The Message of the Cross (Part Three)

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength NIV).

Here is the key issue. The message of the cross is the message of the Jesus Christ crucified (1:23).

Think of a striking contrast. If Christians would preach a certain type of Jesus, the world would be content to accept him, just as they politely accept other famous religious leaders. “Jesus the social worker” would be applauded for his efforts. “Jesus the morality teacher” would be remembered for suggesting a gentler way of life amid the world’s unceasing hatred. “Jesus the therapist” would be consulted when the headache or heartache refuse to go away. Fake “Jesuses” are easily accepted (2 Corinthians 11:4). Many years ago, Francis Schaeffer warned, “Increasingly over the last few years the word ‘Jesus’, separated from the content of the Scriptures, has become the enemy of the Jesus of history, the Jesus who died and rose and who is coming again and who is the eternal Son of God. So let us take care” (Escape From Reason, p. 79).

But people reject the Lord Jesus Christ who really lived among people. He is a stumbling block to the Jews. If they still have any concept of a coming Messiah, Jesus didn’t and doesn’t agree with what their ideas of what the Messiah should be. In contrast Jesus is foolishness to the Gentiles. They think, “Wow, he really suffered, that’s tragic; but how can a man dying on a cross do anything for me?”

When we proclaim Jesus Christ and his saving work on the cross, then and only then are we telling God’s message—the good news.

Focus on the person of Christ. Jesus Christ is the Savior that people need. He is able to rescue them from the ruin and sorrow that comes from our sinful condition. The identity and character of Jesus are important. The question is not, “What good can the death of a man 2,000 years ago do for me?” Instead, the question is, “Who died on the cross and what did his death accomplish?” The answer is that the One who died is both Son of God and perfect man. His deity gives power to his work and his humanity makes him an acceptable substitute for us humans.

Focus on his saving work. Jesus became a curse for us (Galatians 3:10-13). Jesus satisfied God’s wrath that was against us (Romans 3:23-26). And so he reconciled us to God (Romans 5:6-11).

In the message of the cross, we can hear the great wisdom of God. Human wisdom deals only with the surface aspects of humanity’s problem. People approach humanity’s problems like throwing some asphalt in the pothole when the road needs rebuilt. But in Jesus Christ we can see how God in his wisdom provided a Rescuer who could truly solve mankind’s greatest problem at its deepest core.

The way of salvation is to change your mind about Christ and trust in him as your Savior. Why should you continue in your life the way that you are going? It is the way to destruction (1:18a, 19); it is a way that cannot possibly succeed (1:25). Do not waste your life. When you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and commit your eternal destiny to him, you will find God’s power for salvation. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ today.

Grace and peace, David

How and What We Tell Others (Part One)

2 Corinthians 4:1-6

Therefore, since we have this ministry because we were shown mercy, we do not give up. Instead, we have renounced secret and shameful things, not acting deceitfully or distorting the word of God, but commending ourselves before God to everyone’s conscience by an open display of the truth (CSB).

I write this post on the five hundredth anniversary of a great work of God in salvation that began about 1517 and spread across Europe and eventually to its pioneer villages in North America. It is called the Reformation, and it should remind us that God can do unexpected and remarkable things through people and events that seem most unlikely.

My concern in this post is not to talk about that time, but about God’s message in our time, the twenty-first century. The same God still works through the same good news that changed all history in the first century and the sixteenth century. All around the world in our century, the Lord is saving people. In this text, we hear one of Christ’s first spokesmen, a man called Paul, talk about what and how new covenant ministers preach and what God is able to do through that message. Let’s think about what is written for our benefit.

The glory of a gospel or new covenant ministry prompts perseverance and openness (4:1-2). Those who tell others the good news of Jesus Christ must face temptations to disabling discouragement. If anyone had an opportunity to give up, it was Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 11:23-29). However, Paul did not give in to discouragement. He explains this to his readers. The word “lose heart” can be translated “not despair”. It carries the idea of behaving badly by getting into such a condition. Despair is the spirit of our age, and people try desperately to escape it by pleasure of some sort. But gradually there is no pleasure that can overcome the damp, freezing chill of hopelessness. The Christian is to have no part with this attitude.

Believers in Christ have sufficient resources to overcome this temptation. The apostle mentions two: the character of new covenant ministry, which is surpassing, enduring, and transforming glory, and the mercy of God. You see, if we would not give up, we must remember what God is doing. He has placed us in a ministry that leads to glory. God’s eternal mercy is for us (cf. Psalm 23:6). Whatever happens, we must view our situation through gospel eyes. “Everything is going to be all right” when we are in forever-glory with the Lord Christ.

Those who tell others the good news must serve according to gospel principles. This influences our mode of ministry in three ways.

  • We renounce secret and shameful ways. The gospel has no room for ways that are underhanded and disgraceful, because the gospel’s very character is openness.
  • We do not use deception nor distort God’s word. Our walk (“use”) or way of life is not unscrupulous, cunning, or sly. We do not stoop to anything to accomplish our goals. Nor do we distort God’s Word. The great cry of our age is “tell people what they want to hear.” Christ’s faithful people will not do that. As unpleasant as it may be for speaker or listener, we must tell people what the Lord has said.
  • We set forth the truth to every conscience. The conscience refers to that faculty of the inner person that recognizes right and wrong moral norms and either accuses or excuses the person because of that norm. Certainly, a person can have wrong moral norms; such as supposing that it is all right to have sexual intercourse outside of marriage or assuming that “the one with the most toys wins”. But that is precisely the reason Paul aimed the truth at the conscience. It takes the truth that is in Jesus to produce godly norms in a human conscience.

The point is that the Reformation, like other awakenings and revival, points to the transformation of all, including those who tell others the good news of salvation by grace. We can thank God that the Reformers told people the true way to be right with God. Sadly, sometimes they did not tell the truth in a loving manner. Let us learn from them and tell the truth, but may we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

Good News for America

img_4236Luke 7:34

Today is Election Day. Some will win; others will lose. Regardless of the identity and promises of the victors, there is no good news in them and their grand schemes. Long ago through the prophet, the Lord God warned us not to boast in the wise, the powerful, or the rich. Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV). Yet today many worldly wise, worldly powerful, and worldly rich will be elected by our people. And we will see their boasts come to nothing. This election is not good news for America.

However, there is good news for America, if our people will listen. The good news is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. In him, the One elected by God, God’s plan of victory comes to fruition. Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you” (Isaiah 49:7 ESV). It is the Messiah who will win ultimate victory. Every knee will bow to him and every tongue will declare that Jesus the Messiah is Lord for the glory of God.

You may ask, “Why is this good news for America?” The answer is found in who the Lord Messiah is. Listen to what Jesus said that people were saying about him. The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:34 ESV). Here is a description of our people: gluttons, drunkards, tax collectors, and sinners. We need to face what we are. We eat too much, while others starve. The nation is becoming progressively more and more intoxicated by strong drink. People cannot have a beer; they empty a six-pack. People cannot have a glass of wine; they have a bottle or two. We tax, and tax, and tax, so that no one can prosper. We commit sins by the truckload, and then wear ourselves out to invent new ways of doing old sins.

Yet Jesus owns the accusation brought against him. He, the Son of Man, though falsely accused of being a glutton and drunkard, is the Friend of sinners. He welcomes people like us to come to him. His message of acceptance toward sinners is always the same: “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). He will rescue us from our rebellion against God, our refusal to love God and others, and our rejection of God as God, if we turn from our sins and trust in the Lord. This is the good news we desperately need. It is the good news today, and it will be the good news tomorrow, regardless of who wins the election. The Lord is the Great Friend we need in our times.

Grace and peace, David

The Lord Is Risen

IMG_3598Luke 24:36-49

No one saw the Lord Jesus rise from the dead. You will search the Bible in vain for an account of what it looked like when he broke the power of death. The Bible leaves the event itself shrouded in mystery. Yet this does not mean that the resurrection of Jesus is not a historical event, as some so-called “scholars” have claimed. Anything that really happens is historical, whether or not somebody saw it happen. You can have your lights turned on by a timer in your house; that is an event of history, even if you’re not there to see it happen. But you become a witness that they were turned on when you see them on when you arrive home. In the same way, though the Bible does not give us an eyewitness report of our Lord’s resurrection, it does record many testimonies of those who saw him after he rose from the dead. Let us look at an eyewitness report.

Jesus gave many convincing proofs that he truly has risen from the dead (Acts 1:1-2). The apostles were in great need of evidence. They were not expecting to see Christ alive. This is the uniform testimony of the Gospels. No one said, “It’s the third day; let’s go out and look at the empty tomb!” They had problems believing what their eyes saw. Granted, they were startled by his sudden appearance (24:37). However, the text emphasizes that it was more than the surprise of the event. They had doubts about what was happening (24:38; cf. Matthew 28:17; John 20:25). The disciples were not gullible; they were not grasping for the least possible evidence. What they later preached was not the product of wishful thinking. Read the apostles’ viewpoint as stated by Paul (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20).

Jesus met their need. He gave proof of his material existence (24:39). He appealed to their sensual experience – “look, touch, see”. Jesus proved that he was not a ghost or an illusion. The Lord gave proof of his humanity (24:40-43). He was “constructed” like a man. He had “flesh and bones”. He could eat like a human can. The Lord Jesus gave proof of his identity (24:39-40). He really was the same Jesus they had known (John 20:24-28). There is one empty tomb in Palestine today, because Jesus who died and was buried in that tomb has conquered death and is Lord over all. Have you trusted your life to the Lord of life, who showed himself alive with many convincing proofs?

Jesus instructed them in the Scriptures. The Lord is not content to have us live according to our own experience or our own wisdom. People are to live according to the Word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3). What was written in the Scriptures was about Christ and his saving work (24:44, 46). The Scriptures are primarily about the Lord Jesus Christ and what he did, does and will do to save his chosen people. This should ignite our hearts to study and learn the Bible. This past week, there was a discussion on sports talk radio about the need for motivation to win. When a ball team is motivated, they can win games. When Christians become motivated by Jesus Christ, watch out! God is going to do great things through them. This should also guide our interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures. They are not law-structured or Israel-structured, but Christ-structured.

Therefore, our proclamation of the Bible’s message must be clearly and decidedly evangelical (good news saturated). If we are not proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ and his saving work, we are not telling the Biblical message. The content of the gospel (good news) must be preached (24:46; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 1:1-4,16-17). Repentance (a change of mind) and forgiveness of sins must be preached in Christ’s name (24:47). Notice how these two actions are linked. People must have a change of mind about their sins. (Sin is rejection of God as God, refusal to love God, and rebellion against God and his ways.) Do you see sin as an offense against God? Do you agree with God that sin is wrong? Do you understand that sin ruins people? We are to take the message of Christ and salvation from sin to all nations.

Those who hear need illumination to comprehend (24:45).We are dependent on the Spirit of God for this act of grace (2 Corinthians 3:14). Christians have this (2 Corinthians 3:16). Christ has the power to work directly on the human mind (Acts 16:14). There is one empty tomb in Palestine today, because Jesus who died and was buried in that tomb has conquered death and is Lord over all. Has the Lord of life opened your heart so that you know from the Scriptures that he is risen indeed?

Jesus told them about Pentecost and the new age that was about to begin. The risen Messiah would send the Holy Spirit (24:49). The Spirit would come since Jesus would no longer be physically present with his followers (24:44; cf. John 14:25-27; 16:7). Every follower of Jesus ought to value the preciousness of the gift of the Spirit. All of us are to obey Christ’s orders (24:49). The apostles were to start with a brief period of waiting, and then go out with the message. We are to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). There is one empty tomb in Palestine today, because Jesus who died and was buried in that tomb has conquered death and is Lord over all. Has the Lord of life given you his Holy Spirit, so that you are able to be his witness? Bow before the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ; trust in him today and have eternal life! Then what should we do? Let’s go and tell others this good news. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Grace and peace, David