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Los Lunas Cornerstone

Church of the Nazarene

The Forgotten God: The Attributes of the Spirit

    Thursday was Star Wars Day. It’s May the 4th every year, which sounds a lot like the Star Wars catch phrase, “May the force be with you.” So of course, I wore my best Star Wars T-shirt and send nerdy Star Wars texts to my family, because I like Star Wars. If you’re not familiar with Star Wars, I want to explain the force to you, as best I can, because a lot of Christians actually treat the Holy Spirit like the force in Star Wars.
    So the force is the life-force that connects all living things in the Star Wars universe. Every thing that is alive is connected through the force. But, there are some people and creatures that are called “force sensitive” meaning they are somehow able to tune in to the force and use its power to do either good things or evil things. The force itself isn’t good or evil, it’s just a power source, and it’s treated like a power source. Some of the evil characters in Star Wars see the force as a way to manipulate and control others for the benefit of these evil characters. So the force in many ways is treated as just a means to an end, an impersonal power source to be used to get what you want.
    Even though Christians might not think about the Holy Spirit like this, many are guilty of treating the Holy Spirit like this, as if He was some impersonal power source that you can just tap into when you need an extra boost of spiritual power. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Holy Spirit is not the force! We were reminded last week that the Holy Spirit is a person, and He is the very Spirit of God, God the Spirit, living and dwelling in the bodies and souls of believers in the Son, and the Spirit invites us to have a personal relationship with Him, just like we do with the Father and Son.
    Today we’re going to talk about the attributes of the Holy Spirit, things that describe who He is in greater detail that will help us understand Him better and help us better understand how He works in us and what sets Him apart from other ideas about “spirituality”.
    We need to know that the Holy Spirit is eternal. He is eternally alive, eternally active, and eternally working. There has never been a time when He did not exist alongside the Father because He is the Spirit of the Father. There will never be a time when He does not exist. He is eternally active, always doing things, always working. There has never been a time where He was not involved in the work of God, you can read all the way back in Genesis 1:1 that the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters of the earth before it was formed and we see Him working in creation and in the lives of people all throughout Biblical history. We see Him working in Revelation at the very end. There is never a time when He isn’t working or active.
    Just in case we need a reminder of what eternal means, it means that He is abiding (always present), that He is CONSTANT, that He is continual, that He is enduring, that He is everlasting, that He is permanent, and this is maybe my favorite, that He is relentless. That means He is all those things with you and me. He is always present with me. He is constant with me. He is continual with me. He is enduring with me. He is everlasting with me. He is permanent with me. He is relentless with me. And every thing else that He is can be described in these ways too. His comfort is always present. His love is constant. His presence is continual. His mercy is enduring. His forgiveness is everlasting. His kindness is permanent. His guidance is relentless. See how cool that is?
    But let’s go to Scripture and take a look at some key moments in Scripture where we see these things are true. Look at Acts 2:38, “Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (NASB) The Day of Pentecost is the day we celebrate in the church as the day that the Holy Spirit was imparted to the church, to all believers, so they could be guided just as Jesus said they would.
    When the Spirit came upon those who were gathered in the upper room praying, and they went out to speak to others who gathered and each of those gathered heard the apostles speak in their own native tongue, some gathered thought the apostles were drunk. But Peter gave a sermon, setting them straight, reminding them of the promise that God and Christ gave that His Spirit would be poured out and He told them that day was the day that the promise had been fulfilled. We’re told that the people gathered, at least three thousand, were pierced to their hearts, and they asked what they must do to be saved. And “Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
    There is nothing else one must do to receive the Spirit, just repent, believe and receive the forgiveness of sins and you’ve got God’s Spirit living in you from that moment on. It’s never said in the New Testament that at any point the Spirit would be withdrawn from believers, as long as they continue in their belief. The Spirit doesn’t just come upon us only when we need Him or cry out to Him, He’s not the force, He is eternal, even in us!
    John 14:16 adds this to our understanding of how the Spirit is eternal with us, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, so that He may be with you forever;” (NASB) Forever. That’s another word for eternal. He always lives and dwells in us, there is never a moment that He leaves us.
    The promise given in Matthew 28:20 is similar when Jesus promised, “and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (NASB) That was Jesus’s promise to His disciples, including us, as He was about to physically leave this earth and go to the Father. How does He keep this promise to be with us always? The Holy Spirit. Christ is not physically with us, but the Spirit of Christ is with us, always, to the end of the age.
    He is eternally alive in us, but also eternally active and eternally working in us. When Nicodemus, the Pharisee, asked Jesus what He must do to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus replied this, from John 3:5, “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (NASB) We must be born of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God.
    That means to me that the Spirit is, and we see this all throughout the New Testament, that the Spirit is always working in the life of the believer to bring about that saving work. Think about your own walk with the Lord. How many times have you ignored the Spirit’s prompting in your life and done your own thing? In those moments, and we all have them, we ignore the Spirit and thereby ignore God, we live for self, which is not what we agreed to do when we came to Christ. In those moments, the Spirit is working to extend grace to us to keep us in Him. He extends mercy to us to draw us back to Him. Please understand, I’m not saying that we lose our salvation anytime that we chose self over the Spirit, that’s not true at all. What I’m saying is that the Spirit is always working in us to help us work out our salvation, as Paul says. This is the process of allowing the Spirit to renew and regenerate us, thereby constantly keeping us in God’s saving grace. Therefore, what we see, is the Spirit eternally active and eternally working in believer’s lives to be eternally saving us and REGENERATING us, making us born again.
    One of the attributes of the Spirit then that we see is so important to us and how we relate to the Spirit is to know that He is eternally alive, always with the believer, never forsaking us, always speaking to us, eternally active in our lives to teach and guide and comfort and do all the other things He was sent to do, and eternally working in our lives to keep us in God’s grace and regenerating and renewing our inner person into a new creation.
    The next thing that is important for us to know about the Spirit is that He is Holy. In fact, Romans 1:4 says this about Him, “who was declared the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (NASB). He is the Spirit of holiness. Just like we learned that He is the Spirit of truth, and that means that we must define truth by what the Spirit says is true and who the Spirit is; in the same way, holiness can be defined and understood by looking at who the Spirit is and how the Spirit defines “holiness”. If the Spirit says something is holy, then that is how we must define and understand holiness. If the Spirit calls something “unholy”, then it is unholy!
    We’ve talked about holiness before, many times, but quite simply, holiness is being set apart. In saying that the Spirit is Holy, we say that He is set apart from any other god or ideas about spirituality. He isn’t like the force, He isn’t this new age feel good warm fuzzy feeling, He isn’t some mystical unknowable power. He is different than any being or deity or spirituality that the world knows.
    It is important for us to remember that the Spirit is Holy, set apart from all others, because if we remember this important theological truth, it changes the way we relate to Him. When we remember that it is a Holy Spirit that lives and dwells in each believer, then we begin to understand that He lives in us to set us apart from those who do not have Him in them as well. He lives in us, in part, to make us holy as He is holy.
    Hear what Hebrews 9:14 says, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (NASB) The blood of Christ cleanses us from dead works so that we might serve the living God, and He does that in us, continuously, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us. It was through the Holy Spirit’s empowering that Christ was able to offer His blood as the cleansing sacrifice for our sins, and so it is through the Holy Spirit that we can take advantage of the forgiveness of sins bought by the blood of Christ and be made righteous. The Holy Spirit works in us to cleanse us of unrighteousness and dead works so that we might serve the living God!
    Romans 8:11 goes on to say this, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (NASB) This is another way of saying what Hebrews 9:14 said. Through the Spirit working in you and me and all believers, He brings us to life. He cleanses us. He gives us life the way the Lord defines it. This isn’t physical life or physical existence that is being talked about, it’s spiritual life. He gives us eternal life, brings our spirits to life, and keeps us in that state of being spiritually alive by regenerating us and making us holy.
    1 Corinthians 6:11 says it this way, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (NASB) The Spirit is at work in each of us to do the washing, the sanctifying, the justifying in the name of Christ Jesus. All of this points to the process we call sanctification in the Nazarene denomination. The Spirit, He SANCTIFIES us. That means that He is at work in each of us, as we’ve been seeing throughout the New Testament, to change us, to make us holy, to set us apart.
    Here’s the thing though, because the Holy Spirit is a person, a part of the triune Godhead, someone we can have a personal relationship with, He will never force us to comply with the work He wants to do in us. He wants to change us, make us holy, set us apart, give us God’s righteousness, work in us to empower us and grow us…but we have to let Him. We have to agree. We have to work with Him. This is why growing in your relationship with the Spirit is so important, and why it must be done intentionally, it doesn’t just happen. Spend time with Him, speak with Him, listen to Him. He is eternally alive, eternally active, eternally working…in you! He is Holy, and He desires to make you holy, too!
Questions to form your quiet times this week:
1. Spend time this week thinking about what the free gift of God’s Holy Spirit living in you means to you today and in the future.

2. If the Holy Spirit is always in you, dwelling in you, and never leaves, why do Christians pray for more of the Spirit? Is this possible, or theologically correct? What might we pray for instead?

3. Do you treat your body as the dwelling place for a completely holy God? Are there any sins you need to repent of, as they have abused His holy sanctuary?

The Forgotten God: The Nature of the Spirit

    The evangelist Paul Washer once said this, “I used to tell young preachers, in order to preach you've got to have the power of God on your life. Now I tell them, in order to tie your shoes you've got to have the power of God on your life.” The Power of God. You need the power of God to do anything as a believer. Why? Because when you gave your life to Jesus, you gave Him your entire life! Whether you realized it or not, when you said “yes” to Jesus, you were signifying that you were no longer going to live life on your own terms, but only by what God’s plan was and what direction He led you in.
    So, when you became a believer, you were stating that from that point on, you were only going to try to live life by the power of God, which is the Holy Spirit given to you and all believers by the Father. You could live life in your own power, but you, believer, really shouldn’t. That’s not what you signed up for! You signed up for a life full of power and that power is the Spirit of God living in you.
    Unfortunately, many Christians, and maybe you find yourself in this group, many Christians don’t rely on the Spirit for anything. Not for tying their shoes and not for anything else either. They don’t rely on Him to make their decisions. They don’t rely on Him to guide them or teach them or change them. In fact, many Christians continue to live life just the same way they did before they came to Christ because they have neglected the Spirit living in them. When you as a believer, neglect the Spirit in your life, you neglect God.
    The next few weeks, I’m going to be preaching a sermon series called “The Forgotten God”. It’s a series about the Holy Spirit, who for many Christians, is the forgotten God. He’s neglected, ignored, and misunderstood in the church in North America, and if we’re to have any hope of continuing to be a church in this country, we need to stop forgetting God the Spirit.
    So let’s talk about the Holy Spirit. In your bulletin, you’ll notice the question near the top that asks, “What is the Holy Spirit?” The first thing I want you to do is to cross out the word “what” and write “who”. This might be the biggest misunderstanding about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not a what, or an it. The Spirit of God is a He. He is a person. He is the third person of the Trinity, the third person of the Godhead.
    This morning, as I preach about the nature of the Spirit, it is my desire that you will see that the Spirit is a person, a being. That might not seem like a big deal, it might not seem like a big distinction, but when it comes to how we relate to God and how we understand His place in our life, it’s very important that what we believe about the Spirit is in line with what God’s Word, the Bible, says about who He is. The Spirit of God is a He, a person, a being, just as important as God the Father and God the Son. To neglect or misunderstand the Spirit, we neglect part of who God is.
    Look at John 14:17 to see the words the Bible uses to speak about the Spirit, “the Helper is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him; but you know Him because He remains with you and will be in you.” (NASB) This is just one of many examples throughout the Bible, but anytime when Scripture speaks about the Spirit, it uses terminology that describes a person, not an idea, not a thing, a person!
    He is the Spirit of TRUTH, John says. That means that the Spirit can and will only do what is true and say what is true. The Spirit will never speak something that isn’t true, or do something that isn’t true. He is the very embodiment of truth and truth can only be defined by the Spirit of God. This is also important for us to understand as we seek to understand our relationship with the Holy Spirit. The Bible was inspired by God to be written, so the things contained in it are truth because they are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and He only speaks truth. What He says about Himself is true because He only speaks truth.
    Now, since we know that the Holy Spirit is a person, a being, that means that He is available for a personal relationship with believers, just like the Father and the Son. In fact, John 7:39 assures us that the Holy Spirit is given to every person who believes in Christ Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Every person who believes receives the gift of the Spirit to remain in them and be in them. In the next few weeks’ sermons, we’ll explore what the Spirit does in the life of each believer, but quite simply, none of those things happen if we’re not having a personal relationship with Him.
    We can think of our relationship with the Holy Spirit like a marriage, or a very close friendship. Those types of relationships must be carefully and intentionally cultivated and cared for. Those types of relationships require a lot of time spent together. So it is with the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer. You can have a personal relationship with Him, one that will undoubtedly change your life, but you must spend time with Him. You must care for that relationship and intentionally grow it.
    2 Corinthians 13:14 says that we can have FELLOWSHIP with the Holy Spirit. Think about the word fellowship. What does it mean to you? I think of friends, especially close friends. I think of my church family, and opportunities that we have to sit and share our common interests with one another in conversation. This is how we’re meant to be with the Spirit. He isn’t meant to be neglected in our lives. We are meant to be in constant fellowship with Him, in friendship, sharing our common interests and learning from Him as He speaks to us what He hears from the Father. Fellowship is part of our personal relationship with the person of the Spirit.
    Romans 8:14, 16-17 says this, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons and daughters of God. 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (NASB)
    Having a personal relationship with the person of the Spirit allows us to be sons and daughters of God, heirs of all that He has to give, just as Christ is an heir of all that God has to give. The privileges afforded to the sons and daughters of God become ours when we walk in that personal relationship with the Spirit. The Spirit reveals God the Father to us. It is through the Spirit that we know the Father and know what the Father desires. Without the Spirit, we cannot know the Father or the Son. This is the importance of having a personal relationship with the Spirit.
    John 14:25-26 tells us about another reason to intentionally grow your relationship with the Spirit, “These things I have spoken to you while remaining with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I said to you.” (NASB) Have you ever had one of those moments in Scripture, when you know you’ve read a passage a dozen times before and you understood it just fine, but that one time you read it, it just really grabs you and changes you and you know it’ll be one of those verses that you’ll never forget because of its impact on you? That’s the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. He is the one who teaches you and opens Scripture to you, and reminds you of all that Christ has spoken through the Word of God. This is why a personal relationship with the Spirit is so important. He makes God’s Word alive and active.
    Then we are reminded again of Matthew 28:19, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (NASB) If you’re not actively walking with the Spirit on a day to day basis, you don’t have the power needed to make disciples. And since this is the one thing Jesus told us to do, it’s of vital importance! We must make disciples. This has to be at the core of how we interact with the world around us, it always must be at the forefront of our minds because it is our purpose! We make disciples in the name of the Father, Son, and the Spirit, because without the Spirit, the work of making disciples is impossible.
    See? Not only is the Holy Spirit available for a personal relationship with believers, but without each believer cultivating a vibrant and active relationship with the Spirit, you miss out on the sweet fellowship you could have with Him, you miss out on closeness with the Father and the Son, you miss out on living in step with God’s Word, and you miss out on the power to do as Christ has commanded you. We need the Spirit, and we need to walk closely in step with Him each and every day. Living a Christ-like life without the Spirit is impossible.
    That’s because the Holy Spirit is GOD, the Spirit. He is the very Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is the Father’s Spirit. We must know this, and our theology, what we believe about God, and how we live our lives, but revolve around this knowledge. We have been given an incredible gift, that we should have the very Spirit of God living in each of us who believes. This is amazing! This is something that was completely impossible even to people like King David, or Jeremiah, or Isaiah, or Abraham. They only experienced the Holy Spirit like we do when the Spirit came upon them for a specific time and purpose, but we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us at all times, from the moment we first believe!
    The Spirit is God, He is God the Spirit. Look at these verses in Acts 5:3-4, “But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.” We can know through the New Testament that the Spirit is God, part of the Godhead, because all throughout the New Testament, the terms “Spirit” and “God” are used interchangeably. Here, we see that Peter has the understanding that lying to the Spirit is lying to God, because they are one.
    Romans 8:9 teaches us that the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father, “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” (NASB) and Galatians 4:6 teaches us that the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba! Father!” (NASB) This is one of the foundational teachings of Christianity, that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are all one, all equally God, all equally important. One is not lesser than the others. Yet, we consistently forget the God the Spirit every single day. I believe it is so incredibly important for us to remember that if we forget the Spirit, we forget God.
    Though they can have different roles in the life of the Christian, they are still one. John 16:13-15 shows us how the Spirit and the Father relate to one another as they exist as one, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take from Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine; this is why I said that He takes from Mine and will disclose it to you.” (NASB) The Spirit speaks for the Father, and speaks only what the Father says. Why? Because the Spirit of God is God, part of God, one with the Father.
    Like 1 John 3:24 says, “The one who keeps His commandments remains in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He remains in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (NASB) The Spirit in each of us gives us the assurance that we need to know that we are in God, and that He remains in ME, you, each of us. How can the Spirit give that assurance? Because the Spirit is God. We neglect growing our relationship with Him and walking closely with Him to our own detriment.

Questions to form your quiet times this week:
1. Do you ever fall into the trap of seeing the Holy Spirit as an impersonal force instead of a person? Have you tried to “harness” Him instead of having a relationship with Him?

2. Do you treat the Holy Spirit as God, or do you treat Him as lesser than the other two persons of the Godhead? How can you be sure to treat Him as God?

3. Reflect on what the Nicene Creed says about the Spirit, “And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.” How have you experienced the Spirit giving you new life every day as He works in you and you submit to Him?

Go Tell

    We have this habit in the church, of going straight from celebrating the Resurrection of Christ on Resurrection Sunday to looking forward to Pentecost when the gift of God’s Holy Spirit was poured out on all believers. We forget that there’s quite a bit that Jesus still did in between that time, even between His Resurrection and when He ascended into Heaven before Pentecost, there’s quite a bit that He did. We have this habit in the church of sort of glossing over that time period. It’s a bad habit, and when we do that, we miss out on a very important part of the gospel.
    I want us to look at this time period this morning, starting with Acts 1:3, “To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of things regarding the kingdom of God.” (NASB)
    After Resurrection Sunday, Jesus stayed on earth for a time before ascending into heaven, and this Scripture tells us that He stayed for over a period of 40 DAYS, speaking of things regarding God’s kingdom, proving He was alive after death. He didn’t just ascend into heaven right away, but stayed for at least 40 days with His disciples and friends and family, disproving the false account the guards had given to try to cover up the Resurrection.
    This verse in Acts tells us that one of the purposes of Him staying for such a length of time was to give many proofs of His resurrection, but we see something else as we read the accounts of His appearances after the Resurrection, another purpose for Christ staying for such a length of time.
    Look at the first of those appearances, in John 20:11-17, to Mary Magdalene, who was the very first person to see the resurrected Christ. “But Mary was standing outside the tomb, weeping; so as she wept, she stooped to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they put Him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and yet she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Thinking that He was the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you put Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” (NASB)
    Amidst Mary’s incredible joy at getting to see the risen Messiah, and even as she embraced Jesus, He gave her a charge, a simple job to go and do. There in the last verse I read, verse 17, He tells Mary to go to His BROTHERS, that would be the disciples, and to tell them that He was risen and was going to be going to the Father. Go and tell. That’s the first appearance after the Resurrection.
    Then we read Matthew 28:9-10, “And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Rejoice!” And they came up and took hold of His feet, and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go, bring word to My BROTHERS to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.” (NASB) This appearance was to more women, Mary Magdalene included, and once again, the appearance isn’t only to prove that He was resurrected just as He said He would, but to also give them a task to do, to go and tell the disciples what had happened. They were to tell the disciples that not only had Jesus risen from the dead, but that He would meet the disciples in Galilee. Go and tell. That was the second time that Jesus appeared after the Resurrection.
    Luke 24:34 tells us about this appearance next, when the eleven disciples were gathered, and they had heard already from the women that Jesus had risen, but had not believed. Peter ran to the tomb to see if they were telling the truth, and he saw the empty tomb and the burial garments and left wondering what had happened. But by the time he got back to the house to gather with the eleven disciples, we read this, “saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon!” (NASB) Sometime between seeing the empty tomb and meeting up with the other disciples, Peter saw the Resurrected Christ. It’s a fact that is confirmed for us again in 1 Corinthians 15:5 when Paul recounts all those who Jesus met with after He was resurrected. We don’t know what was said during this meeting between Peter and Jesus, but we know it happened.
    And then shortly after this meeting with Peter, we have Luke 24:13-32, which tells us about the two men on the road to Emmaus near Jerusalem, who also had an encounter with Jesus. We know the name of one of these men, Cleopas, but the other is unnamed. But they walk with Jesus for some time and they don’t recognize Him, and they tell Him about how they had heard from the women that the tomb was empty, so they went to see and found it empty, but didn’t believe that Jesus had risen, much like Peter. But then they share a meal with Jesus and He revealed Himself to them and then vanished from their sight. Look at their response to having seen the resurrected Christ in Luke 24:33-35, “And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon!” 35 They began to relate their experiences on the road, and how He was recognized by them at the breaking of the bread.” (NASB)
    So the disciples were gathered and Peter has told them he saw the risen Lord, and then these two men who had also seen Jesus come and tell the disciples about how they had seen Jesus too! Their immediate response was to go and tell the disciples. They had already eaten dinner with Jesus, it was near the end of the day, and we’re told that Jerusalem was 60 stadia away from Emmaus where they were eating, which is about 7 miles. That doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, that’s the distance down to the end of Bosque Farms. But these men would likely be walking. It would take them almost two hours to get back to Jerusalem. But they went right away and why? To tell the disciples what had happened when they encountered the risen Christ.
    Then, as all the disciples are gathered, Jesus appeared to them which we read about in Luke 24:36-49, “Now while they were telling these things, Jesus Himself suddenly stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” 37 But they were startled and frightened, and thought that they were looking at a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why are doubts arising in your hearts? 39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you plainly see that I have.” 40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 While they still could not believe it because of their joy and astonishment, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They served Him a piece of broiled fish; 43 and He took it and ate it in front of them. 44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all the things that are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, “So it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (NASB)
    So we’ve seen already that the women were told to go and tell others, and that the two men on the road to Emmaus responded to seeing Jesus by going and telling the others. But here, now that most of them have seen the risen Christ, they’re told to wait for the promise of the Father upon them. Wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit, is what we learn in the book of Acts they are waiting for. Why wait? In verse 48 that I just read, Jesus tells them they are witnesses of Him rising from the dead in order to give the forgiveness of sins to those who repent. They are His witnesses. That means that He is going to expect them to tell other about Him, but in order to do that, they need the power of the Holy Spirit, the power from on high that God promised to them. The power of the Spirit would enable them to go and be witnesses to Christ to all the nations. Go and tell.
    Then Jesus appeared to Thomas because for some reason, Thomas wasn’t at this gathering with all the other disciples, we’re told it’s just 11 of them. When we look at John 20:24-29, we see this happen, “But Thomas, one of the twelve, who was called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” 26 Eight days later His disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be to you.” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Place your finger here, and see My hands; and take your hand and put it into My side; and do not continue in disbelief, but be a believer.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you now believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (NASB)
    So at this point, a whole lot of witnesses have seen Jesus. Mary Magdalene and the other women, which was about 4 other women, Peter had a private conversation with Jesus, the two men on the road broke bread and walked with Jesus, and all the disciples saw Jesus except Thomas. And poor Thomas has to put up with hearing them all talk about how Jesus is alive for 8 days, all the while thinking that they must be pulling some sort of colossal joke on him. And then there’s Jesus, just there. We give Thomas a bad rap, some even call him doubting Thomas, but Jesus didn’t deny Thomas the chance to know for sure that He had risen from the dead and was truly alive. He invites Thomas to put his hand into the wounds on Jesus’s side and Thomas’s finger in the holes in Jesus’s hands. Why? So Thomas would believe. He wants people to believe, how will they believe if they do not hear?
    Jesus appeared to the disciples a third time, we read about this in John 21, when Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat after a long time of not catching any fish and then they catch more fish than they know what to do with. They all eat together and talk with one another, and it was during this appearance that Jesus pulls Peter aside and speaks with Peter about feeding His lambs, and tells Him, “take CARE of my sheep.”
    And again, the disciples see Jesus on the mountain in Galilee, maybe with others, as 1 Corinthians 15 seems to suggest, “and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;” (vv. 5-6, NASB). So after He appeared to Peter, then the twelve, including Thomas, at some point He appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time. It was not just a handful of people who saw Him. It wasn’t just the disciples plus the women. There were hundreds of people who saw Him after the Resurrection! Hundreds!
    Then, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:7 that Jesus also appeared to His brother James after appearing to the group of more than five hundred. We don’t have a record of that appearance other than Paul’s letter, but I know beyond a doubt that it must have happened, and not just because Paul said it. James as I said was Jesus’s brother, and when we see him in the gospels, he couldn’t care less about Jesus or what Jesus’s claims were about being the Son of God. In fact, John 7:5 specifically tells us that none of Jesus’s brothers believed in Him and they wanted Him to leave His home because they didn’t believe Him. But then, sometime between the Resurrection and when the believers were gathered in the Upper Room awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit, James becomes a believer, and goes on to write what is now the book of James which is full of His faith in what he knew to be true about his brother, Jesus. I believe James had a moment with the resurrected Christ when his whole mind was changed drastically and he came to believe.
    In Acts 1:1-11 we have the final appearance which seems to combine two distinct appearances that we read about at separate times in the gospels, and many Biblical scholars believe that they are two separate incidents, one when Jesus tells them to wait for the Holy Spirit, and another when He actually ascends after telling them their purpose as His disciples from that point on. We call this the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20, “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and TEACHing them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NASB) And then, He was taken into heaven and they waited for the Spirit.
    The final thing He told His disciples was at the core of the message, the same thing He had been telling all of His disciples from the first appearance to Mary Magdalene 40 days before the ascension. Go and tell. Make disciples, baptize them, teach them to obey. Go and tell. The process of making disciples and teaching them must include telling about Christ. Tell people about what He has done for you. Tell people about your new life. Tell people about about the One who loves us so deeply He gave His life willingly to be the sacrifice for our sins. Go and tell.

1. Read Mark 16:8. This is a natural reaction for humans to have when they have news that contradicts the word of culture and society. What comfort does Matthew 28:18-20 bring?

2. The process of making disciples involves more than getting them to the altar. What else does Matthew 28:18-20 say is involved in making disciples? How are you a part of that process?

3. Go make disciples—or, on your way to going where you would normally go, make disciples. How are you making disciples of those in your way every day?

The Lilies (The Symbols of Easter)

    Happy Resurrection Sunday! It’s Easter, of course, but since this is the day that we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we also like to call it Resurrection Sunday! We’ve been in a series for the past few weeks about the symbols of Easter. We’ve been talking about different symbols that we usually see around Easter and what they mean, and most importantly, where they come from in the Bible.
    We began by looking at the symbolism of the Lamb. We saw that in Scripture, particularly when it comes to the Passover and Easter, the Lamb is a symbol of sacrifice and the price that Jesus paid for our sins.
    Then we looked at the Cross, the most recognizable of Easter symbols. We can see that even though it was associated with being cursed, Jesus made it a symbol of His VICTORY over sin and death.
    Then we looked at the Crown of Thorns. Though usually a crown is associated with royalty, we saw that for Jesus, it was a sign of His humility, that He was willing to surrender His rights as the Son of God to do what the Father asked of Him. To us, we remember that we are also called to have this humility, to be willing to surrender ourselves to the Lord.
    Two weeks ago we looked at the Bread and Cup, that it demonstrates to us God’s FAITHFULNESS. We saw that God is always faithful to His people, and He always keeps His promises, so we can trust Him with our lives, even when we don’t know the outcome.
    Last week we looked at the Palm Branches that were waved as Jesus entered the city in triumph. They represent Jesus as King, reigning over all, but specifically God’s righteousness, reigning as King over sin and self.
    Today, we’ll talk about Easter Lilies. Have you every wondered why lilies are associated with Easter? I have. When we start to ask that question, an answer is easy to find. Did you know that Easter lilies are actually really difficult to grow. The process is a long, precise process. The bulbs have to be cultivated in fields for at least three years, and during that time they require care, moving, and tending as they move through the growth stages. And they have to groom them and care for them in such a way to make sure they bloom on time for Easter, which is a risk because Easter doesn’t fall on the same day each year. Easter lilies are kind of divas.
    Quite simply, Easter lilies are a symbol of new life. That’s what they represent. Throughout the Old Testament, lilies symbolize youth, life, and beauty. Those who are full of life, healthy and vibrant are said to grow like lilies. Given how difficult and time-consuming it is to grow lilies, it’s no wonder that they were associated with life that is hearty and well-grown.
    But as we look at what today means to all those who have put their faith in Jesus and believed in Him for their salvation, lilies become an important reminder of just what we have as a result of placing our faith in Jesus. For those of us who have embraced Jesus and accepted His forgiveness, lilies remind us of the new life that we have in Jesus. For those who have this new life, you know there is nothing more precious to you than life in Jesus. It’s the sweetest thing because you know what was sacrificed and the price paid to secure that new life.
    But I don’t want any of us to miss the sweetness of new life in Christ. So I ask the question that maybe you’re asking, or have asked before. Why do you need new life? Why should you want to have the new life that Jesus offers? After all, you’re alive aren’t you? Why is new life so important? Why is it different?
    Let’s trace the “why” throughout the Bible. I’ll start in Genesis 1:26-27, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” (NIV)
    We were created in God’s image. In the image of the Almighty, the Creator of the Universe. This means a lot of things, and has a lot of implications, but one of the things we know about being created in God’s image, is that we were made to be eternal with Him. We were meant to be with Him and live with Him forever. We also know that it means we were created perfectly. We were created exactly as we needed to be. Nothing was missing in our bodies or minds, we were perfect in every way. When God finished creating mankind, He called us, His creation, “good”. To God, this meant that it was perfect, just as it should be. We were perfect, just as we should be. And it had to be that way, because in order for God’s creation to continue to be with Him for all eternity, we had to be perfect as He is perfect. And that wasn’t a problem when we were created.
    Unfortunately, it didn’t stay that way. The first man and the first woman, Adam and Eve, decided they knew better than God, and they did what He told them not to. They messed things up really bad for us, but we really aren’t any better. We continue their legacy of thinking we know better than God and doing the things He’s told us aren’t good for us, and not doing the things that He’s told us are good. We continue to try to go our own way, even when we know better. That’s sin.
    Romans 3:23 says this, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (NIV) This sin problem we all have, made us imperfect. The perfection we were created in and created for was lost through sin. And each of us is a sinner. If you’ve told a lie, even a white lie that didn’t hurt anyone else, that’s sin. If you know that this is true, in your bulletin you can fill in the blank, I am a SINNER. That’s the truth. Each of us is a sinner, and perfection is lost through sin.
    There’s a problem then because if we’re sinners, no longer perfect, then we can’t spend all of eternity with God in perfection. Hebrews 12:14 says this, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (NIV) Without that perfection that we were created in, NO ONE can come to God. We were created perfect, but that perfection was lost through sin, and each of us sins. But without that perfection, we can’t get back to that eternal relationship with God that we were created for.
    Some people, and maybe you find yourself among this group of people, I know I have been tempted by this thought before, some try to do enough good things to be good enough to earn being with God again in that eternal relationship. That’s no good either though. It’s useless. You can’t do enough good things. You could solve world hunger and it wouldn’t be enough to earn perfection back.
    Hebrews 10:1 says this, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” (NIV) The law, which was a series of rules and regulations for being “good”, even keeping the whole law wasn’t enough to be perfect again, because the law was just a shadow of what was really needed.
    It didn’t matter how many good things people did, still doesn’t matter how many good things you do, you can’t be perfect again just by being good. It’s not enough. Romans 3:10 also adds this, “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;” (NIV) Our good, isn’t good enough, and keeping the Law won’t make you perfect.
    So then that’s it, right? There’s no way for us to be perfect again, no way for us to get back to that eternal relationship with God again, is there? Seems…hopeless, doesn’t it?
    Well, no. There is hope. What we needed, that the Law couldn’t do because it was just a shadow of what we really needed, which was a human who was perfect who lived perfectly the way God intended us to do, who would pay the price for our sin, so that we didn’t have to. When we looked at the Lamb and the symbolism of the Lamb at Easter, we saw that the price that had to be paid for our sin was death. We needed a perfect human who could die for us, for me, for you.
    Jesus did.
    He paid the price. He lived a perfect life, and took our sins on Him to the cross. He died. But in order to have the final word over sin, in order to defeat sin and death forever for us, He had to come back to life. And that is what we celebrate today. Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after He died, and when He did that, He defeated death, He defeated the sin that keeps us from having a relationship with God, just like we were created to have.
    We celebrate this morning because He is alive! And when He rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb, He gave to those who believe new life. Because if you don’t believe, even though you are walking around breathing air and going about this thing that we call life, you’re dead inside! That’s the truth! You’re dead inside because you have not let Jesus’s forgiveness forgive your sin. He wants to, but you have to say, “yes”.
    We celebrate this morning because we have new life in Jesus! I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt because I have experienced it.  There is nothing like it! I have tasted the sweetness of the forgiveness that Jesus offers and it sent me free from guilt, shame, and feeling like I had to earn God’s love. I don’t. He loves me, and you, even when we don’t deserve it.
    Colossians 1:22 shares this truth with us, “But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation—“ (NIV) Through Jesus’s death, God made it possible for you to be perfect. Not because you are perfect, but because Jesus is. How would you like to know that you can be with God and know that you are without blemish and no one can hold anything against you or accuse you of anything wrong. A clean slate. All your wrongs wiped away. Only through faith in Christ is this possible.
    Remember that I told you about how difficult it is to grow Easter lilies? That it takes a lot of care and attention and time, but it’s worth it because they are then really hearty and beautiful! Hosea 14:4-5 says this, “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. 5 I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots;” (NIV)
    The day that this passage talks about is now, the days after Christ came. God sent His only Son, Christ Jesus, to heal us of our sin, to love us freely, so that we can be planted in God. When we are rooted in God, planted in Him through belief in Christ, we will grow like LILIES, this passage says. Just like lilies, when we start a relationship with God through belief in Christ, that relationship requires a lot of care and attention and time, but it’s worth it because the result is beauty, and new life in us, those who believe.
    Ephesians 4:22-24 says to put off the old life. When we realize what Jesus did for us, that He died to forgive our sins and give us new life, we’re not supposed to keep living the way we did in our old life. Anything that was a part of who you were before Jesus is meant to die, and you’re meant to let it go and walk away from it. Sometimes that’s hard, but just like the lilies, worth it. New life in Christ is worth it.
    So, wherever you find yourself this morning, if you’ve never believed in what Christ did for you and you’ve never placed your faith in Him, if you’ve never accepted new life in Him and the forgiveness of your sins…or if you have and find yourself this morning needing a reminder of what Christ did for you and the new life that you have in Him. Wherever you are this morning, leave behind who you were. Leave behind your old life, and become a new person. Say “yes” to Jesus. Accept the new life that can be found only in Him.

Questions to form your quiet times this week:
1. Have you accepted the free gift of new life in Christ? If so, reflect on how different the new you is from the old you, and give thanks to the Lord. If you haven’t, what reservations do you have about this new life?

2. What does 2 Corinthians 3:18 say happens after we accept new life in Christ?

3. What does Ephesians 2:10 say we were created to do once we have new life in Christ?

The Palm Branches (The Symbols of Easter)

    Happy Palm Sunday! As we continue to look at and examine the images and symbols we associate with Easter, and where we see them throughout the Bible, we will dive into the Palm Branches this morning, which is appropriate since it is Palm Sunday.
    But let’s remember the symbols we’ve examined already. We started with the Lamb, who we know is Jesus, and we’re reminded that the Lamb represents sacrifice, the debt paid for our sin. We remember the Cross, that for us it represents victory over sin and death, for once and for all. We remember the Crown of Thorns, that it represents humility, a willingness to surrender to the Lord. We remember the Bread and Cup, which represents God’s faithfulness and His covenant promises to us.
    I find it really amazing that even though these symbols we’ve looked at have to do with the suffering, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ, we see how the symbolism goes all the way back to the Old Testament, in many cases even back into Genesis. I find the continuity of the Bible, the way it all connects, to be really incredible, and to me it speaks volumes about God’s character and love for us, that He wove all these pieces together in His story.
    Let’s look at the Palm Branches on this Palm Sunday. It’s another symbol that has Jewish roots that I want us to understand so we can understand just how significant it was when the crowds waved Palm Branches for Jesus during His triumphal entry. So, what do Palm Branches signify in the Old Testament?
    Look at Judges 4:5. In the time of the judges, before the Israelites demanded that God give them a king, there was a judge named Deborah. She was set by God over the whole nation, all the Israelites, to guide them and protect them and lead them. Here’s what that verse says, “She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel went up to her for judgment.” (NASB)
    So Deborah would sit under a palm tree, which even came to be known as the palm tree of Deborah, and it was her job, her God-given role, to judge for the people what was right. She judged the RIGHTEOUSNESS of the people, not in the sense that we might think of judgment, as passing judgment on someone for doing something wrong, but rather in the sense of helping others judge what was righteous or not in their own lives. From very early on, palms and palm branches begin to be associated in the Bible with righteousness, specifically, God’s righteousness because He’s the one who called and appointed Deborah to judge the people and guide them in righteousness.
    Then we get to Leviticus. All throughout Leviticus, we see God prescribe what the Law requires for His people to be considered holy before Him. There’s ritual cleansings, sacrifices, festivals. It’s a lot. But the entire book of Leviticus is about holiness before the Lord and God’s righteousness. One of the festivals commanded is the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast was to remind them of how they had lived in tents when they were in the wilderness, wondering around the desert for 40 years, and ultimately, a reminder of God’s protection and care for them during that time. This is what Leviticus 23:40 says, “Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and branches of trees with thick branches and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.” (NASB)
    In this Feast of Tabernacles, God’s people were meant to take palm branches and use them in their worship of the Lord, to rejoice before Him what He had done for them in the wilderness. Much like the Bread and Cup and the Lamb remind us of how God delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, the palm branches being used in the Feast of Tabernacles were meant to remind His people of how His righteousness triumphed over the evil and false gods of the Egyptians. His righteousness judged Egypt and His sovereignty prevailed over its cruelty.
    Then we have Ezekiel 40. In Ezekiel 40, Ezekiel has a vision given to Him by the Lord. In the vision, He sees the Temple in Israel, and he sees a man measuring the Temple. He sees its measurements and he sees how the Temple was meant to look. One of the things that Ezekiel sees is carvings of palm branches used in the Temple decorations, which was exactly how 2 Chronicles describes the Temple being decorated. The palm branches used in the Temple were carved to represent God’s righteousness, dwelling amongst the people as they came to seek Him where His presence was.
    So the Temple in Jerusalem as described in 2 Chronicles had carved palm branches, and the vision of the Temple that Ezekiel is given in Ezekiel 40 has carved palm branches in the Temple. If you’ve ever read through any of the chapters in the Old Testament that give the details of what the Temple looked like, maybe you’ve asked yourself why exactly God gave those specific instructions for how the Temple ought to look. Why was it this many cubits long, and this many cubits high? Why was God so specific about the colors and the decorations?
    Look at Hebrews 9:24, “For Christ did not enter a holy place made by hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;” and Hebrews 8:5, “who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things by the pattern which was shown to you on the mountain.” (NASB)
    The earthly Temple in Jerusalem, we’re told, was a copy of the true Temple, the one in Heaven where the Lord dwells. We can’t know for sure, because the Bible doesn’t specifically say it, but perhaps there are Palm Branches that decorate the heavenly Temple as well, declaring God’s righteousness and His sovereignty over sin, death, and evil, for all eternity.
    And then we have Psalm 92:12, and many other verses in the Psalms that say something similar, “The righteous person will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” (NASB) The palms that grew in that area we learned when we talked about the Crown of Thorns are date palms. Date palms are pretty hearty, they have to be to grow where they grow. They send down deep roots and they grow really high. It’s no wonder then that palms are used to represent those who are RIGHTEOUS. Those who are righteous will have deep roots, they’ll be unshakeable, not because they are strong in of themselves, but because they are resting on God’s righteousness.
    Let’s look at the story of Jesus entering into Jerusalem before the Crucifixion, during the Triumphal entry in John 12:12-13, “On the next day, when the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 they took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, indeed, the King of Israel!” (NASB)
    When Jesus came into Jerusalem and the people were shouting Hosanna! for His entry, and waving palm branches, they were hailing Him as King, yes, and that is true, He is the King. But they were, by using the palm branches, praising the King for His righteousness, praising Him that His righteousness was going to defeat the evil Roman Empire…or so they thought.
    In reality, Jesus’s righteousness didn’t defeat the Roman Empire, but His righteousness did have victory over evil, sin, and death. When we look at the Palm Branches, we need to remember that all throughout the Bible, they symbolize God’s righteousness, so as we look at the Palm Branches on Palm Sunday, we can be assured that God’s righteousness triumphs over sin, death, and evil. Regardless of how dark the week would become for Jesus as He suffered and was Crucified, His righteousness had the final word. It’s a reminder to us too, that no matter how dark this world might seem like it’s getting, even if it seems like evil is winning…God’s righteousness still triumphs!
    When we look at the Palm Branch, we know this too, Philippians 3:9 says, “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,” (NASB) which is similar to Isaiah 64:6, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our wrongdoings, like the wind, take us away.” (NASB)
    None of us has any righteousness of our own. All of our attempts to do righteous things isn’t enough. So when we see the Palm Branches of Palm Sunday and Easter time, we’re reminded of a simple truth: Christ is our righteousness.
    This is a truth that’s present all throughout the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 1:30 says this, “But it is due to Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,” (NASB) Christ is to us, our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
    Romans 1:17, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written: “But the righteous one will live by faith.” (NASB) By placing our faith in God through Christ Jesus, His righteousness is revealed to us, given to us, since we have no righteousness of our own.
    And 1 Peter 2:24, “and He Himself brought our sins in His body up on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by His wounds you were healed.” (NASB) He became sin for us, even though He had no sin, so that we could die to sin and live for righteousness.
    So when we see the Palm Branch during Easter, we know that it is a symbol of God’s righteousness, that God’s righteousness has victory over sin, death, and evil, and that it is because of His righteousness that we can also live a life of righteousness. And that is what the Palm Branches mean throughout the Bible, and to us who believe.

Questions to form your quiet times this week:
Romans 3-6 are the “righteousness” chapters of the New Testament. Take some time this week to read through these chapters and see what Paul says about the nature of righteousness.

The Bread and Cup (The Symbols of Easter)

    I’m sure I’ve shared this insight before, but just in case you’ve never heard it, here’s a little story I want to share with you. It was a few years ago, before I received my ordination, I was taking classes to prepare for ministry. One of these classes was about the history of the early Christian church. One of my assignments for this class was to visit churches of different Christian traditions. So I went to a Catholic church for Saturday Mass, and the next day, and I had to skip my regular service to do this, but I went to a Greek Orthodox Church.
    It was really cool, actually. There was this sweet lady who met me at the door and invited me to sit with her. We chatted a little before the service started, and she explained to me how things go. They sing a few songs, just like we do, though I didn’t join in the singing because the songs were in Greek. But, I was able to read the English translation as they were singing and they were beautiful songs, and the people were singing them in genuine worship. She explained to me that they would read from their readings taken from Scripture, which are kind of like lectionary readings for us (sections of Scripture read on the same day every year, which gets the congregation through most of the Bible in the course of the year).
    There was a short message based on one of the readings, much like we listen to a sermon. And then, it was time for communion. The lady I was sitting with explained to me that the Greek Orthodox Church took eucharist much more seriously than Protestants. For them, there is a period of preparation that a person must go through in order to be able to take communion that Sunday during service.
    They prepare for communion by first, fasting. They eat or drink nothing except water for the morning, so that the first thing they eat is the body of Christ. They then come to service early to enter into a special time of prayer, with the father and others who want to take communion. They go through a special prayer that is fairly lengthy. The prayer walks them through repentance of sins, asking God to cleanse them of their unrighteousness. They pray through several Psalms, asking God for mercy and forgiveness, that they might dwell with God. They pray through Psalms asking God to hear them and turn His face to them and shine upon them with blessings. They pray through their Doxology, their statement of beliefs of who God is, to remind themselves of the One that they serve and are giving respect and reverence to. They pray to the different persons of the Godhead, Father, Spirit, Son, asking each to work in His special role in their lives. It’s a very extensive prayer time. Then, they are expected to give as part of their preparation for taking communion. And they go through a prayer of forgiveness, to forgive those who they may be holding grudges against.
    See, they don’t just show up and take the bread and the cup. There’s thought and prayer and heart-searching that goes on before they take the bread and cup. I can’t help but wonder. I know we don’t do a lot of these rituals and traditions. We’re not “high” church with a lot of liturgical processes. I get that those things can become legalistic and oppressive even. But as I watched each of those parishioners go down the center of the church to take the body and blood of Christ, they looked joyful. There was excitement, and awe on their faces. There were even small children who went through the process to prepare to take the bread and cup. They didn’t look oppressed, or bored, or like they were just checking boxes. I saw faces of genuine love and worship for God. I can’t help but wonder…if this was what we asked of church goers before communion…who would come?
    I don’t say this to try to make us feel guilty, but I see that sometimes, we are far too comfortable and apathetic when it comes to approaching the Almighty God. I think we take it for granted that we can just approach Him whenever we want, and we’ve become flippant about it. A little more awe and reverence may do us good.
    I think about my experience watching the Greek Orthodox take communion frequently. And it’s relevant, because this morning, as we continue talking about the Symbols of Easter in the Bible, we’re going to talk about the Bread and Cup. We’ve looked at The Lamb, which represents for us, sacrifice, the price paid for the debt of sin. We’ve looked at The Cross, which represents victory over sin and death. We’ve looked at The Crown of Thorns, which represents humility, a willingness to submit self for the Lord.
    Let’s go to Scripture this morning, in Luke 22:7-20. “Now the first day of Unleavened Bread came, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 And so Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.” 9 They said to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare it?” 10 And He said to them, “When you have entered the city, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you; follow him into the house that he enters. 11 And you shall say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ 12 And he will show you a large, furnished upstairs room; prepare it there.” 13 And they left and found everything just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover. 14 When the hour came, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. 15 And He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body, which is being given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup, which is poured out for you, is the new covenant in My blood.” (NASB)
    This was the PASSOVER before the Crucifixion of Christ. It’s a Jewish tradition, one that has roots going all the way back into Genesis. In Genesis 15:13-14 God told the patriarch Abraham this, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. 14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.”
    If we just look at these two verses and understand them directly, what we will find is that Abraham’s descendants become enslaved in Egypt. They were there about 400 years. They were greatly oppressed. But then God delivered them, and Egypt was judged, and  Abraham’s descendants came out of Egypt with a lot of possessions and goods. So, this promise God gave to Abraham was an ancient promise of covenant, to watch over Abraham’s descendants, and to deliver them out of oppression.
    But if you look at all that surrounds these verses, you see that this is a very personal promise and covenant to Abraham. He didn’t have any descendants because he had no children. He was old. He was upset that God had made all of these promises to give him an heir, but it hadn’t happened yet. This promise was personal reminder to Abraham of God’s faithful covenant with him. God wasn’t going to let Abraham down. He would do as He promised, even if took longer than Abraham wished. This was personal for Abraham, and God was saying, “Hey, I’m faithful. I’m going to do what I say.”
    And He did. God gave Abraham a son, because God is faithful. And that son had two sons. And one of those twin sons had twelve sons. And they did end up in Egypt, and eventually enslaved and oppressed. And then, because God is faithful, He judged Egypt and delivered His people out of slavery.
    They were told to mark the occasion with a meal. A special meal, on the night that God would pronounce His final judgment on Egypt with a tenth plague, when He would passover His people who had covered their home with the blood of a lamb. And this meal was something they were meant to do to remember, and Exodus 13:8 tells us what they were meant to say year after year: “And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for ME when I came out of Egypt.’” (NASB)
    The passover meal was meant to be a personal time of remembrance and reflection. Each person is meant to remember what God did for them personally, as well as what He had done for all His people. As Jews continue to do this every year and participate in the Passover meal every year, they read through the Haggadah. The Haggadah is a little booklet of readings, that guides the Pesach seder, which is the Jewish name for the Passover meal. The Haggadah guides them through the meal (seder) and reminds the family of all that the Passover means. During this time, they eat the Paschal lamb, the sacrificial lamb, and we know as Christians that Jesus is our Passover lamb. However, the portion in the Haggadah that talks about the lamb is very small. There is much more space in the Haggadah devoted to the bread and the cup. While the blood of the lamb was important, the bread and cup was more important because of what it reminded them of.
    What does the bread and cup remind them of at the Passover meal? It reminded them that yes, they had freedom from slavery. But, it is also a reminder of the brokenness of humanity. God’s people were delivered from slavery, but even His chosen people were subject to oppression. Abraham had a son, yes, because God is faithful, but there was a lot of brokenness and heartache that went into that story as well. The bread, which can be broken, and the cup, which can be poured out, reminds us of the reality of life here and now, even for God’s special people. There is room for suffering in the Passover.
    The same reality exists in the crucifixion and we are reminded of this reality in COMMUNION. Jesus’s death gives us victory over sin and death, and we are redeemed from an empty way of life, delivered from all that oppressed us…but there’s still pain, there’s still hurt, there’s still suffering, even in the church with those who deeply love Christ. The reality is that we have deliverance and freedom, but we are also still human. Jesus did an amazing thing on the cross, but His body had to be broken and His blood had to be poured out to accomplish it.
    Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 11:26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (NASB) Jesus commanded that we take the bread and cup in remembrance of Him, and Paul tells us that the reason we do this is to proclaim Jesus’s death until He returns. So every time that we take communion, whether it’s on Easter or not, we’re supposed to remember the duality of Jesus’s death and the nature of life in Christ. We proclaim salvation, freedom, but also the death and suffering done to secure that freedom & salvation.
    1 Corinthians 15 echoes this strange idea of remembering the good, while also considering the bad, as believers and disciples of Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:50-57 says this, “Now I say this, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold, I am telling you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. 55 Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NASB)
    We live in the perishable. What we see and these bodies will one day be nothing. They go away and cease to exist. But we were made to inherit what does not pass away, we were made to inherit the Kingdom of God! This passage is a reminder that while we live in the reality of being perishable, we view all of it in light of what is to come, the imperishable. We remember the sting of death while looking forward to that sting no longer being there. We remember that we were not made for DEATH, even though we have to face the reality of death here and now.
    The Bread and the Cup—its a reminder of the brokenness of humanity…but that we frame that brokenness in light of God’s faithful covenant of delivery. God has promised deliverance. He will do as He says, just as He’s always done, just as He did with Abraham. In the meantime, we’re human, and we’re broken, but we cling to His faithful promises.

Questions to form your quiet times this week:

1. Read 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 for further instructions for communion. What do Paul’s words add to your understanding of the attitude the bread and cup should be taken in?

2. Do as Paul asks, examine yourself before Communion Sunday next week. What do you think it would look like to eat the bread or drink the cup in an unworthy way?

3. Find a copy of the Haggadah online. How does this enhance what you know about the bread and cup portion of the Passover meal?

The Crown of Thorns (The Symbols of Easter)

    The Crown of Thorns is our next Easter symbol as we examine all the symbols and images that we associate with Eastertide and Resurrection Sunday. We’ve learned about the Lamb, that in the Bible, the Lamb is a symbol of sacrifice, and it reminds us of the debt Jesus paid for our sins. We learned about the Cross, the most recognizable symbol of Easter and Christianity, and that it stands for VICTORY that we have through Jesus over the power of sin and death.
    Today, we’ll talk about the Crown of Thorns. We’ll trace the symbolism of thorns throughout Scripture, and couple it with the symbolism of crowns, particularly the crown worn by Jesus before and during His crucifixion.
    Let’s start with the thorns. Turn with me if you will to John 19:2-3, where we’ll read the description given in the gospels of the crown of thorns that many of us might be familiar with, “And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and placed it on His head, and put a purple cloak on Him; 3 and they repeatedly came up to Him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and slapped Him in the face again and again.” (NASB) This is the crown of thorns, twisted together by the soldiers who were participating in mocking Him, punishing Him, beating Him, and ultimately, preparing Him for crucifixion.
    These were not thorns that we might be familiar with today. They’re not like the thorns on rosebushes, or certain types of weeds. This crown of thorns was made from the thorns of the date palm. The date palm had spikes that were very thick and very hard, and in some cases they could grow up to twelve inches long. These were not your typical thorns. These are super thorns. Medically, the thorns of the date palm are known to possess toxins that can cause inflammation, bruising, and tissue damage. So we have Jesus, having been beaten, flogged, and already in excruciating pain, and then the soldiers made this crown with thorns up to 12 inches long that can cause tissue damage, and they shoved it on His head. It's a wonder that the abuse and beatings and all the punishment He endured before the crucifixion didn’t kill Him before He got to the cross.
    We saw with the Cross last week that the people would’ve been familiar with the curse associated with those who hung on a tree. We saw that Jesus hanging on a cross symbolized that He had taken on the curse that rests upon us all. Look at Genesis 3:18, “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; Yet you shall eat the plants of the field;” (NASB) This was one of the consequences of sin entering the world. Thorns and thistles on plants that were meant to bear food for us are a further sign of the CURSE. Here we have the Messiah, bearing the curse of sin and death for us at every part of the crucifixion account. The Crown of Thorns symbolizes that the curse of mankind quite literally rests upon Jesus’s head.
    The thorns being associated with the curse was a familiar association for Jewish people. Proverbs 22:5 tells us this, “Corrupt people walk a thorny, treacherous road; whoever values life will avoid it.” (NLT) Thorns had come to represent those who had chosen the ways of sin, the ways of the world, over the Lord and His ways. Thorns represent the way of sin and corruption. Though the Roman soldiers may not have known this, when they crowned Jesus with a crown of thorns, not only were they placing the curse upon His head, but they were also signifying that He was taking on the sins of the world.
    As we should, when we think about the crown of thorns, we should think about Jesus’s kingship, who He is as King of kings. After all, the crown is a symbol of royalty and has been for a very long time. We see all throughout the Old Testament that the Messiah’s kingdom was talked about as a kingdom without end, that His reign will go on for all of eternity. The people were told that His kingdom would be unlike any other earthly kingdom.
    When Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate, “Pilate questioned Him: “So You are the King of the Jews?” And He answered him, “It is as you say.” (Mark 15:2, NASB) Jesus proclaimed He is in fact the King of the Jews, the King that the people had been eagerly awaiting since before King David!
    Just days before being brought before Pilate, as Jesus had entered the city on the colt, we read this in Matthew 21:8-9, “Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them on the road. 9 Now the crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” (NASB)
    Just days before being crucified, they had gathered to praise Jesus as the conquering King. That’s why they said, “Hosanna to the Son of David;”, they were recognizing the Kingship of Jesus, that He was in the royal line of King David’s lineage. The crowds that had just gathered to praise Him as conquering King, would soon mock His kingship; and the very palm branches that they had just used to celebrate Him would soon lend their thorns to make the cruel crown that mocked His kingship even more.
    The crowd that just celebrated the return of the King over God’s people soon had this to say, “Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Look, your King!” 15 So they shouted, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no KING except Caesar.” (John 19:14-15, NASB)
    The final insult was the sign hung above Jesus on the cross, John 19:19 records this, “Now Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written: “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” (NASB) This was a sign for all to see that not only did Jesus bear the curse meant for all of us, not only had He taken on the crown of thorns representing a life of sin, and our actual sin, but this sign also called into question His Kingship. How could God let His beloved Son, the conquering King, the King of the Jews, the King of kings, die in such a terrible way?
    There was a trade of that Jesus made though, that we must understand because Jesus made this trade willingly, full well-knowing what He was giving up and what it meant. Let's hear Paul’s words in Philippians 2:6-7, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; 7 rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (NIV)
    Jesus willingly traded all the advantages of being heaven’s royalty, of being the Son of the Most High. He emptied Himself of all of His divine rights. He let go of all of it, and traded His heavenly crown of glory for a broken human body so that He could take on our sin and guilt and free us.
    Hebrews 2:9 says this, “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of His suffering death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” (NASB) The suffering and death that He experienced crowned Him with honor and glory, and the most amazing thing is, that even though we don’t deserve it because we are guilty, that because of His suffering death, He crowns us with honor and glory too.
    So, the Crown of Thorns, meant to be a cruel mocking punishment, that symbolically placed the curse and sins that He was innocent of on Jesus’s head…becomes a symbol of HUMILITY. Humility, as Jesus chose to willingly give up His divine rights as the Son of God and King of kings, and to become a human, to take on the likeness of sinful man, to bear our sins and to be punished and mocked and crucified for those sins. Humility as He chose to have His kingship mocked and questioned. Humility as He didn’t lift a finger to stop the abuse, and said nothing to defend Himself. Christ was willing to trade His crown of glory for a crown of thorns…for us.
    So when Philippians 2:6-7 reminds us of how Jesus, in humility, gave all His heavenly rights up for us, and then in verse 5 tells us this, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:” (NIV) what Paul is talking about is the humility of Christ. Have the same humility as Jesus did in your relationships with one another. Lay down your crown, exchange everything you think you have a right to, and lay it down for the sake of Jesus. Take on the heart of a servant. Put aside your self-centered attitudes and let Jesus be the King of your life, completely and fully. Lay down your crown of self, for the crown of life Jesus offers because He was crowned with suffering and death. Humility, that’s what the Crown of Thorns means to us.

Questions to form your quiet times this week:
1. Look up Isaiah 9:7; Jeremiah 30:9; 2 Samuel 7:12-13; 1 Timothy 6:14-16; Hebrews 1:8; Revelation 15:3 and 17:14. What do these verses say about Christ’s Kingdom?

2. Look at James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; and Revelation 3:11. What awaits those who faithfully serve Jesus on earth? What does faithful service look like, according to Galatians 2:20?

3. What does Revelation 4:10-11 say about the elders response to the King? What does this imply about our response to the King while we serve Him on earth?

The Cross (The Symbols of Easter)

    Last week, as we started our series on the Symbols of Easter, we talked about the Lamb. The Lamb, we discovered through passages in the Old and New Testaments, is a symbol of the blood price paid for the debt of our sins, a debt we all owe. It’s a symbol of sacrifice, a symbol of a debt paid.
    Today, we’ll talk about the Symbol of the Cross, perhaps the most recognizable symbol that we associate with Christianity and Christ. Everyone knows what a cross is and what it looks like. Even people who want nothing to do with Jesus, know what the cross is. It’s one of the most widely recognized symbols worldwide. But it wasn't always associated with Christ, or the sacrifice He made for us to pay the debt for our sins. The cross actually has a very dark history, and was associated with some really terrible things in the past, especially before Jesus.
    Before Jesus, the cross was a symbol of power, AUTHORITY, control, and terror. Why? The Romans used the cross as a way to deter those who disobeyed or posed a threat to them. If you recall the story of the hours leading up to the crucifixion, when Jesus appeared before Pilate, Pilate was pretty insistent that Jesus hadn’t actually done anything against Roman law. He wasn’t a criminal in Roman authority eyes. To the Romans, it was odd that the Jewish religious leaders would want to have Jesus crucified like a criminal if he hadn’t disobeyed Roman law. He did however pose a threat to the peace of the area because His presence and His ministry had caused such a stir that the religious leaders were calling for his death. There was an angry mob, and so ultimately, Pilate agreed to have Jesus crucified.
    But the cross, and specifically crucifixion on a cross, was the Roman’s way of deterring people from committing crimes or doing things to subvert Roman authority. The cross was a symbol of punishment and terror. The cross told the people that they were controllable by the Romans, and that they would answer to Roman authorities.
    The cross had other associations as well. Before it even began to be used as a sign of Roman rule and authority, it was used in pagan nature worship. Before it was used to kill criminals, the cross was placed in places where pagan religions and their practitioners would gather to worship the gods and goddesses of nature, and nature itself. Nature deities were thought to inhabit the wood that they would use to make crosses.
    So, because of the cross’s association with criminals, and because of its history of being used in pagan nature worship, to decent, God-fearing people, the cross was an evil, and vulgar thing. In Galatians 3:13, Paul told us this, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’—“ (NASB) It’s a connection Paul makes between Jesus and what He did when He died on the cross, and an Old Testament passage in Deuteronomy 21:23 that talks about the manner in which criminals should be put to death, “his body is not to be left overnight on the tree, but you shall certainly bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is cursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” (NASB)
    It was a curse to hang on a cross because of what the cross had come to represent, from as early as Moses’s day when the cross was used in pagan nature worship practices. Paul adds this as well, from 1 Corinthians 1:23, “but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness,” (NASB) What is it that is foolishness to the Gentiles and a stumbling block to the Jews? That Christ was crucified on a tree, a cross, that was considered by all to be a cursed way to die, marking that the person had been cursed by God. Why would God let His Messiah die on a tree and be cursed? That’s a stumbling block, that’s foolishness, to so many. It was an offensive way for anyone to die, but especially for God’s chosen One.
    Theologian Roland Barnes said this, “Of all the possible ways in which Jesus could have been executed, He was hung on a tree to demonstrate the covenantal curse that rested upon Him for our sake.” And in so doing, Jesus subverted the symbolism of the cross.
    He does that a lot doesn’t He? He takes the weak and uses them for strong things. He takes the broken and uses them to heal others. He takes the humble and uses them to teach the proud. He takes cultural norms and turns them on their heads. He takes gender roles and rearranges them for His glory. He doesn’t work the way we think He should, and He will always surprise us if we just let Him do what is best. So Jesus subverted the symbol of the cross, and all it was associated with, and the ways of the world!
    Paul said as much in Colossians 2:14-15, “having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (NIV) Everything that the cross once stood for was nailed to the cross when Jesus was crucified, and just like He does with us when we come to Him, He gave the cross a new meaning. So what I want you to do in your bulletins if you’re taking notes, I want you to cross out the first explanation of the cross and what it means as a symbol. Cross it out. It’s not valid, because Jesus gave the cross a new meaning.
    The Lamb is a symbol of the blood price paid for the debt of our sins, a debt we all owe. The Cross, through Jesus’s sacrifice, has become a symbol of VICTORY over the death sin brings; a symbol of resurrection! Because He took on the curse for us, and died, taking sin with Him, and was resurrected on the third day, we can have victory over the death sin brings too!
    Whatever that sin looks like, His death and resurrection can give you victory over it! Even if it’s too terrible to admit to anyone, even hard to admit to yourself, He can give you victory. Hebrews 2:14-15 says this, “Therefore, since [these His] children share in flesh and blood [the physical nature of mankind], He Himself in a similar manner also shared in the same [physical nature, but without sin], so that through [experiencing] death He might make powerless (ineffective, impotent) him who had the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and [that He] might free all those who through [the haunting] fear of death were held in slavery throughout their lives.” (AMP)
    He defeated the devil, and defeated the power of death and sin so that we could have freedom from the slavery to sin we were held in our entire lives before we said “yes” to Jesus. Jesus gives us victory. That’s what the cross means to us, that’s the power of the cross for those who believe.
    1 Peter 2:24 also adds this, “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (NIV) Not only did Jesus give us freedom from sin on the cross, but He also made it possible for us to live righteous lives. It is by His power that this is possible.
    Galatians 6:14 tells us this too, which was Paul’s attitude toward Christ and everything else in the world, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (NIV) The world, and all its ways, all the ways of darkness that John talks about in his books, have been crucified to ME! The world and its ways has been crucified to you! We don’t have to live in slavery and bondage to sin and death. We can be free, and the sacrifice Jesus paid on the cross is what gives us our freedom.
    Think about this: in Genesis 3, it is through the fruit of a tree that sin enters into humanity. We had the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and we were tempted to eat the fruit of the tree which we knew would lead to our deaths. Sin=death. In the gospels, it is on a tree that Jesus hung as He took on the sins of the world and defeated the power of sin and death, once and for all. And in Revelation 22:14 we read, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (NIV) For those that accept the gift Jesus paid for on the cross, the tree, we get the right to the tree of life, the ultimate removal of sin in eternity.
    This is why the cross has become a symbol of Eastertide. May it be a reminder to us all that Jesus defeated the power of sin and death once and for all, for you, for me, for eternity, and through His resurrection we have victory over the power of sin in our own lives! May we remember that Jesus takes the ways of the world, the ways of the culture, the norms, and He subverts them and gives us a new way of living.

Questions to form your quiet times this week:
1. What difference has the cross made to your life? Have you experienced the victory over sins in your life, or are there still sins you struggle with on a regular basis? If Christ has given us victory over the power of sin, why do we still struggle with sin?

2. Martin Luther once wrote, “The cross alone is our theology.” What does that mean to you?

3. Jesus subverted what the cross stood for. How does He still continue to subvert the normal ways of the world? Try to think of specific examples.

Missions Service with John Moore

Special Missions Service with Nazarene missionary John Moore. Hear what God is doing through His people all around the world!

The Lamb (The Symbols of Easter)

    Today marks the beginning of a series I’m going to preach in the weeks leading up to Resurrection Sunday, that will explore the Symbols of Eastertide. We’ll talk about the cross, we’ll talk about the crown of thorns, we’ll talk about lilies, and we’ll talk about palm branches, but today we’re going to explore the symbol of the lamb. Why do we associate lambs with the season of Easter and the celebration of Resurrection Sunday? Of course, you probably will be familiar with some of it, but maybe some of it will be new, or you’ll find a new connection this morning, and I hope that this will be a reminder of the forgiveness of sins we have in Jesus, the Lamb.
    I’d love for you to join me in Scripture this morning, in Luke 2:8-12. It’s a passage we’re familiar at during the Christmas season, but it’s a good place to begin exploring the symbolism of the lamb as well. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (NIV)
    The angels heralded the good news to the shepherds. Shepherds…who tended sheep. These men were quite familiar with the husbandry of sheep, or what is required to care for a flock of sheep. And of course, that would’ve included how to care for newborn lambs.
    Here’s the sign they are told about: that they would find A BABY WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER. Have you ever wondered about this sign? Why is that a sign? What is it a sign of? Would this just signal to the shepherds that they had found the right child? Was there a huge influx of babies being born in stables and they would need to know which one was the one they were told about?
    No. They didn’t need to which child lying in stables was the one they were looking for. This is a sign for something else…something shepherds would have been very familiar with. Often, when we think of the manger, we think of this odd little wooden looking crate…but actually it would have been a carved stone. And this wasn’t to feed animals, it was to place newborn sheep, lambs, specifically, newborn male lambs that were being considered for a sacrificial lamb. They would take the newborn male lamb, and wrap it in swaddling cloths, and place in the manger to keep it safe while they examined it for blemishes and defects.
    Shepherds would have been very familiar with this process, and so it was sign to them, that when they found this newborn baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a manger, that this would be the baby that would be God’s sacrificial Lamb. This baby would be the Lamb of God.
    Many times throughout Scripture we read that Jesus is the Lion of Judah, the conquering King, the One who has the victory, but right from the moment of His birth announcement to the shepherds, we see His full purpose: that of the SACRIFICIAL Lamb. But why do we need a sacrificial lamb?
    Well, it’s an old requirement, found in the Old Testament, going all the way back to the beginning in Genesis, and given the name: the Day of Atonement, found in Leviticus. Let’s go to Genesis first, in chapter 22, verses 2, 4, and 7-8.
    “Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.” (NIV)
    There’s a few really striking things about this passage I want to point out. The first, is that it’s very clear that even though this is the first time we read about Abraham making a burnt offering sacrifice to the Lord, we can see that Isaac is familiar with the idea of doing a burnt offering sacrifice to God. He knows that it requires that lamb be sacrificed. We see a lot of things that foreshadow the atonement sacrifice, both the Old Testament atonement and the New Testament atonement. We see that it is the only, beloved son that is to be sacrificed, which foreshadows the sacrifice of God’s only, beloved son. We see them going to a mountain, a foreshadowing of the sacrifice on Calvary’s mountain. We see the idea of three days being important to the atonement sacrifice. We see Isaac looking for a lamb to be sacrificed, which was what became required for the atonement sacrifice in the Old Testament. So even before the Day of Atonement is established, we start to see the idea of a sacrificial lamb being needed to cover sins, or to take away sins.
    We see 3 chapters into Genesis that mankind became sinful. We chose not to obey God, to go our own way, to do things on our own, and to do what is evil rather than what is good. Genesis 8 says that every inclination of the hearts of humans is evil all the time. Since our hearts are evil, we cannot be with a good, holy God. Romans 6:23 says that the price, the penalty for choosing evil, which we all do, is death. That’s the price we must pay for sin, which we all do. Death is required when we sin. God does not every turn a blind eye to sin, it always has to be dealt with, and blood is the price.
    Then we get to Leviticus, and we see several passages that talk about the atonement sacrifice and the requirements of the sacrificial lamb. And what we see in these passages is that God, very early on, even from Abraham’s time, made a way for us to have our sins covered over, by sacrificing a lamb instead of us. Maybe you've heard the term, “scapegoat”? That’s a Biblical idea. The idea is that once a year, God’s people would gather, and take two male goats that became our substitute. One goat would pay the price, the debt we owed, for sin. It would be a perfect lamb, unblemished and without spot or defect, and its blood would be spilled to pay the debt of sin. The second goat would then have all the sins of the people symbolically placed on it, and it would be driven outside of the camp where the people lived to take the sins of the people away from them. So you have one goat that pays the price by shedding its blood, and one goat that takes the sin away.
    So you have all these elements of the Day of Atonement, the day that the Lord commanded to sacrifice one lamb to pay the debt of sin, and one goat would take the sins of the people away from them. Of course all this is a symbol in the Old Testament. There is not true forgiveness of sins in the Old Testament because these are sheep. They are a substitute for us. They can’t do the job completely, because they’re not human. But this is the Old requirement, commanded in the Old Testament.
    But, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Jesus, is the New way of fulfilling the Old requirement. 1 Peter 1:18-19 says this, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (NIV)
    Just like the Old Testament lambs to be sacrificed had to be perfect, without blemish or defect, Jesus also, was perfect, without blemish or defect, so He fulfills that requirement. But, what we often fail to remember is that He also fulfills the role of the scapegoat. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says this, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin [a sin offering] for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (NIV) He became sin, the sin offering, and carried the sins of the world, past, present, and future, to the cross with Him, and crucified those sins along with His body. Just like the scapegoat that took on the sins of the people and took them away from the people, Jesus took on our sins and took them away once and for all.
    Ephesians 1:7 says, “In Him (that’s Christ!) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (NIV). Instead of a lamb, we have the Lamb of God. Instead of a wood altar, He was slain on a wood cross. Instead of just symbolically taking the sins away from the people or covering them with blood, we have the forgiveness of sins for all eternity, a clean slate, made righteous, and best of all…able to be in relationship with God the Father again.
    This whole process, this requirement of paying the price of sin (which is death) is called propitiation. 1 John 2:2 tells us this important truth, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (NASB) He, Jesus, is the PROPITIATION for your sins. That’s why He came, and that’s why it was a sign to the shepherds that He would be wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. That was to signify to the whole world that He is the sacrifice to pay the price of sin…death. That is why He came.
    I want to read one final passage this morning, to really get the point of the Lamb. Join me in Romans 3:21-26, “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (NIV)
    In the Old Testament, the requirement, the law was atonement. This requirement didn’t change, but it was fulfilled in a new way in the New Testament in Christ. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law of righteousness. God made the law of righteousness known to us, the way to be righteous, and it’s through faith in Christ. He made this possible by Christ being offered up as the sacrifice, the price for our sins. He could only do this if He Himself, Christ Jesus Himself, was righteous. An unrighteous person could not pay the price for our sins. But the fact that Jesus could and did, was further proof that He is righteous. And because He is righteous, Paul tells us, that He JUSTIFIES those who have faith in Jesus. That means that because He is righteous, and paid our debt, which was death, then His sacrifice makes us righteous, and it restores us to that relationship with the Father that we were created for.
    And that is the Lamb. That is why the Lamb has become a symbol associated with the Easter season. This is what the Lamb came to do. This is why the Lamb is so important to us, because He is the forgiveness of sins, for us, and for the whole world.

Questions to form your quiet time this week:
1. Look at Matthew 27, at the scene of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. How do different people respond to the betrayal, trial, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus? How do you respond when you remember His sacrifice was for you?

2. Read Revelation 5:6. How is the Lamb described? What is He doing? What an odd sight to think about…but why is it important to your faith to know these truths about the Lamb?

3. Have you fully placed your trust in Jesus, alone, to be the payment for your sins? If so, has that trust and faith become so real that you can’t go a day without being in His Presence? If not, make a commitment to spend at least 10 minutes in His Word and in His Presence through prayer every day from now until Resurrection Sunday and rekindle that fire you have for the Lamb of God!

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