Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"My God, My God"

It was near the end of the Civil War and the surrender of the Confederacy was at hand.  A Union General came to President Lincoln saying, “Sir, the surrender is just days away, and I was wondering what treatment you were planning for all those who led the army of traitors against us?  Lincoln turned to the General and said, “There’s only one treatment that’s fitting.  I intend to treat them as if they never left.”  Now how do you suppose he left the President – happy or sad?

At the end of John 7 there is one of the most controversial passages in the whole Bible.  In certain translations you won’t even find it in the body of the text, but in the footnotes.  St. Augustine had such doubts about this passage that he said it should be considered subscriptural for fear that women might use it to justify their infidelity.  How could he say such a thing?  Before his conversion, Augustine and infidelity were close friends.

Even a Bible scholar with the theological acuity of Alexander Maclaren writes, “The story of the woman taken in adultery is judged by the best critics to be out of place here…”  And yet, the context is crucial.

Think of it.  Two chapters earlier Jesus pronounces the first of His seven “I am” statements. He says to the gathered crowd, “I am the Bread of Life.”  It’s only hours after He fed 5000 men and who knows how many women with five loaves of bread and two fish.  So, when He sees the crowd, many of whom He had just fed, He says to them, “Why labor for bread that doesn’t satisfy…I am the Bread of Life.”  You see, the context is essential to properly understanding His name – “The Bread of Life”.

The same is true in John 8.  Now notice He doesn’t say, “I am the reflector of light.  He says, “I am the Light.”  It’s His second “I am” statement and it comes on the heels of His encounter with the adulterous woman and her wicked accusers.  The context is critical.  The first revelation of Jesus’ identity comes as He faces the starving masses.  The second revelation comes on the heels of a perfect portrait of human darkness.  It’s hard to imagine darkness much greater than the spiritual darkness of those religious accusers.  The woman comes to acknowledge Him as Lord, and her accusers simply slither away to fight His lordship another day.

But there’s more to the context than that.  The Bible says in verse 20, “Jesus spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put.”  There are no wasted words in Scripture.

The temple treasury was located in the court of women, inside the court of the Gentiles.  Around this court, against the wall, were thirteen trumpet-shaped containers into which worshippers would drop their money.  Into the first two trumpets the Jews would drop their half-shekel temple tax for temple upkeep.  Into the next two they deposited their proceeds for the purchase of sacrificial pigeons for a woman’s purification.  Into the next trumpet-shaped container would go money to purchase the firewood for the sacrifice.  Into the next two would flow funds for the purchase of incense and the use of the golden altar vessels.  The court of the Gentiles was a busy place and any Jew wanting communion with God had to pay his dues to get it. 

But there’s something even more significant about this place.  On the first night of the Feast of the Tabernacles, four great candelabras were lighted in that same court.  It’s said that when they were lighted the light from these candelabras was so bright that it bathed every street and every corner of Jerusalem.  They burned these candelabras from sundown to sunup that first night of the Feast, and while the light poured forth the greatest, wisest, “holiest” men in Israel would dance before the Lord singing songs of praise while all the people waited.

Now think of it.  Why would Jesus come here to announce that He is the Light of the World?    To testify to all of creation that there is no greater than He.  For notice what He says, “I am the Light of the World.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

So take all of that information and come to the cross.  Come to the place in time when that Light is extinguished.  In Matthew 27:45 we see that in the third hour, half say through the six hours of the crucifixion, the land is plunged into a deep darkness.  And near to the third hour of darkness the once quiet Son of God cries out in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Now think of it.  What we will see on Sunday is that the heart of Christianity is the Gospel.  The heart of the Gospel is the cross.  The heart of the cross is this utterance.  And the heart of this utterance is the incontrovertible evidence of His victory (and through Him ours) in the midst of the spiritual war.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to read Matthew 27:45-51 and I John 1:5-9 and consider the following questions:

1.      When is the first time “darkness” is mentioned in Scripture?

2.      What role does darkness play in the Exodus?  (Exodus 5-14)

3.      What are the theological implications of darkness?

4.      How does God demonstrate His consistency in Egypt and at the cross?

5.      What is the answer to Jesus’ question in Matthew 26:46?  (See Psalm 22:3)

6.      How is the punishment of God on the Light of the World greater than His punishment of the “bearer of light”?

7.      How do these words of Jesus fulfill the instruction of Leviticus 16?

8.      What does the torn curtain indicate in verse 51?

9.      How do the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit accomplish their victory over Satan in the midst of the darkness?

10.  How do the words, “Jesus is watching you,” move from fear to faith? 

See you Sunday as we continue looking at more evidence of victory.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Battle of the Soul

Barnhouse tells the story of a fearful old man who lay dying in Scotland.  The minister, an understanding man, asked him if he had been a shepherd.  The old man replied that he had watched the sheep many a day.  “And,” asked the minister, “did you never stand on the hillside and watch the wind drive a cloud across the valley?”  “Many a time,” said the old man.  “And when the shadow of the cloud came racing along the heather, coming toward you and your flock, were you afraid?”  The old man drew himself up on his elbow and cried, “Afraid of a shadow?  Jamie has covenanter’s blood in his veins, and he has never been afraid of anything.”  And then the wonder of the passage broke on him as the minister read, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

It’s only the shadow of death that can touch the Christian.  The grim reality of death laid hold upon our Shepherd, as it must one day lay hold upon those who are not His sheep; but the shadow of death is all that can ever touch the one to whom He has given eternal life.  And that’s one of the greatest evidences of our victory in Christ, but there are more.

For the last two weeks we’ve been examining the implications of the Ascension.  Even now Jesus Christ sits at His Father’s right hand, on the throne-bench of heaven praying for us.  What a marvelous assurance of victory that is!  But there are more.

Think about the fact that the last time the disciples saw Jesus at the cross they saw those nails piercing His hands and feet.  They saw that sword wound piercing His side.  They saw the crown of thorns piercing His head.  All those scars were evidence of the fact that their lives were ruined and their dreams shattered.  They believed that those wounds had destroyed their lives.  And yet, within days they will see the truth of those wounds.  The sight of those wounds and the memory of how He received them will only heighten the glory and joy of the rest of their lives.  The scars that they once thought ruined their lives, actually saved them.

In Tim Keller’s study of the Gospel of Mark, King’s Cross, he notes, “…the worst things that have ever happened to you will in the end only enhance your eternal delight.”  This week we hope to see a bit more enhancement this side of glory by taking two texts together – Job 1:1-12 and Luke 22:24-34 – and finding in them more evidence of our victory in Christ.

We will focus our attention on the role of our suffering in the plan of God.  In Romans 8:16 Paul makes an astonishing statement.  He says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”  Do you see the linkage Paul makes between suffering and our inheritance – between our suffering and glory?

As you prepare for Sunday’s message, “Battle of the Soul”, please consider reading, in addition to our texts, John 17.    After you’ve finished reading, think about the following:

1.      How did Christ receive His seat at the right hand of His Father?

2.      Is there any evidence in Scripture of a priest ever sitting down in his administration of his tasks?

3.      What does Jesus pray for in Gethsemane in addition to the “Let this cup pass” and “Nevertheless, not my will, but they will be done”?

4.      In what ways does Jesus demonstrate His relinquishment to His Father in Gethsemane?

5.      What clause does He repeat seven times in His John 17 prayer?

6.      Who possesses man’s soul?

7.      How do you compare and contrast Job 1:8 and Luke 22:31?

8.      What do you make of Satan’s declaration in Job 1:9?

9.      Tertullian once said, “Diabolus est Dei Simia”.  Do you have any idea what that means? What evidence is there in Job’s life and Peter’s that this is true?

10.  How does God’s promise in Isaiah 54:17 apply to your life?

 See you Sunday!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Jesus Sits Down

"Have a seat."  Please take your seats."  "Sit down!" "Sit a spell."  These phrases remind us of the consistent aspect of sitting in our lives.  Even our Lord Jesus did quite a bit of sitting in Scripture.  Believe it or not, He gave the great Sermon on the Mount from a sitting position (Matthew 5:1).  He declared His call to ministry while He sat in the synagogue (Luke 4:17-21).  Being tired, Jesus sat down by Jacob's well (John 4:6).  He even sat across from the place where offerings were given in the temple and observed the givers giving their gifts!

When we come to this matter of spiritual warfare and the evidence of Jesus' victory we find both His posture and position important.  He sits down at the right hand of God.  For Jesus to sit is to indicate accomplishment and honor.  To sit at God's right hand is to indicate blessing and authority.  Some have wrestled with the concept of being at God's right hand as God is spirit.  When the Bible speaks of God's right hand we call it an anthromorphic expression.  That is to describe God with human characteristics so that we better appreciate His attributes.  Also, we wouldn't necessarily describe God as right-handed.  It is again just to speak of Him in understandable ways since most folk are right-handed. (70-90% == Wikipedia).  Never fear though, He blesses left-handed people, too! (Judges 3:15)

There is a beautiful story in Genesis 48:8-19 where the patriarch Jacob blesses Joseph's younger son with his right hand while crossing his left to the older grandson.  Joseph is troubled by this, but Jacob instructs him that while the older boy will be great the younger will be even greater.  To be sitting at God's right hand is a stirring reminder that Jesus is the greatest!!

See you Sunday!

1.  According to Hebrews 1:3 how would Jesus sitting down indicate accomplishment?

2.  Reading Esther 3:1 gives us an appreciation for Jesus' being seated as an honor.

3.  Study the interesting parable and principle Jesus taught about where to sit when you go to a dinner party.  Luke 14:7-11

4.  Note the Biblical emphasis on God's right hand.  Psalm 118:15, 16; Isaiah 62:8

5.  Why is sitting at God's right hand considered a place of blessing?  Psalm 16:11; Matthew 25:34

6.  To sit at God's right hand is to be in the position of authority and power.  Read Exodus 15:6; Luke 22:69

7.  Look at Luke 20:41-44.  Explain the riddle Jesus gives the teachers of the law based on Psalm 110:1.

8.  Do you think we could reverently describe Jesus as God's "right-hand man"? Ephesians 1:20

9.  Why do you think Jesus' posture changed in Acts 7:55-60?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Jesus' Return TO Heaven

Country/Pop recording artist Anne Murray sings a song entitled "Somebody's Always Saying Goodbye".  Goodbyes are among my least favorite experiences.  I can only imagine how the disciples felt when Jesus told them He was leaving them to go back to Heaven.  The One who had been their constant leader, teacher, companion and Lord for 3 years was telling them goodbye.  But, surprisingly, He said it was for their good that He was going away!   The actual event of His departure is called the Ascension.

It has proven very interesting to study the Ascension of our Lord. First, there is not as much scriptural detail as we have for His birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection.  Only two Gospel writers (Luke and Mark) record His earthly exodus and not all ancient manuscripts have Mark's account.  Luke also records the Ascension in Acts 1.  While John does not describe the Ascension in his gospel account, he does record Jesus stating several times that He would be going away.  From the Old Testament, we believe with Paul that Psalm 68 predicts this event. (See Ephesians 4.)

Second, Christians have consistently confessed their belief in Jesus' Ascension through the centuries as noted in their statements of faith found in the Book of Confessions.

Finally, though it was a goodbye, it was a GOOD bye.  There are several scriptural reasons this is so...He kept His Word, represents us in Heaven, is preparing a place for us, sent the Holy Spirit to us and is going to come back again!  Also, in light of our study of spiritual warfare, the Ascension exalts our Lord as the Victor over the devil, death and Hell!  What triumphant words "...the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens..."! (Ephesians 4:10)

See you Sunday!

1.  Who do we believe wrote Psalm 68?  Would he know anything about victory in battle? 1 Samuel 17:50, 51; 18:6, 7

2.   In quoting Psalm 68 in Ephesians 4:7-13, what are some actions of our victorious Ascended Lord according to the Apostle Paul?

3.   According to John 16:7, 8 what is good about Jesus' goodbye?

4.   Why do you think Jesus had to go away for the Holy Spirit to be sent?   Study John 16:7-14.

5.   At the Last Supper, what reason did Jesus give for leaving?  John 14:2

6.   What is the great news of John 14:3?

7.   According to Luke 24:51 what beautiful ministry was Jesus doing when He began to ascend?

8.   What response should we, like the disciples then, have toward our Ascended Lord? Luke 24:52

9.   In Acts 1:11 it is promised that Jesus' Second Coming will have similarities to His Ascension. Compare Acts 1:9-11 with Luke 21:27.

10. Read Mark 16:19.  This speaks of Jesus' exaltation for this week's sermon and next week.

11. Some consider 2 Timothy 3:16 an early hymn of the church.  Note the last phrase of the verse "was taken up in glory".  How does the word "taken" impact your appreciation for the Ascension?