Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Backdrop of Crucifixion - Henry Knapp

Kelly and I were married on a Saturday. We were hoping to get married the week earlier, but family schedules didn’t allow it to happen. Consequently, on the Wednesday after our wedding, we needed to be back at work. A short honeymoon. A friend of mine had a farmhouse/cabin in western Virginia that he offered for our few nights together, and we spent our honeymoon in the shadow of the Shenandoah Mountains.

I had yet to discover a passion for studying the War between the States, and I spent our time in Virginia without realizing that we were honeymooning on the site of numerous Civil War skirmishes. Now, we weren’t there to study history, so that’s ok; but in later years, when we returned to the area and after I had spent some time learning about the Civil War, I was surprised at how much the historical background shaped my understanding of the area.

As we explore the Seven Greatest Words of History, the seven last things Jesus spoke as He died, the cross looms large in the background. Spread across the four gospels, these seven sayings all took place while Jesus hung on the cross on Good Friday. It is possible, I suppose, to even read these sayings and not really realize that Jesus is dying here (except, perhaps, “Into Your hands, I commit my spirit”). But, if you really want to understand the thrust of these final sayings of Jesus, the background of His execution is crucial.

As many of you know, crucifixion was a brutal, vicious, cruel way to die. The Romans themselves recognized the inhumanity of the practice by refusing to use it to execute their own citizens. If a Roman citizen was to be executed, he was most frequently beheaded, but not crucified. The Romans used this form of execution specifically to deter similar offenses—it was public, slow, exceedingly painful, and tremendously humiliating.

The physical sufferings of the cross, and specifically what Jesus went through on a bodily level, have been depicted in various ways in recent decades. I have not spoken to anyone who watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ who has not stressed the eye-opening portrayal of Jesus’ physical anguish. From a purely medical standpoint, I would suggest an article published in 1986 in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Dr. William Edwards where he describes the medical effects of crucifixion. It is so educational to read, and yet horrifying to realize that my Lord suffered such. Stretched out and hanging on the cross, a person would need to push up on their feet (straining on that nail) in order to loosen the pressure on the chest to be able to take a breath. Through the pain and the exhaustion, usually over a period of days, the crucified one is unable to push up and slowly suffocates.

However. Let’s be clear on something that often gets lost as we learn more and more about crucifixion—the REAL sufferings of Jesus were not physical, they were spiritual. As brutal and even incomprehensible as were the bodily anguish of Jesus throughout His death, they pale in comparison with the real anguish of the cross—the Son’s punishment by, rejection of, and separation from the Father. As a matter of fact, I have found that some folks can be so overcome by the physical aspects of the cross that they miss the spiritual ones. Because the bodily pain and humiliation of the cross is so visible and perceptible, it is possible to focus only here and to miss the deeper pain, the greater humiliation, of the Holy One bearing our spiritual guilt, our sin, and the suffering that is present there.

And so, as we together explore the last words of Jesus on the cross, His physical sufferings loom large—but His spiritual sufferings are even more dramatic. Allow the backdrop of crucifixion to not only call attention to the bodily pain Jesus went through, but ultimately to see and understand the real cost of the cross—the Righteous One transformed into my sin, into your sin.

This week as we prepare for worship together, read Luke 23:32-43.

1. What do we know of the background of these criminals? What does it mean that we don’t know much at all, yet they are here so prominently in the text?

2. Why do you think the place is called “the Place of the Skull?” What skull? (If you are interested in my speculation, come ask me!)

3. Why does Jesus allow Himself to be mocked as He does?

4. What is the main difference between the two criminals? Why does one act one way, the other act another way?

5. The one criminal asks to be “remembered” when Jesus comes into His kingdom. What do you think he is hoping for?

6. What is behind Jesus’ words about “Today”?

7. Paradise is usually taken by theologians as another word for heaven. Why use this word instead of “heaven?” What does “paradise” imply?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

"Father, Forgive Them" - Doug Rehberg

This week we begin a new series called “The 7 Greatest Words of History.” Hint: All are spoken by the same man in the space of 3 hours. In fact, taken together the truth of these words alone can satisfy the deep needs of the human heart.


There is nothing harder for us to have penetrate our minds and our hearts than the unconditional, noncontingent grace of God. The truth is that the Gospel of grace upends our sense of fairness and offends our deepest instincts. We insist that reality operate according to the predictable economy of reward and punishment, especially when it comes to those who have done us harm.

Even those who have tasted the radical saving grace of Jesus Christ find it intuitively difficult not to put conditions on it when we try to communicate it to others—“Don’t take it too far; keep it balanced.” A “yes grace, but” posture permeates the church today and perpetuates spiritual slavery. The truth is, Divine Grace is radically unbalanced. It contains no “but”. It is unconditional. It is uncontrollable. It is unpredictable, or else it is not grace.

Years ago a dear, long-standing mentor of mine paid me the greatest compliment I’ve ever remembered receiving. He said to another (who reported it to me), “He gets grace!” I can think of no higher compliment, for as Doug Wilson puts it, “Grace is wild. Grace unsettles everything. Grace overflows the banks. Grace messes up your hair. Grace is not tame. In fact, unless we are making the devout nervous, we are not preaching grace as we ought.”

I once read of a woman who came to her pastor for a listening ear after her divorce was final. She was consumed by anger at her ex-husband, and it was spilling out into her other relationships. She had plenty of reason to be mad. He had treated her terribly and then abandoned her at a very vulnerable time in her life. Who could blame her for being angry?

After she had poured out the depth of her rancor he asked her, “Do you think there’s any way you might forgive him?”

She replied, “Forgive him! He would never ask for forgiveness! And unless he asks for it, I would never grant it. And even then, I’d have to really believe him. I’d have to see some real change. After all, we are only called to forgive those who have repented. That’s how God works.”

Oh really? What God is that? Now there are plenty of reasons why she might not forgive or be able to forgive her ex-husband, but invoking God as her example is not one of them. If God forgave only those who sincerely repented and changed their ways, it would be a very short list! In her victimhood and woundedness, this women had lost sight of the fact that God had forgiven her—and continued to forgive her. In the midst of her sin and pride, she had lost sight of the fact that if He waited for her to straighten out, He would wait forever.

The same could be true for the disciples, the woman at the well, the woman caught in the act of adultery, Zacchaeus, the thief on the cross, the woman with eleven years of chronic bleeding, etc., etc. If any single statement of Jesus proves the unconditionality of grace it’s Jesus’ first word from the cross, found in Luke 23—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

In preparation for Sunday’s message entitled, “Father, Forgive Them” you may wish to consider the following:

1. What did Don Henley say/sing about forgiveness? Do you agree?
2. On what grounds does Jesus issue forgiveness?
3. Is there any significance to this being His first statement from the cross?
4. How does Luke 23:34 square with all of the other times Jesus issues forgiveness throughout His life?
5. What is significant about Luke’s description of the scene in verse 32 and 33 as the context of Jesus’ statement?
6. In what form does Jesus speak the words of forgiveness?
7. On what grounds does He ask the Father to forgive “them”?
8. To whom to these words apply?
9. How wide is this forgiveness?
10. “God loves you as you are, not as you should be, because none of us will ever be as we should be.” Do you agree? Do you think Jesus agrees?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Reincarnation, Resuscitation, and Christian Resurrection - Henry Knapp

In so many ways, Shirley MacLaine is a godsend—a gift to all preachers who get to speak on the resurrection of our Lord and our coming resurrection. MacLaine is also an easy target, and perhaps I should feel somewhat guilty taking shots at her. (I must confess, I don’t feel guilty at all!) The actress has long been an outspoken proponent of reincarnation, recounting her various pasts, including lives as an orphan raised by elephants, a Japanese geisha, a pre-Atlantian androgynous being, a Muslim gypsy girl living in Spain, and a medieval warrior. Her idea, humorously laid out in her various books, is that we all have residual memories of previous lifetimes, thus explaining some of those moments when you appear to “know more than you should” about a certain topic or aspect of life.

MacLaine is not the only advocate for reincarnation—the idea that following death, the spirit or essence of a person is “re-embodied” in another physical form at a future time. Reincarnation also plays a prominent role in a number of world religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Some commentators draw a link between reincarnation and resurrection.

But the Christian doctrine of the resurrection is NOT reincarnation—it is not like it at all! In reincarnation, the important “thing” is the non-physical essence of a being. The physical part is insignificant and inconsequential. There is no link between the bodies of one reincarnation to the next. But, Christian theology, following the clear witness of the Bible, teaches us otherwise. The body is not something to be discarded, easily replaced as our spirits move through the ages. Rather, the physical world, including our physical bodies, are created by God, blessed by Him, and intended to be an essential part of what it means to be human. Resurrection is distinct from reincarnation exactly in that there is an essential link between our present bodies and our resurrection bodies. Our brother, Jesus, did not come back from the dead in some other reincarnated form, but in His own body—changed, for sure, but still demonstrating great continuity with His earthly body. As Paul stresses throughout the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians, the body that will be (our resurrected body) is linked and connected to our present body.

Christian resurrection, however, is also not resuscitation. Resuscitation is the bringing back to life of a dead body—think of Lazaraus. We frequently talk of Lazaraus being resurrected, but there is no indication that he was raised from the grave by Jesus in his new, heavenly body. Instead, God brought Lazaraus’ body back to life again; and we can be sure that he died again at some point. If reincarnation denies any connection between the new body and the old, resuscitation identifies the two too closely—the “new body” is just the “old body,” though no longer dead. Again, this is NOT Christian resurrection. If in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul links the old and the new, he also makes clear that there is a vast difference between the two. Like a seed that grows into a tree, the old body gives birth in resurrection to the new body. An acorn is vastly different than an oak tree… but they are inextricably linked. In the same way, our resurrected bodies are different, yet connected, to our current bodies.

This, of course, is part of the beauty of the resurrection of Jesus—reminding us of the value of our physical lives, our future physical lives, the incomparable greatness of the new over the old, yet the continuity between the two. When we think of Jesus’ resurrection, we think of a physical resurrection, where Jesus’ human body is raised from the dead, and transformed into His heavenly, resurrected body. And, through our union with Him, we too will experience such a blessing.

In anticipation of our coming celebration of Easter, I would encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 15, a marvelous chapter! On Sunday, we will be looking specifically at verses 1-19.

1. See if you can trace Paul’s thinking in these verses. He makes a very logical argument here, and his approach is well worth going over.

2. How is the Gospel described here? What characteristics stand out to Paul?

3. What is the importance of Paul listing out the individuals and groups of folks to whom Jesus appeared once resurrected?

4. Paul refers to himself as “one untimely born” (vs. 8); what do you think he means to communicate with that phrase?

5. Why do you think Paul is writing this? Most scholars recognize that Paul is responding to a list of questions that the Corinthians have sent to him. What Corinthian question lies beneath the surface here?

6. What would a life look like that has been lived “in vain” (vs. 14)? Could someone accuse you of such a life?

7. Try turning all of Paul’s negatives into positives. He says, if no resurrection then all these negative things are true. The implication is that, if there IS a resurrection, then what follows?

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Tears of God - Doug Rehberg

In June 1993 Charles Krauthammer addressed the graduating class of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. McGill was one of his alma maters. Like many proficient speakers he had three points. But it is only his second point that interests me this week because it aligns so well with Luke 19:28-44, Luke’s account of “Palm Sunday”.

Krauthammer began as many engaging speakers do, with a story. He said, “Exactly 23 years ago, in this very building, I was sitting in your seat. What I shall offer you today is a reconnaissance report from a two-decade life expedition into a world beyond McGill College Avenue. Like Marco Polo, I return – without silk, but with three pieces of sage advice.”

To think that his speech was delivered 26 years ago, and yet it is as fresh this April as it was that June!

Now for his second point: LOOK OUTWARD. Krauthammer continued, “By that I mean: Don’t look inward too much. You have been taught – rightly taught – Socrates’ dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living. Yet I would add: Beware of the too-examined life. Perhaps previous ages suffered from a lack of self-examination. The age of Oprah does not. Our problem is quite the opposite.

“One of the defining features of modernity is self-consciousness…we live in an age in which the highest moral injunction is to get in touch with one’s feelings. Speaking as a psychiatrist – well, a psychiatrist in remission – I can assure you that this is a highly overrated pursuit.

“The reigning cliché of the day is that, in order to love others, one must first learn to love oneself. This formulation – love thyself, then thy neighbor – is a license for unrelenting self-indulgence, because the quest for self-love is endless. By the time you have finally learned to love yourself, you’ll find yourself playing golf at Leisure World, having outlined those you might have loved. ‘Love thy neighbor’ was supposed to be the hard part of the biblical injunction. Sometimes it seems like all of America is working on the ‘thyself’ part – almost the definition of narcissism.”

There are few portrayals of American culture in over the last 26 years that are more accurate than Krauthammer’s critique. And yet, this portrayal is not limited to modern America. It is exactly what was going on in Jerusalem the day Jesus stopped His ride to look out over the city and weep.

This Sunday we will take a fresh look at that scene and those tears. We will attempt to ferret out the reasons for Jesus’ unusual emotional display. The principle question is: why does He weep? What does He see that brings Him to tears? Hint: It is much of the same inward focus that Krauthammer nails at McGill.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “The Tears of God,” you may wish to consider the following:

1. What examples can you find in the Old Testament of divine sorrow?
2. How does Jesus appear to be expressing the same sentiment as His Father in Hosea 11?
3. From where is Jesus gazing down over the city of Jerusalem?
4. How do you explain the range of emotion in Jesus in Luke 19:41-46?
5. How many times is Jesus said to have cried in the gospels?
6. What differences can you identify between these incidents?
7. What does Jesus mean in verse 42 when He laments their lack of knowledge of what makes for peace?
8. Who is He saying this about and why?
9. What prophetic reality is Jesus referring to in verses 43 & 44?
10. What does He mean when He says, “…because you didn’t know the time of your visitation.”?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Like a Well-Oiled Machine - Henry Knapp

My watch stopped a while ago, so I took it apart to fix it. After tinkering for a bit, I put it together again, and, “Shazam!”, all fixed! Of course, there was that extra spring that didn’t make it back in… All too often, when I take something apart, fix it, and put it back together again, I end up with an extra screw or two. How, I wonder, did that happen? Did the pieces multiply when I wasn’t looking? Geez…

I’m not totally incompetent when it comes to home maintenance, general repair, and basic mechanical fixes. Early on I learned which end of the screwdriver to hold and to twist the green wires together. There was even a time when I served as a site supervisor for Habitat for Humanity, a home building ministry.

However, I’m not sure I have fully experienced “a well-oiled machine.”

I’m fully aware of what the saying implies—the idea that something functions so smoothly, so accurately, so “as-intended” that it hums along perfectly. Theoretically, this is a very attractive notion, even idyllic. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something… anything!... worked exactly as it should? It is easy to understand why we yearn for an experience of “a well-oiled machine”; so much of our lives are NOT that way. The potential for things to work smoothly is always there, but things never seem to be that way.

When you read the closing of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, it is easy to get a sense of “the well-oiled machine.” Paul writes glowingly of his companions, noting their faithfulness, upholding their virtues, and inspiring us with their godliness. It would be easy to think, “ah, here’s a perfect group of Christians, the unity of the brethren”! Alas, all is not as it seems…

Paul mentions ten men (and one woman) by name. Most of these, we know nothing about. If all we have is Paul’s word for them, they seem to be stellar examples of the godly life Paul is advocating for throughout the book of Colossians. However, of the ten, we know a bit more about a couple: and suddenly, the well-oiled machine doesn’t appear to be working so well.

Of Demas, Paul will later write: “He deserted me, because he loved the world” (2 Timothy 4:10). Mark had earlier deserted Paul during his first missionary journey, and this caused a significant breach in Paul’s relationship with Barnabas (Acts 15). Onesimus was a runaway slave, betraying his master in a way that Paul seeks to smooth over (Philemon). All in all, not such a idyllic group of companions after all.

So, how do we think about this group of Christians? How should we think about any group of Christians? How should we think about OUR group of Christians here at Hebron? Wouldn’t it be glorious if we functioned as a “well-oiled machine,” if there was love and brotherhood in abundance, if every interaction was shaped by abundant love? Well, of course! We have this ideal in our minds, because that is exactly the ideal Christ Himself is working toward.

Then why do we so often fall so far short of this? Why does our machine function so erratically? Well, obviously, because, like Paul and his companions, we live in a broken and sinful world. Exactly the world that Christ, our Savior, died to redeem. Our fellowship is fractured until our sin is covered by our Lord. Our unity as brothers and sisters is in pieces until we find ourselves in Christ together. The machine is not well-oiled until it is oiled by the blood of Jesus.

Paul’s companions were a terrific bunch of folks—it is clear that God used them powerfully for His Kingdom. But, the presence of sin, and the impact of this world, takes its toll. In the end, it is not their own abilities or strengths that brought this group together—it was the salvation of Christ in each life. It is that same salvation we have in Jesus that will bring us as well into that perfect unity. All made possible by our incomparable Christ!

As you prepare for worship this week, consider meditating on Colossians 4:7-18.

1. What do you know of each of the men and women listed here?
2. What characteristics do they share in common? What actions are they commended for?
3. Paul distinguishes between “the men of the circumcision” and those who are “one of you.” What is he talking about?
4. Paul encourages his readers to also read the letter to the Laodiceans (vs 16). No such letter has survived for us today. What might this mean for us?
5. In verse 18, Paul says he writes this greeting with his own hand. What is important about that? Why does he emphasize this?
6. Why would Paul want us to “remember his chains?”
7. A number of times, Paul says that his friends will “tell you all about my activities”. Why is this an important thing for Christians today as well?
8. “Greetings” is a frequent part of this section. Is there anything for us to learn here?