Which Jesus Will You Choose?

drapedOnTheCrosstitleWhen you think about how excited the crowds were as Jesus triumphantly entered the city of Jerusalem on Psalm Sunday, it is hard to believe the way they demanded His crucifixion just five days later. What could have happened that would change public opinion so drastically? Why did they choose Barabbas over Jesus? The Savior they were looking for was within their midst, and yet they chose someone else. Why? Answers to these questions can be found in our Easter Sunday sermon, “Which Jesus Will You Choose?

I hope you will take the time to listen to the message and then examine your own life to see which Jesus you have chosen to follow. To hear the message please follow this link: “Which Jesus Will You Choose?

Here Comes the Groom!

I have performed many weddings over my eighteen years in ministry. Just before the wedding starts I always tell the groom, “Be sure to watch as the doors open and you see your bride for the first time. It will be a memory you will never forget.” They usually nod out of respect not understanding exactly why I gave them that simple piece of advice. But then it happens, the doors open and standing there before them is their bride. The grooms eyes widen, his smile grows, and then a mental picture is taken that he will always remember. The long-awaited day of receiving his bride has arrived, and now they get to spend the rest of their lives together.

Jason Johnson writes in his post, “Easter and the Great Wedding to Come,” some of the truths from Scripture about the coming of The Groom for His bride—the church. One day Jesus will return for His bride, and their will be a great wedding on that day. It is a future day which should bring great anticipation, expectation, and preparation.

Johnson writes:

Throughout Scripture the marriage relationship is used as a picture of God’s relationship with his people. The bride and groom imagery highlights not only the covenantal love of God for his people but also their position within that relationship as the beneficiaries of his redemptive pursuit. A common theme woven within the thread of Scripture, from the Old to the New Testament, is God’s unwavering, unalterable, unceasing pursuit of his people into the consecrating and cleansing relationship of eternal marriage.

This is why the hallmark of all God’s grievances against his people is spiritual adultery, a heinous infidelity on the part of his people as they pursue lesser lovers and stray outside the conditions of the covenantal relationship (Jeremiah 13:27; Mark 8:38). God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:3-5; Deuteronomy 6:14-15), not because he lacks in companionship but because he longs for the exclusive affections of his people, as a groom does for his bride.

Jesus adopts the imagery of bride and groom as it pertains to his present application of the New Covenant and his future consummation of salvation through the great, eternal marriage with the church. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus allegorizes himself as the bridegroom and urges his disciples to stay alert, because they do not know the day or the hour he will return and take them to the eternal wedding celebration, i.e., the kingdom. He again refers to himself as the bridegroom while instructing his disciples on the proper purpose and function of fasting (Mark 2:18-20). As the bridegroom he will return to take his bride home, yet in the meantime, while he is present with them, fasting and longing for his return is not necessary.

Anticipation, Expectation, Preparation

The central focus of the wedding imagery in Scripture is anticipation, expectation, and preparation. It closely mirrors the traditional order of a first-century wedding, which involved a father arranging a bride for his son and paying the predetermined “bride price” on her behalf. The son would then return to his father’s house to make arrangements while the bride consecrated herself in eager anticipation for his final return for her. The terms of the relationship were sealed with ceremonial sharing of a glass of wine before the two parted ways and entered a time of anticipation and preparation leading up to the final wedding feast.

In strikingly similar fashion, God the Father has sent Jesus the Son to secure his bride, the church. The terms of the covenantal relationship between God and his people have been outlined in the gospel, and a great price has been paid by the Father to secure the relationship, namely, through the sacrifice of the Son on the Cross (1 Corinthians 6:20). The night before he would go to the Cross, Jesus shared a cup with his disciples as a means of symbolically sealing their new covenantal relationship. He instructed them to partake of this cup after his departure in remembrance of the price he paid for them and in anticipation of his future and final return for them.

Upon departure he will go to his Father’s house to prepare a place but will return one day to bring his bride home with him forever (John 14:2-3). The day and the hour of his return are unknown by all but the Father (Matthew 24:26). The bride of Christ, the church, eagerly waits and makes herself ready, setting herself apart for him and him alone, purifying herself for the day when he will return for her forever (1 Peter 1:13-16). He will come, and when he does the eternal wedding feast will commence (Revelation 19:7-8).

The recognition of the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter is not an isolated act of God but a pinnacle point in the ongoing bride-groom narrative running throughout the current of Scripture. It’s the celebration of God acquiring a bride for his Son through the ultimate price of death paid on the Cross. It’s the height of God’s radical, redemptive pursuit of a sinful and broken people to secure them as his beautifully treasured Bride.

Wonder of the Gospel

Easter is the joyous celebration of the wonder of the gospel—that God has gone to great lengths to secure us for his Son. We are forever bound to Jesus by his death that purchased us and his resurrection that secured us into a future inheritance that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5).

So we live in this present day as those who are consecrated to our future Groom—holy, set apart, uniquely and distinctively his. We live today with an eager sense of anticipation for the return of our Groom on a tomorrow yet to come. We live today as those who are valued not by the standards of this world but by the infinite price our Savior was willing to pay for us on the Cross. We are invaluably his, and he is ours.

We anticipate, we expect, and we prepare. Our Groom is coming back to take us home.

Real Bad

In a recent post, Timothy Keller discussed Jesus’ attitude toward all the difficulties, pain, and suffering we face.

Keller writes:

The story of Jesus standing before the tomb of Lazarus is an endless source of insight for me. As he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus was not smiling. He was angry. He was weeping. Why? Because death is a bad thing! Jesus wasn’t thinking, ‘They think that this is a tragedy, but no harm done! I’m about to raise him from the dead. This looks like a bad thing, but it’s not. It’s really a good thing! It’s a way for me to show my glory. It’s really exciting! I can’t wait!’ He wasn’t thinking that. Jesus was weeping at the tomb, because the bad thing he’s about to work for good is bad. The story of Lazarus does not give you a saccharine view of suffering, saying bad things are really blessings in disguise or that every cloud has a silver lining. The Bible never says anything like that! God will give bad things good effects in your life, but they’re still bad. Jesus Christ’s anger at the tomb of Lazarus proves that he hates death. He also hates loneliness, alienation, pain, and suffering. Jesus hates it all so much that he was willing to come into this world and experience it all himself, so that eventually he could destroy it without destroying us.

There’s no saccharine view in the Christian faith. The promise is not that if you love God, good things will happen in your life. The promise is not that if you love God, the bad things really aren’t bad; they’re really good things. The promise is that God will take the bad things, and he’ll work them for good in the totality.”

Many people have questioned God’s love for them after they have placed their faith in Christ. They don’t understand why they still suffer even though they are a Christian. Like the seed sown in the shallow soil they wither under the heat of discomfort and eventually turn away from God completely.

Jesus never promised us a life without trouble, in fact He actually told us in this life we would have troubles (John 16.33). Jesus didn’t come to give us our hearts desire. He came to deliver us from God’s wrath. He came to give us life eternal in heaven. He came because of His great love for us.

Tomorrow we will continue our study of Jesus’ “I Am” statements in the book of John. As we look at the broader story around Jesus’ declaration, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11.25) we will discover some of the similarities of Lazarus being raised from the dead physically and our being raised spiritually.

I hope to see you Resurrection Sunday at 10:45 a.m. as we celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin, death, hell, and the grave.

Here is a link for directions to Living Oaks Baptist Church.

Seed of Promise

With Resurrection Sunday only a few days away, I think the article “Seed of Promise” by Margaret Manning helps put the necessity of Christ’s death in perspective.

Ms. Manning writes:

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself, alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”(1) 

His hour had come. He had walked among them, taught them, performed miraculous signs, and he had loved and cared for them. But now, his hour had come and the cross lay ahead of him. The “hour” he faced would be filled with trial and suffering: “Now, my soul has become troubled and what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour?'” 

Jesus would walk the long, lonely road to the cross. Rather than taking the way of self-preservation, he would offer his life, like a grain of wheat. He would die; he would be buried in the darkness of the earth, but as a result he would bear much fruit. Despite what lay ahead of him, and despite the trouble in his soul, he affirms, “For this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” 

Of what was transacted there on that cross, there are many theories.(2) In formal theology, these “theories” attempt to get at the very nature and the very essence of what Jesus accomplished through his death. For theologians, atonement studies are a fertile field of inquiry because the meaning and impact of the atonement are rich, complex, and paradoxical. One theory, for example, suggests that the atonement stands as the preeminent example of a sacrificial life. Other theories argue that the cross is the ultimate symbol of divine love, or that the cross demonstrates God’s divine justice against sin as the violation of his perfect law. Still other theories suggest the cross overcame the forces of sin and evil, restored God’s honor in relation to God’s holiness and righteousness, or served as a substitution for the death we all deserved because of sin. 

While the nature of the atonement may include a portion of all of these theories, Jesus’s statements as recorded in John’s gospel indicate that his death would be a path to abundant life resulting in the production of much fruit. And in this case, Jesus doesn’t construct a theory of the atonement, but instead chooses an agrarian image to indicate what would be accomplished in the cross. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified… unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:23-24). Charles Spurgeon, the nineteenth century theologian and preacher, wrote that this passage of Scripture is rich with paradoxical statements describing the nature of atonement: 

“[P]aradox is this—that his glory was to come to him through shame…[that] the greatest fulness of our Lord’s glory arises out of his emptying himself, and becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross. It is his highest reputation that he made himself of no reputation. His crown derives new luster from his cross….We must never forget this, and if ever we are tempted to merge the crucified Saviour in the coming King we should feel rebuked by the fact that thus we should rob our Lord of his highest honour.”(3) 

Spurgeon expands on the paradoxical nature of death-bringing forth life. It is only through the cross, just as a kernel of wheat must die in order to produce a harvest, that new life in Christ and reconciliation with God are accomplished. Most powerfully, Spurgeon notes that “this teaches us where the vital point of Christianity lies, Christ’s death is the life of his teaching. See here: if Christ’s preaching had been the essential point, or if his example had been the vital point, he could have brought forth fruit and multiplied Christians by his preaching, and by his example. But he declares that, except he shall die, he shall not bring forth fruit.”(4) 

We see this paradox borne out every spring. Dead bulbs ugly, brown, and buried in dark soil all winter burst from their earthen tomb green with life and bright with color. Their glory disguised in ugly packaging, and one bulb producing green leaves and flowers in abundance. So it is with Jesus’s passion and death: glory and abundance come out of sorrow, shame, death and suffering. Encased in the cross of Golgotha is a beautiful, life-giving seed. 

Long before the beauty of Easter morning, a tiny kernel of wheat dies; it lays buried seemingly dead underground. This is a great paradox, but one in which we can come to glory, one in which we can find our lives. 

See from his head, his hands, his feet Sorrow and love flow mingled down Did ere such love and sorrow meet Or thorns compose so rich a crown?(5) 

Margaret Manning is a member of the writing and speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.  

(1) John 12:24. (2) The following theories of the atonement are based upon Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1983), 781-823. (3) “The Corn of Wheat Dying to Bring Forth Fruit: John 12:23-25,” Charles H. Spurgeon, Farm Sermons (c 1875), from http://textweek.com, accessed April 2, 2009. (4) Ibid. (5) “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” written by Isaac Watts, 1707.

Palm Sunday!

They brought [the colt] to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. 37 As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, 38 shouting:

“BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD;
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” 40 But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

God’s Perspective

Here is a wonderful parable of God’s perspective as told by Casandra Lindell.

Bert looked into time from heaven and saw the atrocities carried out in the human realm. Absolutely aghast, he pointed to one unspeakable scene and asked God about it. “How can you allow it? Look what evil is setting in motion down there?”

“There’s no one better than the devil for creating a tragedy like that!” God said.

“But God, that man is one of your people…oh, that poor man!”

“I gave the freedom to choose between good and evil,” God said, his face sad. “No matter what they choose, they all live there together. Sometimes, those who choose my way are impacted by those who don’t.” He slowly shook his head. “It’s always painful when that happens.”

“But those people right there have no choice,” Bert protested. “Evil is being crammed down their throats! That isn’t a choice!”

“Now, Bert,” God said patiently, “have I ever let pain go unavenged?”

“No…no, but…” Bert cringed from the sight, unable to bear anymore.

“Watch!” God put his arm around Bert’s hunched shoulders and turned him again. “Look right over there, by the wall.”

“That one? He looks nearly dead. Is he praying?”

“Ah, Bert, you should hear his prayers!” Intense love flashed in God’s eyes like lightning. “Simple prayers from an aching heart. This is triumph over evil. Trusting me-that is the choice.” God smiled through sparkling tears of love. “Isn’t he magnificent?”

Together they stood in silence, and Bert began to see as God did.

“Now watch this, Bert.” God spoke softly, never letting his eyes leave the scene. He called for Michael and the archangel appeared.

“Go down and get him, Michael.” The tears of divine joy spilled over. “I’ll arrange the party.”

It is impossible for us to understand the ways of God as they are so much higher than our ways. From our perspective life on earth seems to be nothing but chaos; however, the Bible promises us that God is in control. Regardless of whether we understand God’s plan, we can always trust His love for us. His love is clearly seen in the death of His own Son, Jesus!