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Archive for April, 2019

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In Winston-Salem the Moravian Christians hold a major celebration annually at Easter. In that community they call the cemetery “God’s Acre.” The saints of God from prior generations have been buried under simple white stones – a reminder to the Moravians of the “democracy of death.”

During Holy Week the people come with brushes and pails to scrub these stones. On Saturday, they put a bouquet of fresh flowers on every single grave. Before dawn on Easter morning the whole community meets at the church. Then, to the subdued sound of a brass band, they march to the cemetery. There among the orderly rows of white stones they joyfully celebrate the resurrection of the dead.

Every Easter the Moravians in Winston-Salem, along with Christians around the world, celebrate the hope that the apostle Paul expresses so well in the powerful and poetic eighth chapter of Romans: “If God is for us, who is against us? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . For I am sure that neither death, nor life . . . . nor things present, nor things to come . . . nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Christian hope of resurrection to eternal life rests solidly on the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God is at the heart of Easter – not you, not me – but God! Easter affirms, among its many affirmations, that those who are dead may – and by a new creation of God – have new life. It is what Benjamin Franklin affirmed prior to his death when he wrote his own epitaph:

The body of Benjamin Franklin, Printer,

 (Like the cover of an old book,

 Its contents torn out,

 And stript of its lettering and gilding)

 Lies here, food for worms!

 But the work shall not be lost,

 For it will, as he believed, appear once more

 In a new and beautiful edition

 Revised and corrected by the Author.”

For centuries, the motto of Portugal was a Latin phrase meaning “Nothing More Beyond.” Only that part of the world that wrapped around the Mediterranean Sea was known at that time. It was believed that if one sailed beyond Portugal out into the Atlantic Ocean he would fall off the edge of the world. The Portuguese prided themselves in being at the extreme end of the world. Thus, they proudly displayed the phrase, “Nothing More Beyond.” It was shattering news when they learned that a new world had been discovered on the far side of the Atlantic. They decided to strike out the negative in their motto so that it read “More Beyond.”

That is precisely what the Easter message is all about: Individuals who know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord do not have to fear when their journey on earth is coming to an end, for there is “MORE BEYOND!

Hallelujah!

 

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The determination by Jesus to complete the mission assigned to Him by our Heavenly Father was severely tested in the Garden of Gethsemane. People had come from every direction of the compass to be in Jerusalem to participate in the Passover Feast, one of the great feasts annually celebrated by God’s people. The Passover lamb had already been chosen that would be sacrificed later that week on the Temple altar.

Jesus had come to Jerusalem fully aware that He would become the Passover Lamb that would be sacrificed for the sins of the world. He had seen many people charged with a crime, tried, found guilty, and crucified. Dying on a Roman cross would definitely not be an easy thing to do. He asked the Father if there might be another way to redeem and reconcile humanity.

There was no other way, for “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Since we are all sinners, we must either die or have someone die in our place. That is precisely what God’s Son had come into the world to accomplish. “God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Scripture tells us that Jesus sweat great drops of blood as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is a medical condition known as hematidrosis, associated with only the most severe cases of psychological stress. No human has ever been asked, or will ever be asked, to do what Jesus was asked by the Father to do.

Jesus faced not just an agonizing death but probably the most agonizing death ever devised by man. Those who were crucified often took several days to die. At the moment of our Lord’s death He was carrying the weight of the sins of the entire world – past, present and future tense:

  • Every rape, every murder, every lie, every betrayal, every adulterous relationship, every act of child abuse, every act of spousal abuse.
  • Every selfish thought and evil deed, every attempt to gain an advantage at the expense of others, every expression of envy, jealousy, and prejudice.
  • Every addiction, every image from the sordid world of pornography, every rattle of slavery’s chains of whatever form.
  • The hunger pangs from every famine, every shudder during the winter by those who are homeless and live on the streets.
  • The evils of terrorism and genocide, war and oppression.

Could there possibly be a more agonizing death than that of crucifixion? But that was not all Christ had to face as He hung on that Roman cross. During those excruciatingly painful hours up until the moment of His death, He lost fellowship with the Father for the very first time ever.

God, being holy, could not look upon His Son during those moments when He became sin for us. The community of the Trinity was broken, and Jesus was left utterly and terribly alone. That is why He cried out, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

No wonder great drops of blood oozed through the pores of his skin the night before He was crucified as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was fully aware of the events that would take place in the following twenty-four hours — but He would not turn back. After a night of heart-wrenching prayer had confirmed the desire of the Father’s heart, Jesus willingly submitted to the goal of fulfilling His mission. With the struggle settled, He prayed: “Not my will, Father, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus embraced what every Christian throughout history has been called upon to accept: (1) God’s sovereignty over our personal desires, and (2) our radical trust in His leadership.

Have you accepted Him as your Savior and Lord? If not, He is standing at the door of your heart knocking to gain entrance (see Revelation 3:20). He will not knock the door down to gain entry. He does not force Himself upon anyone. You must choose to open the door and invite Him in.

If you come to the end of your life on earth without having made that decision you will regret it throughout eternity.

 

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During His ministry Jesus made numerous remarkable claims – that He and the Father are one, that He can forgive sin, and that any person who believes in Him has eternal life. Even so, I believe the most remarkable claim He ever made was His bold statement: I am the truth.

This statement was not a metaphorical one, as when He referred to Himself as “the way” . . . “the door” . . .”the vine.” The dictionary defines truth as “genuineness or veracity, as that which conforms to reality or fact.” In claiming to be the truth He is not just asserting veracity about Himself; He is boldly claiming that He is the truth — not one truth among many, but the ultimate reality.

In claiming to be the truth, Jesus was affirming the first four words in the book of Genesis: “In the beginning God . . . .” Astronomers have asserted, as has the pagan world, that the cosmos is eternal, that there is no need for God to have created the world and the universe. Scientists have said that the universe started with a tiny ball that exploded with such a powerful force that it expanded across millions of light years. And the universe is still expanding. This, they say, happened without any need for a Creator.

By any known law of physics this is incomprehensible to me. Those who accept the view that the universe with its unbelievably large amount of mass containing both diversity and unity — could have come into existence all by itself need to explain how that can happen. Did it just create itself? Believing that would take more faith for me than believing it was created by a thoughtful all-powerful God.

Ultimate reality embodied in God and Christ is the most consistent theme in the Bible. When God identified Himself to a terrified shepherd named Moses, He said, “I am who I am.” No wonder the unbelieving Jews wanted to stone Jesus when He said to them, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). He was not claiming to be like God or that He was sent by God. He was claiming to be Yahweh – the “I Am.”

The writers of the New Testament describe Christ as the logos. This Greek term is translated into English as “word” because there is no adequate corresponding word in English. It is a word that contains the concepts of “intelligence, reason, and truth”—the very concepts found in the first chapter of Genesis that describes God as the ultimate reality.

Under the influence of Enlightenment thinkers, the modern world has separated faith and reason. In the last two centuries that divide has become virtually unbridgeable. But understanding Christianity as the truth means more than simply deducing reality through what we can see and examine. The truth described as ultimate reality is not limited to what we can observe in our material universe.

Christians believe that there is no gap between faith and reason. In fact, most of the early scientists were Christians. Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Pascal were all Christians who believed that the world had an orderly structure that could be scientifically studied because it was created by an orderly God.

Christianity is not just a religious structure or social institution. It is not merely a set of beliefs or creeds about the nature of reality. The Christian faith rests on the truth – Jesus Christ. The Christian experience begins with a personal relationship of faith. Pilate had ears, but he did not hear. He turned away, asking, “What is truth”, even as he stood before the truth Himself.

If you are not a Christian, don’t make the same mistake that Pilate made.

 

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