Extraordinary things

Luke 5:26
And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

  • I’ve heard of, but not really had time to catch up with or respond to, some of the amazing things that happened for people during Holy Week. Mostly, a sense of deep appreciation for Christ and the Cross seems to have pervaded, once again, everything we do.
  • The silence and intensity of the Tenebrae service on Maundy Thursday combined with our Good Friday services at our branches reminded me that believers are always “in the mood” for the Cross. We want to see that which is hard to look at, because this is where we gain our assurance of God’s love. This is where salvation happens for us. We can’t turn our eyes away from Him.
  • The joy of Easter is no flash in the pan. It is timeless. All true joy must be. Easter rids us of the thought that it is too late or that not enough has been done. Jesus changes the rules of the universe by asserting His position as the King of the Universe. Whatever Jesus is in charge of is going to be worked out. It is going to go well, even if it appears not to be going well at this moment.
  • Gratitude is the primary sign of authentic Christian spiritual life.

Lord, today may not be one of those days when I feel  like shouting for joy, but even if it is not, help me to understand that being amazed and filled with awe about something You’ve done is a standard feature of life with You and life in You. I am grateful for You and to You no matter what. Amen. 

 

Risen!

Luke 24:6-7

He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

One of the hidden comforts behind the soul-bursting joy of the resurrection is that even as disciples gazed stupefied into the empty tomb, angels were urging them to “remember how he told you.” The angels know that the thing we humans need most is to remember the words of our God; our biggest problems have all started with our forgetting what God said.

To remember something we were told is to have been told it. That Jesus told His disciples (over and over again) what would happen showed them and us that God was in control the whole time. He was. He is.

Horrible things happen. Messiahs get crucified. In everything, however, never forget that God is in control. In fact, everything is working out, in the end, according to His plan and not another’s. We always forget this. Today stands as a huge reminder. God makes the whole world notice. He fills His churches with believers and skeptics alike. He gets history’s attention. We sing “He is Risen,” but we also sing that “we know who holds tomorrow.” We do. Today, we remember.

He is Risen Indeed!

 

 

 

Every Tear, One Lamb

Revelation 21:4
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

This is one of the verses for tonight’s Good Friday services at two of our locations. (I’m giving you here a few notes from my sermon tonight.) I’ve paired Revelation 21:4 with many related verses throughout Scripture to focus on the connection between Jesus’ role as God’s sacrificial lamb and God’s promise to wipe away our every tear in heaven.

First, some thoughts about tears and crying…

  • Crying is often uncontrollable, which is one of the main reasons it is often undesirable.
  • It can be about any set of strong emotions, good or bad.
  • The crying and tears we’re most concerned with have to do with the venting of our pain, hurt, sorrow.
  • Christian faith would identify the root of our sorrow to be sin.
  • The promise that Jesus will wipe away our tears in Heaven is one of the most memorable in Scripture, but where does it come from and how does it work? What does it mean?

Looking at Revelation 21:4’s context a bit is helpful…

Revelation 21:1-4

The New Heaven and the New Earth

            [1] Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. [2] And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. [3] And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. [4] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

The words translated “every tear” appear in another place in Revelation…

Revelation 7:9-17

A Great Multitude from Every Nation

            [9] After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, [10] and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” [11] And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, [12] saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

            [13] Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” [14] I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

            [15] “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

            [16] They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.

            [17] For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This last verse shows us a clear connection between The Lamb and our tears. The Lamb is a name for Jesus associated with today, Good Friday. Nearly every mention of a lamb in the Bible is tied to that lamb’s death. Nearly every lamb in the Bible is a “dead-lamb-walking.” Revelation may use the word Lamb more than any other to refer to Jesus Christ. The only way He can be Lord, Savior, Redeemer, Deliverer, Healer, etc. is to first and foremost be The Lamb, the Dead Lamb, The Sacrificed Lamb, The Lamb Who Dies because of and for someone else. If you have tears in your life or in your heart, you need the Lamb.

If you want any good in your life and soul, it has to start with Good Friday. The star of the show on Good Friday is none other than the Lamb. Throughout the entire Bible, people anywhere and everywhere have been directed to one place when they needed a breakthrough from and for God… the Lamb.

In a precursor to what this day is about, Abraham brought his son Isaac up a mountain to be sacrificed, he believed at God’s behest. Isaac asks humanity’s question in Genesis 22:6-8.

Genesis 22:6-8

            [6] And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. [7] And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” [8] Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

And God did provide a lamb. He did that time, and it stands for how it did it for all time through His Son. Unlike Abraham, who’s son was spared, God the Father had to watch the knife of death plunge into His One and Only Son.

In Isaiah 53:7, centuries before Good Friday happened, the prophet Isaiah wrote of Jesus…

Isaiah 53:7

            He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

In the book of Acts, Luke references this prophecy as it was read by Philip to the Ethiopian, who had asked for Christian faith and the salvation of Jesus to be explained to him…

Acts 8:32

            Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.

Christian hope starts only with a condemned lamb. Christian comfort comes only from the suffering of this lamb. He shed His blood to wipe away our sins and our tears.

In the Gospel of John, no surprise since John also wrote Revelation, Jesus was identified first as The Lamb by another John, John the Baptist…

John 1:29-36

Behold, the Lamb of God

            [29] The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! [30] This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ [31] I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” [32] And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. [33] I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ [34] And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

            [35] The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, [36] and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

The connection with Passover and how we are to live our lives as Christians is brought out by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:7.

1 Corinthians 5:7

            Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

And our call to holiness as well as our assurance of ransom and purification are also tied to only the Lamb by Peter in 1 Peter 1:19.

1 Peter 1:17-19

            [17] And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, [18] knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, [19] but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

And if we go back to Revelation and skip to the end of the story, we see that Heaven is a place where the worship of every single saved person will be eternally directed to The Lamb. All our hopes are pinned on this Lamb. All our prayers are answered by this Lamb. All our comfort derives from this Lamb. All our healing depends on this Lamb. And how does this Lamb do all this for us? What did He do to be able to provide all this for us? He died.

Revelation 5:1-14

The Scroll and the Lamb

            [1] Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. [2] And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” [3] And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, [4] and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. [5] And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

            [6] And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. [7] And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. [8] And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. [9] And they sang a new song, saying,

            “Worthy are you to take the scroll

                        and to open its seals,

            for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

                        from every tribe and language and people and nation,

            [10] and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

                        and they shall reign on the earth.”

[11] Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, [12] saying with a loud voice,

            “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

            to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

            and honor and glory and blessing!”

[13] And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

            “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

            be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!  

[14] And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

If you are going to weep and shed tears, and those tears are the tears of pain, anguish, despair…

… then the One offering this greatest of all comfort has to possess the greatest of all ability to provide it.

The testimony of Scripture is that this Lamb is Jesus Christ. It is His death as the Lamb sacrificed in our place that we remember and rely on today. Because only He died for us and for our sins…

Revelation 21:4

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

The beginning of the next chapter in Revelation, the last chapter in the Bible, continues with this…

Revelation 22:1-5

The River of Life

            [1] Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb [2] through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. [3] No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. [4] They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. [5] And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Do you have sins you need to be forgiven tonight?

Do you need your hope restored?

Do you have tears you need to have wiped away?

Do you need healing of any kind, of every kind?

Then fix your eyes on The Lamb.

Jesus the Lamb became sin for us on the cross per 2 Corinithians 5:20-21.

2 Corinthians 5:20-21

            [20] Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. [21] For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

He suffered beyond measure to become every one of our sins on the Cross, and, therefore, every one of our tears. Through Jesus alone, God wipes away both. Amen.

If We Die

1 Thessalonians 4:15
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.

I know. The title should be “when we die.” There’s no “if” to it, right? Well, not according to the Bible. At some point the Lord will return, and though we argue back and forth about it, most agree on the plain meaning of many of the words in the Bible concerning this. Here, in 1st Thessalonians, there is clearly a time when the Lord returns and people are still alive. They will be caught in the air, but don’t get to cut the line in front of those who have died. Now, if we can possibly step aside from the usual wrangling about this verse and others like it, I’d like to look at something with you. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christians get to talk about death differently. This is amazing. Death is temporary. Death is not something every Christian will experience. Death is matter of fact and death’s days are now numbered. We can call it “falling asleep.” We’re not afraid of it anymore. There will soon be a day when there is no death, when death itself is a mere memory. And, in fact, it is plausible to say “if we die” rather than “when we die.” Praise God for His goodness and victory. It will be great shouting “He is Risen” once more to gathered crowds of believers on the Lord’s Day when we recall that first Lord’s Day (Easter), that first day He returned from the dead and death would never be the same.

Lord, thank You for Your resurrection from the dead. You conquered sin and death. You really did. I forget about this often. Help me forget about it less often and be profoundly encouraged by the facts of it. Thank you that your death brought about the death of death for all who believe. Amen!

Belonging

Romans 7:4
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

One of the “secrets” of discipleship is belonging to Christ on a daily, hourly basis. It is not something I do just once or once in a while; it is ongoing. It is not a prayer for salvation (despite the blessing that such a prayer is) that accomplishes this, but a life flowing from salvation. This is what honors God. This is what He says “well done” to. Bearing fruit always follows belonging. And, in order to belong to “Him who has been raised from the dead” I have to disassociate, via His death, with any and all competition with Him in my heart. On a practical level, if I belong to Christ, it means…

  1. I identify with Him and as His.
  2. I focus on my relationship with Him, not my results for Him.
  3. I stay dead to the law; I do not pick up new religion, no matter how tempted I am to shore things up in my life.
  4. I have brothers; I am not alone. I do not believe in loneliness as the world offers it. I do not wallow in what He commands me to reject.
  5. My life is not my own and I am not going to try to get it back.
  6. Christ’s life was not His own. Much as He may have wanted, He did not exert control over His own destiny; He submitted to the will of His Father. This is why anyone who trusts in Him also belongs to Him.
  7. All my problems arise from my forgetting Who I belong to.
  8. Chronic hurt feelings and “justified” grudges are a sign that I have or am trying to buy my life back from God. It is the insanity of thinking that I do not want to belong anymore, of choosing separation from God. Unforgiveness is turning from Heaven to Hell. My inner monologue about it means nothing. If I have to tell myself that I am being honest with myself, then I am not; the truth is not in me. My “eye” then is darkness as Jesus described in Matthew 6:23.
  9. Belonging to Christ is an inexhaustible source of deep comfort, joy, and peace.
  10. Once I am soaked clear through with the knowledge that I belong to God, I have zero relationship problems. In time, every bad experience with another – from the awkward to the painful – blows away in the wind and never returns. Never. It is amazing how comprehensive Christ’s repair of our lives turns out to be. In the end, God takes care of what belongs to Him.
  11. Remembering that I belong to Him takes real time every day. I have to experience it every day to own it every day. There is no drive through window for spiritual maturity. I have to cook it from scratch every day with time alone, space, and a Bible. (Strong coffee helps too… just my opinion.)

Lord, even today, help me remember who I am to You, in You, and because of You. I’m Yours. I belong to You. Forgive me for forgetting this all the time. Help me to get more help from You and less from myself! Amen. 

Unrecognized Provision

Exodus 16:15
When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

Sometimes God provides for us, but we don’t recognize it. He gives us bread that we don’t want to eat, but it is for our good. There are forms of this in our lives today that it has taken me years to identify and appreciate. Here are a few…

  1. Suffering. Paul makes it clear in Philippians 1:29 that he views God’s two great provisions as 1) faith and 2) suffering. They have been granted to us “for the sake of Christ.” Strangely, much of modern Christian life seems designed to reject suffering as a provision and to see it, rather, as a curse. The curse-view of suffering turns out to spoil the gift of faith as well through making spiritual life a pursuit of personal comfort instead of a pursuit of spiritual maturity.
  2. Weakness. The famous verse, 2 Corinthians 12:9, puts it plainly, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Weakness is something we are to boast in! In Christ, it is a source of strength because it is an immediate motivation for relying on God. If we depend on God and His grace rather than anything in ourselves, we are indeed strong!
  3. Exposure. Paul, in 1 Timothy 1:16, writes about receiving “mercy” from God in the fact that everyone could see his foibles and fallenness. He was made an example of in order to display God’s perfect patience. My instinct is to cover up, but the only “cover up” Scripture endorses is that provided by love (1 Peter 4:8). Even here, however, the implication is that a multitude of sins are out in the open and known. They are confessed, not concealed.

Lord, help me recognize the surprising ways You supply me with food to eat and directions to take. Suffering, weakness, and exposure would never be things I would choose, but if choosing You means that I must receive these “gifts” in order to receive the outcomes they ensure in terms of faith and maturity, then I pray that You would “bring it on.” Thy will be done in my life. Thy glory be praised. Amen. 

Before and after, or always?

Romans 7:24
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

The hot debate concerning Romans 7 seems to play out in the life of every believer. Some say that Romans 7 is before Christ and Romans 8 is after. Before Christ you’re a sinner, after Christ you are not. This, however, bears no resemblance to the experience of any Christian who is living or who has ever lived. I get the other points behind this “before and after” view, especially concerning the verifiable difference in behavior that faith in Christ must make in a person if that faith is to be considered valid, but Paul seems to be saying more. He seems to be saying that life IN Christ is a struggle against sin too. And it certainly is. This admission, however, takes nothing away from the difference faith makes. Before Christ, I sin and all I have are consequences here and forever. After or IN Christ, I sin and I have His death for my sin on the cross as the full remedy for it and its consequences here and forever. This doesn’t mean that I don’t sow SOME of what I reap, but, IN Christ, I reap in eternity what He sowed for me through His death and resurrection, through His kept promise of the empty tomb.

Lord, it is not a rhetorical question. Who will deliver me from the body of death? Jesus Christ! Thank You Father for sending Your Son Who saves all who believe, even me. Remake our lives (Per Romans 8:6) by making our mindset to be Your Spirit of life and peace. Amen.