When Peter preached in Jerusalem in Acts 2, he reminded his hearers that they had just crucified the Messiah of Israel.  Acts 2:37 tells us that when they heard this, they were “cut to the heart.

Seeing their sin and rejection of Jesus, they asked, “What shall we do?”  Peter told them to “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”   We then read in Acts 2:41 that 3000 people turned to Christ that day!

The crowd that day understood that for a person to receive forgiveness and enter a relationship with God there must be repentance.  And the word repentance here in the original language simply means to turn or have a change of heart.   They understood they were turning from their sin  and turning to Jesus.  Baptism was then an outward sign of this inward change.

It is impossible for us to have a relationship with God if we do not accept God’s remedy, which is His Son crucified for our sin.  That is the starting point for us to enter a new life in Christ, where we are then given the gift of the Holy Spirit who will then begin to change us from the inside out.

As we enter Mark 3:22-31 this week, we what an unrepentant heart looks like.  The Scribes who came from Jerusalem, instead of acknowledging and accepting Jesus, accused Him as a mad man.  Instead of acknowledging their sin and turning to Christ, they accused Christ of being possessed by Satan and attributing His works to Satan.  For this, Jesus told them that they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit.  This made them guilty of the one unforgivable sin, the rejection of God’s Son and the work of God.  It is impossible to be forgiven and saved without accepting Jesus as the Son of God and His works on earth of God Himself. (For more info on this doctrine of the blaspheme of the Holy Spirit click here)

At the end of Mark 3:33-36 we see how Jesus teaches us through His family, who earlier accused Him of being out of His mind (Mark 3:21), of what a repentant heart looks like.  It seems like Jesus is being rude to His family.  When requesting a special audience with Jesus, Jesus dismisses them and tells the crowd in vs. 35, “Who are my mothers and my brothers?  Whoever does the will of God!”

What we will see in the context here is that the will of God again is accepting Jesus as He claims to be, the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world.  When we do that then what we find the condition of salvation fully met, turning from ourselves and sin and turning to Jesus.  When that happens, what we find in John 1:12-13 would be true of us as well, ““to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Advertisements

If God Showed Up!

January 9, 2018

Some argue because of disease, death,  and evil that either God does not exist or that God is uncaring and indifferent.   Many look at a broken world and the suffering around us conclude that the Bible’s notion of a loving God must be wrong.  But if God did show up, what would He look like and what would He do?

We need to look no further than the life of Jesus to find out!   This is one of the reasons that we have four gospels, each to remind us that Jesus truly is the Son of God, God who had come to us.  (Mark 1:1)  In our Bible study this week in Mark 3:7-22 we see some very specific examples about how Jesus is the Son of God.

First we see great crowds following Jesus.   In Mark 3:7  the text tells us that “a great crowd followed from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon.”  In Mark 3:9, these crowds were so great that Jesus had to have His disciples launch a boat on the Sea of Galilee “lest they crushed Him.”  In Mark 3:20, we see when Jesus entered a home that a “crowd gathered again.”

An interesting detail in the text are some of the territories Mark mentions in vs. 7.  Some of the places were as far away as 200 miles covering an area of 15,000 square miles.  Let us remember that during this time, the only way to travel on land was by foot or a mule or horse.  What this meant is that some people were traveling up to 2 weeks to see Jesus.

Their commitment and thirst for God should be an example to us.  So often we personally struggle with making sacrifices when it comes to the things of God.  When you include the time it took for a round trip with those traveling to see Jesus here, their commitment may have been longer than a month.   Imagine leaving everything behind for a month to see Jesus!

I often reflect on a story I heard years ago from a missionary from Papua New Guinea.   Papua New Guinea is nation which is an island of mountainous jungles that separate hundreds of tribes by difficult terrain.  It is place known as primitive and as a place where more languages are spoken than any other place on earth.  These languages developed over centuries because of how difficult it is for a tribe to travel and visit another tribe.

The missionary was able to bring the gospel to several tribes in the north and mentioned to the men of one tribe that he was holding a Bible training conference about 2 days journey away.  One man, who made his living raising a herd of 100 pigs decided to go to the conference.  When the man arrived, the missionary asked him, “who is taking care of your pigs?”  The man answered, “God was.” The missionary then asked “what do you mean?”  The man told him that he simply left his herd in the jungle and prayed that God would take care of them.

Several months later, when the missionary was visiting the man’s village, he was interested to find out how the man did after he returned.  He discovered that not only did the pigs do well, but to the man’s surprise two of the sows gave birth to the largest healthiest litters the man had ever seen.  The point of the story is how God takes care of us when we are willing to sacrifice for Him.

If God were to show up, would we be willing to travel by foot from Howell, NJ to Gettysburg, PA.  Yet that is what people did, they dropped everything even when it meant trusting God with a month’s journey and provision.

Another reason that shows us that Jesus truly is the Son of God in Mark 3 is how Jesus healed people of their diseases and delivered many from evil spirits.   In Mark 3:10-11 we read that Jesus “had healed many so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.  And whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they fell down and before Him and cried out ‘You are the Son of God.

Throughout the gospel of Mark we see Christ’s authority over all diseases.   Jesus healed the leper, He healed those who were paralyzed and handicapped, he gave sight to the blind, restored the hearing of the mute, and healed many others affected by disease.   We even see in the gospels Jesus’ authority over death when He raised people from the dead.  All of this shows us that truly Jesus is the Son of God.

Mark 3 also shows us that in the realm of unseen evil, Christ has authority over Satan and evil spirits.  Here in Mark they are called “unclean spirits.”  These spirits are angels that were created by God, but had fallen from God after following Satan in His great rebellion against God.  Now these spirits have been temporarily cast to earth until the judgment.  These demonic spirits still exist today and still raise havoc in the hearts and minds of people.  Yet when a person who is oppressed by them comes in touch with Jesus, the text tells us that they “fall down” and confess that Jesus is the Son of God.  In other words the recognize who Jesus is and His absolute authority over them.

A third example in Mark 3 that shows us Jesus as the Son of God is how He appointed leaders and prepared leaders to one day take the gospel into the whole world.  In Mark 3:14-15 we see how Jesus “appointed” them that “they might be with Him and He might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.”    

Because Jesus understood that His ministry on earth would finish the cross, resurrection and ascension, He knew from the beginning the proclamation of the gospel would depend on these men whom He would prepare and train.  I find it amazing how Christ chose simple fishermen with one corrupt tax collector to transform our world for God.   God takes the humble simple things of this world to confound the wise.  Any man when in the hands of God can do great things for Him.

A final example we see in Mark 3 that points to Jesus as being God is how unbelief, cynicism and opposition was there every step of the way as Jesus preached, healed and walked this earth.  In Mark 3:6 we see that after Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath the “Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against Him, how to destroy Him.”  In Mark 3:19, we see Judas Iscariot who would ultimately betray Him.  In Mark 3:21 we see how own family wanted to “seize Him for they were saying, ‘He is out of His mind.”  In Mark 3:22 we see the “Scribes who came down from Jerusalem saying ‘He is possessed by Beelzebub and by the prince of demons He casts out the demons.” 

Still today we find many opposing Jesus and His followers.  The ministry, Voice of the Martyrs, which is committed to rallying the church to pray for the persecuted church states that there have been more martyred and persecuted for their faith in the last 100 years than all 19 previous centuries combined.  We see the slaughter and imprisonment of Christians in the Middle East and Asia.  We see the opposition to the gospel message right here in United States and throughout Europe.  Evil always will oppose the things of God and until Jesus comes again and brings final judgment here upon earth.

Let us rest in the fact that we are following a Savior who is the Creator of the heavens and earth, “through whom and by whom all things are created.” (John 1:3; Col 1:16)  We have a Savior who heals and delivers us from evil.  We have a Savior who wants to use us to share His love with a world around us, no matter what our education and station of life is.  We have a Savior, who tells us that even when we are persecuted we are “blessed.” (Matt 5:10)  He is worthy of our all in all, even if we have to travel a few weeks and take month off to follow and be with Him!

As we begin 2018, many of us have made resolutions or at least thought about ways to enhance our lives.  This annual exercise points to the fact that we all feel our weaknesses and shortcomings in many ways.     The Bible reminds us of this when it declares, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23)

The problem with resolutions and self-improvement is our lack of power  to bring them to pass.   We acutely feel that we need to change, but often fall short within ourselves.  In our weakness we discover that we need something beyond ourselves to improve ourselves.  Frustration with our diets, exercise plans, and other resolutions only point out our need for something greater than ourselves.

That is what makes the gospel good news.  Now through faith in Jesus Christ, we not only become right with God, but then through the power of His Holy Spirit we have the resources to change into better people.    Every self-help regimen or religious system will fail to embrace this concept, since it seeks  improvement through man’s efforts rather than God’s power.

In our study this week in Mark 2:23-3:6, we find a group of Pharisees who were trusting in their religion, rather than believing in Jesus.    The occasion was simple enough.  Jesus’ disciples were plucking grain as they traveled through a field.  The disciples were probably having a light breakfast or a mid-morning snack .  The problem with the Pharisees was that they believed that Jesus’ disciples were breaking the Mosaic Law.

Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” they asked Jesus.  The reason they believed the disciples broke the law here is because of the man man made traditions and rules they had added to the law.   They believed that keeping these traditions and man-made rules was as great as the law itself.  They believed by keeping them a person could be made right before God.  The problem was that they misunderstood the original purpose of the Law.

The purpose of the Law of Moses was basically two-fold.  First, the law was given to Moses to provide moral guidance for the nation of Israel.  God’s never intended that the law would make a person right with God.  This is one of the reasons that within the Law of Moses God also gave a sacrificial system.  When a person broke the law, the sacrifices outlined within the law made a way for the worshipper to find forgiveness through the shed blood of an animal.

A second reason for the Law was to reveal the sinful condition of man’s heart.  While the Law did provide moral guidance, it was never intended to provide the power to change our sinful heart, but rather expose it.  The Apostle Paul in Romans 7:7-8, put it this way, “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’  But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” 

Paul is pointing out that the sin wasn’t produced by the breaking of the law, but that the sin was already in our hearts.  For example, the covetousness within my heart is now revealed by the law which tells me not to covet.   We can apply this to lying, stealing, taking the Lord’s name in vain or anything else we know to be wrong according to God’s word.

What makes the gospel glorious is that though we are law breakers we can now find forgiveness and “righteousness” through faith in Jesus Christ.   The Bible teaches that the Law which condemns us is no longer held against us when we put our faith in Jesus, who  took the penalty  through His own shed blood for our sins when He went to the cross.

Paul in Colossians 2:13-14 put it this way, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses…  God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

This is good news of the gospel is that now in Christ, I am made right with God.  The good news of the gospel is that when I believe in Jesus we receive His Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to live in a new way of life!   “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”  (Romans 8:11)

 

 

All Things Can Become New

December 26, 2017

As we look ahead to 2018 let us reflect on the new life we can have through Jesus Christ.   “If anyone is in Christ He is a new creation.  The old has passed away, behold the new has come.”  (II Cor 5:17)

We should be encouraged that as we look to the future there is always a new beginning, new direction and a new vision for life.  Perhaps one of the bedrock truths of our joy in the Lord is that He is a God who “makes all things beautiful in His time.”  (Ecc 3:11)

As we think about a new year, let us reflect on several truths that help us look to the future with hope from the Bible.  When we receive Jesus Christ, the Bible teaches us that we are “born again.”  (John 3:1-10)  What does it mean to be born again?  First it means that when we believe in Jesus, we go from being  spiritually dead and alienated from God because of sin to receiving forgiveness and a restored relationship with God.

Colossians 1:21-22 puts it this way, “You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,  he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”  This point of transformation happens when we believe in Jesus in what He accomplished at the cross at His death.   Faith’s direction must be on Him, not on ourselves.

To be born again also means that a new way of life has been opened up to us.   Theologically this is called “sanctification” where through the power of God’s Spirit we go from being habitual sinners to living in a new way of life, pleasing to God.  Going back to Colossians 3:7-10, the Apostle Paul explained it this way, “In these you too once walked, when you were living in them… anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth… put off the old self with its practices  and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

Now through identifying with Jesus and the power we receive through God’s Holy Spirit, we can walk in a new way of lifem  “…buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  (Romans 6:4)    We no longer have to be defined by behavior, thoughts, and emotions that are destructive to our souls, but now through Christ we can “walk in newness of life.”

A final truth of our new life in Christ is a new vision for tomorrow.   As I walk with God, God Himself will now guide me to have a vision to improve the world around me.  This ultimately will come as I stop serving myself and begin serving the cause of God by serving others.  Ultimately, this is where true joy is found and where our true purpose is discovered.    Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do.” 

While our good works cannot give us new life, that only comes through our faith in Jesus, the new life that He gives us will produce in us good works.  It is with that view that Jesus said, “you are the light of the world…  let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  (Matt 5:14-16)

Ultimately these good works will lead us to share Jesus with others, give financially to support the work of God, getting involved in a local church and praying to see the gospel advanced around the world through missions.  As we look to 2018, let us ask God to give us a new vision as we celebrate our new life we have in Christ.  That is a vision that is worth living for as we look ahead to the future!

In John 4:9-10 we read about God’s perfect Christmas gift, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.”   Jesus is the reason for this season!

There is no greater place to look when trying to understand the love of God than to Jesus and what He did for us, beginning at the manger all the way through to the cross.  As we celebrate Christmas it is really a day where we can celebrate God’s love and His gift to us!

John made it clear in his letter that it is not us who loved God first but that “God loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin…”  It is impossible for us to begin to understand love in its deepest way until we have gazed upon the depth of Christ’s love for us that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

It was at the cross that we discover “the full extent” of God’s love for us.  Despite who we are, despite our sin, our failures, and all the ugliness of who we are, Jesus shows us God’s amazing and unconditional love for us.    Pastor Tim Keller expressed it this way,   “Here’s the gospel: you’re more sinful than you ever dared believe; but you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.”

The deep healing in our hearts and minds begins when we understand that through Jesus we can be complete, despite all of the mistakes we have made, despite all of our inadequacies and weaknesses, despite all of the hang ups that we might have.  God loves us unconditionally and there is no greater demonstration of God’s unconditional love than Jesus Christ.  He is the reason for this season.

If you are struggling with God’s love and His full acceptance of who you are,  look no further than than Jesus.  For “God so loved the world He gave His only begotten son.”   He is the perfect Christmas gift!  Isn’t it good news that we can open that gift any time?

The Joy of Jesus!

December 12, 2017

When the angel  announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in the field, he said this in Luke 2:11, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”   And the word here in the original language for great is mega,  the same word the they use for mega millions lottery jackpot.  It has the idea of a large amount.

Why would an angel from God describe Christ’s birth as good news and mega-joy?   First, when Jesus was born, He was God who became man,  Immanuel, God with us.  He would take on the form of man to show us the way back to God.  “…though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”  (Phil 2:6-7)   The angel understood this and it was a point of celebration or mega joy!

Another reason for mega-joy is Jesus came to rescue us from darkness and the consequence of sin.   Ultimately Jesus would go to a bloody cross so that now through faith in Him we could be forgiven, receive salvation from sin and have eternal life.   Isaac Watts, that great 18th century evangelist, understood this when he wrote that great Christmas Carol,  Joy to the World,  “no more let sins and sorrows grow… far as the curse is found.”

A final reason for mega-joy is that through Jesus we can be radically changed and transformed from the inside out.  Jesus put it this way in John 10:10, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.”  This is different than religion that tries to change us from the outside in.  In John 15:11,  Jesus promised us this when we invite Him into our lives,  “…that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full!

So as we celebrate this third week of Advent: Joy, let us remember that when Jesus came to earth, mega-joy is a possibility, even in the face of trials, difficulties and a trouble filled world.   May we be able to say this Christmas season with Nehemiah the prophet, “the joy of the Lord is our strength.”

When the angels announced Jesus’ birth they praised God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”  (Luke 2:14)   As we continue to celebrate Advent, our focus this second week will be God’s peace.  But what exactly does it mean to have God’s peace?

First the gospel is good news because through Jesus we can have peace with God.  The Bible teaches that before Jesus, because of sin, all men are enemies with God.  (Romans 5:10)    Sin points us away from the things of God, which puts us in a hostile relationship with Him.  But now through Jesus we can be forgiven and receive a new life where we have personal relationship and friendship with God!  “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

A second area of peace is with one another.  We look at the world around us and we see so much conflict within marriages and family, in the work place, in the arena of politics and of course between nations.  A miracle happens when the human heart is touched by Jesus, we go from being hostile and bitter towards others and can now become “peacemakers.”  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peace makers for they shall be called the Sons of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)

As our lives are transformed through the power of God, we begin to put away malice, deceit, slander, and other qualities that import conflict into relationships and then clothe ourselves like Jesus with compassion, love, and kindness.  (Colossians 3:12)   When that happens, peace within our homes, businesses and nation is possible.

A final area of peace is within our hearts.  Jesus promises us this when we believe on Him,  “in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)   In a hurried world where there are so many demands and distractions, peace is often elusive and far away.  But one reason that the gospel is good news is because when we invite Jesus into our lives peace is a possibility within.

Isaiah 26:3  tells us that God keeps “in perfect peace” those whose mind is stayed on Him!   Philippians 4:6-7  promises us a “peace that passes all understanding” when we go to God in prayer with thanksgiving, instead of worrying and fretting and trying to work out our problems within our own strength.   When we receive Jesus into our lives and have a personal relationship with God, we now can go to Him and discover this promised peace!

Without Jesus and guidance from God’s word, peace will remain far away in our relationship with God, with one another and within ourselves.  But let us praise God this Christmas Season that because a Savior is born there is peace available to all who call upon His name!