Month: April, 2014

“The Removal of Doubt”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father …

Please join me in prayer…

 

“The Easter story is nothing but a myth,” Tom’s high school teacher announced to his class a few days before Easter break. “Jesus not only didn’t rise from the grave,” he continued, “but there’s no God in heaven who would allow his son to be crucified in the first place.” “Sir, I believe in God,” Tom protested. “And I believe in the resurrection.”
“Tom, you can believe what you wish to, of course,” the teacher said, “However, the real world excludes the possibility of miracles like the resurrection. The resurrection is a scientific impossibility. No one who believes in miracles can also respect science.”
Then the teacher proposed an experiment. Reaching into his refrigerator, he produced a raw egg and held it up. “I’m going to drop this egg on the floor,” he said. “Gravity will pull it toward the floor and the egg will most certainly break apart.” Looking at Tom with a challenge, he said, “Now Tom, I want you to pray a prayer right now and ask your God to keep this egg from breaking when it hits the floor. If he can do that, then you’ll have proven your point, and I’ll have to admit that there is a God.”

After pondering the challenge for a moment, Tom slowly stood up to pray: “Dear Heavenly Father,” Tom prayed, “I pray that when my teacher drops the egg, it will break into a hundred pieces. And also, Lord, I pray that when the egg does break, my teacher will have a heart attack and die. Amen.”
After a unison gasp, the class sat in silent expectation as their eyes slowly shifted from Tom back to the teacher. For a moment the teacher did nothing. At last he looked at Tom and then the egg. Without a word he carefully put the egg back into the refrigerator. “Class dismissed,” the teacher said, and then he sat down to clear his desk.

 

Doubt creeps into all our lives from time to time. Even those who walked with Jesus had their doubts and their lives really didn’t change until they saw God’s promise fulfilled in the risen Lord.

 

Well, Thomas was no different. Until he saw the same evidence that the other Apostles saw he would not believe. His story has become synonymous with those who doubt anything that they should believe in. Today, I want to go beyond doubt and talk about what happens to those who have no more doubt. I want to speak of a place that we all yearn, as Christians to be, a place without doubt, without uncertainty.

When Christ rose from the grave, the disciples lives were transformed. We see even more evidence of these transformations in our first reading for this morning. Here we see Peter and the other apostles preaching in Solomon’s colonnade, which was a porch along the inner side of the wall enclosing the outer court, with rows of 27 foot high columns and a roof of cedar. As the apostles were healing the sick and preaching the good news, they were arrested by the jealous Sadducees and put into the public jail only to be found again preaching in the same spot after being freed by the angel of the Lord.

 

This doesn’t sound like the men of little conviction that we saw before the resurrection does it. The apostles had lost their doubt and now couldn’t help but preach the good news of Christ because they knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it was true.

Faced with still more trouble, what did they say when they again had to face the Sanhedrin?

 

Peter says, “We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead – whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

Sounds a lot different then the men cowering in the upper room doesn’t it. Men who had all but given up any hope of Jesus as their Savior were now speaking with such conviction and assurance that they no longer cared about anything else and certainly not about their own troubles or concerns. Their only concern was the spreading of the Gospel. They were witnesses to the glory of the risen Lord and wanted to share just what that meant to the people who believed in the message. What they had is what we want, a conviction and assurance in our heart for Christ.

 

The teacher in our story apparently did believe in God’s existence more than he thought. Many people, like that teacher, deny that God exists, yet run from him, question him, and attack him whenever they get the chance. That teacher wasn’t willing to bet his life that God didn’t exist.
Many people doubt the existence of God. Many people doubt the resurrection. On that first Easter, many years ago, one of the disciples refused to believe in the resurrection. He had doubts. Today we are going to take a look at that man, and see how his doubts are our doubts. We’re also going to see how Jesus healed this man of the disease of doubt, and how he heals us today.
On Easter night, the disciples were together in a house, hiding behind locked doors. A number of them had seen Jesus alive, and now they were scared. What were the Jewish leaders going to do? Would they be arrested now? Would they be accused of stealing the body? Would anyone believe them if they told people that Jesus had risen from the dead? They were hiding from the Pharisees and Sadducees – hoping to avoid confrontation. At that moment it was all about them and their concerns. Jesus and His promised resurrection was far from their minds
Suddenly, Jesus was standing in the middle of them, he knew of their doubt and the stress that this was causing them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Jesus always says just the right thing at the right time, doesn’t he. He tells them that they can feel peace in their hearts. He was there, and they had nothing to worry about.

He showed them his hands and side to prove to them that he wasn’t a ghost, but that he was the same Jesus they had known, the same Jesus they had seen crucified just three days earlier. They should no longer doubt but believe.

 

Enter Thomas, the disciple who wasn’t there when Jesus first came to them in the upper room. Even after all his experiences with Jesus, after the miracles and ministry he shared with Jesus, after the disciples testimony at seeing the risen Lord, he still doubted.

He still could not shed the limits of the world to see a God of limitless glory and might. He says, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” You can’t get much more skeptical than that, can you. I will not believe, unless I see visible proof.

 

Why does Thomas refuse to believe? Because Thomas was a practical person, and he lived in a practical world. He was shattered on Good Friday when Jesus died. But he wasn’t about to succumb to fantasy. Dead was dead, and that was it. No one in their right minds would doubt it when the Romans said a prisoner was dead. They were experts at killing! It’s not that Thomas didn’t want to believe that Jesus was still alive. But Thomas knew how the world worked. Dead was dead, and that was it. That’s how our world sees Jesus’ resurrection today. Nice idea, but it didn’t really happen. Many people are set on proving that the resurrection of Jesus was a spiritual resurrection. Jesus arose only in the sense that his spirit goes marching on, sort of life the way the spirit of Abraham Lincoln continues to influence America.

But William Lane Craig, perhaps the worlds’ foremost authority on the resurrection, dismisses such a theory. Dr. Craig is an English scholar with two earned doctoral degrees.

Currently, he teaches at the University of Louvain near Brussels. Dr. Craig points out that it would have been a contradiction in terms for an early Jew to say that someone was raised from the dead, but his body was left in the tomb. That’s not how people talked back then. Furthermore, Dr. Craig points out that numerous disciples were executed because they would not deny the resurrection. No sane person would die for something that didn’t happen. Of all the events that took place in the first century, no historical event has better or more widespread documentation than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.                                                                                                And yet, we Christians today live in a sea of doubt. And when you’re swimming in doubt, it’s hard not to get wet, to have that doubt seep into your way of thinking. Have you ever doubted? Have you ever wondered about this whole business of Jesus and the cross and the resurrection? Have you ever asked yourself if your faith is really only a superstition? Have you ever wondered, “Am I a Christian only because my parents were? Often we’re afraid to face our doubts because we’re afraid of what we might find. We’re afraid of what others might think. People might find out how weak our faith really is, so we keep our doubts to ourselves. And yet, our doubts don’t go away – they’re always there, and like a cancer, our doubt slowly eats away at our faith, until we believe in Jesus less and less, and we become more and more skeptical, like Thomas, in our story .

What can you do to get rid of doubt? Nothing, really. There is no cure on this earth that will take away your doubts. If they find Noah’s ark up in the mountain, if they find the burial shroud of Christ, if all of your friends and family have the most amazing arguments in the world – none of those things can cure you of your doubt. Only one thing can.
That one thing happened to Thomas one week later. On the Sunday after Easter, the disciples were together, and Thomas was with them. The doors were locked again. Suddenly, Jesus was standing in the middle of them. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says again. And then he focuses on Thomas.

He invites Thomas to do what he said he wanted to do – to touch the wounds he had sustained on the cross. “Stop doubting and believe,” Jesus told Thomas. This is what cured Thomas of his doubt. Thomas responded by saying, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas had become a man of faith, a man who believed in Jesus, even though everything he knew about the world would tell him otherwise.
The only solution, the only way, that you can get rid of the doubt in your heart is to have moments with Jesus Christ, like Thomas had that Sunday after Easter. “Now wait a second,” you might say. “Jesus appeared to Thomas. How am I supposed to have a moment like that?”

When does Jesus come to you, and speak to you, like he spoke to Thomas? When does Jesus chase away your doubts? When does he transform you into someone who strongly believes in him, like Thomas did after it was all over?
Today, Jesus comes to you in an invisible way, through his Word. Every time you hear the Word of God, Jesus steps into your life and says, “Peace be with you.” Every time you receive the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is right there, through his body and blood, and he chases away your doubts, and fills you with faith and hope and trust in him. Through the Word, through the Sacraments, that’s how Jesus appears to you and speaks to you, just as he spoke to Thomas.
I’ve known so many people, myself included, who have played the faith vs. reason game. They want to believe but the world tells them they shouldn’t, that it just doesn’t make any sense. Our problem is that we do what the world has taught us to do and we try to rely on  reason to find proof that God exists, that Jesus rose from the dead.

But it doesn’t work that way. You don’t get rid of your doubts that way. When I was forced to face my doubts, I finally, turned to the Word of God, to find a foothold. I needed the Holy Spirit to change me and fan into flame once more the faith in my heart. God is who changed me, and he did that through his Word.
That’s how Jesus changes you today. In verse 29, Jesus says to Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet have believed.” Jesus is talking about you. You have not seen him with your own eyes like Thomas. But you have believed. You have believed by having Jesus come to you in an invisible way, through his Word. The Apostle John tells us that Jesus did other miraculous signs that are not recorded in the Bible. “But these are written” (these stories, these accounts of Jesus and his disciples) “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

God is there for you. He speaks to you this very day through His Word and sacrament. If this sounds like a bunch of baloney I challenge you to give it an honest try. Read God’s word with an open heart and I promise you, it will restore your faith and bring you into a new understanding of His Love for you. Stay close to the Word of God. Take the Lord’s Supper regularly. Let Jesus speak to your heart, just as he spoke to Thomas. Let Jesus take away your doubts. Let Jesus change you into a Christian who strongly believes that Jesus is the Christ, even though you have never seen him. May God grant you the same heart he granted to Thomas, a heart that says “My Lord and my God.” May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen

Bible Study Questions – John 20:19-31

 

What was the atmosphere of the room before Jesus entered the room? How about after?  Why?

Why did they fear their fellow Jews? John 7:10-13; Proverbs 29:25; Philippians 1:12-14

Why didn’t Mary’s testimony of Christ risen from the dead seem to matter to the disciples? Luke 24:9-11; Mark 16:9-11

What was unusual about Jesus’ entrance into the room? Why was this? 1 Corinthians 15:35-44

So why does Jesus have to retain His wounds? 1 Peter 2:24

Why did the disciples need to hear Jesus’ words and why were they repeated? Vs.19, 21

In verse 22 it is written that Jesus breathed on them to receive the Holy Spirit. What does this remind you of? Genesis 2:5-7

What do you think “breathed on them” means? John 14:15-17; 2 Corinthians 1:19-22

What happened to the disciples because of this? Acts 4:1-3, 8-12

Verse 23 can be confusing. Taking the Scripture verse into account, what do you think it means? Luke 5:21-26

How is this spiritual authority exercised by Christ’s church? Matthew 16:16-19, 18:15-20

Why do you suspect Thomas was not with the others cowering upstairs? Hebrews 10:23-25

Why did they wait 8 days to meet again (This would have had them meet on Sundays)?           Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2, 16-17

When Jesus finally saw Thomas, what did He ask Thomas to do? Why? Verse 25 What does this tell us about Jesus?

Why didn’t Thomas believe, even after the other apostles and women told him that Jesus had risen?

How does the story of Doubting Thomas, speak to rebellion, passion and change?

According to verses 29-31, why was the Gospel of John written?  What is the fundamental question of this Gospel? (Hint: it is not, “Who is Jesus?)

 

“Hope Beyond The Cross”

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=532676560175914&set=vb.389923364451235&type=2&theater

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

I want you to do something when you go home this morning. I want you to Google Easter and look at the images. When you do I think you’ll find something that is, unfortunately, not shocking at all. 90% of what you will find is beautifully colored eggs, rabbits and cute little chicks. Yes, there’s a few empty crosses in there but it almost looks as if they are out of place.

For many, it’s no longer about the promise of Easter or the hope it represents, now they’re comfort is found in Easter egg hunts and baskets of candy. The world has claimed the holiday as its own and little by little our resurrected Lord has been pushed aside so as not to offend.

Gee Pastor Dan, great way to get us all depressed. I apologize, I really do. It’s just that, Easter deserves better…Christ deserves better. There was a time when all the frills of Easter were my focus too. But now that I’m older, Easter has come to mean something very different to me and I hope to you. Now it means the restoration of hope and it saddens me that so many are missing out on the promise. Someone once said that, “We can live forty days without food, eight days without water, four minutes without air, but only two seconds without hope. It’s hope that the world is missing in the true message of Easter and its hope that I want all those people to have.

Our youth leader Alyssa has started a campaign through our youth group to bring focus to the problem of teen suicide. There’s a million studies out there that have tried to find the reasons for the alarming number of kids who choose to end their lives and the #1 reason in a vast majority of those studies is that those who come to these drastic measures have lost their hope.  Thornton Wilder said, “Despair all too readily embraces the ills it foresees; hope is an energy that arouses the mind to explore every possibility to combat them.” In the last few weeks we have witnessed our Lord making His way to Calvary. We have witnessed James asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, unable to stay awake as Jesus passionately prays to His Father. We have seen the torment in Peter as he realizes that he has denied even knowing His Master, let alone proclaiming Him as the Christ. We have felt Mary’s pain as she laments her Son on the cross not quite finding the word’s to say goodbye and we have beheld Christ on the cross in the torment of His suffering saying, “It is finished.”

As their Savior hangs on the tree, they see their hope diminish with each desperate breath until, finally, He is dead and their hope dies with Him. It was at that moment, they needed hope the most. How are they to carry on? How can they make it alone?

 

Some had knelt at the foot of the cross watching the one who held their hopes and dreams die. They listened as Jesus said to His Father, “into your hands I commit my Spirit,” and then they saw Him bow His head for the very last time. Their shock is made complete as the soldier drives his spear into His side removing all doubt that Jesus is dead. At this moment, they truly knew what it felt like to be hopeless.

Some of you have even felt that feeling of hopelessness. When you watched a loved one die, you’ve felt despair because a part of you was dying to. When you see the problems of the world, you wonder what is in store for our youth and where they will find their hope. When you consider your own life and all the mistakes you have made, you wonder if maybe you have gone too far, to someplace forgiveness cannot reach. It’s at times like these when you are tempted to give up hope that anyone truly cares.

This morning, I want you all to listen very closely as to where that hope can be found. It is my goal to restore that hope in you that only Christ can give. I want to give you the hope James felt when he first heard that Christ had risen. I want to give you that same hope that Peter felt when he saw His master on the shores of Lake Tiberius. I want you to feel the same feeling that Mary felt when she saw her risen Lord. They discovered that there was hope beyond the cross and the hope they shared can be yours too.

One of the greatest providers of hopelessness can be seen in our suffering. In a sinful world we are all bound to experience it in one form or another. It might be seen in trying to pay the bills with more bills than money. It might be when you expected something promising only to be disappointed when it didn’t happen. It might be experienced when life has driven you to your knees with no prospect of relief on the horizon.

It’s at times like these that we have a choice. We can let these sufferings steal our hope or we can use these sufferings to bring us closer to where to hope resides. We hear Paul to the Philippians in chapter three of his letter to them, …whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

Our suffering can bring us closer to Christ when we understand that in His suffering we were saved. When suffering has driven us to our knees, our dependence can no longer be on ourselves, it must be in Christ. I’ve talked to many of you and have heard the stories where having Christ to hope in gave you the strength you needed to get through a difficult situation. You knew that even when it seemed all the hope in the world was lost, the hope we have in Christ is not of this world.

In our suffering, we as Christians understand that we belong to Christ in our suffering. John 15:18 Jesus reminds us that, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” Jesus understood, that even though we are His, (and in many cases because we are His) we should expect suffering that comes from persecution. First they persecuted Him and because of that they now also persecute us who live for Him.

Suffering reminds us that this world is not our home. Suffering comes from sin and sin was never part of God’s plan. Our rejoicing is because we understand that there is a place waiting for all who believe where the faithful will weep no more.

Romans 5:1-5 says, Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

The world may attempt to take the true meaning of Easter away but the faithful know that it is because of Easter that we have the hope that will bring an end to our suffering.

The hope we have in Easter allows us to look beyond the cross to find our real purpose even in our suffering. In a book entitled, “These are the Generations,” it is written of the incredible faith and strength of one Christian family through the generations in North Korea where Christianity is against the law. All their prayers are done in silent, all their devotions behind locked doors and spoken in whispers, all their worship passed on to other Christians through simple songs with hidden meanings. Their lives were hard by anyone’s standard. Some were jailed, some were executed but none lost their hope because their hope was what gave them purpose. To this day, a remnant remains because the God of hope continues to work in them to bring others the hope that they have. Hope reveals the truth of God’s love for all of us. This is a hope that the world could never give.

There is a place where hope can be found. It’s in the person of Christ and it is because of His death and resurrection that we can have that hope. It was hopeless to think we could satisfy a God who hates sin because we are born into sin, but because of Christ taking that sin upon Himself, we have hope that can never fade. The wonderful message is that God loves us despite our hopeless condition. Hope reveals the truth that God has a plan for all of us and it gives us the promise that God will never leave us or forsake us.

A first grader stood up in front of his class to give his speech, “What I Want To Be When I Grow Up.” He said, “I’m going to be a lion tamer and have lots of fierce lions, I’ll walk into the cage and they will roar and show their teeth.” He paused for a moment, thinking through what he had just said, then added, “Of course I’ll have my mommy with me.”

We can face the world and its suffering because we know that we never have to face it alone. God has given us hope through the promise of His Son and through His Son we have found peace and security in His suffering.

What an amazing gift we have been given that enables us to stand strong no matter what cross we are given to bear. Hope is the reward for our faithfulness, sin is no longer the victor, pain and suffering are no longer the norm.

1 Corinthians 15 says, If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

And in 2 Corinthians Chapter 4 we read, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Easter is all about the hope that was found in an empty grave. The world might have lost that message but you and me, we don’t have to. Some of you are here because it’s Easter and that’s what you do on Easter. My prayer for you is that you would accept the invitation that Christ has given us to follow Him because that is where hope is found. Some of you are members we don’t see much in church and to you I say, throw down those things the devil has put in your way and rejoice with us in the hope that Christ offers every week. Others of you know the message well and I invite you to continue to fight the good fight. May your Easter be more than beautiful eggs, rabbits and cute chicks. May this Easter remind you where true hope is. Amen

“The Calling of a Thief” A Good Friday Sermon

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

I had an argument with one of my very dearest friends on the topic of one’s calling. I made the comment that I had been called to Zion Lutheran Church in Ashton, Idaho to be their pastor. In other words, the congregation met and decided that I was the one that God had led them to, to be their shepherd. His argument was that I could not be “rightly” called because I was not yet ordained.

I see his argument, in a legal sense, he was right. To be rightly called, according to our church father’s, one must have a seminary education. They felt that to serve the vocation of pastor, one must be properly trained. But my argument was also correct, the calling I was speaking of was a higher calling to serve God in ministry made by God himself. I was called to Christ, not simply a vocation.

In fact, all of us, even those who have no seminary training, are called at one time or another to Christ. Some are called from their birth, like Samuel. Others are called to Christ later in life. Paul and the other Apostles weren’t called until they were older, and some have said that Joseph of Arimathea was well on in years when he finally came to faith. We read of Simeon waiting until he was near death for his calling to finally realize God’s promise to see and believe in the Christ child.

At one time or another we are all called to commit to Christ. It might be in a ministry here in church or it might be something not associated with any church that you come upon by chance. Each of us are called to commit ourselves to service, each of us are called to a saving faith. Each of us is called to the family of Christ.

And one can never predict when that might be. It might be the day you were born or it may be in your last hours. There is only one last minute conversion spoken of in Scripture. This may be included to give us hope or it may be to caution us from waiting until the last minute to repent and believe. In the movie, God Is Not Dead, there is a last minute conversion that is so powerful it brings tears to your eyes, but in Scripture there is only one, that of the thief on the cross.

This conversion is relevant to all Christians because each one of us will have our day, each of us will have that last breath in our final hour. Just like the thief on the cross, all of us will have to make a final reckoning with Christ. In the thief’s situation, he knew when his last day would be but most of us won’t be so blessed so we called to ready ourselves.

And we mustn’t forget the other thief. He also heard the Word of God and he was offered the same opportunity. One thief saw his calling and the other missed it. One would see paradise with his Lord and the other would feel the everlasting rejection of God. One will feel God’s love as he breathed his last and the other would be forever separated from that love

Some, like the thief on the one side of Christ, will demand proof and others, like the thief on the other side, will trust in God’s Word alone for their salvation.  As one thief says in a mocking tone, “save us and yourself,” the other says with hope, “remember me in your kingdom.”

What the three men were going through was horrifying.  It’s hard, sometimes, to even think of it. Crucifixion was a terrible way to die. We wonder why it had to be that way. We hear the story and we want Jesus to call on the angels to save Him from His torment. We know He didn’t have to stay there. We know He had the power to call the whole thing off. But Christ also had His calling from the Father and nothing could stop Him from fulfilling that call.

In this way, Christ was setting the example for all of us. When we have our own crosses to bear in the name of Christ, we are also called to such commitment and faith in the face of difficulty. None of us will have to bear what Christ had to, but each of us is called to follow the Spirit’s direction no matter the cost. If Christ endured what He had to on earth, surely we can endure whatever the world will heap upon us for His namesake. Each day in our life is to be committed to the calling we all have as sons and daughters of the King of King’s. From the day we are born to the day we die, we are all called to be God’s own and to make a difference in His kingdom.

I wonder what life was like for the thief who would see Christ in paradise. What was his childhood like? What drove him to crime? In what did he place his hope? I’m sure that at one time he was like most of us when we are young and he thought he would live forever. Like us, he probably cheated death at one time or another when his youthful desires brought him to dangerous places, never even considering what might happen.

What was he thinking as he hung there next to Jesus? Was he focusing on his past mistakes? Was he there alone without someone who loved him screaming out in sorrow? Was it this that brought him to hope in Christ when he thought his hope was gone? We may never know.

What we do know is that he had time to think about it. He had time to listen to Jesus and take in His Word’s. He had time to come to a saving faith as he hung in agony.

For many of us, death will come more quickly and unexpectedly. We would all like to die peacefully in our sleep after we have had the chance to say our last goodbyes but for many of us that opportunity will never be given. The truth is that none of us know our last second fate but we all know it’s coming.

And when we near the end, we can learn from both thieves. In one case we face death certain of our future and in the other, we face death still demanding proof.

I pray you all face death like the former and not the latter. I pray you do not face death in bitter opposition asking God to show you something first. “Don’t just hang there Jesus, do something!!” We all have our moments where proof is what we think we need. When things don’t go the way we’ve planned them or when luck is not on our side. Many of us have asked God for a clear sign as to the direction He is taking us, I know I have. “Show me Lord, don’t make me guess. Don’t just leave me hangin’, do something.”

This is how one thief reacts but the other sees things more clearly. He rebukes our skeptical thief who demands proof saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same condemnation?” When we require proof, it gives evidence to our lack of respect. No one would demand proof from one they trusted completely. No one would ask for such things from one they truly believed in. To do so would show a lack of fear. There is no fear in doubt.

The truth is, we should all be afraid of not being included In the category of the faithful few. We should be very, very scared because our day is coming just as it did for those who hung with Christ. The day of judgment could come at any time and our calling is to remain faithful and ready for that fateful day when we will have to make an accounting. That is truly something to fear.

Every Christian knows that there will come a day of reckoning. There will come a day when we are held accountable for our sin. Are you ready to receive the due reward for our deeds? Prepare yourself.

One thief lashes out, one comes to repentance. Both hear Christ but only one will see the reward for his faith. One was lost in his sin and one had his sins wiped clean. On the cross, one thief came to the realization that Christ was the answer and one could not let go of his hate long enough to ask for redemption. One prepared himself for death and the other was not fit to die.

So, are you fit to die? Hopefully, you understand that you will fall short without Christ to speak on your behalf. Hopefully you understand that the only way to be fit is to fully submit your mind, heart and soul to Christ so that His Spirit might lead you to what you have been called to.

We speak of the horror of the cross but even this cannot compare to the horror of being separated from God for all eternity. The greatest tragedy is the one we have not seen and pray to never see, that which lies in waiting for all those who have died in their sins.

We all have been called to Christ and I dare say we have all been called to His service no matter how remote it might be.

 

There is a plan for all of us that God has had in place from before our birth. But you will never realize it if you don’t do as the repentant thief did, placing all of your hope in Christ. The choice is yours. You can fulfill this calling in repentance and faith or you can be like the unrepentant thief and let ignorance or anger or complacency rule the day.

Good Friday is good because Christ’s death gave us the opportunity to make a choice to follow Him. Good Friday is good because it was by His death that we are saved. Good Friday reminds us that we have all been called to Christ. Don’t wait until your last moments. Listen for God’s calling in your life and let Him lead you to everlasting glory. Amen.

 

“Just One of The Crowd”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

Our Gospel lesson for this morning is a bit unusual. It’s describing a scene that is about Jesus Christ but it is not speaking of miracles or teaching us through parable. It’s not describing Jesus as Messiah, instead it’s speaking of Him as victim. The importance of the text is not what Jesus is doing but what “they” are doing.

The Word “they” is used 10 times to describe a variety of different people, so who are “They?” They are the people who are at the crucifixion of Jesus and they compose different groups. Each group has its own reason for being there.

First there are those who are there for sympathy. Many are crying as they see their Savior walk down the Via Delarosa struggling under the weight of His cross. They cry out in pain asking why. Why are they crucifying Him? What has He done to deserve this? What wrong has He committed? But their pleas are falling on deaf ears. The sentence has been cast and the orders are being carried out. While others shout out in anger and spite, spitting and throwing stones, those who sympathize, those who were with Jesus to the very end, try to come to grips with what is happening and why. But they don’t try to save Him or defend Him. They just stand there and cry.

We have that crowd with us today. They stand by and watch as God’s people work in the mission fields, but they rarely if ever lift a finger to help. They are willing to show their support but that’s as far as it goes.

As the sympathizers are shouting their words of support, there is another crowd trying to drown them out with their hate. These are those who oppose Jesus and, by now, they far outnumber the supporters. These are those who cried, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” as Pilate decided Christ’s fate. They have only loathing in their sinful hearts for the man who struggles under the cross. If they had their way He would have been dead already.

They want Him to die because He is a threat to them. His teaching is opposing theirs and His demands are affecting their lifestyles and they hate Him for it. They hated Him so much that they were actually rejoicing that this threat would soon be gone so that they might conduct business as usual. They hated Him so much that they watched with delight as the Son of Man was hung up to suffer the greatest agony. No pain could be so great as to satisfy them.

And this crowd is still with us this day. This is the crowd who wants to burn our Bibles, take down our monuments and do away with Christianity all together. They want to keep the Gospel off radio and Television.

They hate Christianity and its teaching so much that they work tirelessly to see it wiped out of every community. There is one thing about this crowd though, at least we know where they stand. There is no mistaking their intent and desire.

Even more dangerous are the crowds of Apathy. This is the worst of the three crowds. Apathy is defined as, “The feeling of not having much emotion or interest.” These are the people who simply didn’t care. No matter how much suffering and shouting was taking place, they didn’t care either way. They are just there to see what’s happening. They are just along for the ride looking at who was next to die. They didn’t care that someone was dying or even how many were dying, they just wanted to watch.

We have more than our share of this crowd today also. They drive by churches without even giving them a second thought. They might glance over and admire the building but they don’t care at all about what happens inside. When they see Christians being persecuted they ignore it as just another news item they would rather not be bothered with. They never open a Bible, say a prayer (unless they really want something) or become involved with church events (unless their dragged there by a relative). They just don’t care.

These three groups are those that we still see today. As Jesus made His way to Golgatha, they were all there, watching and waiting, some with shouts of support, some with irritation and others without concern.

They watch as Jesus walks along the path to where He will be hung like a common criminal. They observe as Jesus is nailed to the cross thankful that it’s not them in His place. They view the cross being lifted up and the pain this causes. Some look with sympathy, other look with hate and some just don’t care.

As Jesus hangs on the cross, he is experiencing the reaction of these crowds. Most prominent at this time were those who rejected Him. A criminal on His left and one on His right suffering the same fate, one hurls His venom at Jesus even as he hangs. He doesn’t believe Jesus is anyone great, he is just another criminal hung on a tree. “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us,” He shouts out in a mocking tone. Others on the ground continue their taunts and curses towards Jesus. This is the reaction of rejection. Just like today, there are those who reject Christ Jesus completely, yet Christ reaches out to them anyway.

Jesus also experienced those who received Him. As one thief on a cross next to Jesus curses at Him, the one on the other side believes in Him. He cries out, “Lord, remember me in your kingdom,” and because of this faith, Jesus offers Him eternal life. By the power of God, he tells the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

There are far too few of these people today and there were far too few then. With shouts of hate all around them, the women who sit at Christ’s feet look up to the cross at the one they have given their life to. John is also there, the disciple whom Jesus loved. As they sit with their master, their quiet cries are ignored and their pleas for mercy are overlooked.

Today, we see much the same. There are far too few who have dedicated their life to God. More and more their cries are being unnoticed and their requests go unheeded. The cry of the world overpowers the cry for righteousness, “The harvest in plenty, but the laborers are few.”

And with all this, Jesus hangs with nothing but love in His heart, even for those who are cursing Him, even for those who have condemned Him, even for those who ignore Him. Romans 5:8 reminds us that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It wasn’t the nails that were keeping Him on that cross, it was the love He has for you and me that held Him there. “They” crucified Him but Jesus would not be giving them hate in return. In fact His love was so great that no amount of suffering could have stopped Him from taking your place and mine on that cross. He who was without sin became sin for us. That’s the love He wishes for us all to experience.

And as Jesus lay hanging on the cross we hear the crying of the crowds. Some shout cries of unbelief. They demanded proof before they would believe saying, “You are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God,” never realizing that the temple, Christ’s body, was already experiencing the destruction He promised.

Like so many today, they demand proof but ignore it even as they experience it. They say, “If it can’t be reasoned out it has to be false.” They teach their students that faith in an omnipotent God makes no sense. They see themselves as God and have no room for what they consider fantasy. They spout their unbelief and silence those who disagree. The flesh is mighty but the spirit is weak.

Others cry out in love. Jesus mother Mary sits at her son’s feet weeping and wailing as He slowly slips away. She can do nothing else. Other women are there with her doing the same as does John. I’m sure there were others who had followed Jesus and had similar cries. Their Lord was not going to die without the knowledge of their love for Him so they weep all the louder hoping to comfort Him in some way. As the Chief Priest and others stand by gloating, cries of love are reaching their ears too but they don’t react. They just wait hoping all this will end soon. They don’t share the love of the women and John. But love would win the day, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

The crowds that made up those who watched as Jesus suffered and dies were like the crowds today, some care others don’t. Some have love in their heart and others have hate. Some watch with eager attention and others don’t really care.

Sometimes we find ourselves in the crowds and were content to simply be one of many. But God did not call us to remain anonymous and silent. He calls us to fight for what is right and to reject what is wrong. He calls us to defend our faith as we help all others come to the knowledge of salvation. Most of all, we are called to love.

It was love that kept Christ on the cross, a love that could never be comprehended because it’s a love for all people, even the rejecters and the haters.

God’s love for us allowed Him to sacrifice His only Son to take our place and to pay the price for our sin. He who knew no sin became sin for us. For that we owe Him everything including our very lives.

So, do you see yourself in one of the crowds I’ve spoken of this morning? Are you a sympathizer who does little to change things? Are you someone who hates everything Christian or do you know someone who is, that you have chosen not to reach out to? Or are you simply along for the ride content with going through the motions.

 

There is another crowd that Jesus Himself endorses, that of the faithful few. This is the group He calls us to, people who love the Lord with all their mind, heart and soul. If something is keeping you away from this crowd then deal with it and rid it from your life because you belong nowhere else.

Jesus asks you to look to the cross. He asks you to share the same love to others as He did for us the day He died. He asks you to look to the cross for your forgiveness and salvation. He asks you to become a part of His family, a family that will be united forever in paradise. He’s waiting. What crowd are you in? Amen

 

 

 

 

 

Bible Study Questions – Matthew 27:32-45

Bible Study Questions – Matthew 27:32-45

Some of the crowd viciously mock Jesus. What does their mockery reveal about their knowledge of Jesus? How do these insults reveal the spiritual choices these people have made?

Why do you think the religious leaders were so passionate about killing Jesus? (try to go beyond the obvious)

Who do these people remind you of today?

What do verses 32-34 reveal about his weakness and his strength?

Simon of Cyrene is actually mentioned by name giving him a place of honor in Scripture, why is this? Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26; Romans 16:13

What was Jesus’ reason for dying? 2 Corinthians 5:21

 

Why was his crucifixion outside the city gates? Numbers 15:35; 1 Kings 21:13; Acts 7:58; Hebrews 13:11-13.

 

He was taken to a hill called Golgotha or, “place of the skull,” why do you suppose it was called this?

 

The sign above Jesus’ head read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews,” in Hebrew Latin and Greek so everyone would understand who was being crucified.  Why do you suppose Pilate put it there?

 

 Why do you think God chose for His Son to die in such a cruel and graphic way? Deuteronomy 21:23; Isaiah 53:10, 59:2; 1 Peter 2:24;

 

As death begins to overtake him, Jesus cries out to God vss. 45-46. What does his cry, and the overshadowing darkness, reveal about his relationship to the Father during this torment?

 

Why this particular cry? Psalm 22:1-2

 

Satan’s “triumph” is actually his defeat. Christ’s “defeat” is actually his triumph. How should this challenge our views about the way God works in our lives?
What does his death mean to us?  Hebrews 9:7, 2526; 1 Timothy 2:5

 

His death fulfilled a lot of prophesy, where do we find this? Psalm 22:1, 7-8, 18; 69:21; Isaiah 53:12

 

“Peter, The Rock”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me… 

It is the last week of His life before His crucifixion and He is sitting with His closest friends, those He himself had chosen to finish the work He has started. It is Passover and, together, they are sharing the Passover meal. This should be a time of rejoicing, but there is a certain tension in the air. This past week has been a roller-coaster ride. The disciples have seen their master display anger as He cleansed the temple of the merchants, they have seen His authority challenged, they’ve heard rumors of how public opinion about Him is changing in the short time since He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus’ enemies were everywhere and the times are in a critical stage.

It is in this atmosphere that Jesus makes His startling prediction saying. “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” We can only imagine what was going through the disciples minds. One at a time, His disciples display their unbelief saying, “Surely it is not I.” But in the end, not one, but all of them would be guilty of betrayal. We know that in this case, Jesus is speaking of Judas, but in reality He could have included each one of them as they thought of themselves first by running from their Lord when He needed them the most. Even Peter, the one Jesus would call “The Rock,” would betray His Lord when tested.

Just like all the other disciples, Peter thought of himself first when he was challenged to admit his association with Jesus. This Peter, who earlier pridefully exclaimed that even should all others fall away, he alone would remain true, denies any knowledge of Christ when his life is put in jeopardy.

And Jesus knows this. He knows the weakness of man’s flesh and He knows that he must face His final walk to the cross alone. Upon Peter’s bold statement Jesus tells him that before the cock crows, Peter would deny Him three times. Surely it is not I Lord.

Peter denied because he feared for his own life and he lied to give himself an escape from danger. Judas simply betrayed out of greed, in John 12:6 we read that this was nothing new for Judas as he made a habit of stealing from the money bag. Judas says, “What are you willing to give me if I hand Jesus over to you?” What’s betrayal worth these days?

This story of betrayal on both accounts is troubling for us because it causes us to wonder, “would I?” Judas did it for money, Peter did it for fear…….what would it take to get you to turn? If somebody offered you ten million dollars to stay away from your faith and never speak of it again, what would you do? If you were told to renounce the name of Christ or face certain death, would you turn on Him? If God tested you by taking everything you loved away from you, would you still remain faithful?

The honest truth is that none of us really know what would happen until we face a certain situation. We would like to think that our faith would get us through, but would it? Peter had all the confidence in the world before he was put to the test and look how that ended up. The preservation of self ultimately won over his faithfulness to Christ.

After his denial, Peter had to live with the consequences of his actions. “What have I done? I denied Him just like He said I would,” we can hear him say. At first a valiant self-professed guardian of Christ and now a coward, from the Rock to a stepping stone. He had been witness to Jesus’ miracles, he had felt the warmth of his love, he had learned the secret of the ages from him but now all he felt was shame for abandoning him yet again.

This further betrayal must have hurt Jesus also, yet He would rely on His heavenly Father for the strength, not only to forgive Peter but also to restore him. I’m certain he would have done the same for even Judas had he made the choice to ask for that forgiveness.

Singer Ray Hildebrand captured this in his song, “All he ever wants.” His lyrics go like this:

I still believe that Judas would be walking streets of gold and talking with the Master, if his heart had not grown cold. And after all he’d done, if he had turned away from sin,  I’ll bet Jesus would have welcomed him as a brother and a friend.

Did Judas or even Peter deserve that forgiveness and love? Did they deserve Christ’s mercy? Absolutely not. But then it wouldn’t be mercy if they had.

We can look upon Peter and wave our self-righteous fingers at him but that would only make us hypocrites. We too have denied the Master countless times. It may not have been an outright denial but all of us have denied Him at one time or another with our actions. When we fail to help those in need we deny Christ. When we turn our eye away from injustice instead of fighting against it we deny Christ. When we find our comfort from worldly values and ignore our spiritual responsibilities we deny Christ. We deny Him because that is not who he created us to be. We deny Him because in our actions He remains silent. We muzzle God and render Him useless because, like Peter, we fear the consequences.

The last interaction Jesus had with Peter before His death was at the moment Peter denied Him. In Luke it is said that immediately after the Rooster crowed their eyes met in what must have been a crushing moment for Peter. We are told as much as it describes him weeping bitterly afterwards. He had betrayed the one he loved the most. In just a short time, His master would be dead. Thankfully for Peter, that was not the end of the story because death could not hold Jesus. Just as He promised, on the third day He would rise again to give Peter and everyone else a second chance.

One of the first things Jesus did after His resurrection was to restore the relationships He had with His disciples. He returns to them and rebukes them for their unbelief and their hardness of heart. There is no time for unbelief any longer, their task from now on would be a difficult one.

And Peter would need to be the Rock that Christ had previously ordained him to be. In John, we read that near the very end of His time with the disciples, Jesus would see them again by the sea of Tiberias. The disciples are fishing and are having no luck. They see a man standing along the shore but they’re not exactly sure who it is. We read from Chapter 21, Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

Can you imagine what it must have felt like to Peter to have a second chance? Three times Jesus asks Peter afterwards if he loved Him and three times Peter has to reinforce His answer. Three times the cock crowed and Peter was crushed. Three times His Lord asks him for His love and three times he is granted the gift to say yes. From feeling condemned to feeling pure love from a tragic ending to a new beginning.

And this gift is not only given to Peter, it is granted to all of us who have denied Jesus in our own ways. Every time we come to God in repentance, He gives us our own second chance, or third chance or fourth chance and so on and so on. Every time we bend at the knee, crushed by what we have done, Jesus is already working to restore the relationship He has with you.

In the end, the disciples would all be changed. At Pentecost, their journey would begin and their lives would be forever lived for Christ. This is where we need to be. This is the path that God desires for us. God doesn’t desire for us to walk the path of denial, or to walk the path of half-hearted dedication unsure of where we are to go or what we are to do. God wants us to make a decision, the decision to follow Him with everything in us, or not at all. There is no grey area, no leaway because He knows that when we make that choice to never deny Him, that’s where true joy will be found. When we learn to trust God in all things, we begin to have experiences we never dreamed we would have alongside other Christian brothers and sisters who have chosen to follow that same path with us.

But the choice to love and not to deny is yours. God is not going to make that decision for you. Being unashamed of Christ is a decision that goes against the world and it does not promise you easy sailing. It requires determination and commitment. But nothing can offer you the rewards that this kind of relationship can

 

Peter denied Christ because he feared the consequences of his dedication to Him but we must remain unashamed despite the conditions. Will we fail at times? Yes we will, we are sinful beings in a sinful world, but we are to come back to God in repentance because that is what is expected of us. He wants to give us new opportunities. Each day lived for Christ makes the next day a little easier. Each day as a disciple makes it easier to end our looking back, letting up, slowing down, backing away and being still. Our past has been redeemed and our future is secure. In 1 Peter 1:3-5 he says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Peter knew all about a second chance, a new life, and he knew that it could only have been made possible by the death and resurrection of his Savior. In the end, he would be the rock he was called to be, even after he had denied the one who gave him that honor. May we all be so blessed. Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible Study Question – Matthew:26:69-75

Bible Study Question – Matthew:26:69-75

What betrayal took place in this same courtyard on Wednesday? Matthew 26:3 (aulhn  actually translates courtyard not palace, though it was the most probably the palace courtyard).

Who was it that challenged Peter about his relationship to Jesus? Why is Peter’s response so surprising, especially in light of who challenged him?

How did Peter respond to that second accusation (v. 72)? How was it different from his first response? Why? Matthew 5:33-37

 

About an hour later (Luke 22:59), Peter received a third accusation. How was that accusation different from the first two (v. 73)? Who made the third accusation (John 18:26)?

 

How did Peter deny Christ’s divinity? Verse 74 (Matthew 16:16)

 

What occurs that reminds Peter of Jesus’ prophecy that he will deny the Lord three times? *

What did Jesus say about loyalty to God? Matthew 10:37-39

Do you think the penalty for disloyalty to the Lord described in these verses should still be in effect today? Deuteronomy 13:6-10

 

Two of Jesus’ disciples were disloyal to him in the last days, but with quite different outcomes. Who were they? Why were the outcomes so different?

 

Why was it necessary for Peter to face this ordeal? He was the first to profess Jesus as his Lord Messiah, the only Apostle brave enough to attempt to walk on the stormy sea to Jesus, and he was ready to defend Jesus with his life.

Peter may have thought he was a failure as Jesus was led away to die, but that wasn’t the end of the story! What happened to Jesus after He was crucified? Romans 5:8-11.

 

What does Jesus do instead of rebuking Peter? John 21:15-17

Peter means “a rock or a stone” and Simon means “reed.” Why did Jesus call him by his old name?

Why did He ask him 3 times?

How can faith be sustained in adversity?

What are some ways we deny Christ?

 

 

 

*There is no article associated with the Greek word for cockcrow in verse 74. The word “cockcrow” is Greek is formed from the Greek word for “cock” alektor and the word for “sound” phoneo. In Greek alektorophonia was a trumpet signal that announced the end of the third watch and the beginning of the fourth and last night watch. The “cockcrow” Peter heard must be the trumpet blast signaling the end of the third watch that was given at the Temple (Mishnah: Sukkot, 5:4; M. Yoma, 1:8) and at the Roman fortress called the Antonia. Mark records that Jesus told Peter he would betray Him before the cockcrows twice Mark 14:30, and in the high priest’s courtyard, as Peter denied Christ the third time Mark records Peter heard the second “cockcrow” Mark 14:72.

In 1st century AD Jerusalem, as in all the cities of the Roman Empire, the nighttime hours were divided into 4 time periods called “Watches”:

#1: Evening watch Sundown to 9PM
#2: Midnight watch 9 PM to Midnight
#3: Cockcrow watch Midnight to 3 AM
#4: Dawn watch 3 AM to Dawn

The end of each watch, and the beginning of the next was signaled by a trumpet blast. The Third Watch was from Midnight to 3 AM. At the close of the Third Watch a signal was given by the Roman guards at the Antonia Fortress next to the Temple. A trumpet was blown to signal the end of the Watch and the change of the guard. The Romans called the trumpet blast at the end of the Third Watch the “gallicinium,” in Latin, “cockcrow.” If Jesus was identifying the time of Peter’s last denial at the time a rooster crow was heard, it could not be a specific time “roosters are notoriously unpredictable in their crowing. There was also a rabbinic ordinance against keeping chickens within the walls of the Holy City because it was feared that their scratching would produce “unclean things,” thereby violating the purity laws (J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, page 47, note 44). However, if Jesus was referring to the gallicinium in Latin or alektorophonia in Greek, His time reference was to the trumpet signal of the “cockcrow” that was a precise military signal, and Peter denied Christ at3 in the morning (Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John, page 828).6) Jesus spoke of the four night watches in Mark 13:35: So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming: evening, midnight, cockcrow or dawn … (NJB).