What are You Risking for the Resurrection?

This sermon can be listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

How are you responding to the resurrection? You might be thinking that I have had too much sun and forgot that this is summer and not Easter. The Resurrection is something we talk about in the springtime when the crocuses are just starting to pop up, not when we are in the full bloom of summer. But in reality, the resurrection must be near and dear to our thinking all the time. Why? It is what we are staking our lives upon. The resurrection is the reason for our faith, the power for our living and the hope for our future. The Apostle Paul, a guy who at one time thought Christianity was a harmful myth that misled people and did everything in his power to destroy it including hunting and killing Christians, said this about the resurrection, But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14) Some translations say our preaching and faith is useless. So if we don’t think about, preach, cherish and put all our hope on the resurrection, we should stop what we are doing right now and instead eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die and become worm food. There are better things you and I could be doing with our time than believe in a guy who died almost 2000 years ago naked on a Roman Cross.

However, if the resurrection is true; if Jesus really did rise from the grave, then this is what is the most important thing you can believe and think about. To use a gambling term (I bet you don’t hear that from too many Baptists), you need to put all your chips on the resurrection. One woman did and we are still talking about her 2000 years later. Let’s read her story in John 12:1-11! Read John 12:1-11!

How are you responding to the resurrection? Before you even attempt to answer that question, some of you faithful students of God’s Word may be wondering why I am focusing on the resurrection in John 12 when it seems to have little to do with the resurrection. I mean this story is before Jesus rose from the grave. This is about a dinner party who was interrupted by an outlandish woman doing the work of a slave and washing Jesus’ feet with her hair. Well, context is king when we study the Bible so we need to understand that this story of Jesus’ feet being anointed by the woman is sandwiched between Jesus raising His friend Lazarus from the dead, then the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and finally Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. It is a story sandwiched between Jesus showing Himself Lord even over death, Jesus showing Himself King even riding on a humble donkey and Jesus showing Himself Servant even washing His disciples’ feet.

All this to say that this story has much to do with the resurrection, particularly how Mary responds to Jesus after her brother has been raised from the dead. As a side note that requires clarification, there are other Mary’s mentioned in the New Testament: Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, the woman who Jesus cast seven demons out of her (Mark 16:9). Now, don’t confuse Mary Magdalene with Mary, Lazarus’ sister, the Mary in this story. Clearly, John wants us to know that this Mary is Lazarus’ sister as we read in John 12:1-2, “Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary…” Mary is obviously Lazarus’ sister, not a former prostitute.

Also, notice John gives us timelines so that we don’t confuse this story with another anointing of Jesus by an immoral woman as described in Luke 7:36-39, which happened earlier in Jesus’ ministry. The story we are studying happened six days before Passover as John 12:1 records. This story happened six days before the Angel of Death would once again take the life of a Firstborn, the difference being that instead of the blood of a little lamb painted above the doors of the Israelites protecting them from the Angel of Death like in the move The 10 Commandments. Jesus, the Lamb of God, would give His blood to protect us from death. In fact, “the one who raised Lazarus from the dead is about to go to His own death, as a sacrificial lamb, a Passover Lamb.”[1]

All of this is backdrop into this story of a woman who put everything on the line as a response to Jesus’ resurrection. She put her riches, her reputation and her relationships! Are you risking your riches, your reputation and your relationships for the resurrection? Mary started with risking her riches. The pure nard that she put on Jesus’ feet was extremely expensive. Most scholars believed that this “nard came all the way from India.”[2] I’ve been to India a couple of times. The smells there are incredibly rich and exotic. Nowadays, we can get things from India pretty quickly. Back then you didn’t have Fedex or U.P.S. It would take a long time to get such perfume from India to Palestine. And you would have to be very rich to get it. But Mary had a full pound of it. We know how much it cost per pound. How? Judas! Judas was an accountant. He could quickly tally the cost of such goods and in verse 5 he assesses the value at 300 denarii. Now, one denarii was worth one day’s wages, so 300 denarii was at least 10 months wages and possibly up to “a year’s wages.”[3] Now, I don’t know how much any of you make but I know the annual average household income in Cambridge is over $85,000. So I tried to think about what this amount would be like in today’s terms. This would be like one of us guys buying a brand new pickup truck valued at over $60,000 and giving it to Jesus without ever driving it. Or putting in a whole new kitchen with the latest appliances and gadgets and then giving it to Jesus without ever cooking a meal in it.

However, this was not just a donation by Mary, this was adoration. You see, Mary didn’t just risk her riches, maybe what surmounted to her retirement savings, but Mary risked her reputation. Mary didn’t just lay down her gift at Jesus’ feet like the Magi did so long ago when Jesus was a toddler in Bethlehem. No, Mary took the nard and put it on Jesus’ feet. Then she did something scandalous, she undid her hair and washed Jesus’ feet with her hair. As D.A. Carson asks, “Why would anyone wipe off perfume that had just been applied? And why would a respectable woman let down her tresses in male company?”[4] “Jewish women did not undo their hair.”[5] Even today, Jewish Orthodox married women wear wigs so that their hair is not seen by men other than their husbands. So think about that! Could it be like Oprah Winfrey or Kim Kardashian, very rich and powerful women, going to a homeless man and washing his feet with their hair? Why would Mary do such a thing? “She lays her own woman’s honor at the feet of Jesus. She takes that honor and makes it a towel for His holy feet.”[6] Warren Wiersbe reminds us, “She was misunderstood and criticized, but that is what usually happens when somebody gives his or her best to the Lord.”[7] Maybe you are giving your best to the Lord and nobody seems to understand or appreciate your sacrifice? Be encouraged! Jesus does! Keep going! Jesus wants more from you. Jesus wanted more from Mary. She had sat at Jesus’ feet before when Jesus visited their house at an earlier time (Luke 10:39-42). Long before Lazarus had died and rose from the grave! At that time, she had chosen the better dish over her sister who was wanting to do a lot for Jesus, but not just be with Jesus. Mary had always adored Jesus. Now, Mary goes from being a student of Jesus to giving a sacrifice to Jesus. Why? Why would she risk her riches and reputation for Jesus? Well to answer that question we need to remember that Jesus gave her brother back to her. Her beloved brother Lazarus had died. That’s tragic because Lazarus was possibly her only source of protection and income. So when Jesus arrived for Lazarus’ funeral, Mary fell once again at His feet. John 11:32-33 records what happened, “Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled.” In fact, Jesus wept! (John 11:35) But then Jesus rose Lazarus from the grave! How would you respond if somebody rescued your loved one? You would be filled with gratitude. You would want to give them a hug. You would want to give them an expensive gift. You would want to take them out for an outlandish dinner to celebrate. All these things are what Martha and Mary are doing for Jesus.

So let me pause and recap. Mary risked her riches and reputation for the resurrection or to put it a different way in tracking with her spiritual journey. She went from listening to Jesus at His feet when He first came to visit, to lamenting to Jesus at His feet when her brother died to lavishing on Jesus at His feet when Jesus raised her brother from the grave. This is the journey that you might be on as well as you encounter Jesus. This journey will give you such a deeper appreciation for the resurrection, even cause you to risk everything for believing in it. You may go from just listening to Jesus because He is such a compelling Teacher, to lamenting to Jesus over the loss of a loved one that you believe Jesus could have done something about to lavishing on Jesus your love and worship for His death and resurrection. So are you just listening to Jesus or are you lamenting to Jesus? That could be a massive step forward in your trust of Jesus. Take your complaint to Jesus! Or are you at the point of lavishing your love and worship on Jesus because you are placing all your hope on the resurrection of Christ? When loved ones die and you get past the devastation of it, you begin to realize that the resurrection is where you put all your hope for the future. I have watched some of you grow so much since your spouse died because you are placing your hope in the Lord and the resurrection to a new heavens and new earth. I have been there standing over the single casket of baby twins, not knowing what to say at first, but then appealing to the only hope there is – Jesus and His resurrection.

And yet, risking riches and reputation for the resurrection may not be the most difficult thing you have to risk for the resurrection. No, the greatest risk for the resurrection may be your relationships. We see this in Mary’s life with her brother Lazarus. Her act of washing Jesus’ feet brought more attention to her brother Lazarus, even if that was not her intent. Risking ourselves for the resurrection will cause those you love to face greater questions. In Mary’s case, Lazarus was at that dinner too. And this caused the crowds to gather. Lazarus had become a sideshow. But as soon as the crowds ballooned, the jealousy of the Pharisees ballooned along with them. And this was cause to not only want Jesus to be killed, but as verses 10-11 tell us, “But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.” You see, Warren Wiersbe reminds us, “If you will not accept the evidence of Christ, you must try to get rid of it.”[8] Maybe today you have not accepted the evidence of Christ and His resurrection and so you are trying to get rid of it? Many in our culture and educational system are trying to get rid of the evidence of Jesus and His resurrection. Jesus will prevail. He has for 2000 years. Think about the fallacy of trying to get rid of Jesus and His evidence. The Jews wanted to get rid of Lazarus by killing him. Which raises some questions? Wouldn’t have Lazarus just said, “Bring it on”? What was the worst thing that you could do? Kill me?” He had already died once and been resurrected. And who would the religious leaders kill first Lazarus or Jesus? If Lazarus first, Jesus might raise Lazarus again! So they chose Jesus! They went after the bigger prize. Little did they realize that killing Jesus first meant that Jesus would someday cause Lazarus to rise again! This fulfills Jesus’ promise in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?

If you believe, this will turn into a sweet aroma for this stinking world. In Matthew 26:13 Jesus promised, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” Mary’s offering and risk for the resurrection still has a fragrant smell. What a contrast to Judas! Nobody names their son Judas, but many name their daughters ‘Mary.’[9] “The very name ‘Iscariot’ exhales an evil odor, the absolute opposite of Mary’s ointment.”[10] And here’s the thing, Judas made a great business and socially just decision, at least on paper. It would have been smart to take a little ointment for Jesus’ feet and give the rest to the poor. He might have even got a tax deduction for giving to charity. But if you are just thinking about the financial impact or even the social impact in trying to help people and not considering Jesus, you are always aiming lower than you should. Jesus has to be the focus of our decision-making. Ask yourself, “What is best for Jesus?” If you do, He’ll take care of the rest! It is never just business. You know that scene in the 1972 movie The Godfather where Michael Corleone wants to order a Mafia hit on NYPD policeman. He says the famous line, “It’s not personal; it’s strictly business.” Well, Michael Corleone is wrong – it’s always personal! It’s always about relationships. And who can fix our relationships? JESUS!

Let me put it this way. Lori and I were discussing this week that a lot of people’s behavior, including our own, is driven by what other’s think of them. This is why people can be pretty good at work, school or in the community and then be selfish, inconsiderate and down right mean at home. We wondered whether real change can happen without community? Listen to what Paul Tripp says in this lengthy but worthwhile quote: “I understand why people, after experiencing the hurt and disappointment that so often mars our relationships, decide to live in isolation or in a comfortable collection of terminally casual relationships. I understand why people say to themselves, ‘I’ve been taken once and I won’t be taken again.’ I understand why married couples choose to live in long-term cold war relationships that lack intimate friendship and unity. I understand why ministry people often choose to live in functional isolation from the body of Christ. I understand why adult children choose to live a great distance away from their parents. I understand why many people dread the extended family gatherings that accompany the holidays. I understand why people hide their hurt and refuse to talk about painful topics with one another. I understand why people don’t ask for help or give help when asked. I understand that none of us have ever lived in one single relationship that hasn’t disappointed us in some way. I understand that relationships are hard … But for the believer, relationships are not a lifestyle option. No, they are an essential piece of God’s calling between your salvation and your final resurrection.”[11] Mary understood this truth and her story is the Gospel in action. She no longer was driven by what others thought, but what Jesus thought. And this has become a beautiful fragrance that has lasted 2000 years and gives us hope for our relationships today. Relationships are often repelling; Jesus’ can make them attractive once again. He can make us attractive again!

Maybe this is in part what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life? You see, Mary had a focus on preparing Jesus’ body for burial, but something happened. “It is significant that Mary of Bethany was not one of the women who went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus.”[12] Why? Because she already had! She had prepared Jesus’ body for burial and probably wasn’t surprised when she heard about Jesus’ resurrection. She had seen resurrection before with her brother! And now her Lord, who claimed that He was the Resurrection, experienced it Himself. He was the reason for her faith, the power for her life and hope for her future. Jesus can be that for you too if you will trust in Him and risk your riches, your reputation and your relationships for Him!

[1] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 427.

[2] R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Columbus: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1942), 839.

[3] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 339.

[4] Carson, 426.

[5] Wiersbe, 339.

[6] Lenski, 840.

[7] Wiersbe, 339.

[8] Wiersbe, 340.

[9] Wiersbe, 339.

[10] Lenski, 841.

[11] Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies – August 20 (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2015)

[12] Wiersbe, 339.

 

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The Killer Exam

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

POP QUIZ! Take out a piece of paper and write your name on it! I have one question for you and it is an all or nothing test. You either get 100% or 0%. Okay, now that everybody is stressed out and you students are moaning because you are supposed to be off school this Easter weekend, write this question: “What is the one thing that if you lost it, you would no longer want to live?”[1] Your family? Your house? Your job? Your cell phone? (You might think I joke, but there is even a term for it, nomophobia[2] – the fear some people have of being away from their mobile devices.) Sad isn’t it, but what is the one thing that if you lost it, you would no longer want to live.

This Easter I want us to get to this core issue in our lives – what are we living for. This is critical for all of us. It exposes what is your biggest hope and greatest comfort. Every one of us is living for something or someone. That something or someone could be considered our salvation because it is what we turn to when life gets tough. It is our source of comfort and hope. I have been asking myself that question lately, “What am I living for? What is the one thing that if I lost, I would no longer want to live?” Maybe this question has surfaced because my grandmother passed away last week and death has robbed me of her kindness and care. Her death has caused me to reflect on where my life is heading and what I’m living for. What are you living for?

There is a story in the Bible of a man who lived a long time just for himself. What is disturbing is that he is called the father of our faith! “He is also the father of Jewish and Islamic faiths so that “over half of the people in the human race consider him their spiritual father.”[3] His name was Abraham and I think everyone of us will be able to relate to his predicament whether this is your first time or thousandth time at church. You see he had to take a test to give up the most precious thing in his life and everyone here will have to take a similar test. Sometime in your life you will have to give up what you hold most dear. Let’s read about Abraham’s test in Genesis 22:1-19!  Read Genesis 22:1-19!

Let me give you a little background on Abraham. First of all, he lived in Ur and God told him, when he was 75 years old, to leave all his family and go to a land God promised and so Abraham acted in faith and went where God told him. This was the first step of faith and God blessed him and he became a very rich man. However, he had no children. Then God shows up again and specifically promises to give Abraham a son. Eleven more years pass by and Abraham tries to help God out by sleeping with Sarah’s maidservant! (Genesis 16:16) The result was a son named Ishmael.

You see, Abraham and Sarah had a habit of trying to fix things on their own. Do we have any fixer uppers in the audience today and not just for renovation projects, but fixers in life? Abraham was a fixer. Fixing reveals what you are living for. Why? Fixers always try to salvage a problem through effort not faith. Fixers may seem like they have faith at first because they have a vision, but they also have a do-it-yourself Home Depot attitude. Abraham had a do-it-yourself attitude. After showing initial faith, he reverted back to effort. This was particularly true in his own home, which I believe is the most difficult place to live out one’s faith. When Abraham found himself in Egypt and also in the Negev, Abraham would tell his wife Sarah to inform the leaders of that region that Sarah was Abraham’s sister so that Abraham wouldn’t be killed by the men who wanted Sarah (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18). Sounds crazy and I know Lori wouldn’t let me get away with it but it happened nor would I want to! It revealed Abraham wasn’t living for his wife, but himself.

The only solution for fixers is to come to the realization you can’t fix your biggest problem – your need for salvation. In our story, God was kind enough to put Abraham and Sarah in an unfixable predicament. God delayed His own promise in Abraham’s life for 25 years so “Abraham and Sarah were looking for a good nursing home, not looking for paint to fix up the nursery.”[4] It was not until Abraham was 100 years old that God fulfilled His promise and Abraham became the father of Isaac through Sarah (Genesis 21:5). However, Genesis records one more important truth about Abraham and that was he made a treaty with Abimelech (21:22-33) and started living with the Philistines (21:34). This is important because the culture surrounding Abraham, like it does for all of us, influenced him. 

Understanding this background, we now turn to our story, which has to be one of the craziest stories in the Bible. God tells a 100+ year-old man to take his beloved young son up onto a mountain to kill him. This is important because most of the men I know that became fathers later in life are very engaged with their sons. I remember when I was a boy that there was a kid named Eddie on my hockey team whose father was in his seventies. Eddie’s dad knew that he would not see Eddie become a husband and father so he poured his life into little Eddie making the most of the time he had count in Eddie’s early life. I’m pretty sure Abraham did this as well with his children! He would have doted on Isaac and then God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

My atheist friends who read these stories in the Bible say this is why they don’t believe in God. “Soren Kierkegaard remarks this story reveals how faith is irrational and absurd.”[5] It would have been like waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Right and then they die of cancer soon after you get married. It would be like getting into that school you wanted and you make new friends but they soon move away. It would be like trying and trying to have children and when they finally arrive, they are deathly ill. Let’s not try to get God off the hook. He is all-powerful and in control of the universe and could stop all these things.

In Genesis 22:2, God goes further by asking Abraham for “your son, your only son, the one you love.” (Ishmael had already been sent away due to Sarah’s jealousy.) This story gets to the core issue of life and lots of questions abound from this passage. I am going to answer only one of them: Why did God need to test Abraham? To show what Abraham was living for! And this is where there is a huge shift in the life of Abraham and can be for you and me as well. Give up what you are living for to God and you will live forever. This is God’s offer of salvation. You can be saved today, but salvation will come through a test. You will come to a crossroads where you have to give up what you are living for to God because it isn’t saving you. It may come today or tomorrow or years from now, but it will be the test of your life!

What was Abraham living for? Abraham’s quick response to God’s calling his name, “Here I am!” (mentioned 3 times in this passage in verses 2, 12 and 16) shows that Abraham was ready for the test. He had already studied and was anxious to take the test, even signing his name on top of the test! We know that because in verse 3, Abraham “rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son.” Most of us, upon getting such a request from God would not have had much sleep that night and would have slept past our alarm clocks. Not Abraham! He quickly obeyed God. He even told his young men in verse 5 that both he and Isaac would be back. I think this shows the test was more for God’s benefit and glory! Testing does reveal what or who is being tested but also the one testing. For example, think about how companies like Toyota test the cars to see that they are operating correctly and safely. That test is aimed at bringing glory to the manufacturer! How about when teachers test their students? Most students are given standardized tests in certain grades to see how well the students, teachers and schools are doing. A test can be just as much about the Tester as it is for the tested! In both of these cases, the name of the manufacturer and the school is on the line. They are testing their students or their products because their reputation is at stake and they want to show something about themselves. The students and products get better under such testing, but the ultimate benefit is the Tester! We often think that the test is all about us when in reality the test is more about God – will He come through?

Maybe you are wondering about that this morning? Will God come through? In Genesis 22, although it is a test for Abraham, ultimately the test is about God putting His Name on the line and revealing something about His character. And God never fails the test! This is why He made the test impossible for Abraham to pass by himself. As Romans 4:18 declares, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This explains why God gives us His righteousness and this is why life is about faith and not about trying to work hard and become more righteous. Every one here today has something seemingly impossible in their life – a bad report from the doctor, an unreasonable boss, a wayward or troubled family member, impending bills that you don’t have the money for or simply raising kids to follow Christ. God is showing that only He can do the impossible and pass the test for His glory. As Chuck Swindoll says, “We all face a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”

However, we have a tendency to fight the test, to resist the test. We don’t want to go through trials. Why? We are not willing to give up what we are living for! Think about it! You will never receive salvation until you give up the hope you think is saving you! God wants to take those things away that we ultimately treasure, so He can provide something better. Give up what you are living for to God and you will live forever. So what am I telling you to do? Drag yourself up the mountain in obedience so that you get to see God’s care and provision. Jews, Muslims and sadly Christians think that is the moral of this story. Just try harder and muster enough faith for God to do the impossible. Is that the moral of the story?

No, you see this story is about God. God threatens His own promise to Abraham of having many descendants that would “bless the nations” (Genesis 12:3) by ordering Isaac to be sacrificed. How could God make a promise about a son who would be a blessing to all nations and then want to sacrifice him? However, that is what He did, not just with Abraham, but with firstborns. “It was understood that the firstborn belonged to God because of the debt of sin (Exodus 13:2, 12, 15; 22:29; Leviticus 27:26; Numbers 3:13) and this is why Abraham went along with God’s request. In fact, Abraham’s action was not that much different at first glance than what happened in the culture in Canaan. Remember, Genesis 21:32 said Abraham returned to the land of the Philistines. There was child sacrifice in that day! Maybe Abraham was just mimicking those around him? You see, there was an “ancient law where the oldest got the majority of the estate and wealth so the family would not lose its place in society. This meant that all the hopes and dreams of a family rested on the firstborn son. The call to give up the firstborn son would be analogous to a surgeon giving up the use of his hands or of a visual artist losing the use of her eyes. The firstborn was the family. So when God told His people later on that the firstborn’s life belonged to Him unless ransomed in Numbers 3:41, “You shall take the Levites for Me, I am the Lord, instead of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel”, God was saying in the most vivid way possible that every family on earth owed a debt to eternal justice – the debt of sin. You see, if Abraham had heard a voice sounding like God’s saying, ‘Get up and kill Sarah,’ Abraham would probably never have done it. He would have rightly assumed that he was hallucinating, for God would not ask him to do something that clearly contradicted everything he had ever knew about God. But when God stated that his only son’s life was forfeit, that was not an irrational, contradictory statement to Abraham. Notice, God was not asking him to walk over to Isaac’s tent and just murder him. God asked Abraham to make Isaac a burnt offering. He was calling in Abraham’s debt. I already told you of Abraham’s lies and lust and his self-efforts to fix his own problems. Abraham’s son was going to die for the sins of the family.”[6] Remember this truth – Abraham’s son was going to die for the sins of the family.

And yet, this was not just another crazy religious exercise, where Abraham hoped that doing what God asked for would grant Abraham blessing. No, God had already promised blessing through this son. God was testing Abraham to see if he was willing to follow God if there was nothing in it for him except pain? You see as Tim Keller says, sometimes following the call of God is going to feel like God is killing you rather than saving you.”[7] God is usually doing something behind the scenes! When God was calling for the death of Isaac he was not only letting Abraham feel a little bit what God Himself would feel one day, but He was showing us that none of our sacrifices will save us. The passage only makes sense in light of the gospel. Imagine it, “For three days, Abraham must have lived in confusion about how God’s covenant promises would be carried out.”[8] A similar confusion Jesus’ own disciples would feel between the Cross and the Resurrection. The story pointed to a future day when God sacrificed His Son, His Only Son, the One He loved! He made His Son, like Isaac; carry the wood up Mount Moriah, which I believe is the same Mount Moriah where the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was according to 2 Chronicles 3:1.[9] Jesus, like Isaac, was that obedient Son who laid down on the altar, except this time there was no ram as a substitute, Jesus became the Lamb (Revelation 5:12). Jesus answers Isaac’s profound question in Genesis 22:7, “Behold the fire and wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham’s sacrifice was to be thorough. Isaac’s body was to be burned. We know this because Abraham believed in resurrection, do you? I’ll tell you that the resurrection is the only hope I have after my grandmother died last week. Abraham believed in resurrection when it had never happened before. Hebrews 11:17-19, “By faith, when Abraham was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your descendants shall be called,’ He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead.”

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And that is the real test. Do you believe in the resurrection of Abraham’s ultimate son Jesus? Last night I learned that one of my students in the seminary class I teach went to the gym this weekend, fell, hit his head and died. Death started this weekend. Resurrection finishes it. This is why this exam is the most important of your life. Do you believe in Jesus’ resurrection? He is worth living for because He is living for you.


[1] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009), xvii.

[3] Keller, 17.

[4] Steven D. Mathewson, The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 163.

[5] Keller, 8.

[6] Keller, 10-11.

[7] From Tim Keller in his sermon “Real Faith and the Only Son.”

[8] John Walton, The NIV Application Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 516.

[9] Some scholars, such as John Walton, believe that the Mount Moriah of Genesis 22:2 is a different Mount Moriah than 2 Chronicles 3:1!

 


Where Do You Find Courage?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

What are your fears? Some of the most common fears are the loss of freedom, the fear of death, the fear of the powerful, the fear of rejection, the fear of failure and the fear of the unknown.[1]  Maybe you walked in here today and you are afraid of losing your freedom – you see how Christians are losing their influence in society. Recent examples would be the sex-education curriculum in Ontario or the ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada to approve of doctor-assisted suicide. Or maybe you are afraid of death? You know that you or your loved ones are facing death. Or maybe you are afraid of the powerful? It could be that harsh teacher or principal. It could be that oppressive boss. It could be the tax-man coming after you with an audit! This is another reason why Christians should be the first to pay their taxes and pay all their required taxes. Or maybe you are afraid of failure and rejection? Maybe you don’t speak up because you don’t want to appear dumb or ignorant? Or maybe you fear the unknown? You aren’t willing to try something new because your imagination runs wild. What are your fears?

I’m afraid of falling. This is true physically and more so morally. I’m afraid of heights, especially roller coasters, though I am finding myself able to gradually and slowly overcome those fears. I even went on roller coaster this past summer because my oldest son wanted me to. I am also afraid of falling morally. I never want to do anything that would bring shame on my family, my church family and worst of all, my Heavenly Father. I want to be able to echo and own the words of the Apostle Paul, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” (2 Corinthians 6:3-4) So I’m afraid of falling. So what am I to do? What are you to do with your fears? You overcome fears through love. As 1 John 4:18 declares, which is Lori’s and my favourite verse as a couple, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves punishment, and the one who is fears is not perfected in love.” We can overcome our fears as we are perfected in God’s love. As I think about my fear of falling, it ultimately has to do with a fear of death. I usually find there are surface fears and deeper fears lurking underneath. For so long I was afraid of standing before God in judgment, even though I knew Jesus had paid for my sins and I was going to get into heaven. Though I thought that I would barely squeak in. Can anybody relate?

But now I understand that there is something more powerful that Christ has done and I am welcome by Him even now as a child of God. And so today I want to answer the question where do you find courage?  How do you find courage? We are going to find the answer to that question by looking to a story in Acts 23:1-11 of the Apostle Paul when he stood trial before the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Jews at that time. The story will demonstrate how Jesus and His Church’s mission continues despite great fears. Read Acts 23:1-11!

How do you find courage? You find courage by trusting in Christ’s resurrection! The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the difference maker in our lives. I am going to show you how the resurrection can overcome all our fears. People say you need to rise above your fears. They often you think you need to pull yourself up over your fears. To muster enough courage! But I am saying rising above your fears is found directly in Christ’s resurrection. Let’s start with the first fear – death and its cousin failure. Why would I say that death and failure are related? Certainly, we might fear death because we are saying good-bye to people or things we love. We might fear death because we will miss out on something such as our daughter’s wedding or that dream we had been working towards for so long. However, I think the greatest fear that people have about death is a fear of a having permanent stamp of failure. On the earthly level, people fear death because they regret what they did wrong. Instead, they want to be remembered for what they perceive as valuable. This is why eulogies are often telling in what a person really valued. I have heard many eulogies though the years. Some describe how a person loved their toys and things. Some talk about their cooking or hobbies. On rare occasion, it is their love and faith. Others even write their own eulogies going forward. Leonard Nimoy, known most famously for playing Mr. Spock on Star Trek died last week. I guess Canadians are paying tribute to Nimoy by “spocking” or colouring Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s picture on the $5 bills to look like Mr. Spock. By the way, let’s not deface our currency. Americans are making fun of us for it. Nimoy said in his first autobiography entitled I Am Not Spock, “In Spock, I finally found the best of both worlds: to be widely accepted in public approval and yet be able to continue to play the insulated alien through the Vulcan character.”[2] Notice how Leonard Nimoy valued people’s approval and this is how most of us want to be evaluated. Therefore, death is like the ultimate report card for many and they fear being judged as a failure by people.

Interestingly, not enough people fear the right person! They don’t fear meeting their Maker and rightful Judge. They think they deserve to go to heaven because their standard of measurement for worthiness is by comparing themselves to other human beings. I think of Leonard Nimoy again who is also recorded saying as Mr. Spock, I am what I am … and if there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else’s.[3] And so many of us use our comparison of worthiness by looking side to side. Maybe I am not quite good as that person, but certainly better than him or her. But here is where the resurrection of Christ is the difference maker. The resurrection of Christ forces us to not look side-to-side, but up and down. We must look up to find that the standard is Christ. He was perfect. He even asked his accusers, a group of Pharisees, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8:46) They couldn’t find fault with him, even later on when they brought false witnesses against him. Christ is the standard and we fall short. He is alive because His perfection didn’t let sin keep Him down.

Which is why looking up to Christ soon causes us to look down. Down to the grave. You are either perfect or not. And hardly anyone would dare declare themselves perfect – only the insane. The rest of us know there is too much evidence against us. And so we fear failure and we fear death. But there is hope! Even though “the wages of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Did you catch that last part? You can have eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus is declared alive. In fact, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) I had never noticed the word order until this week. Resurrection comes before life! The resurrection life is everlasting life! And it starts now on earth. Jesus’ resurrection gives you new life now! This is why when you are baptized, you have union with Christ and are baptized into his death, burial and resurrection. You are raised to new life. (Romans 6:4) And this is why the Apostle Paul could stand before the Sandhedrin and look each of them square in the eye and say, “I have lived my life with a good conscience before God up to this day.” (Acts 23:1) What? Paul was like an ISIL warrior killing Christians and he had the audacity to say he lived with a good conscience before God up to this day. However, because of the resurrection of Christ, Paul was no longer a murderer in the eyes of God, but had been given a new life and identity. Do you see how the resurrection overcomes that fear of failure, which leads to despair and depression? Jesus’ resurrection gives you new life now!

Let’s get back to how resurrection deals with our fears. When all of these fears are applied to the resurrection of Christ, we see the difference maker. The resurrection changes everything! Think about it! The resurrection puts everything into its proper perspective, place and priority. Toys no longer become the source of joy, but instruments to remind us of Christ who the psalmist speaks of, “In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Psalm 16:11) Hobbies transform from selfish pursuits to avenues to create affinities with others for the gospel. What do you like to do to have fun? Do you invite a non-Christian friend to join you in it? The resurrection reminds you that you want to spend eternity with as many people as possible. The resurrection gives you a different life!

White-washed tombs on the Mount of Olives

White-washed tombs on the Mount of Olives

You find courage by trusting in Christ’s resurrection and it enables you to overcome your fears. Here is a chart to help you see the results of the resurrection. (see chart) Christ’s resurrection will cause you to no longer need to fear the powerful but instead respect authorities. Christ’s resurrection will cause you to no longer fear rejection, but instead proclaim the truth regardless of acceptance. And Christ’s resurrection will no longer cause you to fear the unknown but to persevere on the path Christ has set out for you. Let’s look at how the resurrection overcomes the fear of the powerful and enables you to respect authorities. At first it doesn’t seem so in Paul’s story. Acts 23:2 records, “The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth.” They were censoring Paul for saying that he was blameless before God. Paul strikes back in verse 3 by saying, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” That reference to being a whitewashed wall is likened to trying to cover marks on a wall with white paint. It doesn’t work. There is still something wrong underneath. Jesus had said something similar in Matthew 23:27, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead man’s bones and all uncleanness.” You get a picture of this if you were to visit Jerusalem today and see all the white-washed tombs on the Mount of Olives.

These religious leaders seemed to have it altogether on the outside, but inside they were full of jealousy. We see this when Jesus was struck on the mouth by one of the Temple officers who said to Jesus, “Is that the way you You answer the high priest?” (John 18:22) You see, both Paul and Jesus were not being self-defensive, but instead calling these religious leaders to the truth and to leave their hypocrisy. In the case of Paul, he was reminding them of their own law, not to strike somebody until wrong-doing has been proven. Paul was probably referring to Leviticus 19:15, “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbour fairly.” By the way, to the skeptic, this law was foundational to our own law of “people being presumed innocent until proven guilty.” Your sense of justice and laws are based on the Judeo-Christian system, which is another argument for why the Bible is true!

Back to the story. So Paul makes this prophetic statement to the high priest. By prophetic, I mean both forth-telling and future-telling. The high priest at the time was a man named Ananias. John Stott says, “Ananias was a great hoarder of money and took away the tithes that belonged to the priests by violence.”[4] Ajith Fernando remarks, “Ananias was known as a greedy, corrupt and violent man.”[5] But Paul’s prophecy came true: “According to the Jewish historian Josephus, for within 10 years the high priest had to flee to Herod’s palace, his house was burned and he was eventually killed.”[6]

There is a lesson here for us. Despite this prophecy, Paul shows respect for authorities. Acts 23:5 Paul replies, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” (Exodus 22:28) We call people to do what is right before God and even tell them of the consequences, but we still show them respect, especially of governing authorities. Why? Because of Christ’s resurrection! When Jesus rose from the grave it showed that “God highly exalted Him the name which is above every name.” (Philippians 2:9) You can show respect to that difficult boss, teacher, government official, church leader, husband or parent because Jesus is alive, is the Head over them and He put them in place. You can respect them for Jesus’ sake, even if they don’t deserve it personally. So when we make jokes or criticize the government this is not the way of the resurrected life!

Christ’s resurrection not only helps us find courage to respect authorities, but also to proclaim the truth and correct wrong thinking. We might be afraid to speak up against an injustice or a wrong way of thinking, but the resurrection gives us courage to be bold – to proclaim the truth. Acts 23:6 shows this, “But perceiving one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, ‘Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” Paul overcame his fears and clarified that this trial was about the resurrection, not about him. So Paul made an appeal to those who believed in a future resurrection of the dead – the Pharisees. This is why “A Pharisee could become a Christian and remain a Pharisee in the early decades of Christianity.”[7] In contrast, the Sadduccees were more liberal and didn’t believe in the resurrection, or angels or that humans had spirits as Luke writes in verse 8. So the appeal to the hope and resurrection of the dead caused an immediate rift between the two theological schools of thought. But Paul’s appeal was not a theological smoke grenade or throwing the Pharisees a bone. No, Paul was trying to teach both groups that the resurrection was not just a future event, but began with Jesus. N.T. Wright who has advanced our understanding greatly of Pharisaical beliefs about the resurrection remarks, “Luke at least wants to suggest that, with Jesus’ own resurrection, the age to come has actually broken in.”[8] So Paul’s courage to correct their thinking was not to be right, but for His accusers to find hope in the resurrection of Christ. It helped him to overcome rejection and proclaim the truth regardless of acceptance. When you find yourself in that situation knowing that people are wrong in their thinking, do you point it back to the resurrection? For example, maybe your co-workers or classmates say that when a person dies they become an angel and if there is a bell, an angel gets its wings? You can tell them that because of Jesus and His resurrection we have a new life and the after-life will be even better because we will be like Jesus and have a new body like His! And we will actually judge angels! (1 Corinthians 6:3)

Christ’s resurrection enables you to respect authorities, proclaim the truth, but also to persevere on the path Christ has set out for you. Paul’s proclamation of the resurrection created such dissension that he was almost torn in two by the religious factions (v. 10). However, right in the middle of the chaos, Jesus shows up and He says in verse 11, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” Jesus shows up every time Paul is discouraged (c.f. Acts 18:10) and He will with you too! We find out that Paul wasn’t a victim, but actually strategically put there by Christ. The fear of the unknown was overcome by the resurrection of Christ because Jesus was alive and making His plan go forward.

I find great help and hope and comfort in this passage because Christ’s resurrection overcomes our fears. You can too. In fact, this Communion table is about the resurrection. You may think it is about the death of Christ and it is! However, it is also about His resurrection. We would have no reason to celebrate if He wasn’t alive. Paul even instructed us, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) Jesus is coming back because He is actually alive. Are you ready for His return? The Communion Table requires each of you to give an answer to that question. Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins and rose again so that you can have new life? If you can say, “Yes,” then come and eat. If no, Paul’s question to the Sanhedrin applies to you: “Do you believe in the hope and resurrection of the dead – firstly, Jesus Christ?”

Paul was nearly torn in two. Jesus was torn. His Body was broken for you and for me and the Good News today is that He rose from the grave so that you can have a new life. His resurrection changes everything!


[4] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts (Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), 351.

[5] Ajith Fernando, The NIV Application Commentary on Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 567.

[6] Fernando, 567.

[7] F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts – NICNT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 453.

[8] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 420.


What Makes the Church Unique?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

What makes the Church unique? Is it because we exist for others and not for ourselves? I have heard it said many times that the Church exists for the good of others and not itself. However, I think many Not-For-Profits exist to serve others. Maybe the church is unique because we study the Bible? The Bible is extremely important, but those outside the Church will sometimes study the Bible maybe in their religion or literature classes. Maybe the church is unique because we uphold the truth like a pillar? Absolutely, according to 1 Timothy 3:14, the Church is called, “the pillar and support of the truth.” If you want to find the Truth, you should find it through God’s people! I don’t say this arrogantly, but humbly because we point people to Jesus who declares Himself the Truth (John 14:6). We live by the Truth, which is one of our core values here at Temple! We should be truthful because Jesus is! Not just so we can be trusted. This is why when the Church does cover things up, it is one of biggest turnoffs for people, because they inherently expect us to be truthful. On the other hand, when the church is proclaiming truth it makes a difference in society as this video will attest to! 

Upholding the truth is part of the uniqueness of the Church, but it does not convey the full answer. To find out the answer, we need to read a story found in Acts 20:1-12. This story is another example of Jesus and His Church’s mission to change the world. To call people into a new Kingdom! To have the Kingdom of God change you from the inside out through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is another distinguishing mark of the Church. The Church is indwelt by the Spirit and we follow His leading. This is why we are catching the Spirit. The Apostle Paul caught the Spirit and was on mission with Jesus and His Church. Let’s read not just Paul’s story, but our story. Let’s read about Paul and his encounter with a guy named Eutychus and find out why the church is so unique! Read Acts 20:1-12!

The Ruins of the Temple of the goddess Artemis in Ephesus

The Ruins of the Temple of the goddess Artemis in Ephesus

This story is the beginning of Paul’s third missionary journey. Things were getting more dangerous for him. He had been so faithful and fruitful on his previous missions that he was a wanted man. The context is found in Acts 19 where Paul was in the city of Ephesus. A wealthy Ephesian businessman named Demetrius, who made his money in making silver shrines for the goddess of Artemis, was starting to feel the pinch. Idol-manufacturing was downsizing. Why? The city of Ephesus were turning from following gods made by human hands to the God who made humans hands and their entire bodies – the one true Living God as revealed through Jesus Christ.  Demetrius decided to gather up what amounted to the silversmith trade union and gives this speech in Acts 19:25-27, “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with human hands are no gods at all. Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence.” Think about that speech for a moment. If you have to protect your god or goddess, is it really a god or goddess? Is it powerful enough to save you when you have save it? Instead, our God through Jesus Christ didn’t need saving. He has saved us. Nevertheless, there is a graveyard of organizations and businesses that make deadly choices based on trying to recoup market share instead of adapting to the times. If you want to adapt to the times and have a real future – an eternal future, then you need to follow Christ. We can see on the above picture what happened to the business of the Ephesian silversmiths and the Temple of Artemis – it lies in ruins.

Back to the story! The last part of Acts 19 records the riot that Demetrius started. However, Paul is able to leave Ephesus unscathed. We pick up what happened next in Acts 20:1-2, “After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he left to go to Macedonia. When he had gone through those districts and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece.” Notice all the exhortations that Paul is giving. He is sensing this is his last time seeing these people. You tend to get exhortative and instructive when you know you won’t be seeing people for a while. This past Friday night, I sent our oldest child and daughter Jessie on a retreat with 30 other youth from our church. It was her real first time being away from us other than with her grandparents. I guess I am a little over-protective. Any other parents here who are a little over-protective? Do you think I just dropped her off without a word? Of course, not! I gave her exhortations not to stay up late at night. I have done my share of youth retreats. I know how to sleep with one eye open. And I know that if you stay up all Friday night, you come back grumpy or sick on Sunday. I talked about how some of the youth will push the boundaries and she needs not to be a part of that especially playing tricks on the leaders. My point is that one gets exhortative when you don’t see people for a while and Paul knew he needed to give some last-minute instructions to the various churches he started.

Maybe Paul was also a little exhortative because he couldn’t find his protégé Titus. John Stott explains, “For Paul had also expected to find Titus in Troas, whom he had recently sent on an important fact-finding mission to Corinth. But Titus was not there to meet him (and didn’t have cell-phone coverage) and so, because he had ‘no peace of mind’, instead of staying to evangelize Troas, Paul ‘went on to Macedonia.’”[1] We can find Paul’s frame of mind in 2 Corinthians 2:12-13, “Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia.” “It was later probably in Philippi, that Paul’s longed-for rendez vous with Titus took place and his anxiety was transformed into joy.”[2] 2 Corinthians 7:5-6 gives us insight, For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, (two of the greatest words paired together in the Scriptures), who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”

So we know that Paul was exhausted. He was afflicted from outsiders and supposed insiders. In Acts 20:3, the writer Luke summarizes the threats Paul faced, “And there he spent three months, and when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.” This evidences that the church is not unique because it is perfect or without trouble. You might come here and expect no trouble or discouragement. However, the church has always experienced trouble from without and from within. It can get depressing, but God, who comforts the depressed, the discouraged, and the drained brought people into Paul’s life. He will with you too, when you are ready to give up. When you are depressed, discourage and drained. We read in Acts 20:4 that God gave Paul “Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus, Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia.” “All nine men must have been the fruits of the mission and they helped carrying the offering needed for the poor church in Jerusalem which we read about 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, 2 Corinthians 8:9 and Romans 15:25-27.”[3] The people gave up their best and brightest for this mission. The world tries to retain its best and brightest, while the church gives them up for God’s Kingdom. However, this alone does not make the church unique.

We find out what made the church unique in what happens next. Paul and his companions arrive at Troas and verse 6 records that they stayed there seven days. Paul spends a week at Troas looking for Titus but also encouraging the believers at Troas. Most of the believers at Troas were like us. They were labourers who worked all day for other people. According to F.F. Bruce, “They met in the evening, a convenient time for many members of the Gentile churches, who were not their own masters and were not free in the day time.”[4] So notice that everybody is tired in this story and yet they gather together. Maybe you are tired? Maybe you dragged yourself here to church? We were talking in our Next Chapter class on parenting this past Wednesday led by Darryl and Cathy Brush about whether you should force your kids to go to church. I personally believe that church is not optional. It is what we do as a family on Sundays, even on vacation. It is not a habit or ritual as much as it is refueling and reminding us of how great God is. We want to be with other believers and worship Christ together, which is another reason why the church is unique. Nevertheless, all of us at times have dragged ourselves to church. Have you ever done that? And then God showed up in unexpected ways and you left comforted and recharged. This is what happens in this story.

Paul is preaching all evening long. The reason why is explained in verse 7, “he was intending to leave the next day” and they had one more opportunity to gather for His preaching and to break bread together. That term “breaking bread” together is not just having a meal together, though that might have occurred the last night of Paul’s visit to Troas. “Breaking bread” is the same term that is used in Acts 2:42, which the church devoted themselves to “the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to breaking of bread and prayer.” They broke bread because that is what Jesus did (Luke 24:30) and what He taught them. This last supper with Paul reminded the believers of Troas of the last supper of Jesus. Jesus commanded His Church to break bread together, “In remembrance of Me!” (1 Corinthians 11:24)

But before the Communion supper, Paul gives the believers some last-minute instructions. He had a lot to say. I have sat under some long sermons. In fact, I have even fallen asleep in church, so I’m sympathetic to you if you are a little sleepy this morning. Imagine though working all day long, and then you are listening to a sermon that is now approaching the midnight hour. No wonder, Eutychus falls asleep in the warmth under the lights. “Eutychus was between 8-14 years old”[5] at the time according to John Stott.  Even sitting by the window didn’t help. Eutychus falls out the third story window and dies. We know he dies because the one writing was Luke, a doctor, who was there and confirmed the boy’s death. It would have been unsettling to the church there. You might have been in church when somebody faints or falls. I have! The meeting stops! I have even had a person die in church while I was preaching. She was visiting her son-in-law getting baptized. It was a killer sermon! The family was glad that she had her stroke at church and not while at home alone.  Now, I don’t want that to happen to any of you today. As the late great preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “Remember, if we go to sleep during the sermon and die, there are no apostles to restore us!”

In this story, Paul went down and like the Old Testament prophets Elisha and Elijah, he fell upon him and after embracing him according to verse 10, said, “Do not be afraid, for his life is in him.” (c.f. 1 Kings 17:21; 2 Kings 4:34) The boy was raised because of love. And now we are at the answer to our question. The Church is unique because it is the pillar of the truth, because it is indwelt with the Holy Spirit, because it preaches and worships Christ, but also because it is the only community that showcases the love and resurrection of Jesus Christ! We are a resurrected community filled with love and hope!

This story is a reminder through all the dangers, toils and snares that Jesus has risen from the grave. He has given us a new life. Paul in his sense of searching and loss of Titus was given the opportunity to proclaim and showcase the resurrection of Christ. As N.T. Wright states about this story, “This is a time of life, of restoration, of resurrection.”[6] This is why after the boy was raised from the dead, Paul goes back and they break bread together.

We are about to do that. I am going to invite all those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour to come up and break bread. By doing so, you are saying that you have received a new life from Christ. Your old life has died with Christ and you have a new life with Him. The old has gone and the new has come. Our church is experiencing resurrection.

We are going to sing and then I am going to serve our Elders and Deacons and their wives along with our worship leaders and musicians and then you come up. We have a gluten-free option on this table on the right of me. We take Communion to showcase the love and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He knew our weaknesses and yet He died and rose again for us.


[1] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts (Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), 316.

[2] Stott, 316.

[3] Stott, 318.

[4] F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts – NICNT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 408.

[5] Stott, 320.

[6] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 454.


Are You Looking for Clues of God’s Existence

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

Are you looking for clues of God’s existence? I believe there are clues all around of God’s existence. They are found in our society. In our stories and movies. For example, why are many movies about a hero who rescues people from evil? Doesn’t that point us to the truest of true stories – the great hero and Saviour Jesus Christ? There are also clues of God’s existence and work in creation! Creation is the place where God’s is most evident. His beauty! His complexity. His order! For example, how many of you have ever heard ofLaminin?Laminin is a protein in our bodies and I never heard of it until Darryl Brush in mydiscipleship group told us that we needed to watch this video by Louie Giglio. Check this out!

 

So here you are walking around chalk full of laminin – the glue in the human body is a clue of God’s existence and Christ’s sustaining work in your lives and you probably were completely ignorant of it like I was. I wonder how many other clues we miss of God’s existence. Today, I want to make you better detectives of God’s existence and not only for your own benefit and worship of God, but also as a witness to others. Your family, friends, co-workers and classmates are missing out on the biggest discovery of their lives and you have an opportunity to help them make that discovery. You see there are clues of God’s existence that we need to help others discover. This is what the Apostle Paul did when he went to Athens in Acts 17:16-34. He wanted the Athenians to discover the Creator God of the Bible, but not just stop there, but to know Christ. Maybe you are in chapter one of God’s Big Story and you don’t yet believe in God? Today, God wants to reveal Himself to you. And He wants those of us who are further along in God’s Big Story to help others discover the clues of His existence. Let’s turn to Acts 17:16-34 to see how the mission of Jesus and His Church continues through Paul and through us. Read Acts 17:16-34!

How do we help people find the clues of God’s existence? Here are 5 approaches to becoming God detectives: 1) Use delays as discovery days for God; 2) Instigate conversations with the inquisitive; 3) Go back to the Beginning; 4) Call people to Repentance; and 5) Proclaim the Resurrection of Christ. Let’s unpack each of these approaches. They are actually connected together as a process, in a similar way that you need numerous clues to solve a mystery. I am calling for you to become a God detective. You find God and see Him more and more in your life and then you help others find Him as well. The first approach to become a God detective is to use delays as discovery days for God. This is what the Apostle Paul did. Acts 17:16 records, “Now while Paul was waiting for them (Silas and Timothy; recall Paul had to evacuate Berea because some Thessalonican Jews were making hostile threats to him) at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.” Notice Paul didn’t waste this layover! Layovers may be divine appointments and create witnessing opportunities. We may be tempted when we have to wait for the doctor or dentist or the bus or at the airport to get frustrated, but what would happen if you remember that God is in control. He might have delayed you for a number of reasons. Maybe God has confounded you because He wants others to be found by Him? Instead of getting frustrated, Paul started looking around and what he saw disturbed him – his spirit was provoked or irritated. Has your spirit ever been provoked by the Lord? Maybe you have seen a homeless person and sensed it is not right for him or her to be on the street? Maybe you have become aware of how babies have been slaughtered while still in the womb? Or maybe you have seen your new Canadian immigrant neighbours struggling to navigate our society’s processes and protocols? Maybe you have seen how people’s drinking water comes from sewers in Third World countries and your sense of compassion is provoked? Maybe you have seen child exploitation and human trafficking and your sense of justice wells up from within? Maybe you’ve witnessed worshipping idols and it breaks your heart? I have, like this monkey-god I came across when visiting Kolkata, India! image You might think it is silly to worship a monkey, but there are many who consider monkeys our ancestors and elevate them to a status they were never designed to be. In the case of Paul, he didn’t just ignore that provocation by the Spirit, he decided to do something about it. Maybe you need to do something about it through the Spirit’s power?

Paul saw the idols and thought that this could be a segue to help people discover the one true living God. “It was a city submerged in idols.”[2] As “one wit jested in Athens it was easier to find a god than a man.”[3] However, Paul started though not with the idol-worshippers, but with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. Verse 17 describes, “So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.” Why would Paul start with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles? I think there are three reasons. First, he knew that those who already believed in Yahweh would be more likely believe in Jesus as their Messiah. The Gospel was for the Jews first and then for the Gentiles (c.f. Romans 1:16). Second, I think Paul wanted to correct any infection that the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles had of Athenian philosophy and idol worship. This is the pastoral side of Paul and it still applies today. I am very aware of how our society’s philosophy corrupts our thinking each and every day. It is evident to me of the power of the gospel that 30 minutes of preaching each Sunday and reading your Bible each day can overcome the barrage of humanistic teaching you receive the other 100+ hours each week. Third, I think Paul wanted to create a team of disciples who would help him spread the gospel while he was there and continue the work after he left. This is why Paul discipled them day after day. I can’t over-stress the importance of continual and sustained discipleship. Your EPIC small groups will help you to continue to apply God’s Word each week.

In the midst of Paul’s discipleship of the Jews, some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers show up in the marketplace. Non-Christians show up when you are making disciples. I believe God sends them. This is what is happening at Temple. We are barely beginning our push out into the community, but we have had many that God has brought our way as we worship and preach Christ. And this leads us to the second approach we need to undertake in becoming a God detective: we need to instigate conversations with the inquisitive. People are going to ask you questions. Are you ready for them? I heard of one young person this week whose class was studying about Louis Riel and what he believed God told him. That is a great springboard to reveal the truth about Jesus.

Let me tell you a little bit about the Epicureans and Stoics. The “Stoics were pantheists (meaning they believe God was not just everywhere, but everything – the chair, the air, even you – you are god) and they emphasized personal discipline and self-control. The first two leaders of the Stoics’ school ended up committing suicide.”[4] That’s makes sense because trying to control your life ultimately leads to despair. You are not God! As Ajith Fernando explains, “The Stoics saw the world as determined by fate and advocated that ‘human beings must pursue their duty, resigning themselves to live in harmony with nature and reason, however painful this might be, and develop their own self-sufficiency.”[5] Doesn’t that describe some people today in our society, maybe even you? They are duty-bound and try to become self-sufficient. If that is you, I highly recommend the book you can pick up in our lobby by Andy Stanley How Good is Good Enough? Or if you want a more in-depth look, read Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller.

The Epicureans on the other hand “were existentialists emphasizing experience and pleasure.”[6] Do we have any of those in our society? I think more than the Stoics. We just want to be happy! Pleasure and personal experience is what I am tempted to live for. How about you? In summary, “The Epicureans said, ‘Enjoy life!’ and the Stoics said, ‘Endure life!’”[7] Which do you lean more towards?

Paul tried to explain Jesus and His Resurrection and it didn’t make sense to either group. Why would it? The Epicureans thought pain was to be avoided at all costs so the Cross of Christ would have been an anathema to them. And the Stoics would not have understood the Resurrection because Jesus just didn’t endure life through control. He gave up control and ended up dying because of it. Then Jesus was raised from the dead by God’s all-sufficient power. This is why both groups rejected Paul. You are in good company if you are rejected by control freaks and pleasure seekers. Neither want Jesus. In the case of the Athenians, they thought Paul was a babbler, “which means a seed picker or scavenger, as if Paul is grabbing one idea from here and another from over there and the results are incoherent.”[8] They thought Paul was plagiarizing from other religions and philosophies, which is one of the accusations today aimed at Christianity that it borrowed the virgin birth from the Egyptians and the resurrection from Greek mythology. It’s not! The Bible teaches something very unique. Paul was talking about something very unique. Unheard of before and so the Athenians had no framework for it. As N.T. Wright explains, “Resurrection in the flesh appeared a startling distasteful idea in the ancient world, at odds with everything that passed for wisdom among the educated.”[9] This is still true among the naturalistic scientists of our day. They might be like the Athenians always searching for something new as verse 21 states. Warren Wiersbe reminds us, “The person who chases the new and ignores the old soon discovers that he has no deep roots to nourish his life.”[10] There are others who might even chase new spirituality and hedge spiritual bets. For example, if you ask some people if you can pray for them, they’ll say “Sure!” But they would accept prayer to any god on their behalf! They think I’ll just add Christ to all my other gods. What can it hurt? However, Christ doesn’t let Himself get played in a spiritual lottery. He is unique and is alive, even if people don’t recognize it. Beloved, don’t be discouraged when the Resurrection of Christ is rejected and dismissed as being impossible. Keep going, but try the next approach as a God detective.

The next approach as a God detective is to go back to the beginning. Go back to Creation and the foundation of how God created this world. The design! The beauty! The order! Paul starts preaching in Acts 17:22-23, “So Paul stood in the midst of the Aeropagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown God.’” Look for common ground with people! There are clues about God all over the place if we have eyes to see and ears to hear! Paul then goes onto say, “Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.” Stop there! This is a good word for us at Temple Baptist Church. Our building is not God’s House; our bodies are God’s House. You will see this in a minute in verse 28. Back to verse 25, “nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope (or reach) for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist (in part because of His laminin protein), as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.” Paul went back to Creation without quoting Genesis 1 and 2 and instead using “God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature, which have been clearly seen.” (Romans 1:20) “God made us in His image, so it is foolish for us to make gods in our image.”[11]

Paul is not only reminding people of their Creator God, but undercutting the basic human tendency to think that they need to do things for God to get right with Him. As Warren Wiersbe reminds us, “Men may pride themselves in serving God, but it is God who serves man.”[12] This is not to say that God is our servant boy, but that Jesus Himself came “to serve and give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) We needed serving because we couldn’t help ourselves. We were too sick to fix our problem of sin! Our rebellion laid us low, worse than the flu!

The Good News is that God has always been close by. We just need to reach out for Him! But even if we don’t reach out to Him, He was willing to get closer to us and reach out to us by sending His Son to be Emmanuel, “God with us!” Now, the next clue is found in taking stock of what you have so far. You have been collecting all the evidence through conversations and seeing glimpses of God in creation. God wants you to stop and think. To hit the pause button and actually to change your mind! Being a God detective will require calling people to repentance. Acts 17:30 declares, “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.” Repentance means to change your mind; turn from one direction away from God, back to God. Paul has answered the question, “If there is a God who is supreme, why does He allow people to live in such open defiance of him without punishing them? His answer has 3 aspects: 1) God will overlook their ignorance in the past. (v. 30); 2) He now “commands all people everywhere to repent” (v. 30); and 3) a judgment day’s coming (v. 31a).”[13] By this point of the discovery, you can now ask people to make a conclusion and a conviction. You can say with all love, you are making the charge now that people need to repent and follow God. This is not fire and brimstone guilt, but Good News.

Why? Because it leads to the final approach as a God detective: you have to give them the reason why they should repent – Jesus rose from the grave! Some will reject this as verse 32 states, “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer.” “For many in the ancient world there was no life at all beyond the grave.”[14] BUT others said, “We shall hear you again, concerning this.” Verse 34 should embolden us, “But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Aeropagite and a woman name Damaris and others with them.” F.F. Bruce gives insight, “Church tradition holds Dionysius became the first bishop of Athens.”[15] Dionysius started a church there all because Paul used his delay as discovery days for God. My friends, “Even a small number of converts from a highly intellectual audience can be considered a huge success.”[16] One convert is worth your delay.

And isn’t that true for you? Didn’t Jesus die for the whole world, but also for you? And now isn’t it important to help others look for clues for God’s existence? Be a God detective and you will find Christ!

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0-NPPIeeRk. Accessed January 8, 2015.

[2] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts (Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), 278.

[3] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 471.

[4] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 472.

[5] Ajith Fernando, The NIV Application Commentary – Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 474.

[6] Wiersbe, 472.

[7] Wiersbe, 472.

[8] David Helm, Expositional Preaching (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 95.

[9] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 34.

[10] Wiersbe, 472.

[11] Wiersbe, 473.

[12] Wiersbe, 473.

[13] Fernando, 476.

[14] Wright, 35.

[15] F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (NICNT) (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 364.

[16] Fernando, 478.


How are You Going to Respond to Christ’s Resurrection?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

What is God doing in your life to show you that Jesus is Lord? I could start with a little less intrusive question, but I believe you are not just here because your family or friends dragged you here. I believe you are here because God has marked out this date on the calendar to show you that Jesus is Lord. Long ago, God sent Jesus and did a whack of miracles to get our attention. He turned water into wine. He healed a rich man’s little boy, He healed paralyzed people, He fed 5000 people at one time and 4000 people at another time with just a few fish and loaves of bread. Jesus walked on water. He calmed a storm. He healed a blind man. He paid his taxes using a coin from a fish he told his follower to catch. It’s tax time right now, do you pick up your fishing rod or do you pick up your pen to write the government a cheque? Jesus got his tax-preparer to go fishing! Jesus also cast demons out of many people. He healed women with menstruation problems. He even let His friend Lazarus die so that He could raise him from the dead. Now some of you might think that this was all in the past. I don’t! Jesus is still doing miracles today. Jesus has done miracles in the very lives of the people of this church of the people right next to you. You ask them to tell you their story afterwards. Many of them can do it 100 words or less. Last June, Jesus kept our school open by raising $115,000 in 8 days when we needed $81,000. He has prolonged people’s lives that have been diagnosed with cancer. He has helped others bravely face death and join Him in Heaven. Others he has rescued from a hole when they fell down it as a child. He has helped recover those who were addicted to sex, to alcohol, to drugs and most of all, addicted to self. He has healed marriages. He has helped the single and married both find their satisfaction in God so that they can truly love others and not just see what they can get from them. Jesus has helped recover those who were abused. He has brought back people who were far from him. He has restored children to their parents and parents to their children. These are just some of the miracles that Jesus has brought in the lives of some of the people here today!

But my favourite miracle is that Jesus took a competitive, self-focused young man and gave Him a love for people. It began 35 years ago today when I heard the story that Jesus died for my sins. I trusted in Christ that day and I have no regrets about believing in Christ. God is showing you that Jesus is Lord. The ultimate evidence that Jesus is Lord is that He rose from the dead. Today, I want you to know and own that for yourself. Let’s read what one of Jesus’ followers said about Jesus since he was so transformed by the resurrected Jesus. Read Acts 2:22-42!

The background of Peter’s speech is that people were coming for a holiday weekend, the Festival of Pentecost and ended up hearing what Christ has personally done for them. Maybe that describes you here today? You are here just visiting family for the holiday and didn’t expect that God has a personalized message that will change your life for good. As we read in this passage, we find it was Jesus’ resurrection that enabled people to have God come live inside them through the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ resurrection is the most powerful miracle in the universe. We are somewhat attracted to the idea of resurrection. There is even a new TV show out with that focus. Resurrection is about God giving you a new life! You were dead in your transgressions the Bible says in Ephesians 2:1. Transgression is a word that describes purposely doing wrong like crossing over a “No Trespassing” sign and then you got caught. Have you ever purposely done wrong? You know, done what you know you shouldn’t have, even stealing a cookie from the cookie jar. I failed many times this Lent season as I tried to give up desserts. I didn’t do what I know I should have done and that is a small thing compared to the other things that I have done wrong. This preacher’s sins are great! But God in His love exposes our sin and wants to give us a new life!

And in order for you to really understand what God is trying to do in your life then you need to respond to His resurrection. What should our response be to Christ’s resurrection? I like to keep things simple so here are the ABCs of the Resurrection: A) Acknowledge your sins killed Christ! B) Believe in Christ and be baptized! And C) Connect to the Church! Let’s examine each of the ABCs of the Resurrection further starting with A) acknowledging that your sins killed Christ! Peter starts out saying, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know – this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” (Acts 2:22-23) You might immediately think that Peter is not talking to you and me! He was talking only to the Men of Israel! Many people have thought this! There are some down through the centuries that have been very anti-Semitic and called the Jews “Christ-killers.” There is even a term for it – deicide! Such a belief blames the Jews for killing Christ. And yet, who were the ones that actually put the nails through Jesus’ hands and feet? Romans! Peter calls them “godless men”! They were Gentiles and had no fear of God.

Furthermore, if we look at the context in verse 5 that there were “devout men from every nation under heaven.” Therefore, there are both godless and devout men listed as ones who killed Christ. Which of those are you? Godless or devout! Maybe you are pretty skeptical about the church and Christ? You have squandered your life on wild living. God took something away from you and you have run off and tried to deaden the pain with all sorts of comforts – drugs, alcohol, food, sex, shopping, entertainment, sports or how many friends you can get on Facebook. The problem is that these comforts don’t truly pacify, which is why you keep trying new things but eventually indulge yourself with the same familiar comfort.

Or maybe you are very devout and come to church all the time? But the problem with this is that being devout is often motivated by self-effort. The shocking message of the Bible as Tim Keller says, “Careful obedience to God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God.”[1] Or to use the words of Flannery O’Connor describing the character Hazel Motes in her novel Wise Blood, “there was a deep, black, wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.”[2] Did you hear that? You might come to church and try to keep all the rules as a way to avoid Jesus. That seems crazy, but if you think that you can just come to church, sing some songs, pray, and give money and God will be pleased, then you are gravely mistaken. We can be doing all those things just to try to control our lives. But our true hearts expose us. The prophet Isaiah teaches us, “our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” (Isaiah 64:6) It’s just like one of my kids who if we’re not paying attention will wear the same shirt 5 or 6 days in a row before their mother finally confiscates it to be washed. One of their favourite shirts says, “Wickedly handsome.” Pride starts early doesn’t it? Why do they wear the same clothes day after day? Because it’s comfortable! But Jesus wants us to wear new garments He will give us. He wants us to take off the old garments and put on His! You can’t cloth yourself in your own righteousness! All your righteousness is filthy rags! No, you can’t cloth yourself in your own righteousness, Christ wants to cloth you in His righteousness.

No matter whether you are godless or devout, you and I have sinned. The wages of sin is death! (Romans 6:23) That is what we owe today! And so we die! That’s it, all we have to look forward to is death and being worm food. We are in trouble, unless there is one whose perfection both in action and attitudes who could pay our debts! But there is Good News today! Our sins caused Jesus to the Cross. He was willing to pay the debt of our sin! And yet because He was truly righteous! Peter says in Acts 2:24, “But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” You have heard the phrase, “You can’t keep a good man down!” Never were these words truer than of Jesus. In fact, the word for agony “usually denotes the pains of childbirth.”[3] Babies must come out of the womb! It is painful, but they must come out. Jesus, likewise, had to come out of the tomb!

God’s Son, Jesus Christ, paid the debt of all humanity and so He was freed from the debt of sin. This is Peter’s argument in the next number of verses. King David had prophesied and “spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay.” (Acts 2:31) The women who came on Sunday to anoint Jesus’ body lost their job. Jesus’ body wasn’t in the grave long enough to suffer decay. Christ arose! And then a few days later He ascended to heaven to be with His Heavenly Father, the Lord God. Peter declares, “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.” God has given Him the victory over sin and death and even Satan, God’s archenemy and ours as well. Verses 34-35 describes David’s word, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” The one that you nailed and you crucified to a Cross is alive!

Do you believe that Jesus died and rose again for you? Your life and eternity depends on that truth! It may sound so foreign to you. You thought Jesus was only a good moral teacher and not the crucified Messiah. Those listening to Peter would have thought the same thing. To first of all acknowledge that their sins killed Christ would have been incredible. Sri Lankan evangelist Ajith Fernando reminds us, “To the Jews, ‘Christ crucified’ is a contradiction in terms, of the same category as ‘fried ice.’”[4] The Messiah was supposed to deliver people from evil oppressors. The Jews couldn’t see that. They saw the oppressors, Rome, actually killing Jesus! But not everything is as it appears. Jesus as the Messiah did deliver people from evil oppressors. Eventually, Christ’s followers took Jesus’ message to Rome and the Roman Empire was defeated not with swords but with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. But defeating Rome wasn’t Jesus’ ultimate goal! Rome was too small of an enemy. Jesus wanted to defeat the larger enemies of Satan, sin and self. There is always something more than just what you think you can see. This is why we must live by faith, not by sight! This is why the second response to the resurrection is to believe in Christ and be baptized.

Some of you might think, Jon, I was tracking with you about believing in Jesus but this baptism thing? What is that? Or some of you might think that you were baptized as a baby so you can check that off the list. In Acts 2:37 we read; “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart.” I believe that Jesus is doing another miracle. He was pierced for your transgressions and now His Spirit is piercing your heart! He wants to become the Lord, the director of your life! And so, just like the people in that day, you may be asking, “What shall we do?” Peter makes it simple, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sin; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” It is not that baptism saves you. Baptism is an outward expression that Christ has already done something in your heart. You believe in Him! And you repent – you literally do a 180 degree turn. You were heading away from God and you turn back to Him. This is why that religious ceremony that was done to you as a baby does not express repentance. The Jews were circumcised as babies and yet Peter is calling them to repent and be baptized. This means you are fully identifying with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. In a few minutes, I am going to give you an opportunity to come forward to be saved and baptized. We have a robe for you to wear. You can stand in that water and declare that just as Jesus stood on the Cross for you, was buried for you and rose again for you, you will be baptized! Sounds crazy! It’s Easter and you prettied yourself up! Remember that Jesus went through the humiliation of the Cross so “submitting to the humiliation of baptism”[5]is nothing compared to what He did for you. You will receive Christ’s forgiveness and the Holy Spirit (God Himself) will come inside you to live and direct your life. There is nothing more freeing!

The people listening to Peter’s message got over the humiliation and embraced Christ – 3000 of them were baptized that day (v. 41). In verse 40, Peter exhorted the people to “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Our society is perverse. It is messed up! You know that to be true. There are so many injustices in the world! Jesus wants to save it and He wants you to go on mission with Him to transform it! But it will take more than you as an individual. Jesus is giving you a new family to go on mission with. This is why the last response to the resurrection is to connect with the church. Verse 42 describes, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” They formed themselves into groups that committed themselves to God’s Word, to fellowship, to remembering Christ’s death through Communion and to prayer. This what God wants for you and Temple! These are the marks of a Christ-centered, Spirit-filled church that changes the world.

So which of these responses do you need to make to Christ’s resurrection? A) Acknowledge your sins killed Christ. B) Believe in Christ and be baptized. C) Connect with the Church. Or D) All of the Above! If you say A, B, or D you need to come forward to repent of our sins, receive Christ and be baptized. If you say C and need to connect with the church, please take one of the cards in front of you and put your name and contact information on it and then put it on the table in the foyer as you leave. You can also pick up a free book entitled “How Good is Good Enough.” Read it and then give it to someone else. We will contact you about joining a group to connect with the church so that you can devote yourself to studying and living out God’s Word, to fellowship, to remembering Christ’s death and to prayer. Today God is showing you that Jesus is the risen Lord! Will you now respond to Him?

[1] Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2009), 37.

[2] Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood: A Novel (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990), 22.

[3] Ajith Fernando, The NIV Application Commentary on Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 103.

[4] Fernando, 103.

[5] John R.W. Stott, The Message of Acts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 78.


Have You Met the Hero of Your Story?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

Have you met the Hero of your story? What is He like? Can He leap tall skyscrapers in one bound like the alien Superman? Or is he just a human, but really smart like Batman? Is he like Captain Marvel who would say “SHAZAM” and become a powerful hero? By the way, do you know what SHAZAM stands for? “Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury”[1] – Greek mythological deities with a little bit of Biblical truth in Solomon sprinkled on top! You see, the stories that our hearts long for of heroes are just foretastes of the true Hero of history. The Hero of God’s Big Story does come from another place like Superman. And yet our Hero is also human and really smart. Smarter than Batman! He also just needs to say a word and power comes from him, but He was also so much different. All heroes overcome evil. They rescue the victims of evil. Our Hero of God’s Big Story overcame evil and rescues victims of evil, but in a way that you would never suspect. Today I want you to believe the truth about Him and more importantly, believe in this Hero.

UntitledBut first we need to recall how we got to this part of the story. Two weeks ago we introduced our series God’s Big Story. Take a look at this discipleship pathway posted to the right, and check where you are in the story.  That first week we posed the question, “Are you convinced of the Creator?” Do you believe that there is an Ultimate Author and Writer of the Story of the Universe? Do you believe the truth? Do you believe in the Creator God of the Bible? That was the introduction to God’s Big Story. Then we started chapter one of the story entitled Losing Your Religion. We learned that human beings rebelled against God and have continued to try to fix their sin problem with their own self-improvement program called religion. Have you admitted the truth, recognized your sin and realize that your own attempts to get right with God will end in frustration? Religion will eventually kill you!

Do you believe in the Creator God and acknowledge your rebellion against Him? You’re not a zero, but you are also not your own hero. Are you ready to meet the Hero of the Story? Actually, we already met Him. He was the One who created the world. He comes from another place – Heaven! Dr. Wayne Baxter reminded us three Sunday nights ago from Colossians 1:16, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him.” Being convinced of the Creator equals being introduced to Christ! But being introduced to Christ is not like making somebody’s acquaintance and never seeing them again. Recall last week in Genesis 3:8 that “the Lord God (the Hero of the Story) had a daily walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day.” The Creator didn’t just create the world and walk away. No, He walked into the Story. Even more so, He walked with us human beings. He sought a relationship with us. Then we fell for the villain, the devil’s trap and “we surely did die” as a consequence. We ended last week with Cain killing his brother Abel over a sacrifice – over religion!  It would appear that the villain won! Hebrews 2:14 tells us that devil had the power of death! And yet, just at the right time when all seems lost – the Hero comes on the scene. This leads us to chapter two of God’s Big Story. Let’s read John 11:1-46 to find out what our Hero, Jesus Christ, is going to do about death.  Read John 11:1-46!

This episode of the story begins with a man named Lazarus, who had two sisters Mary and Martha. They lived in a bedroom community of Jerusalem in a place called Bethany. They knew Jesus. In fact, they were friends with Jesus. Remember that as we unpack the story. Word comes to Jesus that his friend Lazarus is sick. His sisters send a message to Jesus, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” (John 11:3) Have you ever offered up this prayer? You have reminded God that the child that He created and gave to you is sick. Or you have reminded God that your friend or spouse is being overwhelmed with cancer. I know I have. What is Jesus’ response? “I know that they are sick and I will bring glory out of it.” John 11:4 records Jesus’ words, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified.” Maybe the disciples thought, “Alright, our friend Lazarus is going to be okay. I guess we should hurry and pack our bags and get ready to travel the two days down to Bethany from Galilee because Jesus is going to heal another sick person.” What does Jesus do? Instead, of rushing to the “Bethany Memorial Hospital,” Jesus stays put. If the disciples had been in a hurry, this pause by Jesus gave them a chance to pause as well and reflect on the situation. I hope you will too! You see, they realized the danger that lay ahead, and expressed their concern to Jesus, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” (John 11:8) Will our Hero cower in the face of the coming trap?

Jesus’ response is a little unclear at first. “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles because the light is not in him.” (John 11:9-10) In other words, Jesus was saying, “I am very aware of the danger. I am entering into the darkness of Judea and can see where I am going. Remember, I am going to light the way as the Light of World.” (John 8:12; 9:39) And to show how much He knows what He is doing, He tells the disciples that Lazarus has died in a euphemistic way (“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go in order to wake him up[2] – John 11:11) and then He says it straight out because the disciples didn’t get it (“Lazarus is dead” – John 11:14). Our Hero knows the future! That is very comforting! To know the future, minimizes the risk! This was evident this week when I was coaching our Academy Boys and Girls Basketball teams and there were tryouts. My son Josiah kept asking me about who was going to make the team and was worried that the kids would be really disappointed when they didn’t make the team. But I wasn’t worried. Why? Because I knew the future! I knew that everybody who tried out would make the team. I wanted them all on the team because we are going to play basketball differently. We are going to run the full-court press the whole game to create turnovers and I need fresh players every few minutes to replace the dead tired ones. Our Hero of the Story also knew the future and His goal was to get more players on His team. Are you on Jesus’ team?

Our Hero of the Story also does things differently and He is happy about it. John 11:15 finishes Jesus’ headline news that Lazarus is dead, “and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe, but let us go to him.” What is our Hero saying? This seems sick! Why would Jesus be glad that Lazarus died? Here is the first part that I want you to remember: Jesus lets His friends get sick and die! Jesus lets those He loves get sick and die! Why? So you will believe in Him! We need to let that sink in because many of us think that Jesus is not that in control of life. Sometimes I think we believe in a Jesus who is powerless over sickness. I have met people who have adopted a “C’est la vie” (“that’s life”) attitude: “That’s too bad they say…not much we can do about it.” And then they just try to go on with their lives. We are glad that Jesus can relate to our pain because His friend Lazarus died, but we have stopped believing that He has the power over death. But that is not the Hero of God’s Big Story. Our Hero is in control of the Story! And He lets those He loves get sick and die. You will never fully believe in the Hero of your story if you don’t trust Him with your sickness and death.

It appears that at least one of Jesus’ disciples, the one we like to later on calling Doubting Thomas, trusted Jesus with his own death. Thomas says, “Let’s go, so that we may die with Christ.” (John 11:16) This is the Braveheart moment! The troops are being rallied and ready to charge into battle! But the story twists! It is not an epic battle scene but a tender moment with a friend. The action hero story turns into a drama. By this time, everyone knew that Lazarus was dead. John records in John 11:17 that “Lazarus has already been in the tomb for four days.” Upon hearing that Jesus has finally come, Martha runs out to meet Him. Everybody had been trying to console her, but she knew that only Jesus truly comforts. Martha then does something very appropriate. She tells Jesus how she really feels. Verses 21-22 record her cry, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” She questions Jesus. Notice that this is not doubt or rejection of Jesus. Questioning, even venting at the Lord is an act of belief. When you go to God with your questions, it shows that you believe He has an answer. Some people in their grief just get mad at Jesus and turn their backs on Him. They don’t pray anymore. Instead, tell Jesus how you really feel. Jesus is big enough to let us vent at Him. He knows what you are thinking anyway so be authentic like Martha and question Him as an act of belief in Him.

If you do, Jesus will give you one of the greatest promises, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.” (John 11:25) Memorize this promise! Martha had her End-times theology correct. When Jesus promised that her brother would rise again in verse 23, she believed that it would happen at the end of time. But that is not good enough for Jesus. You might think you have your eschatology down pat, but do you believe in a doctrine or the Doctor? Jesus made it way more personal! Jesus was revealing that He is the resurrection and the life… “everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die!” (John 11:26) The Resurrection Life starts and will be fully realized when Jesus calls our earthly bodies from the grave and transforms them into heavenly ones. (1 Corinthians 15:42-49) Raymond Brown explains, “The believer, if he dies physically, will live spiritually. The believer who is alive spiritually will never die spiritually.”[3] Jesus is saying that the consequence of the Fall, spiritual death, will be overcome if you believe in Him. He asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” That question is for you today too: Do you believe this? Do you believe you can have eternal life? Do you believe in Jesus? The One who knows the future! The One who controls the Story! The One who truly comforts!

He is the One also calling for you. Like He did with Mary. Martha relays a private message to her sister, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you?” (John 11:28) Mary quickly followed Jesus’ call and everybody trying to console her followed her as well. What a great reminder that in your grief, you can lead a crowd to Jesus if you will turn to Him. This does not mean that you don’t express your loss to Jesus. Mary falls at Jesus’ feet and weeps, “Lord, if You had been here my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32) Now, remember I told you that Jesus knows and controls the future. This is because He is the Son of God. Martha had already declared so in John 11:27, “You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” So what should our Hero do? He’s God right! We would think that He would say to Mary, “Please, don’t cry! I’ve got it all taken care of! I just speak the word and Lazarus will rise again.” But that is not what He does! John 11:33 states, “He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled.” He wants to go to Lazarus’ tomb and asks, “Where have you laid him?” Then Jesus wept! (John 11:35) “He burst into tears!”[4] This is the verse that my friend Dawn Nickless always asks me to have us memorize here each Sunday. Dawn, this can be your verse for the week especially with the loss of your beloved husband John this past Tuesday. Jesus loves you so much! You are His friend and He loves you! He grieves for you! Others will notice if you turn to Him!

I know this because even the Jews took note of how Jesus loved Lazarus! Some said, “Behold, how He loved Him” while others remarked, “Could not this man who opened the eyes of him who was blind have kept this man also from dying?” I have found that there are always the sympathetic and scoffers at funerals! “The scoffers think the case is hopeless.”[5] They interpreted Jesus’ tears as helplessness. But what does Jesus do? He again “deeply moved within and came to the tomb.” (John 11:38) Why? He is divine and knows what He is about to do. Why did Jesus weep? I don’t believe it was just empathy! This episode of God’s Big Story is set up for the greatest rescue of the Hero. You see Jesus does raise Lazarus from the dead. He prays to God the Father, “Father, I thank you that You have heard Me. I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe You sent Me.” (John 11:41-42) God always hears Jesus! But Jesus wasn’t making a request to resurrect Lazarus. He was praying out loud for people to believe that God sent Jesus the Hero of God’s Story to them. Then Jesus proves He was sent from God and speaks a word better than Shazam. Jesus commands, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43) “Without a struggle, death gives up its prey.”[6] Victory over death! Freedom! Death’s shackles are loosed!

And yet, why did our Hero weep if He knew the rescue was sure? Some believe that Jesus cried because He was upset at their unbelief. I don’t think so. This whole scene is filled with the impending suffering that Jesus Himself would experience. Jesus was starting to experience His passion. This is why He was moved with tears as He inquired, “Where have you laid him?” as He came to the tomb.  Fast-forward and Mary herself would ask the same question as she searched for the Hero of our Story, when she went to the tomb to anoint His body once again. John 20:13 describes the scene, “And they (the angels) said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they laid Him.” Do you see how this scene sets us up for an even greater resurrection?

Timothy Keller brings great insight, “Jesus knew the only way out of the grave was to put Himself into the grave. He knew the only way to interrupt Lazarus’ funeral was to summon his own.”[7] Jesus intentionally went to the people who wanted Him dead, who scoffed at His delay and apparent impotence. He knew that He was going to be killed. But He also knew that God would be glorified because He Himself would rise again. That the tombstone would once again be rolled away! Jesus lets His friends die so that they can experience His resurrection!

Our Hero rescues the victims from evil by dying! He rose again to triumph over the villain and evil! He even died for those who killed Him! And the only true victim of the Fall – God, writes Himself into the Story, so that what He lost – you and me – would be rescued for all eternity! Will you trust in the Hero of your story?


[1] Source: http://acronyms.thefreedictionary.com/SHAZAM

[2] William Hendriksen, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970), 144.

[3] Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John – Volume 29A (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1970), 425.

[4] Hendriksen, 155.

[5] Hendriksen, 156.

[6] R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Columbus: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1942), 819.

[7] Timothy Keller, Encounters with Jesus (New York: Dutton, 2013), 54.