Before I arrived at the church I presently serve, a vision committee was formed to prayerfully study, discuss, and articulate our church’s mission. They were then tasked with writing a mission statement based on their effort. The statement declared Southside United Methodist Church’s mission was to,
Build the Family of God into Faithful Disciples of Jesus Christ.
The committee also wanted to make sure Southside was not just another church with just another mission statement. They wanted to make the mission statement an ongoing reality. With that in mind, the church put together a search committee assigned with the purpose of finding someone whose ministry would focus on helping to build the family of God at Southside into faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
In doing this they were showing how seriously they took the familiar words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, what we call the Great Commission. There Jesus said,
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
By God’s grace, at least from my perspective, I was hired as Southside’s Minister of Discipleship. The idea and goal of discipleship is vital to the life of Christ’s Church. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for putting the burden of discipleship on my heart and allowing me to serve with the congregation at Southside.
Can any church faithfully live out its calling and mission if making disciples of Jesus Christ is not a priority? That question raises an even more fundamental question: What exactly is a disciple? After all, you can be a disciple of practically anything or anyone. Therefore, what defines a disciple of Jesus Christ is the question before us.
To help us unpack what a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ looks like, we’re going to take a look at Matthew 7:24-27.
Our text comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. For three chapters Jesus taught what has sometimes been called, “The norms of the Kingdom.” In these three chapters our Lord focused on what our character and conduct should look like if we would be faithful citizens of his Kingdom.
Jesus concluded his remarks in the Sermon by saying in Matthew 7:24,
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine…”
What “words” was he talking about? He was referring to the words he had been preaching throughout the Sermon on the Mount. Those “words” of Jesus are important in helping us understand what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
The message of the Sermon on the Mount is powerful, convicting, and even devastating. But someone may well ask whether Jesus’ message can really be relevant to us, some 2,000 years later. Here is a small sampling of what Jesus taught in the Sermon, to help answer that question.
In chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ words focus on:
That is a pretty contemporary and relevant list.
A Tale of Two Builders
To bring his teaching to life and emphasize what it means to be a faithful disciple, Jesus told his listeners a story about two builders, one he called wise, and the other, foolish.
There is one part of this familiar story that may be easy to miss. In this story, Jesus was not comparing and contrasting a “Church-goer” from a “non-Church-goer.” He was not comparing and contrasting a committed Christian and an outspoken pagan who had never darkened the door of a church.
If that was the case, we might all breathe a collective sigh of relief, as if to say, “Whew, at least he’s not talking about me.”
In this parable Jesus focused his attention on two different kinds of people who, for all practical purposes, looked just alike in almost every way. To put it in our own language, we might say both people went to church. Both could recite the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer from memory. Both could sing every verse of every hymn. And both sat and listened to every word of the sermon.
Jesus’ point was that both houses the builders built looked identical, with this crucial exception: The foundations were completely different. One builder searched, found, and labored to build his house on a firm foundation of rock. The other took the path of least resistance and built his house in any old place, in this case, on nothing but sand.
Put Into Practice
What does the foundation of each builder represent? Jesus said the foundation signifies the words Jesus taught. Both people heard Jesus. According to Jesus, what made a person wise or foolish was what he did with those words. Only one builder put those words into practice. Jesus called that person wise. The other builder also heard the words of Jesus. However, he ignored them. Jesus called him foolish.
James, the brother of our Lord, must have paid attention to what Jesus was saying here because he wrote these words in James 1:22-25,
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror  and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.
The word to describe what Jesus was talking about is obedience. A faithful disciple is the follower of Jesus who hears his words and obeys them, puts them into practice. That is faithful discipleship.
This emphasis is found in the Old Testament as well. God gave the same message through his prophet, Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 33:31-32, we read,
My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.  Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.
God’s Word isn’t just to be admired, but obeyed. A number of years ago the men’s ministry at my church studied a book entitled, Point Man by Steve Farrar. It focused on helping Christian men live as the godly husbands, fathers, workers, and churchmen God desires. One of the chapters spoke to our need to study and obey Scripture. Farrar wrote,
“The Enemy does not mind if you revere the Bible, just as long as you don’t feed from it.”
“The danger in the Christian life comes when I listen to a sermon or go to a Christian seminar or listen to a series of teaching tapes without applying the truth I hear to my life.”
He concluded this thought with these words,
“In the Christian life the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge, but obedience. God does not want to take a new Christian and move him from ignorance to knowledge. He wants to move him from ignorance to knowledge to obedience.”
Information for Transformation
From ignorance to knowledge to obedience. That is an essential element to faithful discipleship. God does not want men to read or study the Bible purely for informational purposes, but for transformation. To be sure, we must know and understand what the Bible says before we can put it into practice. But faithful disciples of Jesus Christ do not simply “collect” Bible-information so they can win Bible-trivia contests. They read and obey God’s Word so they can meet with God and be transformed by him.
My First Time with the Sermon
Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? I remember what I experienced when I finally started getting what Jesus was talking about. I felt despair. I felt so because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said things like,
“Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (5:19)
“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20)
“I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (5:22)
“Anyone who looks at a woman (or man) lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.” (5:28)
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (5:29-30)
That’s just from the first half of chapter 5. It is those words, and others like them, that we are actually commanded to read, study, and put into practice. That is why I felt despair and guilt the first time I really started understanding what Jesus was talking about.
The Point of Those Words
And that’s the point. Those feelings of despair, guilt, and hopelessness are there to drive us to the Cross of Christ. They are meant to move us to God’s gracious provision in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus perfectly practiced those words. That is why he was the only acceptable sacrifice on our behalf.
We are saved only when we place our trust in Christ alone and love him as our Savior, Lord, and all-sufficient Treasure. He is the pearl of great price.
We must indeed strive to increasingly grow more obedient to God’s Word. It is how we glorify God and become more like Christ. Like the wise builder, we must build a strong foundation by putting our Lord’s words into practice.
Yet we do not obey Jesus in order to save ourselves by our own good works. Instead, a faithful disciple seeks to obey Jesus because he has already been saved by God’s grace. Our obedience, while required in a qualified sense, is evidence of a grateful and loving heart.
That is how faithful disciples show Jesus and the world they love him. By obeying him, they will bear much good and lasting fruit. Jesus said in John 14:15,
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.
And in John 14:21, our Lord taught,
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.
That is what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God who gives us eyes to see and ears to hear.
Psalm 63:1 – O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
I think I know what it means to thirst for God, to long for him, to hunger for him.
I believe there are two different circumstances in which I experience this longing. One is when I have been walking closely with the Lord. I feel it when I am spending much time with him in his Word, in prayer and meditation, in worship, in the reading of books by godly authors, and so on. The more I am with him, the richer my time with him, the more I discover I want to be with him, the deeper I desire to go in my relationship with him. There is a true sense of longing during such times.
And yet, as strange as it sounds, during those times in my life of spiritual draught and depression, I also long for him. However, there’s something qualitatively different about the feeling. When things are going well in my walk with the Lord, it seems my deeper longing for him will yield great fruit. I almost expect a rich encounter with him. Yet, when I feel distant from him, though I still long for him, I wonder if I’ll ever have again with God what I once had. It’s almost a “longing of despair.” Have you ever experienced that?
My experience is a good example of why it’s often unsafe to put too much stock in our feelings. Our feelings are fickle and they have the capacity to lead us astray. Not only that, but there are many things that can affect our feelings, such as our health, our sleeping patterns, our diet, the time of day, and our relationships. I often treasure my feelings, but I am very aware of how unreliable they can be.
It’s when we gauge our spiritual life based on our feelings we can get ourselves into trouble. For example, one day with the Lord may be a wonderful blessing and you may be tempted to think you should be canonized as a saint. Yet, another day might yield the opposite experience and you may begin wondering if you’re even a Christian at all.
Instead of living on that sort of spiritual roller-coaster, wisdom calls us to trust in the Lord always and continue plodding along with him every day, regardless of our circumstances and feelings.
God Himself is Our Reward
Hebrews 11:6 says God rewards those who earnestly seek him. Deuteronomy 4:29 tells us if we look for the Lord with all of our heart and soul, we will find him. In these verses, and others throughout Scripture, we are encouraged by the Lord himself, to seek him. His promise is we will be rewarded by finding him. You see, God is the reward!
Feelings are great. God gave us feelings. But they too are affected by sin which often makes them unreliable. Therefore, don’t put all your trust in your feelings but in the God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He alone is the One we are called to seek, thirst for, and long after and desire. He alone is worthy of such a grand pursuit.
Faithful God, I praise you that you are always trustworthy and true to your Word. You have promised to never leave me nor forsake me. Help me always believe that promise. Lord, I don’t have the words to express how grateful I am to you for placing desire for you in my heart. I know it is a fragile desire, far too susceptible to my fickle feelings. Fill me with your Spirit and control my desires that I might seek more and more to transform my life by renewing my mind daily. And as I renew my mind daily, may my love and desire for you increase exponentially. But even during those seasons (short ones, I pray) in which I feel distant from you, remind me that you are still with me. Please encourage me to continue plodding along in faithfulness, knowing that even this distance serves a purpose and to hold on to your promise once more. I ask this in the name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus Christ Is Lord
Spiritual Buffet Table
When I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to take a course on The Sermon on the Mount. I loved that class and learned a great deal from it. One of the big ideas I learned early in the course related to the first 12 verses of Matthew 5, which we call, The Beatitudes.
The professor said we often read the Beatitudes this way: We approach them as though they were a buffet table, in which we pick and choose the one or two verses we like and disregard the ones we don’t, as if we’re selecting a meal. We tend to do the same with the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.
The big idea the teacher taught me was this: These so-called “lists” are really meant to be looked at as composite portraits of what each Christian is to look like. Each of these characteristics or attributes is to describe each and every Christian. Each and every Christian is to be poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and so on. Of course, none of us exhibits each of these in our lives to the same degree, but that is still the goal Jesus set before us.
But again, we tend to gravitate toward the ones we like or the ones we think we’re good at, don’t we?
Spiritual Life Checkup
The church I serve recently used a spiritual inventory called, The Spiritual Life Checkup. Its purpose is to focus on the various areas of a Christian’s life to discern how the person is doing in the areas assessed, much like bloodwork focuses on the different components of a person’s physical health. One of the things I learned as I talked with folks about their checkups was that it’s easy to have a “buffet table” approach with this as well.
For example, the first three chapters of the Checkup focus on our vertical relationship with God - our devotional life, intellectual life, and our struggles and temptations with sin. For some of us, reflecting on God and looking inwardly are two areas we love thinking about and where we want to spend our time.
The following chapter of the Checkup takes a look at our outer life – our horizontal relationships with others. And for some of us, this is our sweet spot and we would be very happy to focus only on how God is calling us to interact with others.
Here’s the point: While there are some aspects of the Checkup we like more than others, that we’re better at than others, each part is for each Christian. And if we focus on only one part of it, we will find ourselves living compartmentalized lives.
Compartmentalized vs God-Centered Living
The third question of Part 1 of the Checkup asks this: Do you have a God-Centered life? Perhaps you are wondering what that means.
Many of us live compartmentalized lives. Think of a compartmentalized life this way: Imagine you are looking at a large office building. As you look at it you observe many different windows representing many different offices. Each of those office windows represents a different part of a person’s life. For example, one office window may represent God, while another might represent your family, or job, health, friendships, private time, and so on.
Here is the problem: While there are many parts of your life represented by the office building, none of them is directly connected to another. Your faith may be in the top left corner of the building while your family-life might be in the bottom right. They are simply compartments of your life, seemingly unrelated to one another and therefore, without the power to influence one another. God may be one part of the structure, but in a compartmentalized life, he is not connected to, or impacting, the other areas of your life.
Rather, God is calling us to live God-Centered lives.
Instead of an office building, now think of a bicycle wheel. The hub, where all the spokes meet together, represents God. Each of the spokes represents the various spheres of a person’s life: faith, family, work, community, health, politics, etc. Each sphere of a person’s life finds its stability and integrity in the hub, which again, represents God.
When God is at the center of who you are, your life will become more holistic because each part of who you are is grounded and centered in the same Person, the One who gives your life meaning, purpose, and value.
The take-away from this is not that we are either living a compartmentalized life or a God-centered life. None of us is doing this perfectly. The point really comes in the form of a question: Is a God-centered life the direction you desire to move in, and if so, are you making progress in that direction? Direction, not perfection, is what is in view here.
The Foundation of God-Centered Living
Our Scripture from Philippians gives us the foundation for God-centered living. The Apostle Paul was writing from a prison cell to a church he was very fond of. As he moved through his letter, he told the Philippians he wanted them to be of one mind, that is, to be unified in who they were.
And Paul, understanding the human condition so well, knew the key ingredient to unity was humility. That is why he wrote in Philippians 2:3-4,
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
It is hard to have unity if everyone is putting themselves first. That usually brings about division.
Paul then made a move to help them understand what this humble, other-centeredness ought to look like. He wrote in verses 5-8,
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 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.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death--
even death on a cross!
If anyone could have held on to his own position, glory, comfort, and power - it was Jesus. He did not owe us anything. We did nothing to deserve his love. And yet…
And yet, though he was truly God, he did not hold onto that privilege, or the glory, comfort, and power that went along with it. He took on human nature. He became a servant, not to a fan club of folks who already loved him, but to those whose sins would ultimately nail him to a Roman cross. And he did this voluntarily. He did not have to do this. His love, mercy, and grace compelled him to choose to do this.
When you work through the first three parts of the Spiritual Life Checkup, one of the discoveries you make is that you must humbly submit yourself to the Spirit’s direction, encouragement, and even correction in your thinking. That can be hard to accept.
But when you do, you cannot help but be humbled. Your thinking takes on a God-centeredness, and as Paul declared in verse 5, you begin to take on the same mind or mindset as Christ himself.
In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul wrote, “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” That renewal in our thinking begins to show up in our living (Rom. 12:2). Our attitudes toward others, the things we value in this world, and the way in which we live our lives - it all begins to change.
We discover God is doing a great work in us from the inside out. We cannot help but put the interests of others before our own, because that is what Christ has done for us.
In verse 9, we get the all-important, Therefore.
Paul was teaching that because of all the Lord Jesus voluntarily did on our behalf, this blessed suffering-Servant was given something special. Paul declared,
God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
What did God give Jesus? He gave him a name. And not just any name, but “the name that is above every name.”
It is not the name Jesus. It is the name Lord. In Old Testament times, the name for God was so holy and sacred, the Jews would not even speak or write it. Instead of writing God’s holy name, YHWH, they wrote the name, LORD - in all-caps – to represent God’s most holy name and position.
Paul was saying Jesus was given the name Lord, to acknowledge who he was. He was no mere teacher, philosopher, apocalyptic prophet, or revolutionary. He was God in the flesh. And because Jesus is Lord, Paul said,
…every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Matthew 28 puts the same idea this way,
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
In Colossians 1, Paul says this of our Lord,
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
John 1:1-3, Hebrews 1:1-3 and Ephesians 1 all teach the same thing. Jesus Christ is Lord over heaven and earth. Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth.
St. Augustine supposedly once said, “If Jesus Christ is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.
The Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper declared,
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
It all belongs to Christ. Jesus Christ is Lord over every sphere of life.
Therefore, we are called to submit every aspect or who we are to his Lordship. And this submission produces the God-centered life I was addressing earlier.
Jesus is Lord over our private lives, relationships, workplaces, finances, ethics, politics, values and priorities, doctrinal beliefs - everything about us - Every Sphere of Life. This is not a call for all Christians to look the exact same. There is still much room for variety of personalities, interests, callings, and gifts. However, submission to Jesus Christ as Lord is still the command and standard for every person.
And yet, we cannot simply will this to happen. We are powerless to submit to his Lordship, to grow in his likeness, and to love and serve others if we are not first empowered by his Spirit. And so, in the name of Jesus, I pray each of us would turn in trusting-dependence upon Christ as our Savior and all-sufficient treasure, for it is only then that his Spirit will enable us to bow our knees before him and confess with our tongues that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Ephesians 6:4 - Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Every Father's Calling
I love my kids. I love being with them, reading, wrestling, talking to and listening to them. I like beating them at Boggle. I love being beat by them at Boggle. One thing I really love is discipling my kids – teaching them every day, all day (Deut. 6:4ff) the things of God. This is every father's greatest calling, joy, and responsibility.
Faithfulness in this can bring about a legacy that could last many generations. If you are a father, you should know, whether or not you are evangelizing and discipling anyone else, (and, of course, you should be), you surely ought to be evangelizing and discipling your children. To be sure, God commands it, but it is also one of life’s great joys.
By the very nature of things, this will be a 24/7/365 task. There are at least two reasons why this is the case.
First, you can’t pass along a platitude occasionally and expect it to take root. The lessons of our faith must be repeated over and over again in a variety of ways – when you sit down for breakfast or dinner, tuck them in at night, drive them around town, have family worship, do chores together, and so on. No one gets it right all the time, but even in our parental blunders, our mistakes and shortcomings are opportunities to teach lessons such as forgiveness, repentance, humility, and perseverance. But, we are indeed called to “practice what we preach,” for our own sakes as well as to model godly behavior before the wee “watching eyes” in our homes.
Going Against the Cultural Grain
The second reason we must devote so much prayerful time and effort to discipling our children is because we live in a culture that does not cultivate Christian character. Our world’s default key is stuck on sin, rebellion, and evil. If I want to change the font on my computer, I have to consciously make the effort to find and select the one I want. So too, if we want to nurture our children in the things of God, we have to make an intentional and considerable effort, for such effort will go against the grain of the world, the flesh, and the devil. This is simply the way it is.
Let’s Be Faithful Stewards
Let’s join together in raising kids who know and love the Lord. Let’s produce and reproduce faithful disciples in our homes who will one day serve Christ and take his gospel of the Kingdom and extend it into every sphere of life. Such children will not arise accidentally. But, by God’s grace, they will become such as they are educated, equipped, and encouraged by loving parents who honor God by being faithful stewards of the most precious treasure entrusted to their care.
God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, you are my Father too. You have entrusted precious children to my care. Remind me that as much as I love them, you love them even more. I do not own my children but am your steward of them. As such, please help me lead and guide them in a way that draws them close to you. By my lessons and behavior, enable me to faithfully shepherd them into the life of a faithful disciple of Christ. In his name I pray. Amen.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
One of the highlights of attending seminary in Atlanta was sitting under the teaching of Dr. Fred Craddock. Dr. Craddock was a gifted and world-renowned preacher and preaching instructor. It was a privilege and blessing to take a preaching class taught by him.
One of the things Dr. Craddock taught us, something that has always stayed with me, came from a story he told us. He shared with our class a snippet of a conversation he had with one of his former students who had graduated and was serving a little rural church.
The former student told Dr. Craddock he was going to wake that little country church up. He was going to bring them into the present. He was going to be new and fresh. As an example of this, he wasn’t going to preach the same old tired stuff during Christmas, stuff they all knew. He was going to hit them with something new.
Dr. Craddock lovingly, and I’m sure, convincingly, shared with this eager new preacher that what those people needed, what we all need, especially during the seasons of Advent and Lent, is the old, old story of what God has done in Christ.
The Old, Old Story
It’s not that a preacher shouldn’t seek to know the needs of the congregation and connect with them in their context. The preacher should not seek to be irrelevant. However, the truth is, a clear and honest telling of the old, old story is the most relevant subject there is. Many hymns remind us the “old, old story” is the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here’s how the hymn, “Victory in Jesus,” communicates the old, old story,
I heard an old, old story,
how a Savior came from glory,
how he gave his life on Calvary
to save a wretch like me;
I heard about his groaning,
of his precious blood’s atoning,
then I repented of my sins
and won the victory.
O victory in Jesus, my Savior forever!
he sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood;
he loved me ere I knew him, and all my love is due him;
he plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.
That’s the old, old story.
When we think about the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Good News of what God has done in and through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, we usually go back 2,000 years. But the story is older than that. In one sense, it goes all the way back into eternity, into the mind of God who has always existed.
Look for Jesus
We won’t go back quite that far in this chapter, but I do want to show the Good News fulfilled in Jesus was predicted and anticipated in the Old Testament. God didn’t “make it up” on the fly.
When I used to teach Disciple Bible Study, a very detailed and comprehensive study of both the Old and New Testaments, people would often tell me how bogged down they were getting in the Old Testament. They would even tell me they thought it was boring and irrelevant.
In response to this, one of the things I used to encourage them to do to stick with it, was to start looking for Jesus in the pages of the Old Testament. Because he’s there! In fact, he’s all over the place in the Old Testament.
The Testimony of the Apostles
Below are a few Scriptures from the New Testament that help make the case.
Romans 1:1-4 – Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God–  the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures  regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David,  and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:1-3 – Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,…
Galatians 3:6-9 – Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.  The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”  So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Acts 13:26-39 – “Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.  The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.  Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed.  When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.  But God raised him from the dead,  and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.  “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers  he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus… (Emphases added)
Peter and Stephen, in the book of Acts, declare the same truths: all that was accomplished in and through the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ was anticipated and prophesied in the Old Testament.
The Testimony of Jesus
Maybe at this point you are saying, “Well, that sounds good, but that’s just Paul and Peter and Stephen. They’re just men. First, let me remind you Paul’s writings and Peter’s preaching in Acts are just as inspired of God as anything written in the Gospels. However, just for emphasis, let me quote a little of what our Lord himself said, or what was said about him, in the Gospels.
Luke 18:31 – Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.
Luke 24:27 – And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Luke 24:44 – He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
John 1:45 – Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
John 5:45-46 – “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set.  If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.
John 8:56 – Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” (Emphases added)
The “Scriptures” Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, Philip, Nathanael, and Stephen spoke of were, of course, the Old Testament. That’s what I mean when I say we ought to look for Jesus and his Gospel in the Old Testament. It’s far from silent on the subject. That’s why we read so much from the Old Testament during the Advent and Lenten seasons. It points to our Lord. Thanks be to God.
What is the Gospel?
Thus far we’ve seen the old, old story is much older than we usually think. But what is the old story about? What is the Gospel, the Good News, of Jesus Christ?
The shortest and easiest answer is given to us by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16,
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation. It’s God’s answer, his response, to our sin and sinfulness, fallenness, brokenness, rebellion, foolishness, hurts and pain, suffering, and lostness.
God isn’t an aloof deity who sits in heaven, detached from his creation. Even though he created us in his image and declared his creation was good, very good in fact, we, along with our first parents Adam and Eve, have gone our own way. We’ve rebelled against God. We’ve declared ourselves in charge and have resisted him.
And even though God in his perfect holiness and righteousness would have been justified in pouring out his wrath upon us, in his grace he poured out his love instead.
As the Scriptures we’ve already seen tell us, God sent his deeply beloved, one and only Son to live, die, and be raised from the dead for us. Here’s how Paul makes this point.
Romans 3:21-26 – But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–  he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Emphasis added)
Our sinfulness, rebellion, foolishness, and willfulness, were paid for (atoned for) on the Cross by the Lord Jesus Christ. The Scripture says Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us. He received the punishment we deserved.
Because of that great expression of love, we can know God. We can enter into a personal, deep, and abiding relationship with God. We can actually start becoming more and more like Christ in our daily lives. We can be made holy and whole. We can receive both abundant and everlasting life.
But it’s not automatic.
This is where we must choose to enter into the old, old story. We must respond. We must not listen to the story of God’s good news and simply smile and say, “Well, that’s a nice story.” There’s no place for indifference to this story. We must believe the story.
We must place our faith, our trust, in Christ - in who he is, the very Son of God – Son, Savior, and Lord. We must trust in his Work on our behalf – his death upon the Cross for our sin and his resurrection from the dead for our salvation.
We must repent, which means to turn away from our sinfulness, selfishness, and rebellion, and turn instead toward God, in love for him and faithfulness to him. Turning away from sin and toward God doesn’t earn us our salvation. Our salvation is a free gift from God, just as Jesus is a gift to us. But it is a gift we must open, so to speak. We must respond to it. We must receive it in trusting faith.
When we do, not only are we declared righteous before a holy God, but our lives will begin to bear fruit. We’ll show we really love and trust God and his Son Jesus Christ by seeking to live for him, desiring him, obeying him, and by loving our neighbors.
Faith and repentance are not two separate things. They are two aspects of the same thing. They are, if you will, two sides of the same coin.
That’s why Jesus says in Mark 1:15, “Repent and believe the good news!” Friends, this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and there is no other.
Enter the Story Yourself
The United Methodist liturgy for Holy Communion describes all this in a beautiful way. It invites us to enter into the story – to become a part of it.
In the United Methodist Church we believe that, through his Holy Spirit, we meet the main character of the old, old story, the Lord Jesus Christ. As we gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ and bow before him, Christ gathers with us in our midst. He is with us in and through his Spirit as we receive his body and blood he so lovingly and freely gave on our behalf.
However, you must enter into this story by faith. United Methodists believe this sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. In other words, we don’t receive this grace simply by going through the motions. Instead, it’s with joyful, thankful, love-filled hearts, we receive the bread and cup in faith, trust, and repentance. Our liturgy, based in Scripture, reminds us,
Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,
who earnestly repent of their sin
and seek to live in peace with one another.
A few pages further in the hymnal, another order of Communion says this,
Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins,
and are in love and charity with your neighbors,
and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God,
and walking henceforth in his holy ways:
Draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort,
and make your humble confession to almighty God.
If you’ve never genuinely and consciously repented of your sin and placed your trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord, then let today be the day of salvation.
This devotion is from my book, Foundations: Key Principles for Godly Manhood. Click here to purchase it.
How Many Years of Experience?
Age does not guarantee wisdom. Not even experience guarantees wisdom. There is nothing magical about the lapse of time in one’s life that causes him to become a sage for the ages. We probably all know someone who doesn’t have 25 years of experience at his job, but instead, has experienced the same one year, 25 times in a row. No growth or maturation has taken place.
This was the case in the story of Job. Job’s three friends, older men in the community, were all sharing their insights as to why poor ol’ Job was experiencing such suffering. Each one was way off the mark. Finally, the younger, less experienced Elihu, who had been respectfully silently, observing the back-and-forth of his elders, could no longer sit idly by and allow such error and ignorance to prevail. He responded,
“I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know.  I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’  But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.  It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. (Job 32:6-9)
Elihu then went on to provide his diagnoses of Job’s situation.
The Real Source of Wisdom
We learn a very important principle from Elihu: Wisdom does not come automatically with age. Some folks never seem to learn. Instead, true wisdom comes from God himself. Wisdom, God’s wisdom, must be desired and intentionally sought. That takes effort, self-discipline, and commitment. But it will be found only in this way.
The chief source from which we gain godly wisdom is God’s Word. Psalm 119:99 says,
“I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and its focus, (almost exclusively so), is God’s Word. In that chapter, God’s Word is also referred to as his statute, law, precept, decree, and command. In each case it refers to God’s revelation of himself and his will to his people. His wisdom for the ages can be found therein. This is how he has chosen to guide us. Psalm 119:24 says, “Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.”
Godly friends and teachers, informed by God’s Word are treasures. But it must be his Word that is the primary source for wisdom. I’ll take a mentor who has been seasoned by years of experience almost every time over a younger, less-experienced person, but especially if the former has walked with God during those years and sat under the tutelage of God’s Word. That’s where wisdom will be found. That’s also why we must “delight” in God’s Word each day – that we too might learn, grow, and one day be a source of godly wisdom for someone else.
Gracious God, you are sovereign, good, and all-wise. You are in control of the universe you have made and know best how it works. You love me and have my best interest at heart. Furthermore, you not only have my best interest but know best how to bring it about in my life. Therefore, I will trust you. Thank you for the gift of your Word that provides direction for me to follow. I needn’t grope in the dark, tripping over obstacles, when your Word is such a radiant and trustworthy light in my life. In the name of the One who is the Light of the world, I pray. Amen.
1 Corinthians 15:1-19
In his book, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection, Christian philosopher and theologian, William Lane Craig, recounts a conversation he once had with a former student of his.
“There ain’t gonna be no Easter this year,” the student remarked to Craig. “What’s that?” Craig asked, just to make sure he heard his student correctly. The student repeated the same line, “There ain’t gonna be no Easter this year.” “And why is that?” Craig asked. “Because they found the body,” the student replied.
Craig commented on this exchange by saying,
“Despite his irreverent humor, my friend displayed a measure of insight often not shared by modern theologians.”
Craig’s student understood that the Christian claim is not that Jesus was “resurrected” figuratively or metaphorically in the hearts of his followers, but that he was raised bodily from the dead. And if his actual body had been found, there would have been no resurrection from the dead. Nothing to celebrate. No Easter.
This is the Apostle Paul’s testimony in our Scripture from 1 Corinthians 15.
Various and Spurious Denials
Throughout my ministry, I have observed a variety of ways the resurrection of Jesus has been denied, sadly sometimes, even from those who profess faith in Christ.
One of the earliest denials of Jesus’ resurrection goes back to the New Testament itself. It is what’s called, the “Conspiracy Theory.” In Matthew’s Gospel we find the Jews explaining away the resurrection. There we discover the chief priests bribing the guards who were stationed at Jesus’ tomb. In Matthew 28:11-15, we read,
When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
Other ways it has been denied has been to say that everything that happened can be explained naturally, not supernaturally. Some say Jesus didn’t really die, but that he took medicine to make him appear to be dead. Then, when he was placed in the tomb, he woke up and went on his way. Others say the disciples went to the wrong tomb. If you kept up with the Jesus Seminar in the early 90s, you may remember that their conclusion was,
“After the crucifixion, Jesus’ corpse was probably laid in a shallow grave, barely covered with dirt, and subsequently eaten by wild dogs.”
Finally, there’s even one philosopher who suggested that Jesus had a long-lost twin brother who came to town and fooled all the disciples.
As you can tell from just these examples, there are great lengths people will go to in order to avoid dealing with the risen Lord.
The examples just mentioned represent complete rejections of the bodily resurrection of Jesus by unbelievers, or perhaps those on the fringe of Christianity.
The Problem in the Church
The problem inside the church, however, is another way in which the resurrection of Jesus is denied. It’s a subtle form we have to pay close attention to or else it may sneak by us. It can best be illustrated by the sentiment of one theologian who wrote in a newspaper column,
“If the bones of Jesus Christ were found tomorrow, it would make no great difference to me. I would go on going to church as would a majority of Christians.”
For this particular theologian, the important thing is not what happened to the body of Jesus, but what happened to the spirits of the apostles. A similar view was raised a number of years ago in a Methodist newspaper. The author couldn’t understand what the big deal was concerning whether or not Jesus was actually, bodily, raised from the dead. “The important thing is that we come together like the early church and love one another,” he claimed. I had a classmate in seminary once tell me the same thing.
Of course, that response ignores the issue of “why” the early disciples came together and loved one another in the first place. Perhaps we should take them at their word when they tell us they actually saw the body of the risen Lord. In our Scripture from 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul makes clear that whether or not Jesus really came back from the grave, is a very big deal.
If Christ is Dead
Paul is very logical in his response to doubts about the actual (bodily) resurrection of Jesus. Paul begins in verses 13-14,
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
Paul was smart enough to know that if Christ was still in the tomb, then he was still dead. And if Christ is dead, then the Christian message a useless lie, a religion that declares a lot of things that just aren’t true. If Christ is dead, then the Christian faith is futile.
He continues in verses 17-19,
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
In other words, if Christ is not risen from the dead, then there’s nothing behind the faith we proclaim. It’s powerless. There’s no Spirit of Christ who dwells in you. All that talk about the forgiveness of your sins is worthless. There’s no use talking about salvation. God has not honored Christ’s words, life, or death.
If Jesus remains dead, then the death of Jesus was just one of thousands of deaths on Roman crosses. Tragic perhaps, but nothing more.
And if Christ is dead, Paul says, then those of us who believe in him now “are of all people most to be pitied.” We’re no better off than the person who is dying of an incurable disease who puts all their eggs in the power of positive thinking.
But Christ is Risen
But the good news, Paul declares, is that “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead (verse 20).” That’s the greatest fact in all of history! That’s the fact that changes everything and everyone who believes and trusts it and gives their very lives to it.
All we have to do is look at Paul himself. As Saul of Tarsus, he was a living nightmare to the early Christians. But then he personally encountered the risen Christ. Paul went from one of the greatest enemies of the Christian faith to one of its greatest missionaries.
He was dramatically transformed from an intolerant, bitter, and proud persecutor of the church to a humble servant of the Lord Jesus. Not only did his relationship with Christ change, but so did his relationship with followers of Christ. He came to love them, helped them grow in their faith, and spent his life making more of them.
Was this radical change in Paul’s life the result of nothing more than a psychological warm feeling or was it something more? Paul tells us over and over again that this change was the result of meeting the risen and living Christ! He was so convinced of this that he gave his life as a martyr for his faith in Jesus.
What was true of Paul’s life was true for all the disciples. They went from frightened lambs to bold lions of the faith, traveling the Roman Empire, bearing witness to the risen Christ. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only things that makes sense of this change in their lives.
Our heavenly Father vindicated our Lord Jesus by raising him from the dead. The resurrection revealed that death was not the winner, for Christ defeated even death itself. It was this belief in the resurrection that enabled the disciples to proclaim their crucified Lord as God’s Messiah.
If they didn’t really meet the risen Christ – if they really didn’t believe he was raised from the dead, is it likely they each would have kept up their delusion or charade, all the way to their own persecutions, and ultimately, their deaths? One historian commented that if the disciples didn’t truly believe Jesus was raised from the dead, then the Christian faith would be nothing more than a dead folk religion of the first century.
He Can Transform Us, Too
But he lives! And just as the disciples believed, and just as our hymn proclaims, “We serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today.”
The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that those of us who live two thousand years after the fact can still be in a relationship with him today. It means he’s not dead, but alive! The same risen Christ who transformed Paul and the other disciples can transform us today.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ means we can have hope in the midst of trials, suffering, sorrow, despair, and pain.
A figurative, metaphorical resurrection can do none of that.
Alister McGrath tells the story that in Soviet Russia, right after the Communist Revolution in 1917, a government official was tasked with crushing the spirits of the remaining Christians and, ultimately, ridding their country of Christianity altogether.
So, he gathered the people of a particular town so he could discredit and disprove Christianity using all the clever arguments he could muster. He ranted for hours as he sought to show the people just how ridiculous their faith in Christ was.
After he finished, feeling quite satisfied he had done his job well, he offered the platform to anyone who dared to respond to him. A young priest took him up on his offer and came forward. The official told the priest he had two minutes. “I won’t need that long,” the priest replied.
And in a very meek and humble way, the priest approached the podium. After looking at the people for just a few seconds, the priest threw his hands high into the air and shouted, “Christ is risen!”
To which the people responded as one, “Christ is risen indeed!”
And so he is.
Thanks be to God.
Click the images above to learn more about my books for men.