Archive for March, 2008

Strange events that happened around the first Easter

March 31, 2008

Title: Strange events that happened around the first Easter

Text: Matthew 27:11, 19, 52-53

Time: March 30, 2008

Last week was Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate Jesus rising up from the dead, winning the victory over death, and giving us all hope that He’ll do the same for us at our death as well. But before we leave Easter entirely, I’d like to devote a Sunday on the strange and unusual scenes in the Easter account as found in the New Testament Gospels. Today, I’ll just speak to three of these weird descriptions and then maybe another year talk about more in connection with the Easter season. The Bible is a book full of very strange and unusual accounts, to be sure, but I’m not going to talk about any of those, but only the ones that pertain to Jesus’ last days on earth. The first strange event was when Jesus stood before Pilate. The Roman leader questioned Jesus as to his identity and mission by asking him, “Are you a king?” To which Jesus replied in the most well-known Bible translations, more or less, “So you say.” What does that mean? What was Jesus really trying to say to Pilate? Why did he answer that way? These are all questions I’d like to look into this morning. Then, second, there is the strange scene where Pilate’s wife approaches her husband and says something like, “Have nothing to do with this man, for I have lost much sleep over his situation,” or something to that effect. Now what does that mean? Why was that included in the Gospel accounts? What was the purpose of the story? I’ll take a few minutes to try to answer these questions today. And then, three, what about the bizarre account of after the death of Jesus on the cross of Calvary, one of the gospel accounts says that the tombs of many righteous persons opened up and they began to appear in Jerusalem alive. What? Have you ever tried to picture this scene? Jesus is on the cross, finally gasping his final breath and dying, when all around Jerusalem tombs break open and many holy persons who had died appear alive in the city. What would that look like? Did it look like a scene out of the movie Night of the Living Dead? Or were these people fully alive, fully recovered from whatever caused their deaths? Did they live a long time after that, or did they simply come back to life a few hours or a few days and then die again, this time permanently? And what about the accounts of these persons among the Jews? Were these people all newly dead who came back to life, or had they been dead a long time? These are all questions that come to mind in trying to picture exactly what such a thing would look like. Yet you hardly ever hear about this scenario in churches and sermons around Easter time, probably because the focus is properly on Jesus and his death, burial and resurrection. But what of these other strange scenes? Well, today is the Sunday after Easter, so we can’t be accused of shifting the focus from Christ on his resurrection day, so it’s probably a good time to talk about these other rarely mentioned scenes from the Easter season. I hope they can teach us something important as we look into them further. I fully believe that everything in the Bible is there for a purpose, so there must be some good purpose for them to be in the scripture text. Let’s see if we can figure out what those reasons might be. (more…)

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Why Celebrate Easter?

March 20, 2008

Title: Why Celebrate Easter?

Text: Matthew 28:11-15, 2:7-8, 28:16-20

Time: March 23, 2008

Today is Easter Sunday 2008 and so today we are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead! Joy to the world! But not everyone in our city, our state, our nation, our culture, or our world is celebrating today. Still others on our planet are celebrating Easter somewhat, but for mostly human social reasons, not for the true spiritual reasons that real Christians are celebrating today. As Christians, we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ dramatically proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was indeed the Savior by conquering his own death, and therefore, he is qualified and able to make promises about saving us from the experience of death, and is able to actually save us from permanent death through his life-giving power. But like I said before, not everyone sees the importance of Easter or for that matter the importance of Jesus rising from the dead, assuming they even believe it in the first place. For many people today in our modern, materialistic world, Easter Sunday is a religious holiday, a celebration of a spiritual or religious belief – that’s all. Many of these same people don’t really believe that it is possible for someone dead to come back to life, so they don’t take the celebration of the resurrection seriously either. To them it’s all just another religion celebrating just another spiritual belief, that’s all. They are more concerned about tangible, concrete, material, earthly things, like world peace, the economy, making money, material possessions, health, safety, security, recreation and entertainment, jobs and careers, travel, enjoying life with hobbies and other interests, meeting with friends for social activities, pursuing intellectual education, having fun, experiencing all there is in life, etc. The resurrection of Jesus Christ to them is just a spiritual thing unrelated to the real material world. So they see no reason to celebrate it. They’d just as soon stay home on Sunday morning and read the paper or get some extra sleep or eat a big breakfast, etc. Or they might go out for brunch and then visit friends or family, or scratch around in the yard or work on some home improvement project. Going to church on Easter Sunday is not on their agenda. Now other people do find themselves in church on Easter Sunday, but they are there not for spiritual reasons primarily, but for social reasons – it’s tradition in their family, or their husband or wife dragged them to church, or they want their kids to learn about Christianity, or they are meeting with friends and family at church and afterwards going out to eat, or a thousand other different social reasons, but not truly spiritual reasons. But then there are those who are celebrating Easter because they know and understand its significant and want to celebrate it with others and appreciate it even more spiritually. Three kinds of people, three different attitudes toward Easter this year. Which one are you? I’d like to talk a little more about the three kinds of people and their attitudes towards Easter. (more…)

How Jesus gives us Hope in Death

March 15, 2008

Title: How Jesus gives us Hope in Death

Text: Mark 16:1-7

Time: March 16, 2008

Next Sunday is Easter Sunday, the celebration of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ to life after his death and burial. It’s a day of great hope for everyone all over the world because it provides living proof that there is more to life than death. Or in other words, everything doesn’t just end when we die, that there is more to life than this earthly life, that life conquers death. Now all of us in the United States and in North, Central, South America, and Europe – what is known traditionally as Western Civilization, we take for granted that there is something more than this present life. We automatically assume that there is life after death is some form or fashion. Since the introduction of Christianity into what is now known as Western culture, most people in our culture have believed in life after death. But more and more in our society people are beginning to question that assumption. Today, there is the rise in the belief that either God doesn’t exist or that God doesn’t care about us here on earth, and that there either isn’t life after death or if there is we can’t know that there is or isn’t. There is a growing skepticism towards any knowledge that can’t be obtained except through the scientific method. Colleges and universities are more and more teaching students that belief in God and belief in life after death, while possible, is not a rational belief but more of an emotional belief. Christianity is seen more and more as a psychological belief rather than a rational belief. Belief in another life after the grave is seen as comforting and assuring in this life, but nothing more than a sentimental belief designed to help us deal with doubt and anxiety in life, so goes the argument. But Easter Sunday directly challenges these skeptical teachings because it provides evidence that there is more to life than earthly life and that another life awaits us on the other side of death. Mark 16:1-7 describes, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” I’d like to talk about this passage as it relates to three different beliefs people have today about life after death: one, some people believe there is no life after death; two, some people believe that there might be but there is no way of knowing; three, Christians believe that there is life after death because Jesus proves it Easter morning. (more…)

Is Speaking in Tongues for Today?

March 8, 2008

Title: Is Speaking in Tongues for Today?

Text: Acts 2:1-13, 1 Corinthians 13

Time: March 9, 2008

Two weeks ago I talked about the baptism and the filling of the Holy Spirit, as the topic came up in the Book of Acts. Last week I talked about speaking in tongues, what it is and what types of speaking in tongues are there. This week, I want to finish up on the topic of speaking in tongues as it relates to Acts 2 and Pentecost. If you remember last week, I said that there were two main type of speaking in tongues: public tongues, the one kind being different languages for the purpose of preaching the gospel like a missionary, the other kind for discipleship in the church when coupled with the gift of interpretation of tongues. That is public tongues. Then there are private tongues, that is, an individual believer’s private prayer language that the Apostle Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14. I just heard a radio broadcast on Sunday as I was traveling to Michigan to visit my parents that taught that the Bible teaches nothing of any private prayer speaking in tongues, but only speaking in tongues for the purpose of evangelism and discipleship in public. But if that is the case, what does the Apostle Paul mean when he says in 1 Corinthians 14:2, 4 “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. . . . He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.” And also, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. . . . I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you,” 1 Corinthians 14:14, 18. Clearly, the Apostle Paul is describing a private prayer language that individual believers use not for evangelism, not for discipleship, but for personal edification. So anyone who says that there is no private use for speaking in tongues isn’t reading the New Testament accurately. It’s there for all to see; it’s plain as day. But there are more questions concerning speaking in tongues that I didn’t answer last week which I want to cover this week before we finish up on this controversial topic. Speaking in tongues is something that has in the past divided churches and divided Christians because it’s so controversial. But it doesn’t have to be a source of division if everyone will just sit down with their Bibles and read and interpret the relevant passages accurately. That’s what I hope to do this morning. The big question for us today: is speaking in tongues for today? Or put differently, “Is speaking in tongues possible today or did speaking in tongues pass away with the early Christian church, or with the end of the apostolic era, or with the closing of the biblical canon of scripture?” There are many Christians, many churches, some entire denominations that consider speaking in tongues obsolete for today. They teach that it was an early manifestation of the early church that passed away when it was no longer needed. Today, they teach, we have the Bible as God’s Word and therefore we don’t need any tongues or prophecy or miraculous gifts of the Spirit as described in 1 Corinthians by the Apostle Paul. But is this what the Bible actually teaches? The main passage in the New Testament used to teach that speaking in tongues has passed away is 1 Corinthians 13, so let’s look at some key verses in this passage to determine if tongues have really passed away or if they are really possible for us today. 1 Corinthians 13 (read). Three questions arise out of this passage. (more…)