Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Hope of the Cross

Is there such a person as a Good Thief?  Our Lord Jesus was crucified between two thieves (rebels, criminals) who initially attacked him verbally. One thief, however, repented and asked Jesus to remember him in His Kingdom.  This man is known in church tradition as the Good Thief.
This thief is known by various names in church tradition...Titus, Demas, Dismas. All we know for certain about him is his salvation experience. He was on a cross next to The Cross. His interaction with Jesus as they both hung on crosses is revealing in at least 3 ways.

1.      Those who would be considered "very" sinful can be saved! Whatever his crime(s) - murder, insurrection or robbery - Jesus still saved him. Paul considered himself the chief of sinners - 1 Timothy 1:15. Manasseh, Judah's most wicked king, found mercy when he repented - 2 Chronicles 33:9-16. We have all sung (perhaps with a glimmer of our own sinfulness) "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a WRETCH like me."

2.      There is hope for salvation. This thief had reached the end of the road. Hanging on a cross, guilty as sin, staring death in the face, he was still granted God's wonderful gift of salvation! We may be too old, weak, broke or damaged to do certain things but we can still be saved. What we have here in Luke 23 is a true "deathbed" conversion. Sometimes people ask if they can be saved after living a lifetime of ignoring God, church, the Bible...the answer is yes! But the caution is not to make that a plan of action i.e., I will live as I want till I am at death's door then I will receive Christ. One young man who was under spiritual conviction told the preacher, Dr. Harry Ironside, that he would be like the thief on the cross. Dr. Ironside replied "Which thief?"  One thief apparently never did get saved.  We do not know when our death may come and so the Bible challenges us to trust Jesus today!  2 Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 4:7

3.      What comfort there is in salvation! Even when facing death and eternity this thief received wonderful promises from Jesus. The day of this man's death would become his same day to enter into the blessings of eternal life beyond. No indication of soul sleep or probational period in purgatory, but TODAY he would be with Jesus in Paradise. Jesus promised that the thief would be with HIM. That was the same promise to the disciples at the Last Supper. Jesus promised to come back and receive them to Himself - that where He is they would be also. John 14:3  How MUCH better than the heart rending and frightening words of Matthew 25:41 "Depart from Me."
See you Sunday.

1.      There were 3 crosses that day.  Where was Jesus' cross located? Matthew 27:38  Do you think there is any significance to that?

2.     The Good Thief talks about fearing God. What do you think he meant in that context and do you think we should fear God? Luke 23:40; Proverbs 1:7: 1 Peter 2:17. How would you define what it is to fear God?

3.     What does Luke 23:41a tell us about how this thief viewed himself? Compare Romans 3:23; 6:23a

4.      Study Luke 23:41b,42. How did this thief view Jesus? 1 Peter 2:22: 2 Peter 1:15.

5.     Who else talks about Paradise in the Bible? Are Paradise and Heaven the same or different? Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7

6.      List all the reasons someone should wait to trust Chris Jesus as Lord and Saviour.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Forgiveness of the Cross

The Easter season is a time when there is a focus on the 7 Sayings of our Lord Jesus from the cross.  The first saying "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" is found only in the gospel of Luke.  This is our focus even after Good Friday and Easter as we continue to look at the cross.  I like this statement from Dr. Mark Roberts: "It makes sense that the first word of Jesus from the cross is a word of forgiveness.  That's the point of the cross, after all." 

Here are some questions we can ponder together...1) Who was Jesus asking for forgiveness for?  The soldiers who were crucifying him or the crowd around the cross as well? 2)  What did He mean saying they didn't know what they were doing?  The soldiers obviously knew how to crucify someone - historically, it was common in that era.  Could it be that He was saying that they didn't know WHO they were crucifying?  Like the old spiritual "Sweet little Jesus boy...we didn't know it was you".  3) Why did Jesus ask the Father to forgive them when He could forgive sins Himself?  Bible commentators have considered these issues and come to various conclusions.  The blessing to me is that He prayed such a prayer! 

Considering forgiveness in light of the cross is quite instructive and challenging.  The cross is about forgiveness so if we experience forgiveness at the cross, we are also to be forgiving.  We are to be forgiving even toward those who hurt us terribly.  Finally, we are to be forgiving and prayerful even when experiencing the most severe situations.  No wonder  Bible teacher William Barclay wrote about this saying of the Savior "There is nothing so lovely and nothing so rare as Christian forgiveness."

See you Sunday!

  1. What prophecy is fulfilled in this prayer of Jesus?  Isaiah 53:12
  2. Is Jesus still praying for sinners?  Hebrews 7:25
  3. Who does the Scripture include among the ignorant when Jesus was crucified?  Acts 3:12-19; 13:27; 2 Corinthians 2:8
  4. While some sins are done in ignorance and we are often ignorant of the full wickedness and damaging effect of our there forgiveness for even intentional and rebellious sin?  1John 1:9
  5. How does this prayer of Jesus fulfill the point of the cross?  Isaiah 53:5; Matthew 1:21, 1 Corinthians 15:3
  6. How does Jesus practice what He preached?  Matthew 5:44
  7. Who is the great N.T. example of following the Savior in forgiveness?  Acts 7:59-60 What about us?  Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Wisdom of the Cross

“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.” 

Of all the statements Paul ever makes, Galatians 6:14 is arguably the most profound:  “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.”

We have yet more to say about this great and wonderful statement.  Here Paul is nailing his colors to the mast.  He is advancing the essence of his being.  He is contrasting himself with those who are motivated by personal ambition and ego, like he once was.  He glories in nothing, he boasts in nothing, except the cross of Jesus Christ.

We have already seen in our series that the cross is the very heart and center of the Christian message.  Indeed, our eternal destiny depends on the view we take of the death of Jesus of Nazareth upon the cross.  So we have been considering why the Christian says that the cross of Christ, the death of this Son of God on the cross, is to him the most momentous, the most vital of all facts, that there is nothing that compares with it, and that to him it is the most significant thing in the universe. 

I make that point deliberately.  The Christian is the person who says I don’t care what has happened.  I don’t care what may happen.  I don’t care what it is – Russian incursion into Ukraine, a series of Blood Moons, a potential crashing economy, a rampage at Ft. Hood, a Kansas synagogue, or a Murrysville school – nothing can ever approach in significance to what happened on the cross when Jesus died, was buried in a grave, rose again, and went back to His throne.  

Why does the Christian say this?  Why does he glory in it?  We have begun to answer that question by looking at the greatness and the glory of the cross.  We have seen that the cross, with all its mighty paradoxes, is a spectacle which makes anything that you can think of in history, or anything that you can imagine, simply pale into insignificance.

When a man like the Apostle Paul, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, says he glories in the cross, you can be sure that it is the deepest, most profound thing in the universe.  A casual glance at the cross is not enough.  The saints of the centuries have been surveying it, they have been looking upon it, gazing upon it, and meditating on it.  In fact, the more they’ve looked, and the more you look, the more is seen!  The great Puritan, Thomas Carlisle, once described the cross as “infinities and immensities.”  Therefore, only a fool would think of the cross as an interesting fact or a point in a series.  It’s not.  It’s the destination of every maturing Christian.  It’s the stake in the ground.  It’s the pivotal point of human history.  It’s the fulcrum upon which eternity is suspended.

So I repeat the question.  Why?  Why did the cross happen? Why did the Son of God, the Prince of glory hang there?  What is the divine purpose?  We have it all in Scripture.  We don’t have to draw upon our imagination.  We don’t have to invent answers.  It’s all set forth for us in Scripture should we care to dig.

That’s what we will do again this Sunday – Easter.  We will dig into two particular texts:  I Corinthians 1:26-31 and II Corinthians 5:16-21 to find the reason for the cross in the mind of God.  The message this Easter is “The Wisdom of the Cross.”  It’s a perfect topic for it offers us a full-orbed view of the parallel between the cross and tomb.

In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:
  1. How is Isaiah 53 a perfect prophecy of the death of Jesus on the cross?
  2. How are Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3 an indication of the wisdom of the coming cross?
  3. How does Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 give us insight into the wisdom of God at the cross?
  4. How can theologians of every era say that at the cross every essential attribute of God’s nature can be seen?  Can you identify any?
  5. How can the immutability of God be seen at the cross?
  6. How is the cross a cosmic triumph of the power of God over rulers and authorities and the prince of this world?  (See Colossians 3:6-15.)
  7. Why do Jesus and His post-resurrection apostles refer to the cross as a place of glory?
  8. How does God use the cross to confound the wise?
  9. What does Peter mean in I Peter 1:10-12 when he says that there are things into which angels “long to look”?
  10. How is the cross a direct attack on the wisdom of Satan?  (See Ezekiel 28:11-17 and Isaiah 14:12-14.)
See you on Easter!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Glory of the Cross

It’s noon on Wednesday and there’s already been a stabbing at Franklin Regional High School,  word that my friend, Mike, is in a Cleveland ICU now with cancer all through his body, three friends with serious business crises all involving family, a burial of a dear confidante, and news of several more challenges.  All this in half of one day!  How is it possible that the cross speaks to any and all of this?  What possible point of commonality exists here?

In last week’s message I repeatedly mentioned that the cross is the place where God deals with us.  It’s the place where you and I find the answer to all of life’s problems.  And I’m sure that it prompted the question, “How can that be?  How does the cross help me with ___?”

This week I hope to elaborate a bit as we turn from the greatness of the cross to the glory of the cross.  In Acts 27 Paul makes an amazing statement that sheds light on the answer.  He’s on his way to Rome to stand before Caesar and make an appeal for himself and the Gospel.  Luke tells us that, as he sails with a number of other prisoners a northeaster strikes and his ship is in grave danger.  And, if you read the full account, you find that it’s not just a momentary danger, but a danger that lasts for days.

In the midst of it Paul stands on deck and shouts to the crewmen and his fellow prisoners, “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid…you must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you!’”

Now it’s not the outcome of the angel’s message that interests me; it’s the description Paul uses for him.  Paul says, “Last night an angel of the God whose I am…stood beside me.  It’s those six words:  “of the God whose I am” that have a direct bearing on the contention that every problem you have is only properly addressed at the cross.  You see, Paul knows that regardless of the circumstances in which he finds himself, his identity is fixed in Christ.  He says, “I belong to God.”

Remember the words of the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism?  The Question is this:  “What is your only comfort, in life and in death?  Answer:  “That I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”  Where did the framers of the Heidelberg Catechism get that?  They got it from the Apostle Paul.  Where did he get that?  He got it at the cross, and I can prove it from the rest of the answer: “Who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation.  Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

You see what Paul is saying on the deck of that ship is this:  “My identity is fixed; I belong to Him, and therefore, this problem is His problem.”  Where does he get such certainty?  How does he know his identity is fixed?  The same place he gets it “re-fixed” – at the cross.

As we said last week, the cross is not a one-stop shop for the believer.  It is the place where we must have our true identity affirmed time and time again; and our identity is at the root of every solution to every problem we face.  It was for Paul.  It is for us.  And the reason that our true identity is at the root of every solution to any problem is because of the true identity of Jesus on the cross.  That’s what we’ll examine this week because the cross is where is His true identity best seen, and most deeply understood.  In fact, it’s His identity that makes the cross not only great, but glorious!

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “The Glory of the Cross” you may wish to consider the following:
  1. Read Galatians 6:14-16; Romans 5:6-10; and Luke 19:36-40.
  2. What does Paul mean when he says, “by the cross the world has been crucified to me”?
  3. What does “glory” mean?
  4. What does it mean to “glory” in the cross?
  5. How does the cry of the crowd in Luke 19:38 speak to the glory of the cross?
  6. How is the cross the Acid Test of the human heart?
  7. Do you agree that one’s preaching of the cross should offend the natural human heart?
  8. How does the cross save us from God?
  9. How does the cross continue to save us from ourselves?
  10. How is the cross a cosmic event?
See you on Palm Sunday!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Greatness of the Cross

Anthony De Mello, in his work, The Way to Love, writes:
Look at your life and see how you have filled its emptiness with people.  As a result, they have a stranglehold on you.  See how they control your behavior by their approval and disapproval.  They hold the power to ease your loneliness with their company, to send your spirits soaring with their praise, to bring you down to the depths with their criticism and rejection.  Take a look at yourself spending almost every waking moment of your day placating and pleasing people, whether they are living or dead.  You live by their norms, conform to their standards, seek their company, desire their love, dread their ridicule, long for their applause, meekly submit to the guilt they lay upon you; you are terrified to go against the fashion in the way you dress or speak or act or even think.  And observe how even when you control them you depend on them and are enslaved by them.  People have become so much a part of your being that you cannot even imagine living a life that is unaffected or controlled by them. 

And no one is immune.  In the Gospel of John, the Jews are said to be incapable of believing on Jesus because they “look to one another for approval.”  (John 5:44)  In Matthew 26:56 all of His disciples desert Jesus and run away.  The gospels are full of accounts of the power of people in our lives whether it be our family, our friends, our enemies; you name it.  Indeed, no personality type is able to avoid the De Mello critique.  And that’s why Paul’s closing words in his letter to the Galatians is so startling.

Brennan Manning once wrote, “When we freely assent to the mystery of our belovedness and accept our core identity as Abba’s child, we slowly gain autonomy from controlling relationships.  We become inner-directed rather than outer-determined.  The fleeting floods of pleasure or pain caused by the affirmation or deprivation of others will never entirely disappear, but their power to induce self-betrayal will be diminished.”  And that’s exactly what we see in the Apostle Paul when he gets personal at the end of his letter to the Galatians.

Look what he says in verse 14, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”  What an amazing statement penned by Paul’s own hand!

If there is anyone in Scripture that had reason to boast in anything but the cross, it’s Paul.  Just check out his resume in Philippians 3 and II Corinthians 11.  But something happens to Paul.  Something radically transforms his orientation from outer-determined to inner (Spirit) directed  that is not wholly accounted for by the Damascus Road experience.  What transforms him is his growing awareness of the greatness of the cross of Christ and the passion His Father has for Him.

This week, as a follow-up to our 13-week series on forgiveness, we begin looking at the cross in greater detail.  It’s to the cross that the godly have returned time and time again throughout the last 2000+ years to find their true identity and feel the permanence of God’s affirmation.  That’s what we hear the hymn writers expressing in great hymns of the faith like, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory,” and “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” to name a few.  That’s what we hear Paul proclaiming in Galatians 6:11-18.  That’s what we will seek to do over the next few months.  The truth is, we could spend the rest of our lives studying the cross and never come close to mining its depth.  What a joy it will be to do some mining with you.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “The Greatness of the Cross”, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. Read our companion text Hebrews 2:5-9 and discover the glory of Jesus.
  2. Why does Paul tell us in Galatians 6:11 that he’s writing with his own hand?
  3. Is there anywhere else in his twelve letters that he does so?
  4. Who are the Judaizers and what are they doing that’s referenced in verse 13?
  5. How is it that some boast in the circumcision of others?
  6. What does Paul mean when he says he boasts in the cross only?  How does one boast in the cross?
  7. How does the cross of Christ crucify the world to someone?
  8. What new creation does the cross create?
  9. What does it mean to say that if you don’t believe the Gospel of grace you’ve never done anything for the love of others for the sheer beauty of it?
  10. What’s the significance of Paul calling all he addresses as “brothers”?
See you Sunday when we’ll celebrate the greatness of the Lord of the cross expressed in two baptisms and the reception of new members.