Paul's Ponderings

Spiritual Formation. Discipleship. Christian Living.

Tag: Resurrection (page 1 of 3)

Sacrificial Love


Love is recognized as the best way to treat other people. We are told over and over again that we are to love one another. This is a message that we receive from the world as well as from the Church.

For all our talk about love, humans, as a whole, are pretty lousy at loving. The reason is we are selfish. Love is to be other focused, and we tend to be self focused. This makes loving people a difficult thing to do.

The best type of love for us to give is sacrificial love. A love that gives of yourself but expects nothing in return. What this means is for us to truly love people we need to sacrifice our time, our agendas, and our money to be present in the lives of other people.

For example, it isn’t simply buying flowers to say I am sorry, but actually showing repentance and forgiveness. It isn’t indulging your child’s every want, but making sure you spend time with him so you can positively influence his life. It isn’t saying “I’ll pray for you,” to someone in need, but finding a way to help them. Without a little sacrifice we are unable to truly communicate our love to others.

This is how God demonstrated His love for us. Think about it. When God sent Jesus to die for our sins He gave Himself for us. It was a sacrifice that echoes through history and into eternity. It is because of this sacrifice that we have hope as followers of Jesus Christ.

Read what the apostle Paul wrote as he began his letter to the Galatians:

1 This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.
2 All the brothers and sisters here join me in sending this letter to the churches of Galatia.
3 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.4 Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.5 All glory to God forever and ever! Amen. (Galatians 1:1-5; NLT)

Paul began by presenting his authority to write to them. He was an apostle, appointed by God through Jesus Christ, and therefore stood as His representative. Not only did he write from a position of authority, but he wrote with the approval of the Church. Paul’s position was strengthened by the weight of church doctrine.

The Apostle reminded the Galatians that they received both grace and peace from God, through Jesus, and therefore everything that Paul taught them should be filtered through that reality. They were recipients of grace because they were redeemed and given a place in God’s family. This truth had nothing to do with the things they had done, but had everything to do with what Jesus had done.

They were recipients of peace because no longer were they living as enemies of God, because now they were counted as His sons and daughters. They have moved from enemies to family and therefore the war with their Creator had come to an end. In God’s grace they received peace from guilt, meaningless, and shame and hope and joy began to reign in their hearts. This was the reality that they experienced.

Paul wrote that this reality was due to one thing: the sacrifice of Jesus.

I want to stop and camp out for a moment in verse 4. What Paul focused on in this verse is the evidence that God loves us. It shows us that God is willing to do whatever it takes to have a relationship with us. I like what Don Earl Boatman wrote in his commentary concerning this verse:

“He gave: Not gold, not a paschal lamb, not an angel, but self. Not a moral code, nor a new political scheme, but self. He could have sent twelve legions of angels. He gave himself humbly. He gave himself by the laws of Sacrifice, Ransom, and Justice…He did not give himself for a crown, a kingdom, or our goodness, but for our sins.” (Guidance From Galatians, p. 18)

To be honest with you I don’t understand how Jesus’ death deals with my sins. It is a mystery to me, but I do know that I have experienced God’s grace and peace. I don’t know the mechanics of atonement and redemption, but I know the reality of it. No longer am I bound to the evil world in which we live, but I am free to pursue God’s will.

Jesus gave himself and that sacrifice still declares the love God has for us. We did not personally witness that sacrifice, but every Christian is the product of someone who did. The death and resurrection (the resurrection gives meaning to Jesus’ death) spurred a handful of disciples to declare God’s love to a hostile world. Those effects are still felt in each new person who surrenders his life to Jesus. The way we know God loves us is through the sacrifice of Jesus.

When we experience the love of another person, especially when it done at a great cost to them, we cannot help but return that love. We make time for them in our schedules and do nice things for them. That is exactly the reaction we should have for God because of the love He has shown to us through the sacrifice of Jesus. Worship is one of the ways we love God. I think that is the least that we can do.

The Message of Easter

Hope Lives 0107“What we say about death and resurrection gives shape and color to everything else. If we are not careful, we will offer merely a ‘hope’ that is no longer a surprise, no longer able to transform lives and communities in the present, no longer generated by the resurrection of Jesus himself and looking forward to the promised new heavens and new earth.”

N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, p. 25

One of the common methods Christians will use in evangelism is to ask the question: “Where will you go when you die?” This is supposed to get people to consider their eternal destiny and put fear into their hearts, and thus provide them motivation to “give their lives” to Jesus.

The problem I have with this method is that it focuses on the wrong thing. Rather than focusing on God, His love, and what He is doing in the world, the focus is on us and our desire to live forever. It might have the power to get a person to say a prayer or to make an emotional commitment, but I believe that it lacks the ability to truly give people the hope they need in life.

We have made the Christian hope all about going to heaven when we die. This Easter Sunday the message many preachers will give is: Jesus rose from the dead so now you can go to heaven when you die.

That common Easter message is what many people believe the Christian hope is all about. Yet, it is just a variant of the hope every religion gives. We can talk about how the Christian hope is about what Jesus has done rather than what we have to do, but that misses the point. The majority of religions make the promise of an afterlife, and therefore if the message of Easter is just about the promise of having life after death, then it is not distinct from the other religions of the world. I believe the Christian hope needs to be something far superior.

The Christian hope is described as a “living hope.”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  to an 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 1:3-5; ESV)

This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. Peter declares that we have a living hope. This living hope comes from the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. That means our hope is founded on the reality of an historical event, and it grows out of the implications of that event.

You see, the resurrection of Jesus is not evidence that we can have life after death. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of God’s new creation.

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17; ESV)

Notice that Paul did not write: The old will pass away and the new will come. What he wrote was the old has passed away and the new has come. When we are part of Christ’s body we are brought into God’s new creation. A creation where sin, evil, and death are being defeated and love, goodness, and life are replacing them.

This is the hope we are to declare on Easter and this is a hope that is alive. It is alive because as we experience transformation, as we serve and love people, and as we work for justice we begin to experience God’s Kingdom breaking into this world. Through that experience our faith is strengthened and our hope grows.

The message of Easter is: Because of the resurrection of Jesus God’s Kingdom is advancing throughout this world. We can either join the advance of the Kingdom or we can remain on the sidelines, but only one choice will give us a living hope. Only a living hope has the power to sustain us through the trials, tribulations, and tragedies of life.

“Our task in the present…is to live as resurrection people between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second.”

N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, p. 30

Evidence for the Resurrection

Because He Loves Us

Today is Good Friday.

It is a strange name for the day we remember the gruesome death of Jesus. In that context, today should be called Dark Friday. Scripture tells us that the skies became dark as Jesus hung on the cross (Mark 15:33). When you stop to think about it today should be a somber and sad day. Death should always be a sad affair, and this is especially true when it is God’s Son who dies.

There are two reasons why we are able to call today “good”.

The first reason is that through the death of Jesus we discover the profound love God has for us. We may not fully understand the reasons why Jesus had to die for us or how his death atones for our sins, but we can understand that his death happened because of love. Jesus laid down his life because he loves us.

Donn Leach wrote:

Frequently it is stated that Jesus died for humankind because of His great love for them (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 52, 25; Rev. 1:5). In every passage the gist of it is that Jesus loved people and gave Himself up in death for them. One needs to remember that to the Hebrew mind the “and” often expressed the logical connection of result. He loved people, and the result was that He died for them. (What the Bible Says About Jesus, p. 291)

Jesus’ love and his death go together. His death was the logical result of his love for humankind. On Good Friday, we don’t just remember the death of Jesus, but we celebrate his great love for us. A love that led him to lay down his life so we could be saved.

The second reason is the resurrection. The resurrection breathes life, light, and hope into what otherwise would be a terrible and gruesome day. It is because of the resurrection that we can be confident that Jesus’ death really does save us from our sins. The resurrection tells us that not even our greatest enemy, death, is powerful enough to thwart God’s love and will.

In his book The Power of the Blood of Christ, Andrew Murray wrote:

But, behold! Jesus is risen from the dead; an apparent victory proved to be the terrible downfall of the Prince of Darkness. By bringing about the death of The Lord of life, Satan permitted Him, who alone was able to break open the gates of death, to enter his kingdom. “Through death he…destroy[ed] him that had the power of death! that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). In that holy moment when our Lord shed His blood in death, and it seemed as if Satan were victorious, the Adversary was robbed of the authority he had possessed until then. (pp. 136-37)

We have victory over death and the promise of new life because of the reality that Jesus rose from the dead. His death would have been meaningless (1 Corinthians 15:12-14) without the resurrection. It is the resurrection that makes all the difference.

Today is “good” because the love of Jesus provides the back drop for his gruesome death, and his resurrection proves that his death gives us victory from sin.

Celebrating New Creation

New CreationI was recently asked:  One of the 10 Commandments is to keep the Sabbath. The Sabbath, according to the Old Testament, is on Saturday. Why don’t Christians observe the Sabbath, when Exodus 31:16 says the Sabbath should be a perpetual covenant, and instead worship God on Sunday?

When handling questions like this it is important that we are clear on what the passage is stating, this is why context is important.

My first thought was, “What does perpetual covenant mean?” Since I haven’t learned Hebrew I had to turn to my commentaries instead.

Wilbur Fields in his commentary on Exodus wrote, “Israel was to keep it ‘throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.’ ‘perpetual covenant’ is literally ‘a covenant for distant future.’ It does not necessarily mean ‘for an endless future eternity.” (Bible Study Textbook: Exploring Exodus, p. 698)

To me this helps explain why the command to keep the Sabbath day is not repeated in the New Testament. Outside of the Gospels, where we see Jesus often challenging the religious leaders traditions regarding the Sabbath, the Sabbath is mentioned two times. The first time it is mentioned is by the apostle Paul in Colossians 2:16; “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” (ESV)

N. T. Wright wrote; “These rules of diet and ritual marked out the Jew from his pagan neighbors. Failure to observe them implied that one did not belong to God’s people.” (The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Colossians and Philemon, p. 119). It appears to me what Paul is saying is that we are not to judge a person’s place in the Kingdom based on whether or not they keep the food laws or the Sabbath.

The second time it is mentioned is in the book of Hebrews; “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:8-10; ESV) There is a Sabbath rest that awaits God’s people.

William Lane wrote; “In Hebrews the promise of rest is sharply focused on the unending festivity and praise of a Sabbath celebration at the consummation of history.” (Hebrews: A Call to Commitment; p. 68) The Sabbath we are to look forward to is the Sabbath that comes with the completion of the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1).

Another piece of the puzzle is found in understanding what the Sabbath celebrated and what is celebrated on the Lord’s Day. The Sabbath was a celebration of God’s creative work in making the universe and as the Creator honoring Him as King. This is why the Sabbath was on Saturday, because that was the day God rested from His work.

On the Lord’s Day we celebrate Jesus and his resurrection. Jesus is the “firstfruits” (1 Corinthians 15:23) of God’s new creative work (2 Corinthians 5:17). On the Lord’s Day we are still celebrating God’s creative work, but now we are celebrating the creative work that He is doing through Jesus Christ. We are promised a Sabbath rest, but in the mean time we are to join God in the redeeming work He is doing in the world.

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