What Is The World Coming To: Revelation 1:1-3 – “First Thoughts about Last Things”

Revelation is an easy book to find.  Just go to the very end of the Bible and you will find it.  It is appropriate that Revelation is found at the end of the Bible because it is a book about the end, about end times, and about last things.  The big fancy theological word for the study of the end times or last things is the word “eschatology,” which means “the study of the eschaton, or the end of the age.  Today we are beginning a new study of messages entitled, “What Is The World Coming To?”  Lord willing, we will make our way, verse-by-verse through the 22 chapters of this great book.  Most Christians that I know and talk to would really like to understand the book of Revelation and I believe God wants us to understand this book.

There has been a lot of interesting conjecture concerning the contents of Revelation over the years, especially since the popular book by Hal Lindsey came out over 50 years ago.  The book is entitled, The Late Great Planet Earth.  In many ways, the publishing of that book ushered in a new group of popular American Christian literature and movies on the end times.  When one reads the first edition of Lindsey’s book (written in 1970), you cannot help but conclude that Lindsey believed the Lord will return before the end of the 1980s.  Lindsey dated a generation as 40 years and believed that 40 years after the Jews returned to Israel in 1948, the Lord would come again.  Of course, that did not happen.  A lot of the success of end-times discussions during the 1980s was aided by the ongoing cold war and the threat of nuclear disaster.

In 1988, Edgar Whisenant, a former NASA engineer, published a book entitled, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be In 1988.   Most readers of that book can readily conclude that he, too, was wrong.  I remember in the 1980s some were even saying that Ronald Reagan was the antichrist because his full name, Ronald Wilson Reagan, contains six letters each, hence: 666, the number of the beast.  There was a lot of this conjecturing over numbers and numbering systems, and so forth.

It reminds me of the three old men who had gone to the doctor for a memory test.  The doctor asked the first old man, “What is one plus one?”  He said, “Two hundred seventy-four.”  The doctor said to the second man, “It’s your turn. What is one plus one?”  He said, “Tuesday.”  The doctor then turned to the third man, “Okay, your turn. What’s one plus one?”  He said, “Two.”  The doctor said, “That’s great!”  He then asked the man, “How did you get that?”  The third man said, “Simple.  I just subtracted 274 from Tuesday!” 

My prayer is that we will avoid that kind of reasoning as we study this book together.  It is my belief that God wants us to understand this book.  In the words of the hymn-writer William Cowper, “God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.”  Our study today is entitled, “First Thoughts about Last Things.”  This first study will be an introductory overview of the book.

Before we talk about the main points that come out of these verses, let me make a few general remarks about the book. 

1) It is the Book of Revelation.

It is not the Book of Revelations. “Revelation” (the Greek word is “apokalupsis”) means “an uncovering,” “an unveiling,” or “a disclosure.”  In the New Testament, this word describes the unveiling of spiritual truth (Romans 1625; Galatians 1:12; Ephesians 1:17; 3:3), the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19), Christ’s incarnation (Luke 2:32), and His glorious appearing at His second coming (2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7).  In all its uses, “revelation” refers to something or someone, once hidden, becoming visible.

What this Book reveals

Or unveils is

Jesus Christ in glory.

Truths about Him and His final victory, that the rest of Scripture merely allude to, become clearly visible through revelation about Jesus Christ.  This revelation was given to Him by God the Father, and it was communicated to the Apostle John by an angel (1:1).

2) The author of the book of Revelation is identified for us as John. 

You see it there in verse one: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place.  And He sent and signified it by His angel to whom?  To His servant John.”

This John is the same John who wrote the Gospel of John, and the letters of first, second, and third John.  The book tells us later that John is writing from the island of Patmos, an island in the Aegean Sea, about 70 miles Southwest of Ephesus.  John is being held there as an exile.  He was exiled to Patmos during the latter part of the reign of the evil Roman Emperor Domitian, who ruled from AD 81-96.  This places the date of the book of Revelation somewhere between AD 90-96.

Christians in John’s day were facing fierce persecution.  The Christian church began to feel weak and vulnerable.  Some even began to compromise their convictions. 

The purpose of the book of Revelation

Is primarily to encourage these Christians

And to remind them that Jesus Christ is

The Victorious King who is, indeed,

Coming again to right all wrongs

And to reign on earth.

While the primary audience was the early Christians of Asia Minor, the audience includes Christians of all time periods.

There are three main sections of the book identified from verse 19 of chapter one.  You see there in 1:19 . . .

Past (chapter 1), “Things which you have seen;”

Present (chapters 2-3), “things which are;”

Future (chapters 4-22), “things which shall be.” 

Now, later, chapters 6-19 deal with a time known as “the tribulation.”  Basically you have in chapters 6-19 three series of judgments.  They are three series of seven judgments: seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls.

As we study, I am going to be presenting what is known as the futurist view and, more specifically, “the premillennial view.”  The premillennial view asserts that the Lord Jesus Christ is going to return before a time period known as the millennium.  Jesus Christ will return prior to the 1,000 year reign described in chapter 20.  We will learn more about the later. 

I have already said that I believe God wants us to understand the book of Revelation.  He wants us to really know what He is teaching here in this book.  He does not want us to get lost in the details.  The story is told about a man who drove into a large city looking for Main Street.  Having difficulty finding it, and realizing he was lost, he noticed a boy standing on the street and called out to him: “Young man, do you know where Main Street is?”  The little boy shook his head and said, “No.”  The man asked, “Well, do you know where First Street is?”  Again, the little boy nonchalantly shook his head and said, “No.”  Getting a little frustrated, the man asked, “Well, do you know where this road leads?”  And again, the little boy shrugged his shoulders and said, “No.”  Exasperated, the man shouted, “Young man, do you know anything!?”  The little boy said, “I know I am not lost.”

God does not want us to get lost in the details of this book.  He wants us to really know, to really understand this book.  After I finished getting my outline together in my study time, I noticed that two of my favorite preachers, Adrian Rogers and Jerry Vines, had very similar outlines.  That encouraged me not so much because it put me in the same camp as those guys, but because it shows how plain these points are in these first three verses; that anyone could find them.

**What God Wants Us to Know About Revelation:

I.  The Principal Person Of The Book.

Verse one begins by saying, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”  That says it all – “The revelation of Jesus Christ!” 

Jesus is the principal person of the book.

This Book is not a revelation of John about Jesus Christ, it is a revelation of Jesus Christ.  The word “revelation” is the Greek word “apocalypse.”  While that word typically brings to mind synonyms such as disaster, destruction, day of reckoning, and so forth, the Greek word literally means, “uncovering” or “unveiling.”  So, it is helpful here to read the first verse, “The unveiling of Jesus Christ.”  The revelation of Jesus Christ is the unveiling of Christ that the world may see His glory and splendor.

When Jesus came the first time, much of His glory was veiled.  He came as a humble carpenter from the obscure town of Nazareth.  Many people in his hometown rejected Him because he was just a “local boy,” nothing special about Him.  His family rejected Him.  The Jews, at large, rejected Him.  His glory is veiled.  You see that as you read through the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  And then little, by little, it becomes increasingly apparent to His disciples that this Jesus of Nazareth is more than a man.  When you get to that incredible event on the Mount of Transfiguration, for just a few moments Peter, James, and John see the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ unveiled as brilliant white light shines right through the body of Jesus Christ. 

But in large part, the glory of Jesus was veiled during His first coming.  When He comes again, things will be very different. 

He came the first time in humiliation. 

He will come the second time in exaltation. 

He came the first time

In a humble stable in Bethlehem. 

He will come the second time in

unveiled glory from heaven,

Coming with His mighty angels.

The principal person in the book is Jesus Christ.  Let me remind you again that . . .

Jesus Christ is the principal person

Of every book of the Bible. 

The Bible is a “Him” book. 

The Bible is about Him.

The Old Testament saints were saved the same way you and I are saved.  Not by our works, but by grace through faith.  We look back 2,000 years to the cross and see God’s Son.  The Old Testament saints, such as David and Solomon looked ahead 2,000 years to the cross. 

In faith, they believed

God would send His Messiah

And by faith looked ahead

To that promise. 

And in faith, you and I believe

God sent His Messiah and

Look back to Calvary.

Salvation is the same in both Testaments, Old and New.  Our salvation is accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except by Him.

And this Book is about Him. 

He is the principal person of the book.

The Greek construction of the phrase, “the Revelation of Jesus Christ,” can mean both an unveiling “about” Jesus Christ and an unveiling “from” Jesus Christ. 

Jesus is at once the One unveiled

And the One doing the unveiling.

This brings us to the second point in our study today.  Not only does God want us to know the principal person of the book, but secondly, God wants us to know

II.  The Prophetic Purpose Of The Book.

Verses 1 and 2 tell us, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants — things which must shortly take place.  And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.”

What is it that God is going to show His servants?  “Things which must shortly take place.”  The Book of Revelation is a prophecy.  It unveils the glory of Jesus Christ by telling about God’s program through future events.  Remember the structure from verse 19.  The Lord Jesus says to John, “write the things which you have seen” (Past; Chapter one), “and the things which are” (Present; Chapters two and three), “and the things which will take place after this” (Future; Chapters four through twenty-two).

The book of Revelation is about “things which must shortly take place.”  First notice, they “must” take place.  They must.  God is guiding the events of history.  Nothing happens by mere chance.  Nothing will hinder God’s purposes.  These things absolutely must take place and God will see to it that they do.  Notice secondly, that these things must “shortly” take place.  That is, they will take place soon.  The faithful early Christians looked for the Lord’s return to happen soon.  They prepared for His Coming.

We are to live the same way today.  We must always live our lives in such a way that we are ready for the Lord’s return.  Some will say, “Well, a lot of time has past since the Lord’s first coming.  He does not seem to be in any hurry.”  Well, He is not in any hurry.  He knows the exact time.  Remember these things “must” take place.  Someone else may ask, “Why has He not yet come?”  That’s the same question Peter addresses in 2 Peter 3:8-9, “Beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slack (slow) concerning His promise, as some count slackness (understand slowness), but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

God has planned the exact moment that our Lord Jesus Christ will return, and His return will happen at a time we do not expect.  Peter says to the Lord a thousand years to us is just a day to God.  He is not bound by our time-table.  He is operating on His own.  So Peter says God is not slow in fulfilling His promise.  If it seems to you that much time has passed as we await our Lord’s return . . .

The Bible says understand that this delay

Is because of the loving grace of God

Who is allowing the delay that more people

Should come to repentance and be saved.

Do not toy with the time God is giving you.  Be about the business of preparing to meet our Lord.  Make sure you are ready and make sure your family, friends, and acquaintances are ready.

The Bible goes on and  says about this revelation in verse one that Jesus “sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John.”  It is best to read that word “signified” as “sign-ified.”  Did you catch that?  “Sign-ified.’ 

The revelation or unveiling of Jesus Christ

Through prophetic future events is given

By way of symbols and signs.

That may be for two reasons:

1) It may be that because of the fierce persecution of John’s day that biblical truth was given in symbols so that those doing the persecution would not understand what it was about.  After all, the revelation is given to Christ’s “servants,” not to just anyone.

But . . .

2) It may also be that the contents of the book of Revelation, the unveiling of Jesus Christ through future events, was given in symbols and signs because it was the best means to convey spiritual truth.  The unveiling of future events may be difficult to convey in just words.  Have you ever caught a glimpse of something you just could not describe?  You end up saying, “Well, you just had to be there.”  That may be what John encountered as he was presented the unveiling of future events.  So, with God’s help we will be interpreting these symbols and signs in the weeks ahead.

God wants us to know the principal Person of the book.  God wants us to know the prophetic purpose of the book.  And thirdly, God wants us to know . . .

III.  The Precious Promise Of The Book.

The book of Revelation is the only book of the Bible with this precious promise.  Look at it again there in verse 3, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.”  This verse shows that the early Christians assembled on the Lord’s day for the public reading and teaching of the Scripture.  The preacher would come before the people with the Bible and would read the Bible and give the sense of the passage read.  So, blessed is he who reads (the pastor) and those who hear the words (the congregation).  I am blessed as I read and you are blessed as you hear the words of this prophecy.

This book is a blessing to read.  Is not it ironic, then, that it is the one Book of the Bible that is so often not read?  I got to thinking about that this week, and I thought about some of the reasons we do not read this Book.  One reason may be, quite frankly, that we do not read it because we do not fully understand it.  One of the reasons we do not understand it is because we really do not know our Bibles well, especially the Old Testament.  It is interesting: John never quotes the Old Testament insofar as chapter and verse is concerned, but as he writes and shares the revelation, he alludes to and makes reference to the Old Testament around 300 times.  Some scholars even estimate that as much as 75% of the book of Revelation is to be understood by knowing the Old Testament.

I also think that one of the reasons we do not read Revelation is perhaps owing to spiritual warfare.  The devil does not want us reading this Book.  He does not want us to be blessed.  This book prophesies his doom.  Revelation is the final Book that records the final days of Satan.

The book of Genesis is a Book of beginnings. 

The book of Revelation is a Book of endings. 

In Genesis we have the entrance of sin. 

In Revelation we have the ending of sin. 

In Genesis the devil enters as one destroying. 

In Revelation he exits as one destroyed.

Satan does not want you reading this Book.  He does not want you to be blessed.  He will do what he can to keep you from reading it and studying it. 

But if you and I go through this Book a blessing will follow – “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy” – but not just reading and hearing!  The Bible says “and keep those things which are written in it.”  In other words, we must obey what we read here in the Book of Revelation.

God wants us to know the precious promise of this book.  I am praying for a great blessing to follow our studying through this Book.  I am praying for a spiritual harvest of committed believers to the Lord Jesus Christ as a result of our studying this book together.  Let’s get ready to receive the precious promise of this book; a great spiritual blessing as we read and hear the words of this prophecy because, as verse three ends, “the time is near.”

That statement is meant to encourage Christians – “the time is near.”  Hang in there.  Jesus Christ is coming again.  You are going to make it.  Stay the course.  But the phrase also applies as a warning – “the time is near.”  Be ready.  Make sure you are spiritually prepared for the events in this Book that will unfold before your very eyes.  Be ready when our Lord returns.

As I was driving around the other day, God impressed upon my mind the need to be spiritually prepared at all times.  The Lord may not return again for several years, perhaps even decades.  The odds are that most of us will die before He returns.  When we die we will face an immediate judgment whereby our souls will go immediately either to heaven or to hell.  Immediately.  There is no “soul sleep” or purgatory.  The Bible teaches that our souls go immediately to one of two locations.

Are you ready to meet the Lord, whether He returns first, or whether you die first?  Can I say that there is no more important question than that?  The Bible says in James 4:14 that you and I do not even know what tomorrow brings.  James says your life is like a vapor.  Your life is like the upward steam from a hot cup of coffee.  You see it for a moment and then it is gone.  Your life is like that.  You see it for a moment and then it is gone.  That is why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “Now is the time.  Today is the day of salvation.”   We are going to study about Jesus’ return . . . the question is, “Are you ready?”  Some of you do not have peace with God and if you continue that way you are taking the chance that you will live another day.  You might even be thinking, “I will make peace with God another day.”  Do not wait . . . Do not delay!  Your life is a vapor.  It will be over very soon.  Now is the time.  Today is the day of salvation.  Come and accept what Christ has done for you and be saved, for the time is near.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 24:50-53 – The End of a Beginning

Grace For The Journey

We have been studying through the Gospel of Luke, the longest book in the New Testament.  As it is the longest book in the New Testament, it has taken us a long time to study through the 24 chapters.  Some of you will therefore be glad to know that our next study will be of a book that has 16 chapters, the Book of Romans!  I look forward to our study of Romans, a book that encourages us to hang tough during times of persecution and suffering.

We are at the close of the Gospel of Luke and we are studying today about the ascension of Christ.  Some of you may be hearing that word “ascension” for the first time.  The ascension is, as one preacher called it, “one of the most neglected essentials in the New Testament.”  We do not generally hear many sermons preached on the ascension.  We hear many sermons preached on the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection, but not nearly as many on the ascension.

What is the ascension?  The word “ascension” contains the word “ascend” which, of course, means “to rise up, to go up, to ascend.”  Christ goes up, He ascends into heaven.  Here is a good definition of the ascension taken from the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (ed. Walter Elwell): “That act of the God-Man by which he brought to an end his post-resurrection appearances to his disciples, was finally parted from them physically, and passed into the other world, to remain there until his second advent.”

During the Second World War, November 10, 1942, after England won a significant victory, a battle Winston Churchill referred to as the, “Battle of Egypt,” Churchill made these remarks as he addressed the people, “Now this is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

While the ascension occurs at the end of the Gospel of Luke, the ascension is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.  The ascension of Christ “bridges” the Gospel of Luke to Luke’s second volume, the Book of Acts.  You will remember that Luke wrote both books.

Luke begins Acts chapter 1 in verse 1 and following by saying, “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up.”  Luke goes on to say that before Jesus was taken up, or ascended into heaven, that He had “presented Himself alive,” appearing to the disciples in His resurrected body over a period of 40 days as He continued to speak to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God (Luke 1:3).

After Jesus was raised from the dead, He appeared to His disciples over a period of 40 days before He ascended into heaven. That’s why some churches who follow the traditional church calendar celebrate what is called “Ascension Day,” the 40th day after Easter.

Luke tells us in Volume II of his writings, the Book of Acts, that after the 40 days are over, the disciples are assembled together in Jerusalem and Jesus says to them in Acts 1:8, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Then Luke records a few more details about the ascension in Acts 1:9 to 11, “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.’”

Remember again, that definition of the ascension we read earlier, the ascension is, “that act of the God-Man by which he brought to an end his post-resurrection appearances to his disciples, was finally parted from them physically, and passed into the other world, to remain there until his second  summarize the period of 40 days, telescoping the events of the days preceding the ascension, in keeping with his intention to provide an “orderly account” (Luke 1:3) of the Gospel.

There are three main events taking place between Christ and His followers, we note the verbs: He “blesses” them, He “parts” from them, and they “worship” Him.  I want to use these three actions as descriptive headings for our passage and then I want to share with you the significance of the ascension, what it matters to us today.

Note first . . .

I. He Blesses Them.

Verse 50 tells us, “And He led them out as far as Bethany (on the foothills of the Mount of Olives), and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.”  What an awesome thing to do for a bunch of guys who had frequently doubted Him, denied Him, forsaken Him, and failed Him – think about that . . . He “lifted up His hands and blessed them.”  In fact, verse 51 indicates that it is in the very act of His blessing them that He is parted from them and taken up into heaven

The picture is that of a priest in the Old Testament, someone like Aaron who, in Leviticus 9:22, “Lifted his hand toward the people, blessed them.”  Maybe Jesus even spoke the so-called “Aaronic blessing” of Numbers 6:24-26, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

Jesus blessed them with nail-scarred hands.  Though in His resurrected body, the scars from the crucifixion serve as an eternal reminder of the priestly sacrifice of His death for their sins.  He blessed them.

Secondly, the Bible says . . .

II. He Parts from Them.

Verse 51 says, “Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.”  Jesus slips away and is taken up into heaven.  In Acts 1:9 Luke writes that, “a cloud received Him out of their sight.”  This cloud was the visible expression of the glory of God, often referred to in the Old Testament as the “Shekinah glory,” the dwelling or the settling of the divine presence of God.  Moses had encountered that cloud of glory on Mt. Sinai.  It is the same cloud of glory that went before the Israelites during their wanderings in the desert.  It is the same cloud of glory that surrounded Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.

Luke writes here in verse 51 that it is while Jesus is blessing the disciples, “that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.”  Greek scholar AT Robertson says that the word “parted” here means, “He stood apart and he was gone.”  It describes a dramatic exiting of our Lord Jesus into heaven.

It is not that Jesus just goes up and up and up into the sky and became smaller and smaller so that one could no longer see Him, the way one watches a rocket take off and go up into the sky and become smaller and smaller until it can no longer be seen.  It is rather that Jesus goes up into the sky but then is carried away, enveloped into the very place of heaven itself.

CS Lewis, trying to understand the ascension pictured Jesus, “. . . being withdrawn through a fold in space like an actor who, having taken his bow, appears to vanish into a fold in the stage curtain, but in actual fact he’s just stepping into a gap in between two of the curtains.”

If you like physics, you might prefer that Jesus entered into the fourth dimension!  This is entirely biblical, of course. The physical universe cannot contain God.  Solomon referred to this truth in His prayer during the dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8:27, “Will God indeed dwell on the earth?  Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You.  How much less this temple which I have built!”

He blesses them; He parts from them. Then the response of the disciples, number three . . .

III. They Worship Him.

Verse 52 tell us, “And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”  They worshiped Him.  At first reading, this statement may not seem to follow.  Jesus has just been taken away from the disciples.  Why would they be glad about that?  We might expect they would be sad.

This joy followed their understanding of what they learned from the Scripture.  We have read over the past couple weeks that when Jesus appeared to the disciples in His resurrected body that He explained to them the need for His death, burial, and resurrection.  In verse 45 we read where Jesus had, “Opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.”  He told them about His entire mission, how they would tell others about that mission once the Holy Spirit had come upon them, and the “power from on high” about which Jesus had spoken at the end of verse 49.  

It is all clear to them now.  Joy follows understanding.  Joy is the blessing that follows the understanding of Scripture.  When we understand what we are reading in the Bible, as the Holy Spirit teaches us, we are filled with great joy.  This is one of the reasons why careful Bible reading and study is so important.  It redounds to great joy!

Verse 53, tells us, “And were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.  Amen.”  Where were the disciples praising God?  In the temple.  Luke returns us to where the Gospel begins, in the temple (Luke 1:8-9).  The Gospel of Luke begins with people praising and blessing God in the temple and it ends with people praising and blessing God in the temple.

He blesses them; He parts from them; they worship Him.

What is the significance of Christ’s ascension?  What does it mean for us today?  Let me give you these four things.  They are not exhaustive, but represent at least four things the ascension means.

First, the ascension means . . .

1) He Presides Over Everything And Sustains Everything.

The Bible says in 1 Peter 3:22 that Christ, “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.”  The right hand of God is a metaphor for omnipotent power. Jesus Christ is now at the right hand of God, the Father.  It is the place of power and authority.  He is presiding over everything.  He is “Lord.” Listen to what the author of Hebrews says about our ascended Lord in Hebrews 1:2-3, “(God), has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;  who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

Christ presides over everything,

And He sustains everything.

Secondly, the ascension means . . .

2) He Sympathizes With Our Weaknesses.

The Bible reminds us in Hebrews 4:14-17, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

He is our great High Priest!  He is the One who knows what we are going through, having suffered the horrors of beatings, crucifixion, and death.  He was also tempted just as we are tempted.  He knows what we are going through and, He is willing to dispense to us daily supplies of mercy and grace in our time of need.

He sympathizes with our weaknesses.  What else is significant about the ascension?

Thirdly . . .

3) He Intercedes For Us As Our Eternal Advocate.

The ascension follows the work of the atonement and guarantees the continual effectiveness of the atonement.  The Bible says in Hebrews9:24-26, “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another – He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”

The ascension is God’s guarantee of the work of His Son, the perfect effectiveness of the finished work of the atonement, the effects of which last forever and ever.  The ascension is God’s guarantee of that work.  The ascension is God’s stamp of approval upon everything that Jesus has come to do, His entire mission is a mission accomplished.  It is this truth that gives you and me the assurance of our salvation.

Speaking of the atonement, the Bible says in Romans 8:33-34, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”  Paul imagines somebody speaking against your being a Christian, whether that someone is another person, your fearful heart, or the devil himself.  He imagines someone accusing us the way a person might stand in court and speak against our case.   Someone stands and says, “I object!  I know this so-called Christian!   I have seen the way he lives.  He has many faults.  He cannot be forgiven.”   The Bible says, “Who will succeed in bringing a charge against God’s elect?  Who is worthy to condemn the Christian?”

Maybe you once felt secure in our faith.  Maybe you have trusted Christ and all was well.   But then, you stumbled and fell.  You do something you know is wrong.  In fact, you find yourself struggling with this particular thing.  You hate it.  It is a sin and you hate it.  And you find yourself battling it all the time.  The Bible pictures you are standing before God at the judgment.  You are a Christian, but there is this on-going problem.  God knows our hearts, our tendency to somehow think that the blessings of forgiveness apply to everyone else except us!  There we stand before God and the devil stands up behind us in the courtroom and he says, “This person cannot be one of yours!  I have seen the way he lives.  I have watched the way he/she behaves.  I charge this so-called Christian with hypocrisy.  I condemn this person for being the hypocrite they are!”  Oh, listen again to the effects of the atonement guaranteed by the ascension in Romans 8:34, “Who is he who condemns?  It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”

The Bible is tells us that no matter how hard the devil or anyone else may work at trying to condemn you, you have this wonderful Advocate – the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ – the One who stands at the right hand of the Judge. He stands there forever, always “making intercession” for you. 

It is not that He must speak continually in your defense, giving a counter-argument to the devil’s charges. 

Christ’s just being there

Is the counter-argument!

Christ is always and forever standing there.  He need say nothing.  God the Father forever looks at Christ His Son, and on the basis of what His Son did for the Christian on Calvary’s cross, God then looks at the Christian and says, “Not guilty,” every single time.  All sin is forgiven.

The significance of the ascension: He presides over everything and sustains everything; He sympathizes with our weaknesses; He intercedes for us as our eternal advocate.

Finally . . .

4) He Prepares A Home For Us.

Jesus says in John 14:1-3, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  The ascension means that Jesus Christ, our ascended Lord, is right now in heaven preparing a place for all Christians, all true followers of Jesus.

What will heaven be like?  I do not know, but it if Jesus is preparing it, you can be sure it is going to be absolutely wonderful!  Imagine: every Christian, every true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, one day will be, like our Lord before us, “carried up into heaven” where we will spend eternity.  Will you be in that company?

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 24:36-34 – It Is All Really True

Grace For The Journey

We have been making our way, verse-by-verse, through the Gospel of Luke and we are nearing the end of our study here in the last chapter of this Book.  We have been studying the resurrection accounts and it is helpful to remember this because the first verse of our passage – verse 36 – begins with the phrase, “Now as they said these things,” and that phrase should prompt at least two questions; the first being, “Who are they ‘they’ here?” and the second question, “What things were they saying?”  To discover to whom this pronoun refers, who the “they” are, as well as the subject of their discussion, we need only look at the verses preceding.

You recall from last time, in the verses preceding this text, that Jesus had appeared to two men who were traveling to the village of Emmaus, and He eventually revealed Himself to them as the resurrected Christ.  They are excited about this and run back to Jerusalem where the 11 disciples are and they all tell one another that they had seen Him, they had seen the risen Christ.  Now verse 36 says, “Now as they said these things.”

If you have ever experienced something unique or something unusual happen to you, you know that you are challenged in convincing others that the thing really did happen.   You take care to explain what happened first, and second, and so on. You talk about what you saw, heard, touched, or maybe what others told you that they saw, heard, and touched.  You carefully explain that these things happened in order for another person to understand and grasp the truth of the experience.

This has been Luke’s aim since the very beginning of his Gospel.  You will remember back in his introduction in in Luke chapter 1 in verses 1-4, where Luke is writing to his friend Theophilus these words, “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.”  Luke writes this Gospel account so that his friend Theophilus – and everyone else reading the Book of Luke – “may know the certainty of the things” concerning Jesus Christ.  

Today’s passage stresses the certainty of Christ’s resurrection body and the certainty of the Scriptures.  It is as if Luke is saying, “I want you to know that it is all really true.”  There is something pretty neat to note here: the narrative parallels what precedes it.   What we studied last week with the two on the road to Emmaus in verses 13-35: an appearance of the resurrected Christ, an explanation of the need for His death and resurrection, and then the eating of food – Those three elements occur again right here in verses 36-49: an appearance of Christ, an explanation of the need for His death and resurrection, and then the eating of food.   In some sense we will parallel that sequence in our study today.

The passage highlights Luke’s repeated attempt throughout his writing of the Gospel to provide certainty of the things concerning Jesus Christ.  Luke is saying again in these verses, “It Is All Really True.”

The truth of Christ’s resurrection leads us to at least three considerations . . .

I. Consider God’s Powerful Work: Verses 36-43.

By that I mean mainly the work of God’s raising a real body from the grave, Christ’s resurrection body.  God raised Jesus Christ from the dead in bodily form.  It is a powerful work of God as the God of all creation, as Lord over all matter.  Jesus was raised not as an immaterial spirit or ghost.  God’s powerful work was such that Christ’s body – though beaten and bloodied – was raised from the dead in a new form, a glorious body that would never again break down in any way.

This is a unique work.  It had never happened before.  People had been raised from the dead before, but it was different.  You will remember that Lazarus had been raised from the dead, and the son of a certain widow from the town of Nain had been raised from the dead, but they were raised up in their old bodies and so, in the words of CS Lewis, “They had their dying to do all over again.”  Lazarus died again later, and the widow’s son died again later.  But something different is going on here.  Christ who died was raised in new bodily form – and as such – He is what the Apostle Paul calls ‘the first-fruits of all who die in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:20).  In other words, because Christ was raised in new bodily form, so will every follower of Christ be raised in new bodily form.

We will take a closer look at this as this is what Luke wants us to see here beginning in verses 36 to 40, “Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you.’  But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit.  And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled?  And why do doubts arise in your hearts?  Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself.  Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.’  When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.”

So Jesus is saying, “I am not some immaterial spirit; I’m not a ghost!  Look at Me.  See My hands, see My feet.  Handle Me, that is, touch Me.”  Jesus appeals to their senses, their sight, hearing, and touch to demonstrate the reality of His resurrected body.  He is saying to them, “Come closer, look, come on reach out, touch Me, get over here you knuckleheads, let’s spar a little. See that it really is I.”

But Luke says in verse 37, “they are terrified and frightened.”  I suppose they were afraid first of all because of the way in which Jesus just suddenly appeared.  Here they were just a moment ago talking about how some had seen Him and then . . . Boom! . . . there He is!

And do not miss this – the first words out of the mouth of Jesus are, “Peace to you.”  The Hebrew word is “Shalom.”  The Greek word for “peace” us “Shalom,” and it conveys much more than the absence of conflict.  It carries the notion of blessing, especially the blessing of a right relationship with God.  That is particularly significant when we think about what happened during the course of the previous three days in the lives of the disciples. These guys had abandoned Christ, had denied Christ, and had forsaken and fled from Christ.  Then Christ appears and the first words out of His mouth are the words, “Peace to you,” Shalom, be blessed to be in a right relationship with God.” That is strikingly gracious and merciful, isn’t it?

Ligon Duncan, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi, shares an experience from his younger years that is helpful: “My father was a kind and loving man … but when my father was angry there was a fury in him.  I well remember wrecking my first car and my mother taking me to his office where I was appointed to tell him that I had wrecked my first car.  And after ascertaining that my health was intact, he blew up!  He said, ‘You will never drive a car of mine as long as you live!’  I knew it was coming.  A few hours later it was, ‘Well, I’ll let you drive occasionally.’  And that night it was, ‘Son, why don’t you run up to the grocery store and get me some peanut butter?’  It waned after time.  But I was dreading that first encounter.”  I wonder what the disciples thought that Jesus would say to them the first time He saw them after their utter failure to follow Him in faith.  And they find out His first word is, “Peace.” 

What a gracious thing to say to 11 guys who just three days before fled from Him in fear, in shame and guilt.  I hope this encourages those of you Christians who stumble regularly in sin and feel shame and guilt.  When you sin yet again, and you feel so miserable and so undone, preach the Gospel to yourself.  Confess your sin and repent, turn from it and turn to the cross and see Jesus there who died for that sin.  See the resurrected, ascended Christ and hear the forgiving Lord Jesus say to you, “Shalom; peace to you, receive the blessing of a right relationship with God; peace to you.”

The disciples are also terrified, of course, because they had never seen anything like this – a resurrected, glorious body – standing before them alive; not a ghost, not a spirit, but in a new body.  So, Jesus shows them that He is in real bodily form by eating in their presence. Ghosts and spirits cannot eat physical food, but a real body can.

Verses 41 and 42 tells us, But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, ‘Have you any food here?’  So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb.”  This was common food for breakfast in the ancient near east.  Verse 43 says, “And He took it and ate in their presence.”   This was to show that Jesus was really standing there in bodily form, a new resurrected, glorious body.

The Bible teaches how Christ’s resurrected body is the first appearance of a kind of body that every Christian will one day have. You can read about this later in 1 Corinthians 15 where the Bible teaches that each of us will receive one day a glorious body like the Lord Jesus’ resurrected body.

Let’s review our theology here.  When the Christian dies, his soul goes immediately to heaven and his body is buried.  Similarly, when a non-Christian dies, his soul goes immediately to hell and his body is buried.  The non-Christian, the unbeliever’s body, will be raised in the same corruptible form and that unbeliever will stand before God on Judgment Day and hear the final words of our Lord, “Depart from Me, I never knew you” and he will be cast into the lake of fire forever.  The believer, however, has something far greater to look forward to!  When the Christian dies, his soul goes immediately to heaven and one day, God will raise up that Christian’s mortal body and change it “in the twinkling of an eye” and that body will be changed into a glorious, immortal, and incorruptible body (1 Corinthians 15:50-53), a body like the Lord Jesus’s resurrection body.  The Christian will then live for eternity in that new body, a body that will never again break down or be subject to decay.  It is this body that the Christian will inhabit and live in forever in the new heaven and earth and the Kingdom of God.  I find this truth remarkably encouraging!

Our bodies in present form are subject to the effects of the fall.  Our bodies break down. They get old.  As I age, I can just feel the body wearing down, can’t you?  The older we get the more easily we lose muscle mass.  I am finding that If I do not work out, the more quickly the body breaks down.  I look around at some of these younger guys and they have muscles in places that I do not have places!  In time the body just naturally ages and wears down.

How encouraging to know that one day we will have a new body.  One day we will be in a place where we are no longer subject to the effects of the fall.  How encouraging to know that our loved ones in Christ, family members and friends, whose bodies are plagued by sickness, disease, cancer, and other ills, will one day be forever free from the ravages of the fall.  That will be a result of God’s powerful work, the work of creating a real, new, glorified, body.

Consider God’s powerful work.  Secondly . . .

II. Consider God’s Powerful Word: Verses 44-47.

What Jesus does next is to remind the disciples of the truth of Scripture, the truth of the Bible.  In verse 44 the Bible says, Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’”  Jesus tells them everything the Bible says about Him is true.  I talked about this last time when Jesus taught the two men on the road to Emmaus.  He engages in some solid, expository preaching!  Verse 27 told us He, expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”

Remember He had said to them before on at least three different occasions that He would suffer, die, and be raised the third day (Luke 9:22; 9:43-45; 18:31-34).  But they never quite understood that.  The Bible says, “it was hidden from them.”  Now verse 45 tells us, And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.”  He opened their understanding so that the light went on and they grasped how the Bible is what we said last week, “A Him Book” about Him.  They began to understand how all the Old Testament points to Christ.  The writer of Hebrews talks about this when he is led by the Holy Spirit to write about the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant.  Every time an Israelite in the Old Testament came to the temple to offer a sacrificial lamb as an atonement for sin, that lamb pointed forward to a more perfect atonement, the sacrificial Lamb of God, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:13-14).  It is teaching such as this that Jesus led the disciples to understand.  Christ opened their understanding to the truth of the Bible concerning Himself.

Verses46 to 47 tells us, “Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’” 

Jesus leads the disciples

To understand that

His death on the cross

Was not an accident,

But a divine necessity,

The fulfillment of God’s

Plan to save the lost.

Perhaps Jesus opened up their understanding of passages such as . . .

  • Psalm 22 where Jesus is portrayed on the cross and the psalmist writes in verse 16 that “they pierced [His] hands and feet.”
  • Isaiah 53 where in verse 5 the prophet says, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.”

The Lord opened their understanding to the Scriptures.

We cannot understand the Bible fully apart from God’s opening our understanding.  The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  If we are to understand the Scriptures fully we must be born again.  We must have our eyes opened, our minds opened, and our hearts opened.  We must have the Holy Spirit to be our teacher and our guide as we read His Word.

J. C. Ryle drives this truth home when he says, “He that desires to read his Bible with profit, must first ask the Lord Jesus to open the eyes of his understanding by the Holy Spirit.  Human commentaries are useful in their way.  The help of good and learned men is not to be despised.  But there is no commentary to be compared with the teaching of Christ.  A humble and prayerful spirit will find a thousand things in the Bible, which the proud, self-conceited student will utterly fail to discern.”  I have shared with you before this little prayer I like to pray before reading the Bible. It is really simple. Write this down. I simply say, “Lord, open your Word to me; open me to Your Word.”

God’s Powerful Work; God’s Powerful Word.  Thirdly . . .

III. Consider God’s Powerful Witnesses: Verses 48-49.

Jesus had just said in the last part of verse 47, “That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”  That work of “preaching repentance and remission of sins … to all nations” is not yet complete. Therefore, the work of God’s witnesses continues today.  We are His witnesses.  Jesus said to the first disciples is written for us in verse 48, And you are witnesses of these things.”  He also says to us today, “You are witnesses of these things.”  The work is not yet complete.  God’s desire in verse 47 for “all nations” to hear the Gospel remains an unfulfilled desire.  The goal is still not met.  There are still many who have not heard.

We are God’s powerful witnesses.  We are to share the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is what Jesus is talking about in verse 49 where He says, Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”  When Jesus refers to “the Promise of My Father” here in verse 49 and “power from on high” He is talking about the promise and power of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible has already alluded to this truth in Joel 2:28-32 and picks that same truth up latter in Acts 2:33.  By way of the Holy Spirit you and I are equipped to fulfill our commission as God’s witnesses (Acts 1:8), God’s powerful witnesses.  You can share Jesus Christ with your friends, relatives, and associates when you remember that you are sharing not in your power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are commissioned to be missional.  Our church must continue to work hard to reach the nations with the Gospel.  That is why we have missional efforts from our community to the continents. That is why we pray, give and go to people in our community, state, country, and around the world – because we are His witnesses.

I have been amazed at how God has used this blog to touch lives throughout the United States and in South America, Africa, the Philippines, and India.  Odds are I will never meet these precious souls this side of heaven, but one day we will stand with Him and with all the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, and nation, all people God has delighted to save through the power of the Gospel. 

Are your experiencing God’s powerful work; are you learning and living in His powerful Word; and are your being His powerful witness?

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 24:13-35 – Eyes Opened to See Christ

Grace For The Journey

We have been making our way, verse-by-verse, through the Gospel of Luke and we are in the home stretch.  Just a couple more studies and we will have completed our series entitled, “Certainty in Uncertain Times.”

Last week we looked at the first twelve verses of Chapter 24 and we read about the empty tomb and studied the doctrine of the resurrection.  What we have in today’s passage is the first actual appearance of Christ in Luke’s Gospel after His resurrection.   I just love this particular resurrection account!  This passage about how Jesus encounters two guys walking on the road to Emmaus is my favorite resurrection appearance of Christ.  I pray that as we study these verses that God will help us in rightly understanding His Word and instill an excitement about what He has done.

It has often been said that the Bible is a “Him Book.”  The Bible is a book about Him – throughout all 66 books of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible points to Jesus Christ.  In fact, one of the most interesting considerations of the Bible is its strikingly simple sense of unity in spite of the fact that there were so many different authors.

Think of it:

  • The Bible contains a sum total of 66 books from Genesis to Revelation.
  • The Bible was composed by more than 40 different authors writing over a period of some 1,500 years in three different languages from vastly different settings and locations.
  • And while the Bible covers a wide array of topics and themes, one major theme and purpose runs throughout the entire body of Scripture . . .

Man’s need for reconciliation with God,

And

How that need is met in Jesus Christ.

It is sometimes called, “the Scarlet thread of redemption” that is interwoven throughout the pages of Scripture.  The Bible is a “Him Book,” it is about Him.

That truth is illustrated in our text this morning.  Let’s walk through this passage and follow the footsteps of these two disciples who are walking along the road.

I. The Disciples Did Not Recognize Jesus – Verses 13-24.

We learn in these verses that these two disciples walking along the road are completely mystified.  They are bewildered, befuddled, sad, and confused.  They are walking along the road that departs from Jerusalem and leads to Emmaus, about a 7-mile journey.  As they are walking along the road Luke tells us in verse 14 that, “they talked together of all these things which had happened.”

That is, they are talking about the crucifixion of Christ and, namely, what they had learned as recorded in the preceding verses: the tomb of Christ is empty and they cannot seem to figure out what in the world is going on. They were followers of Christ themselves, but they could not make sense of the apparent tragic ending of the life of their Messiah and what in the world this empty tomb business was supposed to mean.

I love verse 15.  It says, “So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them.”  Don’t you just love that?!  They are walking along and talking and then Jesus Himself comes up from behind and He is going to join them in the conversation.  Do they recognize Him?  No.  But note Luke does not say, “They did not recognize Him.”  What Luke writes in verse 16 is, “But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.”  In other words, the two men did not recognize Christ because God had restrained their eyes.  The grammar is a divine passive.  They did not do this themselves.  They are passive in this.  God has kept the men from recognizing Christ.

This reminds me of that great historical event in 2 Kings where the king of Syria was making war against Israel and the king sends bad guys to try to kill the Prophet Elisha. The bad guys surround the city where Elisha and his servant are staying.  Elisha’s servant gets up in the morning and sees the enemy everywhere and he is like, “What are we going to do now?!”  The Bible says that Elisha responds, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.  And Elisha prayed, and said, ‘Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’  Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:16-17).

If we ever do see

Christ

For Who He is,

It is because God

Opens our eyes

To see Him.

This is why we say that salvation is by grace . . . By God’s amazing grace!  Because before I come to Christ,  I am dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), and I need my eyes opened to see Christ.  If we are saved, we sing, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”  God opened my eyes to see Christ through His amazing grace!

You can be among Christ and His people and not recognize Him.  A pastor once testified that when he was young, he remembered attending Bible Study and worship services and being among those who knew Christ, but he did not recognize Him.  He did not really see Jesus for Who He is.  His eyes had not yet been opened.

Now in this passage, we may rightly reason that Christ is keeping these two disciples from recognizing Him is so that He would have a unique opportunity to teach them and explain to them the necessity of His death and resurrection and that He might show them how His death and resurrection was the fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture.

Verse 17 tells us, “And He said to them, ‘What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?’”  We may note, just as an aside, that walking along the road and having spiritual conversation was considered a normal and good thing.  To join-in on a conversation as a passing stranger was also socially acceptable.  

We should be struck more by the content of the conversation.  How many conversations do we have with friends and acquaintances that are spiritual in nature?  God says in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, that we should be having spiritual conversations with our families all the time. He writes, “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart.   You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”

Some find it easier to talk about anything but spiritual things: weather, sports, job, entertainment.  Jesus rightly said in Matthew 12:34, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Whatever things you love and cherish most will be the things you talk most about.  Think about that next time you strike up a conversation at work, in your classroom, at the beauty parlor, or at the barber shop.

I am intrigued by what Jesus says, “What are you guys talking about?”  Did He already know?  Of course.  He is all-knowing.  But He asks in order to draw out their understanding about the events surrounding the death of the Messiah that He might explain to them what was going on.  He asks, “Why are you guys sad? What are you talking about?”

Verse 18 says, “Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?”  This one disciple, Cleopas, is like, “What?! Don’t you know what’s been going on?! Everybody knows about the death of Christ.”  By the way,  this statement affirms the historicity of the crucifixion and resurrection, illustrating the widespread acceptance of the fact of a crucified Christ 2,000 years ago and all the circumstances surrounding His death:

Verses 19 to 24 go on to say, “And He said to them, ‘What things?’  So they said to Him, ‘The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was [past tense!] a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.  But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.  Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us’ [and here is a summary of what we studied last week, verses 1-12].  When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive.  And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.”

This explains their mystification. Look at Jesus’ immediate response in verse 25, “Then He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!’” So we move from mystification to explanation as Jesus explains to them that everything is happening just as foretold in the Scriptures.

II. Christ’s Response – Verses 25-27.

Look again at verse 25, “Then He said to them, O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!’”  We could paraphrase this, “Don’t you guys know the Bible? Don’t you know the Old Testament Scriptures?  In verse 26 Jesus goes on to say, “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?”  In other words: the arrest, death, crucifixion, and resurrection are all part of God’s plan foretold in the Bible.  Verse 27 reveals to us what Jesus does next, “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”  Jesus “expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”  As they walked along the road, Jesus taught them how the Bible points to Christ.  He taught them how the Bible teaches about the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Wouldn’t you love to have been there for that Bible study?!

Explanation leads to celebration in verses 28 and following.

III. The Rejoicing Of The Disciples – Verses 28-35.

They are about to have their eyes opened!  Verse 28 tells us, “Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther.”  Jesus is waiting for an invitation to continue the spiritual lesson.  And they invite Him to continue.  Verse 29 says, “But they constrained Him, saying, ‘Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.’  And He went in to stay with them.” 

So now they are apparently in their home.  They do what most of us do after a long journey: they decide to eat.  Verses 30-31 tell us, “Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.”  Now that is amazing, isn’t it?!  As Jesus is breaking bread and teaching them, God opened their eyes.  Who knows, maybe at that moment their eyes were opened and the first thing they saw were the nail prints in Christ’s hands?  I do not know, but God opened their eyes to see Christ for Who He is.  Then as quickly as their eyes are opened, Jesus vanishes from their sight.  Bible study over!

Verse 32 says, “And they said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’”  Imagine these two disciples left sitting there at the table!  One says to the other, “Where did He go?!” The other says, “I don’t know, He just vanished!”  Hey, did your heart burn like mine did while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”  “Yes!  Mine, too.”  They decide that very hour – in joyous celebration – they decide to rush back to Jerusalem to share this good news with the 11 disciples.

Verses 33 to 34 tell us, “So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, ‘The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’”  I just love the way this all unfolds!  These two disciples jump up from the dinner table and run the 7 miles back to Jerusalem to tell everybody about seeing the risen Christ.  They cannot wait!  They are probably working out who will do the talking, who will share what.  No sooner do they arrive at the place where the 11 are staying, but that they pause at the door, gather their breath, enter the door, walk into the room and before they can speak one word, the 11 speak first to them: “It’s true!” they cry, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”

Then the two disciples share their story in verse 35, “And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.”

What a marvelous series of events!  What a special occasion for these two disciples!  They not only get to see the resurrected Christ but they get a powerful lesson on the theme of God’s Word.

Let me share with you two necessary actions in light of our study.

I. We Must Correctly Interpret the Scriptures.

There is power in the Scriptures rightly interpreted.  Verse 27 says that Jesus, expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”  That word “expounded” in the original Greek is the word from which we get hermeneutics, the matter of biblical interpretation.  Jesus rightly interpreted the Scriptures.  It Is the same word that occurs again in verse 32 where the two men say, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”  It Is the same word: Jesus rightly interpreted, opened, and expounded the Scriptures.

The Scriptures opened correctly, rightly interpreted, lead to burning hearts, hearts aflame with truth that changes lives for the glory of God.  This is one of the reasons I are committed to expository preaching, verse-by-verse through books of the Bible.  I  take the approach of Jesus Who, the Bible tells us in verse 27, “expounded to them,” explained to them from “all the Scriptures” the things concerning Himself.

Correctly interpreting Scripture means that we explain.  We explain or expound truth, truth in “all the Scriptures,” truth in the context of the Word in which it is found.  We are not interested in a topical approach where we come up with some topic and then flip through our Bibles to find verses that seem to support what we want to say.  Rather, we open our Bibles and take a passage and expound text after text, explaining what is there and drawing out application from the text.  This leads to burning hearts.

Interpreted correctly, the Bible is something of a mirror, revealing our sins and pointing out our need for forgiveness in Christ.  It is a bit like the guy who was shaking hands with his pastor after the morning service.  He looked long and hard at his pastor before saying, “Pastor, your sermons are powerful, thoughtful, and well-researched.  I can always see myself in them and I want you to knock it off.”  Yes, the Bible is an authoritative book that often cuts us like a knife (Hebrews 4:12), pointing out what needs correction in our lives.  But God lovingly uses this knife the way a surgeon carefully uses a scalpel, bringing necessary healing to our souls.

We must correctly interpret the Scriptures.  Secondly . . .

II. We must Correctly Identify The Son.

Like many today, the two disciples on their way to the village of Emmaus had the wrong idea of Jesus.  They had incorrectly “ID’d Him.”  They believed He was a Messiah of some kind.  They had said back in verse 21, “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.”  Of course, the irony is that Jesus did redeem Israel!  But they had a different kind of redemption in view.  They were seeking a political Messiah, not a spiritual Messiah.

Jesus had, in fact, redeemed Israel but it was not a redemption that meant freedom from political oppression.  It was a redemption that accomplished freedom from spiritual oppression.  

Christ did not come to

Save men from soldiers,

But to save men from sin.

This is the reason Jesus gives these two disciples the Bible lesson that He does.  

He teaches them that

It was necessary

For the Messiah to

Die, to be buried,

And to rise from the dead.  

Only by Christ’s death

And resurrection can

Man be forgiven of sin.

He died for our sins and

Was raised for our justification

(Romans 4:25).

We may wonder which Scriptures Jesus used during that 7-mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  In actuality, Jesus told the two not just about His death, burial, and resurrection, but we in verse 27, “He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” 

The whole of the Bible points to Christ.

Jesus began His ministry with this teaching, the teaching that the Old Testament prophets foretold His coming.  Do you remember back in Luke 4 when Jesus began His earthly ministry? Hear again what He said that fateful day in verses 16-21, “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’  Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.  And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”

The Bible points to Christ . . .

  • In Peter’s first sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, as He is preaching about Christ, he says in verse 25, “For David speaks concerning Him . . .”
  • Philip taught the same thing to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8.  The eunuch is reading from the Old Testament and in Acts 8:35 the Bible tells us,  “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.”
  • When Peter preached to Cornelius, Peter said of Christ in Acts 10:43, “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”

The whole Bible points to Jesus.  The Old Testament is a “Him Book” – It is about Him. Every Old Testament book whispers His name.

For example, in the Book of Genesis . . .

  • The Bible tells us that Adam failed the obedience test in the Garden of Eden and his sin is imputed to us.  Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the Garden of Gethsemane and whose righteousness is imputed to us.
  • The Bible tells us that Abel who was slain and his blood cried out for condemnation?  Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, His blood now cries out, not for our condemnation, but for acquittal.
  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfort of heaven, and come into the world that He might create a new people of God.
  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us.  Now we can look at God taking His son up to Mt. Calvary and sacrificing him and say, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from us.”
  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed him, and sold him into bondage, and uses his new power to save them.
  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.
  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.
  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves His [foolish] friends.
  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes His people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true and better Esther who did not just risk leaving an earthly palace but left the ultimate and heavenly one, who did not just risk his life, but gave His life to save His people.
  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.
  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, and slain so the angel of death will pass over us.
  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, the true bread.

The Bible’s really not about you – it is about Him.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 24:1-12 – What Do We Do With The Resurrection Of Christ?

Grace For The Journey

We have been making our way, verse-by-verse, through the Gospel of Luke and we find ourselves beginning the final chapter, chapter 24.  If you are wondering why we are studying an Easter passage in early September it is not because we are confused or ignorant, but simply because it is the next passage in our sequential study of the book of Luke.

Having said that . . .

It is always appropriate

To preach an Easter message

Because it is always appropriate

To preach the resurrection.  

In fact, we cannot fully appreciate any event in human history apart from the resurrection of Christ, apart from the redemptive message of the cross and our need for salvation.

The previous chapter, chapter 23, concluded with the death and burial of Christ in a tomb just outside the city of Jerusalem.  It was the day before Sabbath and there are some women who intended to come back after the Sabbath to anoint Christ’s body with spices and fragrant oils.  Luke begins chapter 24 with what happens on that third day, the first day of the week, Sunday.

I want you to picture in your mind for a moment a car with a trailer hitched to the back, a U-Haul trailer . . . Now I want to state the obvious: The car does not need the trailer in order to move forward.  Right?  A car can move without a trailer attached to it. If you’re driving the car, it is up to you whether you wish to attach something to the back and haul it around.

The resurrection is not like a U-Haul trailer that we hitch to the back of a car.  It is not as though one can be a Christian and just sort of “take or leave” the resurrection.  Yet, there are many people who try to do just that.  They say they believe in the teachings of Christ, but they do not believe in the bodily resurrection.  Some of these men and women are gifted scholars and write books.  Some of them even pastor churches.  But they view the resurrection as something of a U-Haul trailer, you can hitch it to your life if you like, but it really is not necessary.

And yet, the Bible teaches something else.  You read the New Testament and you read the Apostle Paul and you get the idea that the resurrection drives everything.  

The truth of Christianity rises or falls

On the fact of an empty tomb.

That is not my conclusion, it is the center-piece of the message of the Gospel . . .

Romans 4:25 – Christ was, “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

Romans 6:4-5 – “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.”

1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-4 – “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand” . . . For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

1 Corinthians 15:17 – “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!”

For the Christian . . .

The resurrection is everything.

It is truth that makes

Our lives possible.

I want to share with you from the first 12 verses in Luke 24 a few things about this truth of the resurrection . . .

I. It Is A Truth To Remember – Verses 1-8.

Luke opens chapter 24 telling us that these women came to the tomb bringing spices in order to anoint the body of Christ.  It was a very loving thing to do.  They did not have time to do it the day Christ died because it was the eve of the Sabbath.  They are making their way to the tomb of Christ.  But when they arrive at the tomb, they find the stone rolled away and the body missing.  The Bible tells us that the women are “greatly perplexed” about this.

I am not going to take a lot of time to debunk all the popular liberal theories and alternative explanations of what happened to Christ’s body . . .  

  • Someone says, “The body was missing because the disciples came and got it and hid it somewhere.”

We can hardly imagine that scenario given the cowardice of these disciples who fled from Christ once He was arrested, to say nothing of their dying for the truth of the resurrection; all but one of them would eventually die the death of a martyr, dying for the truth of the resurrection.

  • Someone else says, “Well, the Jews stole the body or the Romans stole the body and hid it.”

Again, this makes even less sense, for if the Jews or Romans had the body then they certainly would have produced it for the world to see.  You have got these disciples later claiming that they had seen the resurrected Christ and that He appeared to them and so forth.  If that were not so and the unbelieving Jews or Romans actually had the body themselves, all they had to do was say, “The disciples are lying. Here’s the body of Jesus right here!”

Luke, being guided by the Holy Spirit tells us what happened.  While the women are standing there wondering what had happened to the body of Jesus, Luke says in verse 4 that, “two men stood by them in shining garments.” These were angels.  The women are afraid when they see the angels.  The angels ask this question of the women in verse 5, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  That is a good question, isn’t it?  But that is just the problem: they were not seeking the living.  They were seeking the dead. They had come to finish the anointing of Christ’s body for burial. They were not seeking the living. They were seeking the dead.

The angels say in verse 6, “He is not here, but is risen!” and apparently they are still standing with mouths open and question marks above their heads and so the angels say, “Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee.”  They were to remember.  Remember what?  What had Jesus said?  Verse 7 tells us, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”  Jesus had said that very thing three different times (Luke 9:44; Luke 11:29-30; and Luke 18:31-33), but the significance of those statements did not sink in until this moment.  Luke then records in verse 8, “And they remembered His words.”

The resurrection is a truth to remember.  And once the women remembered that truth, it changed their lives.  Matthew, in his Gospel, tells us the women now had a fear mingled with great joy.  He is risen; this was Good News from the graveyard!  They then return in joy to tell others about the resurrected Christ.

The resurrection is a truth to remember.  

The resurrection changes our lives,

Not just at the point of initial salvation,

But at every point along the

Journey of the Christian’s life.

Because Christ is risen, I am forgiven of all my sins.  The Bible says in Romans 4:25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” In other words, Jesus died taking our sins upon Himself and then God raised Jesus from the dead “for our justification;” that is, “so that we could be declared ‘Not guilty’ of our sin.”

This is why Christians can joyfully sing that part of the song, “In Christ Alone,” which says: “No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me.” The resurrection is not just, “No fear in death.”  That is great, of course.  I thank God that I have no fear in death.  I hope you have no fear of dying, too.  When our bodies die our souls will live-on either in heaven or hell depending on what we have done with the resurrection.

But the resurrection is not

Just, “No fear in death.”

The resurrection is also,

“No guilt in life.”

When you and I sin as Christians, because of the resurrection, we can remember this truth, and we can say, “No guilt in life.”

The resurrection is a truth to remember.  Secondly . . .

It Is A Truth To Report – Verses 9-10.

Verses 9 and 10 tells us, “Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things [they reported these things] to the eleven and to all the rest.  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles.”  These women did not keep the Good News of the resurrection to themselves; they shared the good news with others.

This is our task as well and really it is not so much a task as it is a privilege.  We have a life-saving message to share with everyone, from folks in our community across the seas to the continents around the world.  We have Good News too good to keep to ourselves.

If I know of a good restaurant and I really enjoy eating there, what am I going to do?  I am going to share that good news with others.  If I know of a place where they serve good tea or coffee, I will be fired-up about that and I will share that good news with others.  But the resurrection is more important than dinner and coffee.  If I know you have an illness and I know it is a fatal illness, an illness that will lead to death if untreated.  If I have had that same illness, but I have been healed, and I know you have the same illness and I do not share the medication with you, what am I?  I am selfish, uncaring, mean, and criminal.  The resurrection is a truth to report. It’s a truth to tell others.

Some need to share this truth with your family.  Some need to share this truth with a friend at school. Some of you need to share the life-saving message of the resurrection with somebody because, “All have sinned and all fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  We all have a fatal disease.  We are all sinners.  Unless we receive the antidote of the Gospel, we will remain dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).

The resurrection: it is a truth to remember; it is a truth to report;  and thirdly . . .

III.        It Is A Truth To Receive – Verses 11-12.

Every one of us must receive the truth of the resurrection.  It is a truth that must become personal to us, not personal in the sense of private.  Christianity is not a private religion. Christianity is personal, that is . . . It means something to us personally.  It is not an abstract, it real and personal to us.  The resurrection is a truth we must receive by faith.

This was not the case for the disciples at first.  They had trouble grappling with the resurrection.  After the disciples had heard the truth the women had reported, they were at first unwilling to receive it as truth.  Verse 11 says, “And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.”  It is interesting that Christ should choose to appear first to women.  We have noted before that women were often treated as second-class or third-class citizens in the day of Jesus.  Their testimony was not heard and believed in the same way a man’s testimony would be heard.  It is just like Jesus, then, to turn the tables yet again.

Christ’s appearing first to women and their being the first eye-witnesses account is yet another thing that argues for the authenticity of the resurrection account. If you lived in the time of Jesus and you wanted to make up a story and present it as true and you wanted to write a story about someone rising from the dead, you would not choose women as the first people to see and report about it because nobody would believe women.

It is just like Jesus to appear to them first.  This is not made up.  It is just another demonstration of God’s ways not being the ways of man.  In fact, the Bible says the disciples could not believe what they were hearing.  Verse 11 says that all this talk about Jesus being alive “seemed to them like idle tales,” literally “nonsense,” and “they did not believe them.”  Verse 12 even tells us Peter ran to the tomb; and stooping down, sees the evidence of the resurrection, but cannot seem to receive this truth.  Now of course, later, the disciples will encounter the resurrected Christ Himself and they will believe.  They will receive this truth of the resurrection and be saved. 

But why do so many not receive the resurrection as truth today?  I think, in part, it can be explained by what we read and studied in Luke 16.  Remember the story Jesus told about the unbelieving rich man and the believing man named Lazarus?  Both died; Lazarus went to heaven; the unbelieving rich man went to hell.  Remember also how the rich man requested that Lazarus should be allowed to go and warn his brothers about death and the judgment to come?  Is his request granted?  No.  The reply to the request is, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”  In other words, they have the Bible.  The Bible warns of death and the judgment to come.  The Bible tells how we must be saved.  But the unbelieving rich man cries out from hell, “No, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” But then comes the reply, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”  Luke may as well say here in chapter 24 what he recorded in chapter 16, “If we do not hear Moses and the prophets [if we do not know our Bibles and believe our Bibles], neither will we be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”

The truth of the resurrection

Is a fact of the Bible that

We must receive by faith.

We must believe it and receive its truth into our lives.  If you are waiting for some supernatural special sign in the sky or for God to call you up on your mobile phone and speak audibly to you, you will remain dead in your trespasses and sins.  But if you will receive this truth of the resurrection, you will be saved.

You must deal with the resurrection. If you do not do so today, you will answer for it at a future time.  Most of us keep calendars and we make and keep appointments.  There are two appointments in our calendars that we do not make ourselves; they are made for us by God.  The Bible says in Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed unto man to die once and after this, the judgment.”  Two appointments made for us by God: death and judgment.  Are you prepared for those two appointments?

To prepare for them we must deal with the resurrection: a truth to remember, a truth to report, and a truth to receive.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 23:50-56 – Taking a Stand for Christ

Grace For The Journey

The evangelist Billy Sunday used to tell of a professing Christian who got a job in a lumber camp that had the reputation of being very ungodly.  A friend, hearing that the man had been hired, said to him, “If those lumberjacks ever find out you’re a Christian, you’re going to be in for a hard time!” The man responded, “I know, but I need the job!”  The next morning he left for camp.  A year later, he came home for a visit.  While in town, he met his friend who asked, “Well, how did it go?  Did they give you a hard time because you’re a Christian?”  “Oh no, not at all,” the man replied. “They didn’t give me a bit of trouble—they never even found out!” (“Our Daily Bread,” 11/83.)

While we may chuckle at that story, many of us may wince.  It hits too close to home! Living in a world that is hostile to Christianity, it is easy just to blend in, to laugh at the dirty jokes, never to confront the gossip, and never to speak a word that would identify yourself as a Christian.  Besides, it might cost your reputation or even your job! Sometimes even among Christian friends it is hard to hold to your convictions for fear of what they will think.

That is why you should be interested in the story of Joseph of Arimathea, the man who buried Jesus.  No one knows where Arimathea was located, but the designation helps distinguish him from other Josephs.  He was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the body of 70 men who governed the religious and many of the civic matters in Israel.  It was the Sanhedrin that had condemned Jesus to death, although Joseph had not consented to their plan and action.  But probably he had not spoken out as vigorously as he should have.  John 19:39 tells us that he was a secret disciple of Jesus, for fear of the Jews.  His fear had caused Joseph not to take a bold stand for Christ, even though in his heart he knew that he should have done so.

But now, after Jesus was dead, when His followers had gone into hiding, Joseph gathered up his courage (Mark 15:43), went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus so that he could give Him a proper burial.  If he had not done so, Jesus’ body probably would have been thrown on a garbage heap and burned, robbing us of some of the major proofs of the resurrection, as we will see.  We can thank Joseph for honoring Jesus with a proper burial and for giving us many evidences for our faith.

Joseph seemingly had nothing to gain and everything to lose by identifying himself with Jesus at this point in time.  Jesus was dead and no one was expecting His resurrection. It would have been much easier for Joseph to have thought, “Oh, well!  Jesus was a good man and a prophet of God.  It is too bad that these things happen.  But, life must go on. I will have more influence if I do not rock the boat and keep my seat on the Sanhedrin.  I had better not do anything to upset anyone and jeopardize my position of influence.”  But in spite of the risks, Joseph came out of hiding and took a strong stand for Jesus by providing Him a proper burial. He gives us an example of what other Scriptures teach by precept:

The Lord wants us all to take

A stand for Him in this hostile world.

That sound great! But, how do we do it?  Much could be said, but our text reveals at least three factors that will help . . .

1. To Take A Stand For The Lord, Go Often To The Foot Of The Cross.

I cannot say for certain what made Joseph come out of hiding.  Perhaps it was the result of a long process . . .  

  • He had heard Jesus’ teaching, especially that final week in the temple.  
  • He had heard reports of His miracles, especially raising Lazarus from the dead.
  • Knowing the Scriptures, he realized that Jesus uniquely fulfilled the many messianic prophecies.  
  • He also could see the jealousy and selfishness of his fellow members of the council.
  • Unlike the majority of them, Luke tells us that Joseph was “a good and righteous man,” “who was waiting for the kingdom of God” (23:50, 51; see 2:25).
  • As Joseph’s convictions about Jesus grew, he also grew more uncomfortable with the views of his fellow members on the Sanhedrin.
  • Finally, he could no longer keep it in.

But I think that the deciding factor

That pushed Joseph over the line

Was standing at the cross

And watching Jesus die.

Luke hints at this: In 23:47 . . .

  • He states that when the centurion saw the events at the cross, especially Jesus’ final cry, he broke forth in praise.  
  • In the next verse, he reports that when the multitudes observed what had happened, they went home beating their breasts.  
  • He also reports that Jesus’ acquaintances and the women who followed Him, “were standing at a distance, seeing these things” (23:48).  
  • Immediately Luke adds, “And, behold” to grab our attention. Not only were His followers observing these things, but of all people, a member of the Council was seeing these things!

Seeing the sky darken, watching Jesus on the cross, hearing His final words, hearing the centurion’s praise, watching the multitude depart in mourning – all of this mounted up until Joseph said, “That’s enough!  I cannot hide my convictions any longer. I do not care what it costs me, I am going to Pilate so that I can give this Man the decent burial He deserves!”

The cross is the center of the Christian faith.  While we cannot stand and take in the events first-hand, as Joseph and the others did that day, we should come often to the foot of the cross and think about its implications.  The Bible sums up the core of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”  The cross is central (see also Galatians 2:20; 6:14).  If you go to the cross often, you will not be the same.  It will strengthen you to take a stand for Christ. Note these particulars about going to the cross:

A. Going To The Cross Will Remind Us That Jesus Died.

That may sound obvious, but it is an important fact to establish . . .  

If Jesus did not actually die,

Then He did not die for our sins.

If He did not die, then He was not bodily resurrected, in which case, the Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “… your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”  Jesus did not just “swoon” or go into a semi-comatose state, to be revived later, as some liberals have asserted.

The Gospels all make it clear that Jesus died physically.  The soldiers regarded Jesus as dead so that they did not break His legs to hasten death, as they did with the other two men on the cross.  Rather, one of the soldiers thrust his spear into Jesus’ side, so that blood and water gushed out (John 19:31-34).  If He had not been dead before, that would have killed Him.  Also, the Bible reports in Mark 15:44-45 that Pilate ascertained from the Roman centurion (who certainly knew a live prisoner from a dead one) that Jesus was dead before he released the body to Joseph.  If we accept the eyewitness testimony of the Gospel writers, there is no question that Jesus died physically.

These seemingly incidental facts of Jesus’ death fulfilled specific Old Testament prophecies.  The fact that they were fulfilled in such an obviously unintentional manner underscores God’s sovereignty and the careful accuracy of biblical prophecy.  For example, the fact that the soldiers broke the legs of the two men on either side of Jesus, but did not break His legs, in spite of orders to do so, fulfilled the Scripture that none of the Passover lamb’s bones should be broken (Exodus 12:46; Psalm 34:20).  The soldier’s piercing Jesus’ side was probably a whim on his part, but he fulfilled Zechariah 12:10, that Israel “will look on Me whom they have pierced.”

B. Going To The Cross Will Remind Us That Jesus Died For Our Sins.

Jesus did not just die a common death, like that of the two thieves.  

He offered Himself

As the Lamb of God,

The substitutionary sacrifice

For our sins.

The darkness at noon pictured the judgment that God poured out on Jesus.  His cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” reveals His agony as He was made sin on our behalf.  The torn veil in the temple shows that through His death, Jesus opened the way into the holy of holies.  The cross satisfied God’s holy wrath against our sin, so that the Bible declares in Romans 3:26, He is free to be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”  As we think often of what Christ did for us there, it will strengthen us to take a bold stand for Him who endured all of that out of love for us.

C. Going To The Cross Will Remind Us That Jesus Was Buried.

Why does Paul mention Jesus’ burial in his summary of the gospel?  

Jesus’ burial is

Further evidence

Of His death.

If there had been a glimmer of life left in Him, surely Joseph and those who helped him take down the body and prepare it for the tomb would have noticed.  As mentioned, the fact of His burial in the tomb, as opposed to being tossed on the dump in the valley of Gehenna, provides us with several proofs of His resurrection.  We have the empty tomb.  The disciples saw the grave clothes lying in the tomb.  The heavy stone rolled against the entrance, sealed with the Roman seal, and guarded by the Roman guard, give us evidence that the tomb was secure from grave robbers.

Also, Jesus’ burial is further proof of His real humanity. In the early days of the church, a heresy called “Docetism” (from the Greek verb, “to seem”) arose that denied that Jesus was a real man.  Rather, He only “seemed” to be so.  At the root of this heresy was the view that matter is essentially evil, whereas spirit is good.  This in turn led to all sorts of wrong ideas and behavior.  It undermined the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection.  If Jesus was not a real man who died for our sins and was bodily raised, then we have no salvation.  Thus, it is important to affirm Jesus’ burial.

While Docetism may no longer be a problem, there are false teachers in every age that come along speaking of Jesus Christ.

But the key question

Always must be,

“Which Christ?”

Are they talking about the Christ of the Bible or one of their own making?  As James Stalker puts it in his book, The Trial and Death of Jesus Christ, “Only the Christ of the Scriptures could have brought us the salvation of the Scriptures.”

Also, the fact that Joseph buried Jesus in his own tomb, where no one had ever lain, is significant.  The Bible tells us in Matthew 27:57 that Joseph was a rich man.  Isaiah 53:9 predicted that Messiah’s “grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death.”  Joseph’s burial specifically fulfilled this prophecy.  The fact that it was a new tomb gives further evidence that Jesus’ body could not have been mixed up with another body from that tomb.  His was the only body there and it was gone!

All of these facts about Jesus’ death and burial should strengthen our resolve to take a bold stand for Him because they give us solid evidence that He is who He claimed to be.

D. Going To The Cross Will Remind Us That Jesus Was Raised From The Dead On The Third Day.

The Bible states in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 that, “Christ died for our sins…, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”  We will examine the resurrection in our studies of Luke 24, and so I only mention it here in passing.  As you know, the resurrection is the foundation of the entire Christian faith.  It is God’s proof to all men that He will someday judge the world in righteousness through Jesus (Acts 17:31).  If you struggle with taking a bold stand for Christ, go often to the foot of the cross and remember that Christ not only died for your sins, but also that He was raised from the dead and that He is coming again soon to judge the living and the dead.

Still it is not easy to take a definite stand for Christ.  It is costly, and we can only do it if we prepare ourselves for the cost:

2. To Take A Stand For The Lord, Be Prepared To Pay The Price.

We are not told what happened to Joseph of Arimathea after the day that he buried Jesus, but it is not being speculative to say that he paid a heavy price.  We may face the same costs.

A. We May Have To Sacrifice Our Reputation For Christ.

When the Sanhedrin heard that one of their own had buried this despised Galilean, they would have been shocked. The religious leaders had thrown out of the synagogue the man born blind, whom Jesus healed (John 9:22, 34).  It is not hard to imagine that they voted Joseph out of the Council, excluded him from any position of religious or social influence, and did everything they could to ruin his reputation in Jerusalem.  His wife and children may have been ostracized. His stand for Christ cut him off from all of his former associates.

Often it is not only your reputation in the world, but also your reputation in the religious world that takes a beating when you take a bold stand for Christ.  The evangelical church in America has grown tolerant of just about anyone except the man who stands for biblical truth on unpopular issues. I’ve had people in Christian ministry call me a legalist because I preach that we must obey God and I preach against sin.  I have been called divisive because I will not join in the unity movement with denominations that deny the Gospel.  I have been called unloving because do not accept the tolerant view of psychology because it is soft on sin.  But the crucial matter is not what people think or say about you.  The crucial matter is what does God think?  If you live to please Him, then you can let Him take care of your reputation.

B. We May Have To Sacrifice Our Religion For Christ.

In order to bury Jesus, Joseph had to defile himself ceremonially by touching a dead body, right on the eve of the Jewish Passover (Numbers 9:6; 19:11-12).  But both Joseph and Nicodemus (another member of the Council who joined him, John 19:39)  felt that it was more important to give Jesus a proper burial than it was to remain ceremonially pure for Passover.  Christ now was their true Passover lamb who had been slain.  They let go of their rituals and laid hold of Jesus Christ.

To be a committed follower of Jesus, you have to let go of your religion, even if it goes under the label of “Christian.”  By religion, I mean any attempt to be righteous before God or others by keeping certain rules or by outward behavior.  Religious people take pride in what they do or do not do, but they do not judge sins of the heart.  They put on a good front at church, but at home they are angry and difficult to live with.

But genuine Christianity is a matter of the heart. True Christians have been to the cross, where they not only trust in Christ as their righteousness; they are crucified with Him. They daily put to death the deeds of the flesh.  They judge sins of thought, as well as word and deed.  They live in daily repentance, humbling themselves before God and others, so that the life of Christ may shine through them.

C. We May Have To Sacrifice Our Riches For Christ.

Joseph gave up his personal tomb, an expensive thing to do.  Remember, he was not expecting it to be vacated in three days!  He could have bought a cheaper tomb for Jesus, out in the countryside somewhere, but he gave Jesus the best.  He also bought linen wrappings and spices.  He may have had to pay Pilate for the body.  But he was willing to give generously because he believed in Jesus as his Lord and Messiah.

Jesus said Luke 14:33, “No one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”  You say, “He does not mean that literally, does He?”  No, He did not mean it any more literally than when He said that we must hate our families in order to follow Him (14:26).  But before you say, “Whew!” and go on living just as you were, you need to do some hard thinking about His words.

You cannot buy off God by giving Him a tenth of your income.  In fact, for most of us, if you do not give more than a tenth, you are robbing God.  Most of us could easily give far more than a tenth to the Lord’s work if we really believed the Great Commission and if we were more careful stewards.  We could live much more simply and give far more generously if, like Joseph, we were really “waiting for the kingdom of God.”  If you give your money to God’s kingdom, your heart will follow (Matthew 6:21).  You will find yourself being much more committed to Christ if you give radically.  If you give what is safe and convenient, you will be safe and convenient when it comes to taking a bold stand for Christ.

To take a bold stand for Christ, go often to the cross; be prepared to pay the price; snf finally . . .

3. To Take A Stand For Christ, “Show Up” And Do What You Can Do.

Here I am focusing on the women who followed Jesus out of Galilee and now follow to see where and how His body was laid.  They went back to prepare more spices and perfumes, intending to return after the Sabbath and further anoint His body.  Matthew Henry points out that their actions sprang more from love than from faith, since they did not yet understand or believe that He would be raised from the dead.  But at least they showed up.  Why weren’t the eleven there with them, helping with the burial?  They had gone into hiding out of fear of the Jews (John 20:19).  But because the women were there and because they went back on that resurrection morning, they had the privilege of being the first witnesses of the risen Savior.

Norval Geldenhuys observes in his Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, “In the hours of crisis, it is often the Peters who have sworn loyalty to Jesus with big gestures and fullness of self-confidence, that disappoint, and it is the secret and quiet followers of the Master (like Joseph, Nicodemus and the women) that do not hesitate to serve Him in love – at whatever cost.”

Maybe you cannot be an articulate verbal witness for Christ in front of a group.  But you can still take a stand by your behavior, your attitude, and your quiet resolve not to compromise.  Just “show up” in the sense of siding with Jesus, even if you are not clear about how to defend the faith.  Show your commitment and love for the Savior, and He will use you as He used Joseph and these faithful women.

Conclusion

Martin Luther, who certainly modeled taking a stand for Christ, wrote, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that point attacking, I am not confessing Christ however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is tested and to be steady in all the battlefields besides is mere flight and disgrace if the soldier flinches at that one point.”  If there is a point where you know you are compromising your stand for Christ, where you are blending in with the world but you know that you need to take a stand, learn from Joseph of Arimathea.  Go to the foot of the cross and think about the Savior’s death on your behalf. Be prepared to count the cost.  And, the next opportunity you get, show up and do whatever you can to let others know that you are on Jesus’ side.  Even if you formerly were a secret disciple, God will use you as He used Joseph of Arimathea, to be a bold witness and to render valuable service for the Savior.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 23:44-49 – The Death Of The Innocent One

Grace For The Journey

We are continuing our series of studies in the Gospel of Luke entitled, “Certainty in Uncertain Times.”  Luke has attempted to write an orderly account of the life and death of Jesus so that his readers may be certain of the things they have heard.  We are slowly inching towards the end of Luke’s account.  Now we are at the pinnacle of the life of Jesus – His crucifixion.  As we reflect upon our study of Luke thus far, we will recall the repeated declaration of Jesus’ innocence.

  • Luke 23:4 – “Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no guilt in this man.’”
  • Luke 23:14-15 – “And [Pilate] said to them, ‘You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him.  No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him.’”
  • Luke 23:22 – “And he said to them the third time, ‘Why, what evil has this man done?  I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him.’”

Despite the fact that Jesus was never declared guilty of anything, the Jewish leaders persuaded Pilate and the people to crucify Jesus.

Even when Pilate presented an opportunity to have Jesus released, the Jewish leaders called for a convicted criminal to be released instead.  We read in Luke 23:18-23, “But they cried out all together, saying, ‘Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!’  (He was one who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection made in the city, and for murder.)  Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again, but they kept on calling out, saying, ‘Crucify, crucify Him!’  And he said to them the third time, ‘Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him.’  But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail.”  At the command of Pilate, they led Jesus to Golgotha to be crucified along with two criminals.

While Jesus is on the cross one criminal asked Jesus to remember him, while the other questioned why Jesus does not save Himself. 

This leads us to our text this morning.  Throughout the book of Luke, and particularly in the last two chapters we have studied, Luke has sought to show the innocence of Jesus.  Our passage this morning is the crowning moment of Luke’s emphasis on Jesus’ innocence. 

In addition to the clear theme of the innocence of Jesus, we also see explicit evidence of God’s controlling hand at this moment.  We are taking our time throughout the end of Luke.  This morning we are studying the crucifixion and death of Jesus.  We will look at three reactions that came from the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the Innocent One.

Creation mourns the death of the Innocent One (vv. 44-46)

We see right away in verses 44 and 45 that this event is marked by a striking sign – darkness over all the earth, “Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.  Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two.”  In case you are curious what time that would have been, according to the Jewish time keeping system it would have been 12 PM to 3 PM.

There was darkness over the land for three solid hours. That is a big deal.  Obviously, it is not normally dark in our state from 12 to 3 PM. It would not have been normal for Jerusalem either.  Some have attempted to explain this darkness as a solar eclipse. That attempt is silly.  Remember, this is happening during the Jewish Passover.  The Passover took place during the full moon phase.  I am told that an eclipse during the full moon phase is impossible.

Instead, we can explain this darkness as evidence that God is fully aware of what is happening.  In Scripture when darkness covers the earth it is usually a sign of an eschatological event or the judgment of God.  In any case, we can be sure that this darkness is not a good thing. Rather, it is a sign that God is not pleased with the events taking place.

God is still absolutely 100% in control at this time, and He shows it by His creation crying out through darkness covering the Earth.

Next, in the latter part of verse 45, we are told that the temple veil, or curtain, is torn in two.  This does not mean that someone tore the veil as if one of Jesus’ followers were there tearing the temple veil.  Rather, it means that God Himself tore the veil.  Most biblical scholars agree that this veil or curtain was the one that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place.  The Holy Place would have been the place where only the high priest was allowed to go and intercede with God on behalf of the people.

The symbolism of the tearing

Of this veil is no small matter.

This would have been a catastrophic event for devout Jewish worshipers.  For centuries they worshipped God in this matter. They were never allowed to be in His presence.  This is in effect breaking down the barrier between God and man.  We will look more into this truth toward the end of our study.

Finally, we see Jesus exercise dominion over God’s creation and human life itself by willingly yielding His life at His appointed time.  Verse 46 tells us, “And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’  Having said this, He breathed His last.”  Jesus was not blind-sided by His death.  He was in control.  He laid down His life under His own control.  This statement not only shows Jesus giving Himself to God, but it shows Jesus’ humble obedience to the Father.  Some of the other Gospels give a more detailed account of the horrific nature of the crucifixion.  Luke, however, focuses on Jesus’ innocence and His obedience to the will of God.

Normally crucifixion was a slow death.  However, Jesus simply gave His life up willingly to the Father.  The phrase “Into your hands I commit my spirit” is a quote from Psalm 31:5.  This moment was foretold long ago.  Jesus was in control.  He willingly gave His life on the cross.  Not only did creation respond to the death of Jesus, but the people did also.  In verses 47-49 we see that the people are moved by the death of the Innocent One, “So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, ‘Certainly this was a righteous Man!’  And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned.  But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

We see three different perspectives to the death of Jesus in these verses . . .

1) We See The Reaction Of The Centurion.

A centurion was a Roman officer with leadership over 100 soldiers.  He probably would have witnessed most of the events leading up to this point.  At the least, we know that he witnessed Jesus’ interaction with His enemies, His interaction with the two criminals, His brutal crucifixion, His prayer to the Father, the darkness over the earth, and the death of the Son of God. 

The centurion says, “Certainly this was a righteous man.”  Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospel report the centurion saying, “Certainly this man was the Son of God.”  Luke, however, uses “righteous” or “innocent.”  This fits with his theme of showing the innocence of Jesus.  This is certainly not a problem or contradiction between the Gospels.  Rather these are complimentary accounts that lead us to the same point . . .

That Jesus is who

He claimed to be,

The innocent,

Righteous,

Son of God.

If there was any doubt left that Jesus was innocent, the Roman centurion lays that to rest in verse 47.

2) We See The Response Of The People In The Crowd.

Luke tells his readers that those in the crowd “beat their breasts.”  There are a few verses in the Bible that speak about people beating their breasts. 

  • In Nahum 2:7 and Isaiah 32:12-13 we are told this was a sign of grief or pain. 
  • In Luke 18:13 the tax collector beat his breast while praying to God which was a sign of contrition or repentance.

The reason for the crowd beating their chests was probably some of both.  They were probably feeling grief, guilt, contrition, humiliation, and confusion.  They were probably absolutely overwhelmed with emotion as they witnessed the death of the Righteous One.

Remember, just hours before, the crowd was responding in quite a different way toward Jesus. 

  • Luke 23:35 tells us that the rulers sneered at Him.
  • Luke 23:36 tells us that the soldiers mocked Him.
  • Luke 22, Mark 15, and John 19 tell us that they struck Him. 
  • Mark and John add that they also mockingly bowed down and worshipped Him.
  • Luke 23:21 tells us that when Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, the entire crowd shouted, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!”

There is no reason for us to think that all of these people automatically accepted Jesus as the Son of God and the one Savior of the Universe.   However, something changed in their minds that day about Jesus.  They were horrified at what they had done to this Innocent Man.

We also see that that Jesus’ acquaintances and the women who followed Him stood at a distance watching these things.  Luke doesn’t tell us exactly what Jesus’ followers are thinking or feeling.  We can be sure that they were horrified, confused, heart-broken, and scared.  This is not what they expected of their coming Messiah.

This would have caused His followers to take a long hard look at the life and death of Jesus and try to make sense of it all.  They expected a conquering Messiah.  One who would bring power to the Jewish people, establish justice and truth, and bring God’s kingdom to earth.  As Jesus neared the end of His life, He repeatedly showed that this was not the kind of Messiah that He was to be.  However, no one expected it to end like this.  I am sure His followers were absolutely devastated.

So, here we are.  Everything that Jesus had lived for, His 33 years of life, His three years of ministry, His miracles, His sparring with the religious elite, His brilliant answers to His objectors, His innocent perfection comes down to this moment; and, His death on a cross.

The death of the Innocent One not only caused creation to mourn, it not only moved the people that were there, but . . .

3) It Changed Mankind Forever.

We see in verses 47-49 that humanity is changed by the death of the Innocent One.  Not only were the people that were present at the crucifixion changed, but everything about human civilization is now changed. 

The door that leads to a

Relationship with God

Will soon be wide open.

The tearing of the veil in the temple was a clear sign that now mankind is able to approach the throne of God. 

When that veil tore, it signified that Jesus’ death was the perfect sacrifice, and that He was the Perfect High Priest.  Hebrews 9:11-14 describes it for us, “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.  Not with the blood of goats and calves, bit with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once and for all, having obtained eternal redemption.  For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to god, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

These verses tell us that Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come.  He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world.  With his own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.  Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity.  Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God.  For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins.

In Hebrews 10:19-22 the Bible tells us, “Therefore, brethren, having boldeness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the vail, that is His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

These verses tell us that we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.  By His death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.  Since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting Him and what He did upon the cross and the empty tomb.  For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Listen to the lyrics of one of my favorite modern worship songs:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea:
A great High Priest, whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart;
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Praise the One,
Risen Son of God!

Behold Him there, the Risen Lamb
My perfect, spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I am,
The King of glory and of grace!

One with Himself I cannot die
My soul is purchased by His blood
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ, my Savior and my God
With Christ, my Savior and my God1

The death of Jesus Christ changes everything.  It is part of the key moment in the history of human civilization.  Ever since the creation of our planet, God was pointing mankind to this moment.  Since the death of Jesus, people have looked back to that moment as a sign of God’s grace to the world.

No event in the history of mankind

Has been so monumental.

I  am so glad that there is more to the story!  Jesus did not stay dead, but He conquered death and rose from the grave.  He appeared to over 500 people.  He promised that He would return one day.  Finally, He ascended into Heaven and sent us the Holy Spirit.

Jesus offers us the opportunity to be saved from the punishment that we deserve for our sins because He paid a punishment that He did not deserve.  We are guilty, He is innocent.

The Bible says in 1 Peter 3:18a, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”  Just as the blood of animals was shed by the high priest in the most holy place in the temple, so also Jesus shed His blood for the atonement, or payment, of our sins.  The Bible tells us in Hebrews 9:22b, “For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”

 Creation mourned the death of the Innocent One, the people were moved by the death of the Innocent One, and humanity was changed forever by the death of the Innocent One.

I challenge you to take a look at the death of Jesus.  What do you make of it?  Is this simply a myth?  Is it a terrible tragedy?  Or, is it part of God’s plan to bring redemption to a world of sinners who desperately need it?

Robert Stein, a biblical scholar, says, “What was taking place was not simply the death of an innocent Jew by crucifixion.  It was not just the death of a righteous prophet.  It was far, far more.  This was the death of God’s Son by which He is able today to be the Savior of the world.”

I mentioned earlier that Jesus’ followers did not know what was going on at the death of Jesus.  We, however, are blessed with the ability to look back knowing the significance of Jesus’ death.  God has revealed to us through His Word that there is only one way for us to be made right with Him, and that is through Jesus Christ.  If you have not taken a hard look at Jesus, I urge you to do so now.

The Bible says in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 23:39-43 – How To Be With Jesus In Paradise

Grace For The Journey

We have been studying through the Gospel of Luke and we find ourselves nearing the end of this Gospel and that means, of course, we find ourselves nearing the end of the life of Jesus Christ.  Jesus has been sentenced to death.  He has been led away to be crucified on a Roman cross at a place called “Calvary,” or “Golgotha,” the place of the skull.  He is hanging on a cross between two criminals.  Last week we studied His prayer in verse 34 where Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”  The Jewish rulers and the Roman soldiers had said, “If you are the Christ, save yourself.”  But as we studied last time, Jesus does not save Himself so that He may save others.  To paraphrase the popular song, “When He was on the cross you and I were on His mind.”

This morning we read about a conversation Jesus has with one of the criminals, a life-changing, and life-saving conversation.  Here is a remarkable passage about the last-minute salvation of a dying thief.  In the very last moments of his life, the dying thief trusts Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

Dr. Vance Havner used to tell a story about this passage of Scripture.  He described how many so-called professing Christians have tried to use the account of the dying thief to defend their lack of commitment.  Havner told about a minister who was talking to one of these so-called Christians.  The minister asked the man if he was active in a local church.  The man responded, “No, but the dying thief on the cross wasn’t active in any local church and yet he was saved.”  The minister then asked whether the man had been baptized.  The guy said, “No, but then the dying thief on the cross was never baptized and he made it into heaven.”  The minister then asked the man if he had ever partaken of the Lord’ Supper, or whether he tithed or supported missional work.  The fella said, “No, but the dying thief never did any of those things and he was still saved and went to heaven.”  Finally, the minister said, “You know what?  The only difference between you and the thief on the cross is that he was a dying thief and you are a living one.”

We are right to point out that if this dying thief had the opportunity to come down off the cross and live his new life in Christ, he surely would have been baptized, become active in a church, give to missions, and so forth.  But he did not get that opportunity.  He was a dying thief and yet he died saved.  In the words of the hymn:

The dying thief rejoiced to see 

That fountain (of forgiveness) in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,

  Wash all my sins away.

Let’s take a closer look at these five verses and then I want to share with you a few principles that surface from our study of this text.  First, look again at verse 39, “Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”

This is now the third time Luke has told us about those who are taunting Christ.  We read last time how this is one of the fulfilled prophecies from Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.  Both Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 prophesy of Christ’s being taunted by his enemies.  Luke records the fulfillment of that prophecy as we read about the Jewish rulers taunting Christ, the Roman soldiers taunting Christ, and now one of the condemned criminals taunting Christ: “If you are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” 

Verse 40 tells us, “But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?’”  This second criminal sees something in Jesus that the first criminal does not see.  The second criminal sees the innocence of Jesus.  He says here in verse 40, “Do you not even fear God?”  That is, he is saying, “How can you blaspheme God here in these final moments of your life?!”  We, too, have been sentenced to death” . . . “And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong” (Verse 41).

The criminal says, “We deserve what we are receiving, but not this Man.  This Man has done nothing wrong.”  We have previously noted that . . .

One of Luke’s main points

In reporting the crucifixion is

To stress the innocence of Christ.

Luke recorded three times that Pilate had found Jesus innocent in verses 4, 14, and 22.  Luke reported Herod’s finding Jesus innocent in verse 15.  Now this criminal sees that same innocence as will also a Roman centurion see this innocence of Jesus when we eventually get to verse 47.

Then, the Bible records the request of the condemned thief in verse 42, “Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’”  Here is the second thief accepting the justice of his own condemnation and recognizing the innocence of Christ, recognizing also who Jesus is: the Messiah, Savior, Christ, King, Lord. 

Note the response of Jesus in verse 43, “And Jesus said to him, “Verily, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’”  That word “paradise” is a beautiful synonym for heaven.  It is used only two other times in the New Testament.  Paul uses the word “paradise” in 2 Corinthians 12:3-4 when referring to his being “caught up into Paradise” in some sort of vision or experience from God.  John also uses the term “paradise” to describe heaven when writing to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:7 where Jesus says, “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”

This dying thief is saved in the last moment of his life, having seen Christ for who He is and turning to Him to be saved.  Now, I want to share with you a few truths about salvation that are taught here in this passage.  This small passage of Scripture is tightly packed with three truths about salvation . . . Three things salvation involves . . .

I. Salvation Involves Mystery.

There is a mysterious element involved in salvation that is difficult to understand.  Jesus was talking about that mystery in the conversation He had with Nicodemus in John 3.  He said, “Nicodemus, you must be born again,” and Nicodemus did not understand what Jesus was talking about.  He said, “Are you talking about my entering my mother’s womb a second time?!  How can a person be born again?”  Jesus answered in John 3:8, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  In other words, “You can’t put your finger on the precise moment at which a person’s eyes are opened and they see Christ for who He really is.”  It is a mystery.  Some see and some do not see.

John Newton described receiving God’s saving grace that way when he wrote, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”  Can you explain salvation fully?  No, but like the man who had been born blind said in John 9:25, “One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.” 

The other Gospel writers tell us that both criminals had railed against Jesus.  Both of them initially blasphemed and taunted Christ (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32).  But then something happened in this second criminal’s heart.  Something changed.  Something changed so that the second thief began to see Jesus for who He really is.

Many have speculated and conjectured as to what they think it was that changed the second criminal’s view of Christ.  We might add to their speculation by remembering that this crucifixion lasted for six (6) long and grueling hours.  A lot can happen in 6 hours.  Maybe this second criminal was recalling what he had overheard, hearing Jesus talk with Pilate about a kingdom not of this world.  Maybe the criminal had looked over at Jesus and heard his prayer back in verse 34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do,” and he gazed upon the title that hanged above Jesus’ head and read the words, “King of the Jews.”

Something happened.  Something changed his mind. 

That something

Is Someone.

I can hear Jesus saying, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Jesus teaches plainly in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”  God draws us to saving faith by the work of His Holy Spirit.  Both criminals had witnessed the same things . . . 

  • They had both seen and heard everything that transpired on that day. 
  • They had both heard about Jesus.
  • They had both heard His prayer from the cross.
  • They both had been exposed to the truth about Jesus.

Yet only one believed. 

The only explanation is the gift of God’s amazing grace to open the heart of one of those criminals to see what he previously was blind to.  God by His grace through the man’s faith, in Christ alone, saved this man from sin.

But what a mystery!  The hymn-writer records this very mystery in the hymn, “I know whom I have believed.”  He writes:

I know not how the Spirit moves,
  Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
  Creating faith in Him.

God moves by way of the Holy Spirit, convincing men of their sin and creating faith in Him.  God does that.  Salvation is a mysterious gift of His grace.

JC Ryle concludes that this fact should teach us humility.  He writes, “How is it that under precisely the same circumstances one man is converted and another remains dead in sins, why the very same sermon is heard by one man with perfect indifference and sends another home to pray and seek Christ, why the same Gospel is hid to one and revealed to another.  We only know that it is so, and that is useless to deny it.”

Salvation involves mystery.  I was once dead in my trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), but God made me alive, He created my faith in Him and opened my eyes to see Christ for Who He is.  Salvation involves mystery.  

Secondly . . .

II. Salvation Involves Humility.

This second thief humbled Himself before the Lord Jesus Christ, confessing his sin, and acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior.  He says to the other thief in verses 40 and 41, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?” . . . “And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds.”

He does not sound like the average criminal today, does he?!  The joke about jails and prisons is that everyone there thinks they are innocent.  But not this fella, he knows he is guilty.  So in humility, he says, “We receive the due reward of our deeds.”  That is like saying, “God, I know I am a sinner.  I admit I am guilty.”

If we ever hope to be saved

From the penalty and punishment

Our sins deserve, then we must

Humble ourselves before the Lord

And admit the errors of our ways.

We must – in humility – come to the Lord confessing our sin and repenting (turning) from our sin.

This passage illustrates that we

Are not saved by what we do. 

Our good deeds and acts

Of kindness do not save us.

This thief had nothing to offer Christ, he had not kept the sacraments or ordinances of the church, he had nothing to offer Christ – nothing.  We do not come to Jesus clutching a spiritual resumé of all the religious things we have done.  Jesus said, ““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).  We come poor in spirit, we come like the thief–naked, poor, destitute, humbly.  As Augustus Toplady puts it . . .

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;

This second thief rebukes the first thief for failing to see the contrast between their just suffering and guilt with the unjust suffering and innocence of Jesus.  The first criminal had only cried, “Save Yourself and us!”  The second criminal cries, “Lord, save me!”

One thief made a demand for

What he believed he deserved. 

The other thief made a request for

What he knew he did not deserve

Salvation involves mystery, salvation involves humility.

Thirdly . . .

III. Salvation Involves Eternity.

Jesus answers the second thief’s request that he should be remembered in Christ’s kingdom by replying in verse 43, “Verily, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”  Which is to say a couple of things: 1) Jesus may have just as well said to the thief, “My Kingdom is not some faraway place in some faraway future.  My Kingdom is a present reality that may be enjoyed right now.  When you trust in Me you enter into that Kingdom.”

But note also, 2) The immediacy of the Christian’s entrance into heaven at the point of death.  Jesus says in verse 43, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.”  Today.  The thief will not enter into some kind of ‘soul sleep,’ nor will you go to some kind of purgatory to be further purged from sin.  By the way, if the thief needed no purgatory, who in the world does?!

Jesus says that the thief will be with Him in Paradise “Today!”   The Bible is consistent in this teaching.  The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, yea, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.”  Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the Christians at Philippi that he was not sure if he would remain alive and continue ministering to the believers there or whether he would, “depart and be with Christ, which (he said) is far better” (Philippians 1:23).  To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

At death, the non-Christian’s soul goes to hell and the Christian’s soul goes to heaven.  The body is buried, the soul goes to heaven.  What does that soul look like?  I do not know, but we will be able to recognize one another there.  There is biblical precedent for that as well as just common sense.  If we are going to a more perfect place, then we will possess a more perfect knowledge and awareness of one another. 

And while our bodies may be buried in the ground, one day the Lord will come again, He will return, and He will raise up our mortal bodies and change them into immortal bodies,  glorious body like His own (1 Corinthians 15:42-55).  Then our souls will inhabit that new body and we will live forever this way with the Lord.

What a tremendous comfort to those of us who have had Christian loved ones die!  Our mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters who died in the Lord are present right now with Him.  They are there right now in a beautiful place called heaven, a place Jesus refers to here as Paradise.  What a comfort to those of us who have lost our Christian loved ones.

These words may comfort us as we contemplate our own condition before God.  Some think, “Well it is just too late.  I am too great a sinner to be forgiven.”  Let me ask you, “Are you any greater a sinner than this thief?”  It is not too late to turn to Christ.  It only becomes too late at death.  But it is not too late right now.

One preacher (Samuel Johnson) is remembered for frequently using a short verse of poetry to illustrate the last-minute act of this thief in turning to the Lord.  It describes the wonder of the thief’s redemption at the very last minute.  The poem is just two short lines about a man who had been thrown from his horse and what he does just before hitting the ground . . .

“Between the stirrup and the ground,
I mercy asked and mercy found.”

This thief in the last moment of his life asked for mercy and, what a wonderful thing, mercy he found!

On the cross hang three men, two guilty men and one innocent Man: The first thief, the second thief, and Jesus Christ. 

One man died in sin. 

One man died to sin. 

And

One Man died for sin.

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 23:32-38 – Needing God’s Forgiveness

Grace For The Journey

Jesus is making His way along the road of suffering, the Via Dolorosa; making His way to Calvary where He will be crucified, killed on a cross.  We pick up where we left off at verse 31 from last time and pick up the events now in verse 32.  One of the reasons we are slowing down a bit to focus on the crucifixion of Christ is because . . .

Christ’s death, and

Subsequent resurrection,

Is the pivotal event of Christianity.

A Christianity with no cross is no Christianity, at all.  Some wish to have merely Christian teachings and Christian principles, but no suffering Messiah bleeding on a cross; no substitutionary death, no vicarious atonement.  But a Christianity like that – a Christianity with no cross – is a religion with no life.  Without a cross, we have very little and we have very little to offer.  Without the cross and resurrection, we have nothing to offer when people scratch their heads in wonder, when they struggle with inexplicable real problems, and when they hurt deeply, all we have to offer them are hollow words, tired cliches, and empty platitudes – forms of godliness void of power.

It is hard to make sense of tragic events. Who pretends to fully understand what motivates an individual to randomly kill people.  This is precisely why a Christianity with no cross is of absolutely no lasting help here.  If Jesus were merely a good man, merely a moral man, merely a good teacher and nothing more, then we have nothing to offer the victims of such tragedies.  We have no real hope to offer those who mourn, no answers for those with questions, no light for those sitting in darkness.

But Jesus Christ goes to the cross for these tragedies.  He dies to provide hope for fallen people living a fallen world.  The cross means we may have life beyond the often senseless tragedies that are the byproduct a post-Eden world.  And the cross also means that God cares deeply about justice.  He is a God who will judge the wicked for their wicked deeds.

Our focus this morning is on the cross.  We have only 7 verses here and I want to give a simple descriptive outline of these verses and then I want to share with you the significance of this passage and what we are to make of this text; three things we note about Christ in this passage . . . :

I. He Suffers Crucifixion – Verses 32-33.

In verse 32 Luke tells us that Jesus is not alone as He is led away to be crucified, “There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death.”  We do not know who these two other guys are.  Luke calls them criminals.  You will remember that the rebel rioter named Barabbas had been released and it could well be that these two other guys were revolutionaries along with Barabbas, but we do not know for sure.  Luke simply tells us that they were criminals and that they were led away with Christ to be put to death.

Verse 33 tells us, “And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.”  That word “Calvary” is the Latin rendering of a word meaning “skull.”  In Aramaic it is “Golgotha,” which is how it is rendered by the other Gospel writers.  It was probably called “skull” because the place looked like a skull.  It was there “they crucified Him.” They nailed His hands and feet to a cross where He would suffer a slow and agonizing death.  Mark tells us Jesus was on the cross for six hours, from the 3rd hour to the 9th hour or from 9 AM to 3 PM.  The pain He suffered was “excruciating,” the very word meaning, “of the cross,” (“ex-cruciare,” “ex “ – “from,” or “out of,” cruciare, “the cross.” We use that word today to denote extreme pain and suffering.

Luke’s use of the phrase, “There they crucified Him,” suggests we should avoid embellishing Christ’s death by adding extraneous details of His pain and suffering.  Luke does not paint a huge, vivid picture here and neither do the other Gospel writers; just three words in Greek translated into four words in English, “There they crucified Him.”  You see . . .

The Gospel writers, along with the writers of the epistles,

Do not wish for us to focus upon the suffering

Of the Savior, but on the reason for His suffering.

We spoke of this last time when we talked about an over-focus upon the passion of the Christ in movies, plays, and Christian art that merely evokes our sympathies and tugs at our heartstrings, but does nothing to tell us why He suffered.

If we become merely emotional

At the scene of the crucifixion,

But know nothing of the purpose

For which Christ came,

Then we will remain only emotional.  

Jesus wants from us more than emotion.

Remember that He had said to the women back in verse 28, “Weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves.”

As God in the flesh,

Jesus needs nothing.

He does not

Want our sympathy;

He wants our souls.

The focus of the Gospel writers in reporting the crucifixion is . . .

A focus not so much

Upon the wounds of Christ,

But on the work of Christ.

Luke does not wish for us

To think so much about

The pain of the cross

As he does

The purpose of the cross.

The Bible says in 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”

This is why He suffers crucifixion.

Secondly . . .

II. He Makes Intercession – Verse 34.

Verse 34 says, “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’”  From the cross Jesus intercedes for others.  To intercede is, “To intervene on behalf of another,” usually through prayer.  Jesus prays, asking the Heavenly Father to forgive what these people are doing to Him.  He practices what He had preached.  Do you remember the Sermon on the Plain back in Luke 6:27-28?  Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”  This was the way of Stephen prayed in Acts 7:60.  He had been persecuted for his faith and was being stoned.  Before he died this verse tells us, “Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”

Some of us may have forgotten that this is what our Lord requires of us, to “Love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who spitefully use us.”  Jesus says, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Now that is not quite right, is it?  They knew what they were doing, did they not?

  • Didn’t this crowd know what they were doing?
  • Didn’t Pilate and the Roman soldiers know what they were doing?
  • Didn’t the Jews know what they were doing?

Of course, everyone knew what they were doing: they were crucifying Jesus of Nazareth. Why, then, this statement? 

They knew what they were doing,

But they did not understand

The significance of what they were doing.

They were blind to the sovereign will of God in giving His Son to die for their sins.  This is the essence of Peter’s message later in the Book of Acts.  Peter is preaching in Jerusalem to the Jews and he says in Acts 3:17, “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers.”

Paul says the same to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 2:7-8, “But we speak…the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages…which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

This is why Jesus prays as He does.  This is why He intercedes for the people.  He knows that they fail to understand the significance of His death.  And we have changed little in 2,000 years.  We stated the case a moment ago, didn’t we?

Many today are merely taken

With the passion of the cross,

Failing to understand

The purpose of the cross.

The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”

He suffers crucifixion . . . He makes intercession . . . thirdly . . .

III. He Receives Condemnation: Verses 35-38.

The second part of verse 34, “They divided His garments and cast lots.”  There were usually 5 Roman soldiers charged with the task of overseeing a crucifixion and one of the perks of the job was getting the garments of the condemned person.  Like throwing dice, they determined who would get what.  They divided His garments.

It is easy to read that statement and fail to consider fully the implications of it.  If they divided His garments, then they must have taken His garments off of Him, which suggests He was perhaps entirely naked as He hung on the cross.  We can hardly imagine a more shameful and humiliating scene than the scene of Roman crucifixion.

Verse 35 tells us, “And the people stood looking on.  But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.’” The “rulers” are the Jewish leaders, the Sanhedrin Council.  They taunted Jesus. They “sneered, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself.”  Do not miss the irony of their statement.  They could not deny that Jesus had, “saved others.”  

  • He had saved a sinful woman in the home of a Pharisee (Luke 7:50).
  • He had saved a demon-possessed man (Luke 8:36).
  • He had saved a woman from bleeding to death (Luke 8:38).
  • He saved a little girl from death by bringing her back to life (Luke 8:50).
  • He had saved 10 lepers from leprosy (Luke 17:19).
  • He saved a blind man near Jericho who had sat by the road begging (Luke 18:42).
  • He had saved others.

They couldn’t deny that truth.  More condemnation in verse 36, The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine.” Sour wine or wine vinegar was the kind of wine the Roman officers drank.  They were probably offering Christ this wine to prolong His agony, prolonging His suffering by quenching His thirst.  They join the rulers in taunting Christ, as verses 37-38 tell us, “And saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.’  And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”  It was customary to have one’s crime stated in a title or placard above the condemned.  As far as Rome was concerned Jesus was crucified on political grounds, guilty of proclaiming to be King of the Jews.

What’s the Significance of This?

This passage demands from us at least two actions.

First . . .

1. Realize Scripture’s Fulfillment In Christ.

What we are reading in these 7 verses is the fulfillment of ancient prophecy concerning the coming Messiah.  The Old Testament Scriptures predicted that the coming Christ would . . .

  • Die among criminals (Isaiah53:12; Luke 22:37,
  • That His garments would be divided among others (Psalm 22:18).
  • That He would be offered vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21).
  • That He would be taunted (Psalm 22:7-8).
  • That He would make intercession for others (Isaiah 53:12).

Consider Psalm 22:7-8, written 1,000 years before Christ, “All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”

Consider Psalm22:16-18, “For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”

Consider Isaiah 53:3-7, 12, written 700 years before Christ, “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.  And He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Scripture’s fulfillment is in Christ.  It is nothing short of a miracle of God that these Scriptures written about a thousand years before the events are fulfilled precisely and perfectly in Jesus Christ!  Christ’s death on the cross was not an accident.  Christ’s death on the cross was the fulfillment of a plan.  In God’s providence, because of God’s love, He gave His Son to die. He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

This truth takes us to the second action.  First, Realize Scripture’s fulfillment in Christ. Secondly . . .

II. ReceiveSin’s Forgiveness In Christ.

Why does Jesus not save Himself?  Why does He not come down from the cross?  

He does not save Himself

So that He may save others.  

He does not save Himself

That He may save others.

Jesus had prayed in verse 34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

Do not miss this truth . . .

His prayer for their forgiveness

Is answered by His death,

Which brings them

Forgiveness of sin.

He died for you and me!

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

That is why He didn’t save Himself, that He might save you.  He died for you.

So, Christ does not save Himself so that He may save others.  He had prayed, “Father, forgive them . . .”  That is, “Do not impute their trespasses to them.”  The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthian 5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.”

God does not count our sins against us,

Because He counts our sins against Him.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Christ does not save Himself so that He may save others.

“He saved others,” Has He saved you?

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 23:26-31 – Cling To The Old Rugged Cross

Grace For The Journey

We are in chapter 23 of Luke’s Gospel.  In these later chapters we are studying the events surrounding the betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  We have noted before how these events fulfill a very specific prophecy by the Prophet Isaiah who prophesied some 700 years before the events of Christ.  Especially in Isaiah chapter 53, we note these specific prophecies about the coming Christ, that He would someone “despised and rejected” … “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” the One, “Smitten by God and afflicted” … “wounded for our transgressions” … “bruised for our iniquities.”

It is a great prophecy 700 years before the events and we will be seeing in coming weeks the fulfillment of Christ’s being “numbered with the transgressors,” “bearing the sins of many, and Jesus’ being, “led as a lamb to the slaughter.”  We will be studying about that this morning as we pick up in verse 26, where it says that Jesus was “led away” to His crucifixion, led away as a lamb to the slaughter.

It’s only a few hundred yards from where Jesus was sentenced by Pilate to Calvary’s Hill.  If one were just casually walking along this path it would really only take a few minutes, but it will take Jesus much longer.  It will take much longer because He has been subjected to cruel trials and beatings.  It is very probable that He has been awake for the past 24 hours.  He has just been severely beaten by way of Roman scourging, an intense beating that sometimes resulted in death itself, so a man condemned to crucifixion might die before he is ever crucified, dying by the Roman scourging.  So, Jesus has just been scourged and He is now making His way to the cross.

There is a strange and morbid curiosity within man that causes him to slow down and gaze upon events of death and destruction.  We see it on the highway, a several-car-pile-up causes traffic to slow down as passersby by crane their necks, trying to catch a glimpse of what happened.  

There would have been some of that going on as Jesus made this journey along the street in Old Jerusalem, the path from His Roman scourging to Mount Calvary, a path in Latin called the Via Dolorosa, meaning, “the way of suffering.” He was led as a lamb to the slaughter.  Crowds of people had come out to watch the slaughter, to watch Jesus, along with two criminals, making their journey to Calvary’s Hill.  

Luke records for us in these few verses a couple of images that burn into our memories.  There are two encounters here in the text that Luke takes time to tell us about, one is a man named Simon who is forced to carry the cross of Jesus.  The other is a small group of women who are weeping for Him.

Let’s take a closer look at these few verses and these two encounters and then I want to share a couple of necessary responses to what we have studied.

Verse 26 tells us, “Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.”  Despite the teachings of the Roman Catholic church and the movie industry, the Bible never once records Jesus’s stumbling as He carries the cross.  He may well have, but the Bible do not tell us so.  They simply record that Jesus is led away and that on His way to His crucifixion, a certain man named Simon is forced to carry the cross of Christ.  In fact, the phrase in verse 26, “they laid hold of a certain man,” is probably better understood as, “They seized a certain man.”  The idea is that they grabbed this guy who was minding his own business, making his way into the city. They grabbed him and said to him something like, “You there!  Pick up his cross and carry it!” It was not a request, it was a demand.  Roman soldiers could do that kind of thing.

Now we do not know Simon was forced to carry the entire cross, a cross we think of in traditional terms, a cross with two pieces, or whether he was forced to carry only the crosspiece, the heavy crosspiece that weighed as much as 100 pounds.  It was probably the crosspiece that Simon carried, but the point is that the Romans grabbed Simon and, apparently in an effort to expedite things, ordered him to pick up the cross of Christ and follow behind Jesus as they all made their way to the hill.

The Bible tells us in verse 26 that Simon was, “coming from the country,” which suggests he was coming into the city for Passover, most likely a Jew from a place called Cyrene.  Cyrene is modern-day Libya in Northern Africa.  There is this Jewish community in Cyrene and Simon has left there and has come into the city, or at least he is trying to come into the city, when he is told to pick up and carry the cross of Jesus.

Now that is all we read about this brief encounter here, but Mark’s Gospel tells us a little more about Simon.  Mark tells us in Mark15:21 that Simon is, “the father of Alexander and Rufus.”  Think about that for a moment.  Mark, in his Gospel, is writing primarily to a Roman audience.  He is writing to Christians in Rome.  He mentions Simon in the passage and then he says, in essence, “You know Simon.  He is the father of Alexander and Rufus.”  Why would Mark identify Simon this way if he did not expect his audience to know who Alexander and Rufus were?  

It is almost certain that Simon came to know Christ personally either the day he carried Jesus’ cross or sometime afterwards because he is mentioned in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  And Mark takes time to tell his readers exactly which Simon he is talking about.  Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit some years later in his letter to the Romans, closes out his letter with a number of greetings to the Christians in Rome and he says, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and greet his mother too because she has been like a mother to me.” (Romans 16:13).

Following Christ is a decision that impacts your entire family.  We are not certain how all this played out for Simon but at some time he receives Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.  His wife comes to know Christ and his two boys, Alexander and Rufus, come to know Christ and become leaders in the church at Rome.  Following Christ is a decision that impacts your entire family.  Men, you follow Christ and your family will almost certainly follow Him, too.

Think of God’s providence here!

Simon is on his way into the city, no doubt stirred emotionally by the scene unfolding before him, a dark scene of cruelty and horror.  Surely he is shocked and taken aback by this harsh command from a Roman soldier. Simon is grabbed and thrown toward the cross and told to pick it up and carry it.  Yet, through these dark events, God is working out a perfect plan in the life of Simon and in the life of Simon’s family.  Through what at first appears to be a senseless tragedy, God is at work in Simon’s life, working out a plan for Simon’s salvation and the salvation of his family.  To quote William Cowper, author of the hymn, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” he writes,

“Behind a frowning providence

God hides a smiling face.”

God is in control . . . He loves Simon . . . He knows what He is doing.

Think about that application in your life!  There are so many things that at first seem senseless to us. “Why did this happen, God? Why did You permit this darkness, this evil, this pain, this health condition, this job loss, this breakdown of a friendship, of a relationship? Why, God?”  All we can see is “a frowning providence.”  Yet, hang in there.  Joy comes in the morning.  God is there.  He loves you and He knows what He is doing.

Verse 27 says, “And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him.”  There is a small group of women there who are weeping for Him and what does Jesus do?  Verse 28 tells us, “But Jesus, turning to them, said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.’”  Jesus addresses these women as, “Daughters of Jerusalem.”  That is an Old Testament way of referring to the nation of Israel (cf. Zechariah 9:9; Micah 4:8; and Zephaniah 3:14).

Why does Jesus tell these women to weep for themselves and their children?  Verse 29 gives us some insight.  Jesus says, “For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’”  That must have sounded strange.  But within 40 years the siege of Jerusalem would begin under Roman Military Commander Titus, who would eventually become the Roman Emperor. The Romans would lay siege to the city of Jerusalem and years of famine and disease would follow.  Hardest hit by the siege would be women, especially women who had small children.  It would be such a terrible time, says Jesus, that people would not celebrate the birth of a baby, but rather celebrate the fact that a person had no children at all, thereby being spared the horror of an early death.

Jesus had wept before for the city of Jerusalem.  You will remember this back in Luke 19:41-44 where He first spoke of the coming destruction of the city of Jerusalem.  He mentions it again in Luke 21:23, where He said, “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.”  This will be a horrible time when death will be preferable to life.  

That is the point behind the phrase there in verse 30, “Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’”  This Old Testament imagery from Hosea 10:8 illustrates what that day will be like when Jerusalem falls in AD 70.  People will prefer a quick death to years of suffering.  It is much like what will take place during the Great Tribulation in the end times.  You can read about that in Revelation 6:16-17, another time when people will cry out to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”  So, Jesus says, “Don’t weep for Me, weep for yourselves.  Within 40 years you will be facing a time of terrible judgment at the hand of the Romans. It will be so bad many will cry out to the mountains, ‘Fall on us and kill us, take us away from this suffering!’”  

Then verse 31, Jesus says, “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”  This is one of those verses you come across in your daily Bible reading and you are like, “Whatever does that mean?!” and then you move on.  But you know what it means intuitively, right?  You know this is not a good thing.  Jesus has just been talking about judgment and the Roman destruction of the city of Jerusalem and He says, “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”  In other words, “You ladies are crying for Me, but think about it: if the Romans are doing this now to Me, what will be done to you, what will be done to the city of Jerusalem?”  Put another way, “If this is how they burn green wood, just think how much greater will be the burning of that which is dry?”  If you have ever picked up sticks to burn in a campfire, you look for dry sticks because the green ones do not burn so well.  So, Jesus is saying, “If this is what the Romans do to the green wood, wood that is not ripe for judgment, think of how they will treat dry wood, wood that is absolutely ripe for judgment.”  If God has not spared His innocent Son from such tribulation (by permitting His crucifixion), how much worse will it be for a sinful nation when God unleashes His righteous wrath upon it (by permitting the Romans to destroy Jerusalem).

We come now to these two necessary responses.

In light of what we have just read . . .

I. We Must Die To Our Sin.

Judgment awaited the city of Jerusalem.  God will judge the city of Jerusalem for their refusal to repent and to trust God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  Judgment awaits all who reject God’s Son.  We must turn from our sin, which means to repent.  

We must turn from our sin

And turn to our Savior,

The Lord Jesus Christ.

I find it striking that these women are weeping, and Jesus says, “Don’t weep for Me. Weep for yourselves.”  Feeling sympathy for Jesus does not alone save.  We can cry and cry and have and show great emotion and still lack repentance.  We must look to Him as Lord and Savior. We must see that Jesus died in our place, bore our transgressions, and died for our iniquities.  Jesus says, “Don’t weep for Me, weep for yourselves. Judgment is coming. Don’t reject Me. Turn to Me.”

This is why feeling a certain way as we look at religious art does not alone save. Watching a film or a play about the passion of Christ does not alone save.  Even if we feel great sympathy for Jesus we are not responding properly to the Gospel if all we do is weep for Him.  If all we do is say, “What a terrible thing happened to Jesus when He was crucified,” and we fail to see that it is we who hammered the nails into His hands and feet, if we fail to see ourselves there at Calvary then we are weeping only for Jesus, feeling only sympathy for One who needs no sympathy, at all!  He is God.  He does not need our sympathy.  

He does not

Want our sympathy,

He wants our souls.

Jesus is say Do not weep for Me, Jerusalem . . . Do not weep for Me, whoever you are . . . Weep for yourselves.  Weep for your lost family members.  Weep for your lost co-workers.  Weep for the lost people in your community and across the world to the unreached people groups of the nations.  Weep for your sin, cry over your sins and come to Me and trust Me and receive Me and My righteousness.”

The Jews in Jesus’ day did not trust in the righteousness of Christ, but they trusted in their own righteousness.  They thought they could be morally acceptable in God’s sight by keeping the Law. That is how some of you think. “I can be a good person.  If I am good enough, God will accept me.”  But that is not true!  Weep for yourselves, repent, and come to Christ.  The Bible says in Philippians 3:9, “… not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”

That is how we are saved from our sins and from the wrath to come. Judgment awaits all who reject God’s Son.  I must die to my sin.  I must admit, confess, and agree with God, that I am a sinner deserving nothing but judgment and the wrath to come.  I come to a point where . . .

I understand Jesus died for my sin,

Took the punishment I deserved

And I am weeping for myself,

Feeling conviction for my sin,

And turning to Christ as my Savior.

And when you die to your sin and trust Christ as Savior, you are saved forever.   You are accepted by God forever.  Just like the chorus to the song, “Wash in me in Your cleaning flow, now all I know, Your forgiveness and embrace.”  He embraces us and because you did not deserve your salvation, you can do nothing to “un-deserve” it.  Your salvation is, “by grace through faith in Christ alone.”  Paul asks in Romans 8:35. “What shall separate us from the love of God?”  Paul answers affirmatively in Romans 8:39, “I am convinced that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We must die to our Sin.  Secondly . . .

II. We Must Die To Our Self.

I think one of the reasons Luke tells us about Simon in verse 26 is because of the power of this imagery.  Here is Simon picking up the cross of Jesus and carrying it.  This is a powerful emblem of what it means to follow Christ!  We must die to our self.  Picking up the cross of Christ and carrying it daily is a picture of the Christian life.

Jesus had said in Luke 9:23-24, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”

We must die to our self.  Jesus asks in Luke 9:25, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?”  He said in Luke 14:27, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Bearing the cross of Christ and following Him means we love Him more than anyone or anything else, more than we love even our own lives.

Simon’s actions here in the historical realm portray

Vividly what is true in the spiritual realm.

We must pick up our cross and “bear it after Jesus.”  We must die to our self.  That is what the cross means.  We die.  We die to our self.  We die to our self-interests, our self-centeredness, and our self-assuredness.

This is why the symbol of Christianity is a cross, because Christianity requires that we die.  

  • The symbol of Christianity is not a bumper sticker, or a style of dress, or a particular Bible translation, or a particular church we attend. 
  • We are not Christians because we have a fish on the bumpers of our cars or because we listen to K-LOVE on the radio.  
  • We are not Christians because we read books and download Christian podcasts.
  • We are not Christians because we post words of Christ on Twitter or Facebook.

We are Christians when we take up and carry the cross, “the emblem of suffering and shame.”  We “cling to that old rugged cross” more than we cling to anyone or anything.

Judgment awaits all who reject God’s Son.  The Bible says in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8, “… When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Grant us wisdom in these moments to die to our sins, die to ourselves, and accept the death of Jesus Christ as payment for our sins.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”