Monday, February 29, 2016

6 characteristics of Christ's Return

Read Acts 1.

For the forty days between the feasts of Passover and Pentecost, Jesus proved His resurrection from the dead.  Through touch, speech, walking and eating in various places with over 520 different people, the evidence of His bodily resurrection is undeniable.

In His last teaching with the eleven disciples, Jesus reviewed with them again the subject of His coming kingdom on earth.  The way we know that the subject was earthly, not the heavenly one, was due to the question in verse 6 and the use of the word "so".  It had been centuries since  a descendant of David had occupied the throne and Israel had enjoyed control over its own nation.  Matthew 1 establishes that Jesus has such a royal right.  But the timing was not right.  There was much to do and much that needed to take place first.

Jesus gave them two charges.  First, to return to Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the predicted baptism of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit would empower them to accomplish the second charge; that is, to spread the good news of Jesus throughout the world.  As Jesus promised in John 16:7, the Spirit will not come to indwell believers until His departure.

But what about His return?  "This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." (1:11)

1. He will return visibly.
This will be no secret second coming.  Luke 21:27-"And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory."  Revelation 1:7 repeats this claim-"Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him..."

2. He will return bodily.
This will not be a spiritual return.  "This same Jesus" who ate and was touched will come again.

3. He will return powerfully.
Revelation 19:11-16 describes the scene of Christ's return when with a spoken word from His mouth, all His enemies will be destroyed.

4. He will return geographically.
The ascension took place from the Mount of Olives, about a half a mile from Jerusalem (v.12).  He will return to that same spot.  Zechariah 14:4 is clear, "On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west..."

5. He will return royally.
At that time, all the unfulfilled prophecies concerning His earthly kingdom will take place.  "...and the government shall be upon his shoulder...on the throne of David and over his kingdom..." (Isaiah 9:6-7)  "And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David..." (Luke 1:32)  "...and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth." (Revelation 5:10)  "...but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years." (Revelation 20:6)

6. He will return suddenly.
"Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." (Matthew 24:44)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

When you feel like a Failure

Read John 21.

The Apostle Paul warned, "Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."  (1 Corinthians 10:12)  It is shear hubris on our part any time we think we are not vulnerable to sin.  Peter, like all of us, exemplifies this truth.

When Jesus foretold of His departure at the end of John 13, Peter's response was, "I will lay down my life for you.  Jesus answered, '....the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.'"  Surely, those words stung Peter's character.  Yet, that same night while he warmed himself by a fire, Peter cursed and denied that he even knew Jesus.  He had succumbed to temptation of lying out of fear and self-protection.  The moral failure was sin and he knew it.

Jesus showed Himself alive after the resurrection over the next 50 days, from Passover to Pentecost.  Peter had seen the Lord twice before during that time.  Now, he and some of the other disciples went fishing.  What took place on the shore in this chapter restored Peter in both his relationship with Jesus and with his mission in life.

Several insights are here concerning restoration after a spiritual failure.
1. Jesus took the initiative.
God always does.  A key ministry of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin (John 16:8).  By making His presence known, Jesus provided an open opportunity for Peter to respond and come to Him.  A soft heart is sensitive to the Spirit's prompting.  It is that quiet voice in the conscience.  God can yell loudly at a heart hardened by sin and they do not hear him.

2. Peter came running.
Running to God and wanting His presence is the first step toward repentance.  This in itself did not resolve the problem, but it was a good start.  Running from God is impossible and only makes matters worse.

3. The root issue is a committed love.
Jesus never mentioned the three denials.  However, by asking three times, the comparison must have been unmistakable to Peter.  Jesus went for Peter's heart.  Love may produce emotions and passions, but true love is a commitment.  It shows itself in actions of fidelity.  Peter had been unfaithful and violated his love for the Lord.

4. Peter was still grieving.
He was not just sorry about what had happened.  These are not mere remorseful feelings because he was caught.  This is a repentance, an admission of wrong, and a recommitment of his relationship with Christ.  "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret..." (2 Corinthians 7:10)

5. Jesus put him back on mission.
There was work to do, people to reach, the Good News to proclaim.  Here, the Good Shepherd recommissioned Peter to fulfill his calling and his duty.  Indeed, like most of the other disciples, Peter would lay down his life for Christ.

"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Confusion after the Crucifixion

Read John 20.

It is always fascinating to read again the actual eyewitness accounts of the resurrection of Jesus.  Though He had predicted this at least several times in their hearing, none of His followers were expecting it.  It was not until later that "they remembered his words" (Luke 24:8) and they realized this was God's plan all along.  Further, the Holy Spirit moved John to include "for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead" (v.9).

It is in hindsight that the Old Testament prophetic passages come alive concerning the Messiah.
"...because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered among the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12b)
"For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption." (Psalm 16:10)
And, many others.

Notice the initial responses to the good news by those closest to Jesus.
1. Mary.  
She was confused and certain that someone had stolen the body.  Crying, with her head down, she spoke with angels and with Jesus unaware.  It was not until Jesus called her name that she looked up to see who it was.  "Teacher!"  She quickly ran to tell the disciples, "I have seen the Lord."

2. John and Peter.
Upon hearing the first report from Mary, ran to the tomb to see for themselves.  Finding nothing but grave clothes, they were not sure what happened.  They returned home.

3. The Disciples.
They were fearful.  If the authorities could kill Jesus, what would happen to them?   They gathered together behind a locked door.  Suddenly, Jesus appeared in the room.  He spoke peace to their troubled hearts.  Then, He empowered and commissioned them to represent Him.  The message was and is that the full and final payment for sin has been made and that all who come to believe in Jesus as their Savior may be forgiven.  As Jesus explained repeatedly, this is the offer of eternal life through faith in Him alone (John 6:26-29).

4. Thomas.
This is the original doubting Thomas.  He refused to believe in a resurrected Jesus.  Even though the other ten disciples confirmed that they had seen and interacted with the risen Christ, he said unless he could see and touch Jesus for himself "I will never believe."  Jesus waited eight days more to confront Thomas about that statement.  When Jesus appeared, Thomas' only responses were to worship and declare that Jesus was "my Lord and my God!"

The resurrection of Jesus is an historical fact.  Responses today fall in similar categories as above.  Some were confused.  Some did not know.  Some were fearful.  Some disbelieved.  None understood the pertinent Scriptures at the time.  It was the personal encounter with the risen Lord that brought spiritual clarity and prompted the worship of Jesus as God.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

8 incongruities of the Cross

Read John 19.

The penalty for sin is death (Ezekiel 18:20).  From Genesis 3, and then instituted in the Law, God made provision for the atonement of sin by an animal substitute.  But those repeated sacrifices only covered the sin until such time as the suffering Messiah, the ultimate substitute for sin, would come to make a full and final payment.  John, the Baptist, announced Jesus as God's lamb who would do that very thing (John 1:29).

To Joseph, the angel declared in Matthew 1:21, " shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."  He was born to die.  Knowing these things and the Old Testament  prophecies do not lessen the sense of entering holy ground when reading this chapter.  The details of injustice, mistreatment, and crucifixion should stir our emotions, as well as our spiritual response of worship.

From a human perspective in this account, there are many incongruities and shear nonsense in the back and forth between the parties involved.
1. His ministry was marked by healing people and teaching God's word.  However, in 18:30, the accusation against Jesus when He was arrested was "doing evil."
2. In 18:38 and 19:4, Pilate announced, "I find no guilt in him."  Then, Pilate had a man flogged whom he just declared to be innocent.
3. Jesus had the royal right to the throne of David (Matthew 1).  He told Pilate straight out that He was a king (18:33-36).  Yet, the governor turned Jesus over to his soldiers to mock, ridicule and physically abuse Him.
4. Though declared not guilty, the chief priests and officers of the Temple demanded crucifixion.  Why?  Because Jesus claimed to be God.  Under the Law, such blasphemy would have meant stoning to death.  But this was not blasphemy.  Jesus was indeed God in the flesh (John 1:1-18).
5. When Pilate heard this new charge against Jesus, he was struck with fear.  The very thought of sentencing God in the flesh should have done more than strike fear in him.  In 19:8-9, he asked Jesus, "Where are you from?"  Jesus did not need to answer because He already did in 18:36.
6. Pilate's claim to authority in 19:10-11 was invalid.  All judgmental authority belongs to Jesus (John 5:27).
7. While the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of doing evil, in 19:11 Jesus, the Righteous Judge, declared them to have "greater sin" than Pilate.  This indicates that there are degrees of sin and punishment.
8. "Behold your king!", said Pilate.  But in 19:14-16, the positional religious leaders of Israel responded, "We have no king but Caesar."  The truth is they hated the Romans.  Devout Jews longed for God's rule and the restoration of a Davidic king.

But God was and is in control.  All things took place exactly as planned before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).  John's eyewitness account of these true happenings are so "that you also may believe." (John 19:35)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Speaking truth to Power

Read John 18.

It was Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), a French philosopher and lawyer, who said, "Every country has the government it deserves."  Reading this chapter, it is no wonder that the Sovereign God of heaven sent the Romans to control Israel during this time.

The men who held positions of spiritual leadership for the nation were divided.  The liberal Sadducees cast aspersions on the Scriptures.  The Pharisees preferred to adhere to their traditions more than the Scriptures.  Both groups showed themselves to be filled with arrogance and mostly concerned with protecting what little power they had left.  Surely, among the seventy in the council, there were some good men who believed in Jesus (Nicodemus and others John 12:41-43).  But, on the whole the Sanhedrin proved to be an ungodly group to say the least.

When challenged with the truth of God's word and the truth personified in Jesus (John 14:6), they chose not only to reject what they heard but decided to kill the Messenger.  In John 11:49-52, it was none other than the high priest himself who voiced the fear that unless they did something about Jesus the Romans would step in and take total control.  They would lose everything.  The high priest could have recognized his sin, repented, and led the nation in a spiritual reformation.  Instead, he set out on a plan to murder Jesus.  The plan is repeated in John 19:14.

Their common practice would have been to stone an evildoer to death, as they did Stephen in Acts 7.  Unknowingly they were fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Messiah's death.  Psalm 34:20, "He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken."  Jesus said in John 3:14, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up."  The Roman death penalty was carried out by crucifixion; lifted high on a cross.

Pilate found no guilt in Jesus, certainly not of a capital crime, and even offered the council a way out by releasing Jesus.  But, instead, their evil hearts desired a well-known robber over the Son of God.

Jesus words to Pilate in verse 37 demand a personal response.  The decision determines where a person will spend eternity.  "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice."  

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Why are we still here?

Read John 17.

This is the real Lord's Prayer, the one Jesus actually prayed.  As He spoke with the Father, Jesus petitioned for the current disciples in preparation for His leaving them.  But He included future believers also (v.20).  Why does Jesus leave His followers here?  This is a sinful world.  Why does He not take believers to heaven immediately upon their salvation?

There at least four parts to understanding what God is up to with keeping believers on earth.
1. Believers in Jesus are in the world. (v.11)
Our Lord acknowledged the situation.  In the previous three chapters, Jesus made it clear that with His departure would come the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower believers.  They would not be left alone.  Though the world be full of sin, temptation, and troubles for those who live for Christ, the Holy Spirit will be present to strengthen and to intercede.  We serve Jesus in enemy territory.  It is a spiritually dangerous place.  We have been issued armor for the spiritual battles (Ephesians 6:10-18).  Woe to the Christian who does not understand this.  They will live in defeat.

2. Believers in Jesus are not of the world. (v.14)
Not only is our eternal destiny different, but our lifestyles and behaviors are to be distinct.  In many ways, a follower of Jesus lives a life separated from the world in thinking, speech, and actions.  A revelation to some would be that the Bible does have some do's and don'ts.  At the moment of salvation, we have been set apart to God forever; positional sanctification.  Then, our responsibility as believers is to live like it (1 Peter 2:9).  Living a holy life requires spiritual maturity over time.  This is often called progressive sanctification.  The point is that while we are in the world we are not to act like those who do not know Jesus.

3. Believers in Jesus are not out of the world...yet. (v.15)
One day believers will be taken out, either by death or rapture.  See 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.  In His prayer, Jesus deliberately prayed that His followers not be removed from the earth but be kept from the power of the devil.

4. Believers in Jesus are sent into the world. (v.18)
While we are here we are on a mission.  There is only one legitimate reason for God to leave us here.  Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 are clear.  We who know the Lord are to be witnesses to the people of this world of what Jesus has done, what He has done for us, and can do for them.  In John 20:21, after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples.  He said, "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you."

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

6 Ways to know the Holy Spirit is at Work

Read John 16.

Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Helper, or Comforter.  "If I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you." (v.7b)  The Lord said this to the disciples in the context of preparing them for His leaving and for what His followers would be facing in rejection and tribulation in His absence.  The Holy Spirit ministers in several ways mentioned in this chapter.

1. He is the Comforter of believers. (v.7)
Jesus would not leave His followers alone.  When Jesus ascended back to heaven in Acts 1, this third Person of the trinity came in Acts 2.  As we saw in John 14, the Holy Spirit helps believers by interceding for us in prayer, empowering us for serving Christ, and encouraging us through the difficulties of life.

2. He is a Convictor of sin. (v.9)
A key role of the Holy Spirit is to prick the human conscience when one violates the word of God.

3. He is the Convictor of right. (v.10)
When one sincerely desires to please God and accomplish what He wants done, the Holy Spirit will provide such assurance.  With such, by faith, we move forward in decision making.  "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

4. He is the Convictor of accountability. (v.11)
Judgment is coming.  One day the followers of Jesus will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).  Those who refused to place their faith in Jesus as their Savior will face eternal punishment at the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15).

5. He is the Guide of all truth. (v.13)
This is primarily a promise to the Apostles that they would be able to write and speak accurately on behalf of God.  The New Testament writers take no personal credit but attribute the work to the Holy Spirit.  (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21)  Guiding believers into the reassurance of God's truth is part of His work above in #3.

6. He is the Glorifier of Jesus. (v.14)
If the Holy Spirit is at work, He will not draw attention to Himself.  His role in all five of the works above is to direct people to worship and praise Jesus.

Monday, February 8, 2016

God is a Fruit Inspector

Read John 15.

I do not know the origin of the following statement but it is classic.  "Spiritual fruit is the life of Jesus Christ reproduced in us by the Holy Spirit and reproduced in others as we give away our faith."

In this chapter, Jesus compared the Christian life to branch on a grape vine.  With God overseeing His vineyard and Christ serving as the vine in the analogy, the branch is expected to produce fruit.  It is the natural result of life and health in the branch derived from the vine.  No fruit reveals no health and/or no life in the branch.  For the overseer of the vineyard, the solution for lack of health in such cases is pruning.  In the case of lack of life, the branch is taken away to the fire.

At a particular time of the year, leaves sprout on a vineyard producing a beautiful and attractive sight for photography.  But, it will not be long before the workers will cut away all those leaves.  When asked why he was ruining such beautiful sight, one overseer quickly replied, "We are not in the leaf business."  If not removed, those leaves would sap life from the branch instead of producing fruit.

Jesus said, "So, every healthy tree bears good fruit...Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down...Thus you will recognize them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:17-20)

False teachers are called "...fruitless trees..." (Jude 12)

The New Testament uses the word "fruit" in both ways--the result of what God does in us and the result of what God does through us.

When the Holy Spirit is in control of a follower of Jesus, there is fruit.  This is in direct contrast to "the works of the flesh," or when a person tries to run their own lives.

The works (the product or fruit) of the flesh are evident and include: "...sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:19-21)  These words compare with Jesus' warning in John 15:6.

The fruit (singular) of the Holy Spirit includes: ", joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..." (Galatians 5:22-23)

"By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." (John 15:8)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Jesus explains the role of the Holy Spirit

Read John 14.

The Gospel of John mentions the Holy Spirit in at least seven of the twenty-one chapters.
-In chapter 1, He visibly descended upon Jesus at His baptism in confirmation with the Father's voice.
-In chapter 3, Jesus said that a person must be born of the Spirit in order to see the kingdom of God.
-In chapter 4, Jesus stated that God is Spirit.
-In chapter 7, Jesus spoke of a day when the Holy Spirit would not only live in the believer but would use the believer to bless others with this new life, like a flowing river.
-In chapters 14, 15 and 16, Jesus referred to Him as the Spirit of truth.

As He continued speaking to the remaining eleven disciples in the upper room, Jesus prepared them for His departure.  Yes, He will come again (vv.3, 18) but in the meantime there is much ministry to be done to reach the world.  The followers of Jesus, however, are not left to live and serve on their own.  "I will not leave you as orphans" (v.18).  "God is with us" in the first coming of Christ (Immanuel, Matthew 1:23, John 1:14).  But here, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit.

1. The Holy Spirit is our Helper. (vv.18 and 26)
He will be "with you."  The word helper is variously translated as "intercessor, consoler, advocate, comforter."  Literally, He is One who has been sent by the Father to come alongside and enable believers in Jesus.  It is He who empowers the follower of Christ to share their faith with others.  (Acts 1:8).  Christians are commanded to be controlled by the Holy Spirit in order to live a godly life (Ephesians 5:18) (Galatians 5:16-25).  The Holy Spirit intercedes for us in our prayers (Romans 8:26-27).

2. The Holy Spirit is Truth.  (v.17a)
He maintains a teaching role in the life of those who follow Jesus (v.26).  His guidance into "all the truth" (16:13) is not His own but from the Word of God.  In fact, this was the Apostle Peter's own testimony concerning the Scriptures.  "...knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:20-21)

As the teacher and guide of all truth, the Holy Spirit does not draw attention to Himself.  Jesus is the truth personified (14:6).  Therefore, the Holy Spirit's ministry is to "bear witness about me" (15:26).   When Jesus is honored and worshiped, we know the Holy Spirit is at work.

3. The Holy Spirit indwells Believers. (v.17b)
Throughout the Old Testament and into the Gospels, the Holy Spirit would come upon people for a time to accomplish a God-given assignment.  But the Spirit could also leave a person due to sin, as with Samson.  Also, see David's prayer in Psalm 51:11.  For Jesus to say that the Holy Spirit would be "in you" was revolutionary.  That promise began its fulfillment in Acts 1:4-8.  Later, the Apostle Paul wrote, "You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." (Romans 8:9)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Is Jesus really our Example?

Ready John 13.

"Jesus knew that his hour had come."  All the details concerning the crucifixion that had been planned in eternity past will take place the next day.  This was a prime opportunity for Jesus to instruct and prepare the disciples for what was coming.  He had much to say.  But what He did set the tone for His messages.

Jesus began to perform the menial task of washing the disciples' dirty feet.  That was a common practice due to sandals being the usual footwear.  In the culture, this was the job a servant would have done, not the positional leader.  Peter objected to the Son of God stooping to was his feet.  Jesus immediately moved the conversation from physical cleansing to spiritual cleansing of sin.

Our initial and total washing is the experience of salvation in Christ.  "He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit." (Titus 3:5)   Subsequently, Christians do sin and need regular cleaning from walking around in this world.  But we do not need a salvation bath again; just our feet washed, so to speak.  "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

There are only two places in the Bible where Jesus is called our example.  The first one is here.
1. Serving others.
"For I have given you an example..." (v.15)  He had every right to demand that someone, anyone else should wash His feet.  But He demonstrated in an unforgettable way how a godly person is to act.  Jesus had already taught this lesson before in Matthew 20:25-26.  "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant."   Servant-leadership is not an option among believers.  It is acting like Jesus.

2. Suffering injustice.
1 Peter was written to encourage those who endured hardships and mistreatment because of their faith in Christ.  Specifically, the Holy Spirit directed Peter to address the ultimate human injustice of slavery.  "For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.  For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?  But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.  For this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you and example, so that you might follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:19-21)

Following the example of Jesus and living "in his steps" is no picnic.  It is a test of our sincere faith.  As He did, we must be willing to lay aside our rights and to discipline ourselves for the purposes of bringing glory to God and serving the needs of others.  These acts become the proofs of 13:34-35.  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have love you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."