t want to answer to the one who can do the miracle.
Francis Schaeffer recognized forty years ago that philosophy and theology follow art. Today, art comes in all forms. Rap songs that glorify sex and violence. Plays that depict the President being assasinated. A comedian holding a mock severed head of the President. Media and movies that stylize filth, debauchery, violence and murder. These are forms of “art” we are told. It is argued that “artists” and “comedians” are supposed to push boundaries, to cross lines, and to challenge comfort zones.
However it is frightening to consider these pieces of “art” might just be real. After all Picasso opined, “When we invented cubism, we had no intention of inventing cubism, but simply of expressing what was in us.”
Are these modern expressions of “art” mere self-expressions? If so, we are in deep trouble. Marcel Duchamps, another 20th century postmodern artist claimed, “It is the viewer that completes the artwork.” Could it be? Could it be that the politcal violence witnessed today with the shooting of a congressman, aides and police officers is the extension into real life of art?
Our only solution is real change. I don’t mean coming together for short moments of unity. But rather a geniune recognition that the deep seated problems with culture, art, politics, and individual citizens are all the same. We were created in God’s image, but have chosen to reject his right to rule us. We chose self, sin, violence, evil. We do not need togetherness. We do not need diligence. In our sinful condition that will ultimately lead to more diligent, unified sinfulness. We need the transforming power of Jesus Christ and his gospel to change us-to change our culture. It is high time we as Christians begin living, expressing, declaring in art, work, politics, philosophy and everyday life what is in us–Jesus Christ.
Easter Sunday 2017 is nearly here. As believers, there is not a more important day of worship for us. It is the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. Here are some things you can do to ready yourself for Easter:
- PAUSE. Take some time this week to be still. All of us are busy with many important things, but this week of passion is a week to reflect. We should pause to reflect on our sinfulness, the sacrifice of our Savior, and the certainty of our redemption in Christ. Don’t let this week be like every other week. Make time to pause and consider the weight of holy week.
- PRAY. When you pause, pray. Pray for the broken world in which we live. Sadness and heartbreak haunts persecuted and suffering believers across our world. Pray that the grace offered by the Savior who was broken and bruised for our salvation would comfort others. Lift up especially the Christians targeted by heinous and evil worldviews like ISIS and the church bombings that left more than 40 dead and more than 100 wounded in Egypt on Palm Sunday. Pray for God to give internal and external peace. Pray knowing that Jesus died not only for us, but even so that the men who carry out these attacks could experience forgiveness if they will but receive the Risen Lord.
- PREPARE. Don’t just show up at church this week. Arrive ready to worship. Be thoughtful and intentional this week to pray for the salvation of a neighbor, co-worker, family member. Invite someone to church on Easter Sunday. Prepare for your worship by seeking out others to worship the Risen Savior.
- PONDER. Consider the Crucified Savior. Ponder his suffering, his shed blood, his sacrifice, his death. Realize that because he suffered, he offers grace to others who suffer. Jesus’ victory on the cross and out of the tomb assures us of victory over our sins, our sufferings, and our situations. Ponder the victory won for us during this Passion week.
- PRAISE. Easter Sunday is a day for corporate celebration. We gather as the church on Easter Sunday to celebrate the Risen Savior, to bask in the glory of God’s vindicated Son, to live in the blessing of the saving work of Christ, and to anticipate our eternal home in heaven. But don’t wait until Easter Sunday to praise. Offer praise and thanks to the Risen Savior throughout the week.
- PROCLAIM. Easter Sunday is the day that everything changed for Jesus’ followers. Men who cowered in hiding and fear became bold proclaimers of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Christianity is the largest religion on planet earth not because of intimidation, fear, or political power. Rather, Christianity spread and still spreads because believers proclaim the penultimate event in the history of the world–the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is Risen. Will you tell someone?
If you do not already have plans for Easter, we have two services at Wilkesboro Baptist Church this Sunday. Both services will meet in our newly renovated sanctuary. Our first service is contemporary and meets at 8:50 am and our second service is traditional and meets at 11:00 am. We would love to have you join us as we proclaim the Risen Christ!
I get the privilege to serve as a professor of Western Civilization and Apologetics at Fruitland Baptist Bible College. One of the more fascinating observations in history is the rise of Christianity. Christian and secular historians alike concede that by the time Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313 granting freedom to Christians in the Roman Empire there could have been as many as 9 million Christians empire-wide. That would be 15% of the empire’s population! These numbers are even more amazing when we consider that during these early years Christianity was not granted freedom of religion and under many emperors suffered direct persecution. How could Christianity, a small religious offshoot of Judaism (a religion that had never spread evangelistically), possibly advance under such dire conditions? Observing early Christianity reveals that these believers shared the victory they had received through Jesus Christ. Michael Green in his book Evangelism in the Early Church describes the vibrant witness of early believers: “Whenever one looks in the literature of these two centuries it is the same story. Doctrinal imprecision, even imbalance, abounds; heresy is common; antinomianism is an ever-present danger; but there is no denying the zeal and the sense of discovery which marked the witness of the early Church in both their public and their private testimony, in both their written and their spoken word. It was this utter assurance of the Christians that they were right about God and Christ and salvation which in the end succeeded in convincing the pagan world that it was in error” (p. 317). Vibrant Christianity includes sharing the gospel as many believers are doing across the world. For example, see the explosive church growth in China. Here in the United States we must return to the pattern of the early church. We must preach and teach the gospel as the exclusive means to forgiveness and redemption. We must share the victory we’ve received through Jesus Christ.
Some wonderful friends of mine have recently gone through the process of fostering and adopting. Our church supports both local and international children’s homes that seek to provide a safe place for children out of broken family situations. The stories of neglected, abused, and unloved children are chilling and devastating. I cannot personally relate to being unloved as I grew up in a wonderful, loving family. But I’ve talked with people, as I’m sure you have, that have never experienced unconditional love. Lack of love breeds distrust and fear. When we don’t see that God loves us unconditionally, we tend toward fear. In Romans 8:31-39 Paul acknowledges the common fears of condemnation and separation. Not experiencing love highlights these fears. But Paul’s main point in Romans 8 is the Father’s grand declaration of love—sending Jesus to address our personal sin, our relational separation, and our eternal condemnation. Jesus came so that we could be adopted into the Father’s family (8:15) and experience true love. Paul declares further that nothing—nothing that causes us to fear—can ever separate us from the love of God. God’s true love casts out fear. I don’t know your past or your struggles. I don’t know your fears. But Paul stridently affirms that no tribulation, distress, persecution, lack, danger, death, power, authority, ruler or anything in all of creation can separate us from God’s love (8:35-39). Paul’s list is intended to be exhaustive in the sense that no fear remains that is greater than God’s love. We must then learn to bask in the glorious, overcoming, wondrous love of God. How? Walking in prayerful, humble relationship with God is the only way to experience God’s relational love. And when we do walk with God, we can experience victory over fear.
Originally published as a Sunday School Lesson for the Biblical Recorder here.
This lesson was originally published here at the Biblical Recorder online.
Imagine that you decided to take a fishing trip on the ocean. Suddenly a terrible storm came up and capsized your vessel leaving you stranded and clinging desperately to the ship’s driftwood. Finally, after several hours holding onto the driftwood, the Coast Guard arrives and casts you a life preserver. What you do is obvious. You take hold of the life preserver and receive the rescue you’ve been offered. You would be ludicrous to cling to your driftwood in rejection of life preserver that represents safety. Saving faith parallels this story. In your past and mine, we held on desperately to some form of self-righteousness or blatantly sinful driftwood. But when we realized that permanent rescue from our sin was only available through Jesus, we received offer of salvation. We put our faith in the cross as our rescue from death to life. Saving faith is victorious not because it is great faith, but because the object of saving faith (Jesus) is never failing. The book of Hebrews details the uniqueness of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law and the substitute/redeemer of mankind. Jesus is victorious. Our part in experiencing the victory of Jesus is faith. Like we did when we trusted in Jesus as our Savior, we need to continue in faith. Initial saving faith is permanent and eternal. Losing faith or walking in fear and doubt do not mean we lose our salvation. However, many of us fail to experience daily the victory Jesus has already won because we don’t walk in faith. Are you experiencing victory in your Christian life today? If not, examine whether or not you are holding on to some form of self-righteousness or sin (like the driftwood) that is taking the place of expressing continual faith in Jesus. Victorious living is possible if we will only trust in the victorious Christ.
Baptism is one of my favorite things in ministry. Having the privilege of baptizing believers as a testimony of their faith in Jesus is a true joy. From baptizing my son to baptizing in a frigid baptistery in South Africa, I’ve had some truly memorable baptism experiences. But what I love most about baptism is what it illustrates. In Romans 6, Paul describes our salvation experience using baptism. We were “baptized” with Christ in his death. Jesus took our sins on the cross. When he died, our sins died with him. When he was buried, we were buried with him. When he rose, we rose with him. The observance of baptism, being buried under the water and raised out of the water is an outward illustration of an inward reality. Baptism pictures outwardly the victory received inwardly through our faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. Our salvation then is an identity change. We are no longer mastered by sin’s power. Rather, we’ve received the new life, the life of the resurrected Christ. Paul’s point in this text is that we have victory over sin precisely because Christ won the victory over sin. Because we identify with him, we experience victory with him. Paul challenged his readers to consider themselves dead to sin and to present themselves to Christ for righteousness. We consider ourselves dead to sin and walk in righteousness not to earn our salvation, but rather because we have been saved. Our identity is now found in Jesus. Our sin died with Jesus on the cross. Our old life was buried with Christ in the tomb. Our new life is now the resurrected life of Jesus. Our daily challenge is to live in the victory of our present position in Christ rather than live in the defeat of the sins of our past. This post was originally published as a Sunday School lesson for the Biblical Recorder here.