Archive for April, 2011

Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen Yet Have Believed

April 26, 2011

Title: Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen Yet Have Believed

Text: Luke 24:13-49

Time: April 24th, 2011

We’ve been praying for a little boy who lives in Pennsylvania named T.J. who has severe brain damage, who can hardly survive without his mother caring for him around the clock. At times his mother can hardly deal with the constant care her son needs, plus it seems like to her that God isn’t doing anything to help her or her son. She asks the question, “Why doesn’t God answer all the prayers and heal her son?” I’m sure we all feel like that at one time or another when we are faced with a situation that doesn’t make sense. What sense does it make for a little boy to grow up with severe brain damage due to not enough oxygen during the time of his birth? And why doesn’t God do something to heal him? Is he to live out the rest of his life without any normal life? Will he need care all the time for the rest of his life? What sense does that make? It doesn’t seem fair, to him, to his mother. Where is God in this situation? I’m sure we’ve all had similar situations that make no sense at all logically. It could be a tragic death in the family. It could be an accident or illness that happens and changes someone’s life. “Why God?” This is what we ask because it doesn’t make sense. Skeptics ask, “If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why doesn’t he do a miracle and solve the problem? Isn’t God all loving? Isn’t God all-powerful? If so, then why doesn’t he answer prayer in such circumstances?” This is probably what the disciples were thinking as Jesus was being crucified on the cross. “God, how could you stand by and allow the Savior Jesus to be tortured and crucified?” It didn’t make sense. There was no logic to it. And that’s the struggle we have today when bad thing happen and prayers don’t seemingly get answered – “God, why don’t you do something?” In many cases, our suffering seems so pointless, so meaningless. It’s one thing to suffer and die for a reasonable cause. For example, in war, as in World War II, America sent troops overseas to fight the Nazis in order to liberate Europe from a madman. That was the right thing to do. But many brave soldiers died. That was tragic, but at least it made sense. But in the case of so much suffering, things just don’t make sense. Like in the case of the little boy T.J. it doesn’t seem to make sense. What did he do to deserve to live out a life of such suffering? What did his mother do to deserve to have to bear such a responsibility for caring for T.J.? And what does the crucifixion and resurrection have to do with any of this? I believe we can learn from the disciples’ experience in reacting to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. We can learn how faith in God during tough times pays off. We may never understand why bad things happen in this life, but at least we can know that there is a reason in God’s mind for allowing them to happen. The disciples learned that with the resurrection of Christ. We can apply it to our lives in times of trouble too. Let me explain what I mean. (more…)

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Surely This Man Was the Son of God!

April 26, 2011

Title: Surely This Man Was The Son of God!

Text: Matthew 27:12-14, 27-31, 54

Time: April 22nd, 2011

Today is Good Friday 2011, the day we remember Christ on the cross dying for our sins. As I’ve said before during previous Easter seasons in past years, we only call it Good Friday because we know what happens on Easter morning. Without that knowledge it would be impossible to call what takes place on the day Christ died good. Of course the first Christians didn’t know that Sunday would become Easter, because they didn’t believe that there would be any resurrection; they didn’t expect to see Jesus again in this life after his crucifixion. They probably thought that they’d see Jesus in the next life, as they hoped to see all their loved ones who died in the faith. But as for believing that Jesus would raise to life after three days, that was the furthest thing from their minds. Even though Jesus had prophesied over and over again that he would be tortured, crucified and rise again, these things didn’t register with the disciples because it was just too fantastic to imagine. Maybe there was an element of denial in it as well, the way we all react when presented with unbelievable topics. It was just too overwhelming for them to receive and believe, even though, again, Jesus had warned them of his coming crucifixion and resurrection. It’s clear from the biblical accounts found in the Gospels that the disciples were not optimistic about any resurrection from the dead by Jesus. Nothing in any of the historical accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John gives any hint that the disciples were entertaining the thought that Jesus might conquer death through a powerful resurrection. In other words, we hear none of them saying, “Guys, it’s not so bad after all because Jesus promised to raise to life again in three days. So let’s stop grieving. Jesus will be back, just like he said, just you wait and see.” No. Nothing is the kind. They were thinking the very opposite and saying amongst themselves, “We had hoped for so much from Jesus, but now look at things – everything has fallen apart. Jesus is dead and his vision for God’s kingdom has perished as well.” They were filled with discouragement not optimism. But rather than talk about the disciples’ reaction, today I’d like to focus on the reaction of the Roman soldiers who were responsible for crucifying Christ. Matthew 27:54 says, “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’” It wasn’t just one of the soldiers but really a number of them, possibly all of them. The very men who had crucified Christ on the cross, the Roman guards, now were beginning to think they had made a big mistake, and voiced their concerns aloud. Let’s think about what might have brought about their change of heart and mind, because remember, these were probably the same men who had tortured Jesus cruelly and led him to be crucified to begin with. Something happened that convinced them that Jesus really was who he claimed to be. (more…)

Are Jews Blameworthy For the Death of Christ?

April 26, 2011

Title: Are Jews Blameworthy for the Death of Christ?

Text: Matthew 27:20-23, 24-26, Acts 2:14, 22-24

Time: April 1st, 2011

The current Pope, Benedict the XVI, recently released a book on Jesus that in one section attempts to explain the controversy surrounding who is to blame regarding the death of Christ. If you remember a few years ago when Mel Gibson produced a movie called The Passion of the Christ there was controversy surrounding his depiction of Jews. The film, which followed the literal accounts in the New Testament, showed Jews calling for the death of Christ. Contemporary Jewish groups were upset that the film put Jews in a negative light and feared it would unleash a new wave of anti-Semitism in modern society. Most upsetting to Jews was a scene in which the angry crowd called for Christ’s crucifixion before Pilate, saying, “May his blood be upon us and our children.” This scene was so controversial – although it is quoted literally from the Book of Matthew in the New Testament – that it had to be altered in the final cut of the move. The scene was left in but the sound of the angry crowd quoting the infamous line was muted. That just shows how intense the debate over the whole issue has become, even after two thousand years. So in order to build bridges with the Jewish community, the new Pope has written a new book explaining the controversy and attempting to clarify what the biblical passages really mean in context. His attempt is noble but unfortunately his conclusions are faulty, not because he hasn’t done his scholarly homework, but because he puts political correctness before the truth. He wants to bring about a peaceful coexistence with Jews worldwide, which in itself is a worthwhile goal for the leader of the world’s largest Christian denomination. I think he also wants to show the world that he isn’t in any sense anti-Semitic, even though he served in the Nazi army under Hitler during World War II. To be fair, he was forced to fight against the Allies, it wasn’t his choice, and he took steps to get out of serving under Hitler’s forces. So we can see that he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think most people understand that, and don’t hold it against him. I believe him when he says he isn’t anti-Semitic. But because of his background and circumstances he just might be going too far to prove that he and Catholics love the Jews. His handling of the New Testament Gospel accounts therefore appears to bend over backwards to show there is no Jewish culpability, when in reality the accounts themselves paint a different picture. We need to explore what the Bible teaches first and foremost, and only then try to put the Jewish and Christian relationship in perspective – not the other way around. So today, during the Easter season, let’s examine some of the controversial passages in relationship to Christ’s trial and who is to blame for it. (more…)

Greater Love Hath No Man . . .

April 19, 2011

Title: Great Love Hath No Man . . .

Text: John 15:3, 19:12, Matthew 26:37, 27:46

Time: April 10, 2011

This second week of April during the Easter season I’d like to talk about the love of Christ, especially in respect to his willingness to suffer for our sake.  When we think of Christ suffering we usually think only of his agony on the cross, but it’s really much more than that. Out of love, Jesus suffered not only on the cross for us but also before the cross. He suffered mentally, physically and spiritually. It wasn’t only physical suffering that Christ endured, but also in the mind and spirit. It’s really a powerful demonstration of his love for all of us to undergo such complete suffering. John 15:13 comes to mind, “Greater love hath no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” Think about that, Christ calls you his friend. You are a friend of Christ if you put your trust in him, if you repent and surrender your will to him. He suffered and died for you because he loved you that much. But how much is “that much?” Do we stop and reflect enough of the suffering Christ went through to demonstrate his love for us?  Probably not. With so much going on in this temporary life, we often neglect to fully appreciate all that Christ has done for us. We are running here or there, involved in so many things. We busy ourselves with work, hobbies, entertainment and recreational activities, eating, sleeping, and commuting here and there. We are busy reading, watching television, surfing the Web. We don’t stop and reflect on the great suffering endured for us. But let’s take the time this morning to go through the suffering of Christ, not only on the cross but also before the cross as well. I hope it will give us a better appreciation for all that Jesus has done and how much he loves each and every one of us. How can we say no to that kind of love? How can anyone turn away and ignore that demonstration of care and concern and love? Yet people do turn away and treat it in a casual and careless way. Let not us be guilty of such neglect. Let us do the opposite. Let us purposefully and with intention recount the ways Christ loves us through the different ways he suffered for us during his passion. The word “passion,” like in the title of the movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” literally means, “suffering.” The movie could have been called, “The Suffering of the Christ.” We’ve heard of the passion plays in Germany that are held every year around Easter. They might just as easily be called the suffering plays, but it means the same thing. So let’s take some time this morning looking at the different ways Christ suffered during his passion. First, we’ll look at his mental sufferings. Second, we’ll examine his physical sufferings. Third, finally, we’ll look at his spiritual sufferings. All three paint a complete picture of how much Jesus Christ realty loves us. (more…)

What Happened to Mel Gibson’s Christian Faith?

April 11, 2011

Title: What Happened to Mel Gibson’s Christian Faith?

Text: Matthew 5:13-16, 13:3-9, 18-23

Time: March 30th, 2011

It was the Easter Season 2004. I was pasturing a small church in Western New York and the nation was all abuzz about a new movie coming soon called The Passion of the Christ. It was an exciting time to be in Christian church leadership because with Easter coming here was a major motion picture that got everyone talking about the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. The publicity for the movie had started months before, but really picked up momentum during the month leading up to Easter. What better time would there be in explaining the meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Christ then during a moment in society where everyone is a seeing a movie dealing with the same themes? Like I said, it was a great time to be a local church pastor. Mel Gibson, the creator and director of the film was interviewed by all the major media outlets, there were articles in the newspapers and magazines week after week, and the Internet was alive in promoting the new film as well. As a pastor, I ran a four-week sermon series leading up to Easter Sunday on teaching the related biblical passages the movie dealt with concerning the death of Christ. I also played video clips of Mel Gibson interviewed by Diane Sawyer of 20/20 on national television, where he gave an excellent witness to the gospel of salvation. Even though Mel Gibson was an ultra-conservative Roman Catholic, he explained the gospel like a Protestant – and I was so impressed that I recorded the interview, and played it in church. I also encouraged everyone to go see the movie, although it did contain a lot of violent scenes of the beatings of Christ, because it was a faithful recreation of the biblical accounts of Jesus’ sufferings. Looking back now during that time, I’m still convinced that countless thousands, perhaps millions, of people listened and understood for the first time the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross for sin. Perhaps thousands or even millions put their faith in Christ for salvation during the same time. Over the last seven years since the movie’s release, the DVD is still selling well in stores, so it’s influence continues. It’s hard to find a person who, if they haven’t seen The Passion of the Christ, at least they’ve heard of it and know what it’s about. So from that standpoint it’s a success. But unfortunately, the same can’t be said about director Mel Gibson. Since the movie, Gibson’s life has gone from bad to worse. His Christian testimony is all but discredited. First there was his arrest for drunk driving. Second, during the same arrest he broke into an anti-Semitic rant that confirmed his critics’ suspicions that he was anti-Jewish to begin with for making The Passion of the Christ. Third, he divorced his wife of twenty-plus years and married a young actress. Fourth, when the new relationship didn’t last, he was accused of verbal and physical abuse. So what happened to Mel Gibson? He makes this powerful movie that teaches millions of people around the world the sacrificial love of Christ, yet his life falls apart soon thereafter. How can someone so seemingly on the right track derail so quickly? What does all of this teach us about the importance of maintaining and preserving our Christian faith and testimony? I’d like to deal with a number of these issues this morning as we enter into the Easter season of 2011. (more…)