TRIUMPH AT THE CROSS

Christ became the substitutionary sacrificial Lamb for us. He died so that we can live.

Not long ago, Easter decorations sprang up everywhere. Pictures of eggs, bunnies, and flowers appeared in many places. When I was a child, I asked my mother what all these had to do with Easter. She said that Easter celebrated new life, and the eggs and lilies symbolized new life.

As I grew up, I learned about the resurrection of Christ. Easter celebrated his “new life” from the grave. Christians celebrate his resurrection at this time of year even though the traditional symbols of Easter have nothing to do with the Christian story. We need to understand what this new life is about. Yes, Jesus rose again, but we need to ask ourselves why he died, and why his new life is so important to us.

The Bible tells us that “God demonstrates his own love toward us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Sin separates us from God. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). We should die because of our sin. Christ’s death on the cross paid the penalty for us. He death satisfied the debt we owed for our sin.

When did that satisfaction take place?

There are three views about when the atonement took place. One view states that Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane caused our atonement. Because Christ sweated drops of blood, some believe that he paid the debt by suffering there.

Another view is that Christ went to hell for three days after he died. There Satan and his minions beat up on him those three days, and then the third day he rose from the dead. This view is popular among some groups today.

At The Cross

The Bible teaches that the penalty was paid at the cross. When the repentant thief turned to Christ and asked to be remembered. Christ said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Notice that Christ did not say, “I’m going to hell. I’ll see you in three days.” Both he and the thief went to paradise that day.

Paid In Full

Additionally, he did not have to go to hell to pay any more penalty for us. John 19:30 records Jesus’ words as “It is finished.” In the biblical language, that phrase meant, “Paid in Full” as would be written across a bill. When Christ died on the cross, he fulfilled the work God gave him to do. He did not have to go to hell to get beat up by Satan for three days to complete the transaction.

Paul tells where this took place. Colossians 2:15-15, “having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

Think back to the images you often see of the crucifixion. Usually you will see a sign above Christ’s head that reads INRI. That stands for Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum, translated Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Although this is a Latin Phrase, the Bible says that it was actually written in three languages—Aramaic, Latin and Greek so that everyone passing by could read it (See John 19:18-20) Mark 15:26 says, “The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews.” This was the “crime” he was charged with. Passersby could see the crimes for which the victims of crucifixion were suffering.

Looking back at the Colossians passage, notice that the “charge” against us was placed on his cross. Think of God taking the sign above your head for all your sins and nailing it to Jesus’ cross. That’s exactly what he did. Christ paid the charge of legal indebtedness for your sins by his once-for-all sacrifice. You can be set free.

Paul concludes that passage by saying that Christ “disarmed the powers and authorities… triumphing over them by the cross.” The cross is where Christ paid all your sin debt. The cross is where he defeated Satan. He did not need to go to hell and be tormented for three days.

Conclusion

At the cross, God poured out his wrath for sin on Christ that he might pour out his love on us who are in Christ. Christ became the substitutionary sacrificial Lamb for us. He died so that we can live.

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BROKEN OR DEAD?

If you listen to much contemporary Christian music these days, you might notice a common theme running through many of the choruses—the theme of brokenness. Over and over the singers are saying something like, “Jesus, I’m broken. Please come and fix me.” Not exactly those words, but the same idea.

There is even a gospel presentation of “the three circles” that teaches this concept. In this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zau_Pam4qM), the speaker says that when we sinned, brokenness entered into the world. He refers back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. You remember that God commanded them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Speaking of that tree to Adam, He said, “in the day that you eat of it, youshall surely die.” He did not say, “You shall surely be broken.”

The Apostle Paul also referred to this in Romans 5:12. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Brokenness did not enter the world through sin and spread to all people. Death did. He reiterated this in Ephesians 2:1. “As for you, you were in your transgressions and sins,” before coming to Christ to be made alive. In verses 4 and 5 he said, “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” He did not say that God fixed us, or even that God healed us. He said God made us alive who were dead in trespasses and sins.

Before coming to Christ, a person may be physically alive but spiritually dead. When we receive Christ, we are born again and are physically alive and spiritually alive. Eventually all of us who are alive will die physically, but believers will still be spiritually alive. (John 11:26).

In John 5:24, Jesus said, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” Whoever hears his word must be physically alive to hear the words. When people believe, they pass judgment and move from being spiritually dead to becoming spiritually alive. Jesus is talking about spiritual life and death. He did not say that people move from a state of brokenness to a state of repair.

There have been very popular programs on television about renovating houses. A remodeling crew finds a home and moves the family out while they oftentimes gut and rebuild the house from within. The transformation is fabulous. It amazes the family as they return to the former shell of their home; they can hardly recognize it.

Jesus did not give his life to renovate ours. Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) This is not just a remodeling of your old life. You are a completely new creation in Christ. Jesus does not just fix up your old life with a few cosmetic changes. He gives you a brand-new life. Paul said earlier in the same letter, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16 NIV). While our bodies are physically changing, even deteriorating or “wasting away,” Jesus renews our spiritual being every day. That is the part that will live forever, not our bodies.

But that is not the end. One day each of us will lay our bodies aside physically in death. In 1 Corinthians 15:35-44, Paul compares our bodies to a seed. When a seed is sown, it changes into the plant. He says that our bodies are “sown” perishable, but raised imperishable. We place bodies in the earth in one form or another. One day Christ will raise those bodies in glory, and he “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).

The Good News is that Christ does the work for us. He begins the work in us, and he carries it on to completion (Philippians 1:6), from justification, through sanctification to glorification. What we do is hear his word, repent of our sin and believe in him. Every other religion tells you to trust in your own religious works. Only Christianity tells you to trust in the completed work of Jesus on the cross.

WALK IN THE LIGHT


Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night and walked through your house to check on something? Most houses have some sort of light, so the house is not completely dark. The blue light on our Internet router puts out quite a bit of light. Nevertheless, I have hit my knee on the sofa while trying to make my way through the living room in the dark, even though some light enters from outside almost every night. It is difficult to navigate in the darkness. The safest way to walk is to turn on a light to see where you are walking at night.

Scripture often uses “walk” to speak of the way we live. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). He was speaking about the way we live. Following Christ is a way of life. Paul wrote in Colossians 2:6, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” He was speaking of a way of life.  In Colossians 1:10 Paul also wrote: “that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (NKJV). Other versions interpret the word “walk” as “live.”

In the same way a wise person would not want to walk in the dark, we should not want to live in darkness, however, Jesus said that some people prefer the darkness to the light. In John 3:19, Jesus said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” He is the light, yet people refuse to come to him. They prefer to hide their sin in the darkness.

These are the ones whose minds Satan has blinded from the truth. Paul wrote “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” Notice that Paul said that they do not believe, not that they cannot believe. Most “intellectual” arguments against the gospel are not a matter of intellect, but of will. Many simply will not believe because they know that such a decision will require a change of lifestyle that they are not willing to make. Even if you adequately answer their intellectual challenges, they still refuse. Their minds are blinded, and their hearts are hardened.

The psalmist wrote, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path,” (Psalm 119:105). God’s word enlightens the heart and makes us “wise to salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15). This is another reason why God’s word has always come under attack ever since the serpent told Eve, “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1). These doubts in God’s word are strongholds, any argument that “exalts itself against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). The way to bring down these dark strongholds is to shine the light of God’s word on them.

We believers need to walk in the light of God’s word and not let the darkness of the world cloud our thinking. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). Christ has changed our lives. Our lives need to reflect the light of Christ. The way we live should let people know what principles are guiding our lives.

If we want to remain in the darkness and not come out into the light, we cannot have fellowship with God. “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). We cannot cling to sin and take hold of God at the same time. We must relinquish sin, come to the light and come clean. Then we can fellowship with God and other believers.

Repentance comes when we realize we are in darkness and we want to move into the light. “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:21). Walk in the light.

CHRISTIANITY 101

A lonely destroyer captain ran his ship with strength and compassion, but he kept almost entirely to himself. He had one curious ritual that puzzled his fellow officers almost beyond endurance. Each day before coming up to the bridge, he would unlock a special drawer in his desk, take out a strongbox, unlock it, remove a small piece of paper, read it carefully, return it to the box in the drawer and lock it again.

During one particularly fierce battle, the skipper was killed. After the funeral, his executive officer led a mad dash to the captain’s cabin, opened the drawer, pulled out the box, unlocked it and took out the mysterious piece of paper. He carefully looked at it while his companions
breathlessly waited. The captain had written six simple words: “Port is left, starboard is right.”

It would be wonderful if we could make all of life as simple as this. Decisions would be easier to make, directions clearer. In religious matters, the Pharisees had made Judaism too complex and legalistic with all their 613 rules. What was Judaism originally except a relationship with Yahweh, a personal God?

Legalism does the same thing today. You supposedly prove you are a Christian by keeping a list of rules, but who has the right list? The list varies from group to group. People need to know that Christianity is more than a list of rules and “Thou shalt nots.” It is a relationship with a personal God and a relationship with His family, the church. Could it be said of your life: “I love God with all my heart?” How do you show it? Do you love your spouse? How do you show it? In the Spanish language, worship means adoration. You cannot worship a God you do not love and adore. That’s why worship services are dull. We do not love God with all our hearts.

Legalism has made that relationship extremely complicated. Jesus simplified it. He distilled everything down to two commandments in Matthew 22:34-40. “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Notice that Jesus then said in verse 40: “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Everything depends on your love relationship with God and others.

The Apostle John also repeated a similar idea: “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment” (1 John 3:22-23). Notice again the simplicity of Christianity. Jesus said ALL the law was summed up in the two greatest commandments.

Simple does not mean easy, however. When Jesus spoke of adultery, he said it was not enough not to commit the outward act. Even the lustful thought brought condemnation. Not murdering was insufficient. Even hatred was equivalent to murder.

Who then is a child of God? For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). And Galatians 5:18: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Keeping a list of rules is easy to do. You check items off a to-do list and then pat yourself on the back. Maintaining a relationship is more difficult. It requires constant communication with the person in that relationship.

To be a child of God, you have to follow the Spirit’s leading. He will never lead you to do anything contrary to the written word of God. That is why you must be familiar with the word. You must know the precepts and principles of the word.

Christianity is simple, but it is not easy. That is why believers must remain in constant contact with God daily. It is not enough to attend church sporadically, or even just once a week. Communication with God means a daily basis. We are fortunate that most of us have multiple copies of the Bible to read. We can attend church regularly and openly without fear of persecution. Take time every day to read God’s word and talk to him through prayer.

Misunderstood Apologetics

People often misunderstand apologetic for apologetics. An apologetic person usually expresses sorrow for something said or done. It can mean a written or spoken expression of regret or remorse. However, an apology did not originally mean what people usually think it means today. It originally meant to give a verbal or written defense for a cause, an action, or a doctrine.

The Apostle Peter wrote, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (First Peter 3:15). He used the word apologia for defense. We are to give a defense of our faith, not to apologize for it as many think today. Peter urges Christians to be able to defend their faith whenever someone asks them about the hope that is in their lives.

When we as Christians give a defense or justification for our faith, we are engaging in a discipline known as “apologetics.” Dictionary.com defines apologetics as, “the branch of theology concerned with the defense or proof of Christianity.” Perhaps you are thinking that apologetics is some kind of difficult practice that only trained theologians can do. Often it involves the classical arguments for the existence of God, proof of the reliability of the Bible or creationism. While that certainly is apologetics, any time you tell someone why you are a believer in Christ, that is apologetics. You are giving a justification for what and why you believe.

Maybe you feel somewhat intimidated today thinking of standing before a professor or scientist and giving a reason for the hope that is within you. Often critics of Christianity will ask you to prove the existence of God. Can you defend the Christian faith? Are you up to the challenge, or would you remain silent when someone asks you to “prove” Christianity is true?

You cannot “prove” God in the empirically scientific sense like critics demand. Then again, neither can they disprove him in the same way. You cannot prove God by subjecting him to a test tube or petri dish. It requires a different kind of science.

Think of a murder trial. In this scenario, you have a victim, a defendant, and a body of evidence. In addition to the judge, you also have a defense attorney and a prosecuting attorney. Both attorneys have the same evidence, the same victim, and the same defendant. The difference is the presupposition or starting point.

The defense attorney “presupposes” the innocence of the defendant. If the attorney did not believe in the innocence of the defendant, then why take the case? Likewise, the prosecution presupposes the guilt of the victim, otherwise, why bring a case against the defendant? Both attorneys will use the same evidence to try to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury so that they will render a verdict. (Let me say here that I am not a lawyer and I have not played one on TV either. This is just a general observation.)

The purpose of the trial is to examine all the evidence and interpret it in such a way as to support the presupposition of the attorneys. They cannot change or alter the evidence. They cannot hide evidence. They need to make it all available for both sides. They present their case in a way that gives the most reasonable understanding of the evidence. Then they submit all that to the jury by way of testimonies and argumentation so that they see guilt or innocence beyond a reasonable doubt.

It is interesting to note the expression “reasonable doubt.” A murder cannot be proved scientifically as it is impossible to recreate the murder under controlled circumstances as required by “empirical science.” It cannot be observed. The best anyone can do is to present the available evidence and give it the most probable interpretation. The jury then has to decide which interpretation is the most credible. Then they vote. They determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant based on the arguments of the attorneys and their presuppositions.

Apologetics means giving a written or verbal defense of a belief. Usually it refers to trying to prove the existence pf God or the reliability of the Bible. Atheists, agnostics, and believers all have the same evidence. All have a presupposition. Where they start with the evidence will determine where they end with it, what conclusions they will draw. An atheist presupposes that God does not exist, so he or she interprets the evidence to support that presupposition. The agnostic presupposes that it is not possible to know if God exists and interprets the arguments to support that belief. Likewise, the believer presupposes that God does exist and interprets the evidence accordingly. Ultimately, each person must decide which case is the most probable.

What about you? Which way will you vote? Will you vote to believe that God exists? If so, that will affect every aspect of your life. As for me, I will never apologize for being a believer in Christ, but I will tell you what I believe and why.

RESOLVE NOT TO BE A CHURCH HOPPER

Resolve not to be a water bug that never penetrates the surface. Get involved in church instead of church hopping.

How are you coming with your New Year’s resolutions so far? Are you making progress, or have you given up already? One resolution worth making is deciding to attend church regularly. In a church fellowship, you can develop relationships with others who are going through the same life events you are facing.

One reason people give for not attending church is that they cannot find one that is a “good fit.” Therefore, they hop around from church to church like a water bug. Water bugs can walk on the surface of the water because their feet never break the surface tension between the water molecules. Their feet never penetrate beyond the surface, so the water holds them up as they scurry from place to place. Finally, a fish comes along and devours them.

In “Made to Count,” authors Bob Reccord and Randy Singer wrote:

“Recent polls show a dramatic increase in “Church hoppers”—those who flit from one church to the next like a water bug, never fully landing and immersing themselves into a local body of believers. Something is never quite right. The preacher preaches too long, the members are not very friendly, the music is ‘not my style.’ There’s got to be another church that will better meet my needs. And so the water bug goes, from one church to the next, landing for a flicker here, a moment there, constantly in search of the perfect fit and missing a vital part of their calling. They need to understand an important truth about the church. The church does not exist to serve them. That mindset—consumer Christianity or ‘McChurch’ as some call it—is simply not scriptural.” (https://amzn.to/2RGyhaC) 1.

Instead of church hopping this year, why not penetrate the surface and actually get involved in a church? Go below the superficial level and get involved in the lives of the people there. They are not perfect. The music will not be perfect. The pastor is not perfect, but then again, neither are you. All of us are in the process of becoming more of whom Christ designed us to be. We will never find that perfection in this life, but as Paul said, we need to press on toward the upward calling in Christ Jesus (See Philippians 3:14).

While some would argue that church attendance is not necessary for salvation, the writer of Hebrews exhorted us not to forsake the assembling together with other believers (Hebrews 10:25) Apparently it was a first century problem as well. Many in our country claim to be followers of Christ, but they never attend church except on special occasions like weddings and funerals.

In Revelation 21:9 and 22:17, the Apostle John calls the church the bride of Christ. Reccord and Singer also ask the question of how you could say that you love a friend but can’t stand his or her spouse. Your friend would say, “You must find a way to love my spouse as well if we are going to be friends.” Yet many people want to say that they love Christ, but they can’t stand church. That is like saying, “Jesus, I love you, but I can’t stand your bride.” Christ loved the church and gave his life for her (Ephesians 5:25). The church was important enough to Christ for him to lay down his life for her. The least we can do is to learn to love her, too, despite her imperfections.

Paul compared the church to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-20) All believers have a part in that body. The part you play is an important part of the church. Attending church allows you to exercise your spiritual gifts. If you have the gift of teaching, how can you exercise that gift if you are not involved in church? If you have the gift of exhortation, you need to be involved in the lives of people you can encourage. You will also find encouragement in your own struggles. “As iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17), so we sharpen each other. We need others if we want to stay sharp. Without you and your spiritual gifts, the church is incomplete.

If you only flit from church to church, you will never really know what is beneath the surface. Stay sharp this year. Get involved in church.

  1. Bob Reccord and Randy Singer, Made to Count: Discovering What to Do with Your Life, (Nashville: W Publishing. 2004) 91. https://amzn.to/2RGyhaC

WHY WE NEED CHRISTMAS

Most of us recognize the opening to the famous Christmas poem: “T’was the Night Before Christmas,” by Clement Clark Moore, first published in 1823. Its real name is “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” Many of our Christmas traditions comes from this poem.

We are familiar with stockings hung by the chimney with care and visions of dancing sugarplums. We know about mother in her ‘kerchief. We relate to Saint Nicholas coming down the chimney and then dashing away from a snow-covered roof in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Each year it gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling like the fur he wore from head to foot.

This is what many of us relate to at Christmas. Nothing in this poem has anything to do with the biblical concept of Christmas. It is perhaps a story about generosity and gift giving, but none of this relates to the birth of Christ at all.

Others would say that the concept of giving gifts come from the three magi opening their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Think about the last nativity scene you saw. Usually it takes place in a stable. There you see shepherds and sheep and wise men and camels. What’s wrong with this picture? If the wise men came from the East, i.e. Babylon, they could not have arrived at the same time as the shepherds. It would take months to make that journey. Nor is the number accurate. No mention is made of their number or their names. That is tradition, not Scripture.

Another tradition we often take for granted, if not for gospel truth, is the “angelic choir.” This concept comes from the line in the carol, “Angels we have heard on high, Sweetly singing o’er the plains.” Luke’s account mentions nothing of a choir. The heavenly host of Luke 2:13 means a heavenly army, not choir boys. No wonder the shepherds were sore afraid. When an army gathered around a city in those days, it meant that you were about to be destroyed. They would send an envoy to ask if you wanted to surrender peacefully or die in a siege. This army came in peace. They did not say that there would forever be peace on earth. They were saying that they did not come to destroy the earth, which they very well could have done.

So much of what we celebrate as Christmas tradition in our culture is mere sentimentality spread through Hallmark movies and Christmas cards. The danger of sentimentality is that it obscures reality. Why do we need Christmas? Retailers would say we need it to boost the economy, but there is a deeper, more valuable reason.

The angel summed it up: “Unto you is born this day…a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). We need Christmas because we need a Savior. Christ came because we could not save ourselves. We need someone to save us from sin and death. Romans 8:2 says that we are subject to the law of sin and death, but the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus sets us free from that law. Judaism could not do it. All Judaism could do was point them to Christ and the need of a Savior.

For centuries, the Israelites had looked forward in faith to the coming of their Messiah. The angel announced that the Messiah (the Christ) had been born. Today we look back in faith to Christ as the promised fulfillment of those Messianic prophecies. Many Jews did not look at Christ in faith, and they missed the significance of their Messiah.

Today we risk missing the Messiah because we are too wrapped up in the babe lying in a manger and not a Savior hanging on a cross. We feel that there is some good in us. Like Scrooge, all we need is a large dose of sentimentality that will turn us from a miser into a benefactor. Maybe we just need to do a few good deeds so we can earn our angel wings like Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Never forget that Christ came to save you from your sins. He came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. At Christmas, God gave us the greatest gift he ever could. He gave his Son to be the sacrifice for our sins. Have you received his gift yet? If not, you can do so today. If you have, don’t forget to thank him for it.

 

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