John 20

Read John 20.

This chapter recounts the fact of Christ’s resurrection (vv. 1-9) and the proof of that resurrection through Jesus’s appearances to many disciples (vv. 10-29).

Despite the unprecedented display of power that was Christ’s resurrection, the disciples were very much afraid of the persecution that could come from being Jesus’s disciples. Verse 19 says that they met “with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders….”

Jesus found them, however, and miraculously entered their meeting behind those locked doors (v. 19b). Then he “… breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This refers not to receiving the Holy Spirit in the sense of salvation; it refers to the spiritual authority they would have as Jesus’ disciples once he went away. We see that in the next verse: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (v. 23). What power did the disciples have to do this? They had the power of the Holy Spirit and the delegated responsibility of the Lord.

There really was no reason to fear “the Jewish leaders” because Jesus had triumphed over them in his resurrection. As his followers, the power that raised him from the dead was now working in them to prepare them to be the leaders of his church.

When we live in fear of others on this earth, we are showing ourselves to be incomplete disciples. We are incomplete in the sense that we do not trust the Lord enough to rescue or preserve us from the hands of sinful men. But we have the Holy Spirit and the promises of God when we serve him, so we need to stop considering the bad things that might happen as we worship and witness for the Lord. Instead we need to remember that Christ has overcome all spiritual powers and sinful powers. We have the ability, though his power then, to serve God, worship God, and witness for God. Let’s believe the promises of spiritual power and go to work harvesting the Lord’s people for his church.

John 11

Read John 11.

We consider people heroes who risk or give their lives to save the lives of others. On the other hand, we don’t think much of someone who could save the life of another–without risking his own–but just wouldn’t do it. If you could donate a kidney to save a friend’s life or donate bone marrow for the same purpose, your love for that friend and strong social pressure would urge you to make that gift and save that life.

Knowing all of this makes Jesus’s actions in this passage perplexing. Verse 5 told us, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Verse 3 told us that Lazarus’s sisters informed Jesus of Lazarus’s need for healing. Verse 21 conveyed Martha’s faith that Jesus could have healed Lazarus if he wanted to and verse 37 shows that even people in the crowd thought so.

Why did Jesus delay, then?

Why did he allow Lazarus to die when he could have easily saved his life, without even coming to Judea?

Did he not love Lazarus?

Of course he did (v. 5).

Did he not hear the sincere request of his sisters and see their faith in him?

Yes, he heard them and knew that they believed (vv. 21, 32).

So, why? Verse 4b told us: “for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

And how was God glorified?

Most importantly, God was glorified by how the resurrection of Lazarus authenticated the claim of Jesus to be Messiah (v. 42). Second, God was glorified when “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” Third, God was glorified in that Mary and Martha learned to trust Jesus even when they didn’t get what they wanted (v. 27). Finally, God was glorified as their faith in Christ grew.

Let’s focus on that last one a bit more: “God was glorified as their faith in Christ grew.” Although Martha affirmed that Jesus could raise the dead (vv. 22, 24-27) she tried to talk him out of opening Lazarus’s tomb (v. 38). Her understanding of the resurrection and her faith in Christ’s ability to raise the dead was all focused on the future, not in the present. Without discounting her faith in Christ for the end times, it is a lot easier to believe that something will happen in the future than it is to believe that it will happen today. By allowing Lazarus to die and be buried, Jesus exposed some areas of unbelief in his dear friends Mary and Martha. When Jesus did not answer their request in the way that they wanted, it revealed to them how much doubt still remained in their hearts about Christ. Allowing Lazarus to die then raising him from the dead allowed Jesus to take their faith in him to an even deeper place.

Are you asking God for something that is precious to you today? What if he chooses not to answer in the way that you want but, in order to bring greater glory to God, allows the thing that you fear to happen in order to teach you to trust him more? Will you trust Christ no matter what and believe that whatever happens will ultimately bring more glory to God? Is it enough for you that God is glorified even if you don’t ever get the answer to prayer that you wanted? That’s what real faith in God is all about–absolute surrender to the will of God.

John 5

Read John 5.

Every year, some of the funeral homes in our area drop by the church building at Christmas time and leave me a gift. The one that does this most consistently gives me a tin of mixed nuts. I snack on them in my office for weeks–it’s a big tin–and I’m grateful that they brought me something healthy and not just more Christmas cookies. Or shudder fruit cake.

I guess it is good business for them to keep in touch with pastors. The truth is, however, that they are in a recession-proof business. People are dying all the time, so there are always needs to be served in their industry. Everyone likes referrals, as weird as that sounds when talking about funeral homes, but they’re going to get “customers” no matter what.

Doing funerals and attending funerals that I’m not involved in are part of the life of being a pastor. I am always grateful for the opportunity to serve families when they have a funeral. But, I hate the pain and sorrow that death brings. I also hate that many families only get together and reminisce about old times when someone dies. That’s the reality of busy lives and people who live in different parts of the world, but it is still sad.

Jesus promised to end all of this here in John 5. He promised life to those who believe in God through him (v. 24). “Eternal life” is such common terminology in our faith that we sometimes go numb to what it means. Jesus’s promise to us, however, is that God will raise the dead and that all believers will live with him forever.

Visualize this promise: “…a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live…. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”

There is an end to death coming and it will be a great day for those in Christ and an absolutely horrid day for everyone else. Each of us will be judged according to what we have done: “those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (v. 29b). All of us would be in that latter category and would rise to be condemned if it were not for the perfect righteousness of Christ credited to us by faith (v. 24) and the payment that his death made for our sins. This is the hope of the dying, the living who will die someday, and those who live who have lost someone they love in death. Because of Christ’s mercy and grace, death will end and eternal life will reign forever.

The funeral business may be recession proof, but it will be disrupted and made obsolete by the final resurrection. Are you ready?

Mark 16

Read Mark 16.

After Jesus was crucified, Matthew 27:57-61 records that Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man who became a disciple of Jesus, received permission from Pilate to bury Jesus’s body. Remember that Jesus died on Friday and that, in the Jewish world, sunset marked the beginning of the next day. That sunset meant the start of Saturday and if they had taken time to properly embalm Jesus’ body, they would be breaking the Sabbath command. So, Joseph (with the help of Nicodemus, according to John 19:38-40) wrapped Jesus’ body in a clean cloth with some spices (Jn 20:40) and placed it into the tomb Joseph had purchased for his own burial place.

In today’s reading from Mark 16, three women came on Sunday morning to do the job right (vv. 1-3). The stone in front of the door to the cave seems to have been a standard practice since the opening to Lazarus’ tomb was also covered by a stone (Jn 11:39). The women were concerned that that no one would be there to roll the stone away for them (v. 3) but that turned out to be a non-issue. Jesus had risen from the dead (vv. 6-7) and angels were waiting to give the news to the women and the disciples.

This is how the gospel according to Mark ends–with the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection and a record of the fear the women experienced. It seems like a strange ending which is why other verses were added by well-meaning Christians in later manuscript copies. But Mark is complete as it is, ending at verse 8 because it records the resurrection of Jesus.

The resurrection of Christ is just as essential to his story and our faith as his crucifixion is. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 15 that, without the resurrection, there is no forgiveness of sins (1 Cor 15:17). Without it, there is no hope of eternal life (1 Cor 15:17). No resurrection means that our faith is a lie (1 Cor 15:14) and the apostles are all liars (1 Cor 15:15).

Fortunately, Jesus did rise from the dead as we read here in Mark 16. The fact that his disciples were willing to be persecuted and even martyred for Jesus is a key point on the subject of the resurrection. These were the same men who abandoned him and fled when he was betrayed. Peter, who denied him three times, later gave his life for Jesus as did many other early disciples. They were willing to do that because they saw the resurrected Lord. Having seen him, they knew that his testimony about himself was true and that promises he made guaranteed eternal life to those who believed in him. As 1 Cor 21-22 says, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

This is the hope that will sustain you through the trials and problems of life. It will encourage you when those you love die and it will calm your fears when the time comes for you to die. Jesus rose from the dead and he promises to raise each of us from the dead when he returns. There is no fear, no problem in life, nothing that is bigger than that. It is a promise that you can hold to and that will hold you no matter what life has in store for you.

Colossians 4

Read Colossians 4.

This chapter began by continuing to describe how being raised with Christ and setting our minds on things above (3:1-2) changes our daily lives. After applying this truth to masters (4:1), the scripture turned to our prayer lives (vv. 2-4) and how we share the gospel (vv. 5-6). The rest of the chapter was concluding personal remarks (vv. 7-18) that closed the book.

For our instruction today, let’s turn to verses 5-6: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

These verses speak to us about how we speak with unbelievers.

Verse 5 encouraged us to to “be wise.” The word “wise” simply refers to skill. In the Old Testament, God called some men who were “wise” in craftsmanship to create the furniture for his tabernacle (see Exodus 31:1-5. Here, the wisdom we are commanded to have refers to the “soft” skill of communication.

Part of our faith, the result of being raised with Christ, means learning how to skillfully talk with unbelievers about Christ. Verse 5b encourages us to think about talking with unbelievers as an “opportunity” that we should “make the most of.” In addition to understanding the gospel message well enough to explain it clearly to someone else, we should develop our conversational skills so that we can speak of Christ in ways that draw the interest of unbelievers.

Think about how Jesus skillfully spoke with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and others about himself. He did not use a canned speech, a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, he engaged the other person at the level of their own interest and then led them to see that they needed him.

What does this kind of evangelistic conversation look like? Verse 6 says it is “always full of grace.”

Grace, of course, is an undeserved gift. In evangelistic conversations, we want to get to God’s grace, to tell people what Christ can give them by faith. But I think Paul means more than just filling our conversation with God’s grace. I think he means that the tone of the conversation is giving so that the unbeliever understands we have something to offer them.

We have hope and joy and peace to offer in Christ. We can show unbelievers how to truly know God, so the way we speak to them should be inviting, encouraging them to “taste and see that the Lord is good” and that we can “take refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8.

Verse 6 (here in Colossians 4) tells us that these conversations should be “seasoned with salt.” Again the image is that our talks with unbelievers are stimulating and pleasant. It might be taking the “salt” image too far, but what if “seasoned with salt” means that our talks with unbelievers about Jesus makes them “thirsty” so they will want to talk with us again about him in the future?

Of course we don’t ignore the problem of sin or give unbelievers reassurances that everything will be OK whether they believe in God or not. Instead, we must show them the possibility of a better life–the ability to know God, to feel that he is listening to us, the opportunity to understand why the world is so beautiful but also broken, and how the world that Christ promised will be the perfect one that we all deeply crave.

What would you need to do to be able to speak the gospel to unbelievers like this?

Have you read any books about it or taken a class to learn how to engage in a spiritual conversation like this? This is part of growing in grace–learning to speak gracefully to unbelievers about the grace of God. May God give us opportunities to hone our skills in evangelism and opportunities to practice those skills among unbelievers with hungry hearts.

Colossians 3

Read Colossians 3.

In many different ways, Christ calls us to live in the present based on things that are past or future. In the present we have to live in a fallen world and we struggle against the instincts of our fallen nature. But we came to know Christ in the past and when that happened we were “raised with Christ” (past, v. 1a). In the future, we’re told that our life “is now hidden with Christ in God” (v. 2) and will be delivered to us fully and finally “when Christ who is your life appears” (future, v. 3).

So what do these past and future events have to do with us now?

First, they call us to “set our hearts on things above” (v. 1b). The reason is that that is “where Christ is” (v. 1c). Since he is our Lord and the one we long to love and know, our thoughts belong where he is.

And what is he doing there? He is “seated at the right hand of God.” This is the place of victory and also his place of intercession for us. In Christ, then, we have everything we need to succeed in godliness today. We have his power which raised him from the dead, his promise that we will see him when he returns, and his victory and intercession for us while we wait.

So, what do we do while we wait?

We “put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (v. 5). These are things that belong to this world, this age. When people indulge in “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” they are showing that their hearts are set on this age rather than “on things above, where Christ is” (v. 1c).

When we clothe ourselves with “with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (v. 12) and “bear with each other and forgive one another” we are acting consistently with hearts that are set on things that are above because these are qualities that Christ embodies himself, that he has shown toward us and that he calls us to demonstrate toward others.

1 Corinthians 15

Read 1 Corinthians 15.

As this letter to the Corinthians continued, Paul continued addressing issues he knew of in the church. Here in chapter 15, he addressed the resurrection of Jesus which was denied by some of the believers in Corinth (v. 12). Paul began by reminded the Corinthians that they were saved by the gospel he brought to them (vv. 1-2) and that gospel was the death (v. 3), burial (v. 4a), and resurrection of Christ (v. 4b) along with the eyewitness proof of Christ’s resurrection (vv. 5-7). After a brief digression about his apostleship (vv. 8-11), Paul began taking apart the false doctrine that there is no resurrection (vv. 12-49).

If there is no resurrection than Christ wasn’t raised from the dead and the entire gospel message is a fraud (vv. 12-19). But Christ did rise from the dead and his resurrection is a promissory note of a future hope for us (vv. 20-49). Finally, in verses 50-58, Paul spelled out the future hope we have in Christ because of his resurrection. Death is not a permanent state (v. 51); instead, everyone who died in Christ will be raised again with a glorified body (vv. 52-57). This is our hope. Death is a fearful thing for people but in Christ we are promised deliverance from death through the final resurrection. Christ’s resurrection foreshadows (“the firstfruits,” vv. 20-23) our resurrection.

What good is it to us today to believe in the resurrection? The answer is that it gives us motivation to stand firm in Christ and to invest in his work. Verse 58 says, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” The promise of the resurrection is both the promise of eternal life with God and the prospect of future rewards in his kingdom.

Do you ever wonder if it is worth it to follow Christ? Do you ever consider quitting your area of ministry because you feel the results are not there? Most of us have felt that from time to time but this passage urges us to hold fast and keep serving because eternity will be worth it. So don’t quit! Keep following Christ and living for him and you will be glad you did when you reach the final resurrection.

1 Thessalonians 4

Read 1 Thessalonians 4.

Death is always an unpleasant topic. It is unpleasant to think about your own death and it is sad and difficult when others we know and love die. Because I am a pastor, I have attended more funerals than the average person. Funerals for godly believers can be worshipful and even uplifting in some ways, but they are never joyful. God did not create us to die, so the irreparable separation that death brings is always difficult, even when your loved one is in heaven.

Here in 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul offers words of comfort to the Thessalonians and to us about the dead. Paul’s reason for writing these words was to give them hope even in their grief: “…so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (v. 13).

Yes, even Christians grieve but our grief is not the grief of complete loss. Christ gives us hope even in the most tragic and unexpected death of a believer because of His resurrection from the dead: “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (v. 14). That verse reminds us that, although Christ did not immediately end death with his resurrection, he did break its power over humanity.

The phrase “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (v. 14) reminds us that the spirits of those who die continue to exist. Christ will “bring” them with him when he returns because they are with him now.

In verses 15-17, Paul described how the process of the resurrection will happen. There will be believers “who are still alive, who are left” on earth when Jesus returns, but their gathering to Christ will not precede the resurrection of those who are dead in Christ. Instead, “the dead in Christ will rise first” (v. 16). Christ will bring their spirits with him to earth and after his trumpet and loud command, their living spirits will be reunited with their dead bodies in resurrection.

Once that resurrection has occurred, those in Christ who are still alive will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (v. 17). The result of this rapture is “so we will be with the Lord forever.”

That is the endgame of discipleship, the harvest of new life in Jesus Christ. After living by faith on this earth, we will be rewarded with an eternity with Jesus.

Christians have debated when this event will occur in relationship to other events prophesied in scripture. The point of this passage is not to lay out a prophetic timeline of all that the Lord has promised to do in the future. It is, instead, to “encourage one another with these words.”

Death is always unpleasant, always sad, always accompanied with grief; yet in Christ we have the hope of a perfect resurrection followed by eternity with Jesus.

Here is something to hold on to in faith despite whatever fears you have about death or whatever trials and struggles you face today. If you die before Jesus returns, you’ll be with him and return with him when he comes. If you live until his return, you will be gathered in the air with him and all those who have died in him. Hold this hope in your hearts and live today like eternity is the only thing that matters. It is!

Acts 13

Read Acts 13.

When Paul described the core of the gospel, he wrote: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).

“The Scriptures” Paul talked about in those verses are, of course, what we call the Old Testament. It isn’t hard to show how the scriptures prophesied that Christ would die for our sins. But where exactly does the Old Testament predict the burial and resurrection of Jesus?

Verses 32-37 answer that question. In verse 32, Paul said that “God promised our ancestors” that Christ would rise from the dead. He quoted from several Psalms in the following verses. The most relevant to the promise of Christ’s resurrection was Psalm 16:10 which Paul quoted here in Acts 13:35: “So it is also stated elsewhere: ‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’”

David wrote those words and people naturally interpreted those words as referring to him, that is, to David. But, as Paul pointed out in verse 36, David died, “was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed.” So, Paul reasoned, David must not have been writing about himself (v. 36).

Instead, David was writing prophetically about Jesus. Verse 37 says, “But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.”

The death and resurrection of Jesus were not an unexpected detour or change in the plan of God. Old Testament prophesies show that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus were the plan of God all along. They are essential to everything we have through faith in Christ and to every promise God has made to us in eternity.

So, rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus and don’t ever look at it as optional to our faith or a secondary point of doctrine. Instead, hold fast to the resurrection of Jesus; it means everything to us as his followers and children.

Matthew 28

Read Matthew 28.

The resurrection of Jesus is one of the hardest things in the Bible to believe. You may have seen someone resuscitated but you’ve never seen someone who has been dead for days and embalmed for burial get up out of his or her casket. I think about this sometimes when I attend a funeral or a visitation. It would be a distressing thing to witness a bona fide resurrection.

God knew it would be difficult to believe and he knew that it would be easy to fabricate a believable story to explain the disappearance of Jesus’s dead body. What is more likely? What is easier to believe–that someone actually rose from the dead or that someone stole a dead man’s body, buried it out in the desert where it would never be found, and then claimed that he rose from the dead? The question answers itself.

So, here in Matthew 28, Matthew recorded the cover up that the enemies of Jesus concocted to explain away his disappearance (vv. 11-15). But he also recorded the appearance of Jesus to the women (vv. 1-9). Then he recorded the promise Christ made to meet with his disciples in Galilee (v. 10) and then his meeting (v. 16) and his final words to them (vv. 17-20).

All of these appearances were designed to provide evidence that that the resurrection is true. The followers of Jesus didn’t just say, “Trust us; he rose from the dead even though only one or two of us saw him. Instead, he made several appearances, some of which are not even recorded here in Matthew, so that there would be an abundance of witnesses who would see him alive and well on planet earth.

But it takes an act of faith to believe in the resurrection. There is an alternative explanation (vv. 11-15) and it is easier to believe that than it is to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. But he did rise from the dead because his resurrection was necessary for our salvation, for our spiritual power, and to prove that Christ is, in fact, the Son of God.

Don’t doubt the resurrection of Jesus and don’t shy away from talking about it to others. It is true and essential to everything we hold dear as Christians. Our hope for eternal life rests in the truth of the resurrection and Christ, by rising from the dead first, shows that God can and will raise the dead.