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?

The Rescue!

Throughout Easter weekend I read several posts that greatly blessed my heart. “How the Resurrection Undoes Our Need to Be Proven Right” by Russell Moore was one of my favorites.

Dr. Moore writes:

As Jesus drowned in his own blood, the spectators yelled words quite similar to those of Satan in the wilderness: “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mk. 15:32).

But Jesus didn’t jump down. He didn’t ascend to the skies. He just writhed there.

The bloated corpse of Jesus hit the ground as he was pulled off that stake, spattering warm blood and water on the faces of the crowd.

That night, the religious leaders probably read Deuteronomy 21 to their families, warning them about the curse of God on those who are “hanged on a tree.” Fathers probably told their sons, “Watch out that you don’t ever wind up like him.”

Those Roman soldiers probably went home and washed the blood of Jesus from under their fingernails and played with their children in front of the fire before dozing off. This was just one more insurrectionist they had pulled off a cross, one in a line of them dotting the roadside. And this one (what was his name? Joshua?) was just decaying meat now, no threat to the Empire at all.

The corpse of Jesus just lay there in the silence of that cave. By all appearances it had been tested and tried, and found wanting.

If you had been there to pull open his bruised eyelids, matted there together with mottled blood, you would have looked into blank holes. If you had lifted his arm, you would have felt no resistance. You would have heard only the thud as it hit the table when you let it go. You might have walked away from that morbid scene muttering to yourself, “The wages of sin is death.”

But sometime before dawn on Sunday morning, a spike-torn hand twitched. A blood-crusted eyelid opened. The breath of God came blowing down into that cave, and a new creation flashed into reality.

God was not simply delivering Jesus (and with him all of us) from death. He was also vindicating him (and with him all of us). By resurrecting Jesus from the dead, God was affirming what he had said over the Jordan waters. He was declaring Jesus “to be the Son of God in power” (Rom. 1:4).

This was done, the Bible says, by “the Spirit of holiness.” This is the same Spirit who rested on Jesus at his baptism “like a dove” (Matt. 3:16). I wonder if, as the dovish Spirit alighted on him in the water and in the tomb, Jesus might have thought of the words of the Psalm the Devil would quote in the wilderness: “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Ps. 91:4).

With that kind of rescue, who needs to be proven right in any other way?

Note: The following post is an excerpt from Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011).

The Neglected Resurrection

Easter is a time when we celebrate the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is easy for us to focus on Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross; however, without the resurrection we have no hope for the forgiveness of sin or eternal life with God. Matthew Barrett shares with us what is gained through Christ’s resurrection in his article “The Neglected Resurrection.”

Barrett writes:

Too often in our churches the resurrection of Christ is a doctrine of secondary importance. It is neglected and forgotten until Easter comes around each year. The same disregard for the resurrection is seen in how we share the gospel. Christians tend to share the gospel as if Jesus died on the cross and that is the end of the story. We make a zip line from the crucifixion to “repent and believe,” contrary to the example Peter sets for us in Acts 2:22-24 and 4:26. The cross is central to our salvation, but what God accomplished there is incomplete unless the tomb is empty on Sunday morning. Therefore, the resurrection of Christ is vital “for us and our salvation” (to borrow from the Nicene Creed). But how exactly?

Our Regeneration Is Grounded in the Resurrection of Christ

Have you ever read the resurrection narratives and said, “Praise God! Because Christ has risen I am born again!” I know I haven’t. But if we truly understand the implications of Christ’s resurrection for our salvation, the new birth would be the first place to turn. Scripture teaches that our new birth—God’s supernatural, monergistic act whereby the Spirit makes us a new creature in Christ, replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh—is only possible because Jesus is risen.

Consider two passages. According to Peter, God has “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3). The same God who raised Christ from the grave has also raised us from spiritual death to spiritual life. And the apostle Paul says that while we were dead in our trespasses and sins, God, being rich in mercy, “made us alive together with Christ” and “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:5-6; cf. Col 3:1).

Because God has raised Christ from the dead, he can make us alive together with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s resurrection life is the very basis and means by which we are born again.

Our Justification Is Grounded in the Resurrection of Christ

Those who believe in the God who raised Christ from the dead are counted righteous. As Paul says in Romans 4:23-25, like Abraham we are counted righteous, for we believe in him “who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” By raising Jesus from the dead, God approved the work of Christ on the cross for our sins. God declared his Son’s work complete! The penalty for our sin has been paid, and no guilt remains. As Wayne Grudem explains:

When the Father in essence said to Christ, “All the penalty for sins has been paid and I find you not guilty but righteous in my sight,” he was thereby making the declaration that would also apply to us once we trusted in Christ for salvation. In this way Christ’s resurrection also gave final proof that he had earned our justification (Systematic Theology).

Jonathan Edwards also states the matter precisely:

For if Christ were not risen, it would be evidence that God was not yet satisfied for [our] sins. Now the resurrection is God declaring his satisfaction; he thereby declared that it was enough; Christ was thereby released from his work; Christ, as he was Mediator, is thereby justified (Miscellanies, Vol. 13, 227).

In other words, if God did not raise Christ from the dead, he would essentially be saying, “I am not satisfied with your atoning work on behalf of sinners.” If this were the case, we would still be dead in our sins, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17. And if we are still dead in our sins then we stand guilty before a holy God, unjustified and condemned. It is hard to improve upon the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

If it is not a fact that Christ literally rose from the grave, then you are still guilty before God. Your punishment has not been borne, yours sins have not been dealt with, you are yet in your sins. It matters that much: without the Resurrection you have no standing at all (The Assurance of Our Salvation, 492).

Our Sanctification Is Grounded in the Resurrection of Christ

In Romans 6, Paul explains that we can “walk in newness of life” because Christ was raised from the dead. We are not to continue in sin, for how, as Paul asked, “can we who died to sin still live in it?” We have been baptized into the death of Christ so that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4). But Paul is not finished. He has much more to say about the resurrection and our sanctification.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:5-12).

Paul’s last two sentences are especially powerful. As Christians, we are united to Christ. Christ died to sin, and so also must we consider ourselves dead to sin. But Christ also came back to life. The life he lives he lives to God. Therefore, as those who are in Christ, we are alive to God. No longer are we to walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Our old, unbelieving, sinful, condemned self has been crucified with Christ. And now that we are new creatures, we are no longer enslaved to sin, but by the power of the Spirit are able to walk in this newness of life.

None of this, however, is possible if Christ remains in the tomb. His resurrection is our victory over the reign of sin. Only because he has risen do we have the assurance, the confidence, and the ability to now walk in godliness. In this light, therefore, Paul’s admonition is all the more convicting:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col 3:1-4).

The Climax of Redemptive History

Richard Gaffin once wrote that not only is the resurrection of Christ the pivotal factor in Paul’s soteriology, the “climax of the redemptive history of Christ,” but it is also that “from which the individual believer’s experience of redemption derives in its specific and distinguishing character and in all aspects of its inexhaustible fullness” (Resurrection and Redemption, 135). 

I couldn’t agree more. If we miss the importance of Christ’s resurrection for our salvation, then we have, as Sinclair Ferguson observes, misunderstood the gospel, severing our salvation from the lordship of Christ (Resurrection and Redemption, 6). How unthinkable this must be for the Christian who, as Calvin explains, believes that “our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ” (Institutes II.16.19).

Why Do You Seek The Living Among the Dead?

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” And they remembered His words, and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest” (Luke 24.1-9 NASB).

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.