Why “Must” the Christ Rise from the Dead?

In John 20 we read the eye-witness account of the first moments after Mary Magdalene discovered that Jesus’ had risen from the dead. She was the first to come to the tomb and when she arrived she found the tomb open and his body missing. She runs and tells Peter and John and then they run to see the spectacle for themselves.

In verses 8 and 9 we read the very interesting words:

“Then the other disciple, [John], who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”

-John 20:8 and 9

At this moment something clicked for those that we are the tomb that day. Verse 8 says that John went in and saw and believed. What did he believe?

From what follows in verse 9 we gather that he believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. For John (and eventually the others too), the reason for the missing body was not that someone had relocated it (see John 20:3), but that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

I find the way verse 9 is worded quite interesting. Why “must” Jesus rise from the dead?  That is the topic that I want to take up for a few moments here.

Why the Christ Must Rise

The first reason is stated right in our passage today:

Because the Scriptures say so.  Scripture cannot be broken.  If God says something is going to happen, it’s going to happen, otherwise God is a liar. Those of you who were with us for our Good Friday service will remember us reading the account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  When the soldiers and Judas and the religious leaders came to take Jesus into custody, one of the disciples cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest.  And then Jesus said these words in Matthew 26:52-54:

“Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?

-Matthew 26:52-54

Jesus was going to die and rise again because that is what God himself had said would happen. Period. “The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of our God will stand forever.”  What God says will happen, happens.

Old Testament prophecy pointed towards the resurrection of the Christ.  One place that the New Testament itself interprets for us in this way is Psalm 16:10 which says:

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    or let your holy one see corruption.

-Psalm 16:10

Peter points out in his sermon in Acts 2 that this Psalm was written by David, yet David both died and was buried. Peter says that:

“Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”

Acts 2:30-32

Another place we see this is one we looked at this morning at our sunrise service when we read the story out of Luke 24.  When Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead he says:

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’”

-Luke 24:44-47

So, the first reason that the resurrection had to happen was because God Himself, in Scripture, had spoken that it would happen.

The second reason that the resurrection must happen is because it insured several things for us:

Three things it’s going to insure for us.  The restoration of our hearts, the restoration of our righteousness, and the restoration of our bodies.

#1. The restoration of our hearts.  Back in the garden when Adam and Eve sinned, death entered the world and overtook all of us.  Our hearts became hard, filled with fear and shame and sin.  But because of the resurrection of Jesus, all who put their faith and trust in Him are given new hearts.  Our hearts become what they were intended to be in Eden.  Take 1 Peter 1:3 for instance:

“According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”

Here Peter says that we are born anew, that we are given new life, through the resurrection of Jesus.  If it were not for the resurrection of Jesus, we would still be spiritually dead; our hearts would be lifeless, filled with sin.  The cross paid our debt and satisfied the judgment of God, but it is the resurrection that grants us new spiritual life in Jesus. It is essential if we are to have and experience the same resurrected life that Jesus has.

#2. The second thing that the resurrection insured for us is the restoration of our righteousness.  All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.  We’ve all done things worthy of death.  If we are to be with God forever in Heaven, we must be righteous for God is righteous and perfect. 

But sinners cannot just take a bath to get the sin off.  We need new hearts, which as we just saw, the resurrection accomplishes that.  But we also need a formal declaration of righteousness.  A fancy word for this would be justification.  Justification means to be declared not guilty or to be declared righteous.  We need all those things that we’ve done to be erased and we need a new record or resume.  And in the resurrection of Jesus we get exactly that. 

In Romans 4:25 it says that Jesus:

“…was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

-Romans 4:25

When Christ was raised up from the dead it was God the Father giving His approval of the work that Christ had accomplished in living and dying for His people. 

Wayne Grudem (whose systematic theology was very helpful to me on these points), writes:

“By raising Christ from the dead, God the Father was in effect saying that he approved of Christ’s work of suffering and dying for our sins, that his work was completed, and that Christ no longer had any need to remain dead.  There was no penalty left to pay for sin, no more wrath of God to bear, no more guilt or liability to punishment—all had been completely paid for, and no more guilt remained.  In the resurrection, God was saying to Christ, ‘I approve of what you have done, and you find favor in my sight.’”

-Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 615.

This is significant for us because all of us who believe in Jesus are united to Him and raised up with Him it says in Ephesians 2:6.  If we are united with Christ and raised up with Christ, then God’s declaration of approval of Christ is also his declaration of approval of us!  It is a restoration of our righteousness.

We could not stand in God’s presence without this restoration.  And because God wants us to be with Him, and because He loves us and desires us, this was a necessary part of bringing us home to be with Him for eternity.

#3.  And the third thing it insures for us is the perfect restoration of our bodies. 

Now I don’t know about you, but there are days when I am just fed up with this body.  My joints ache, I have allergies, I’ve had several surgeries in my life to fix problems, my eyes are only getting worse and my hair is starting to fall out.  And compared to many, I’m doing okay.  That’s not to speak of cancer, diabetes, and all sorts of horrible illnesses than many of you out there are dealing with.  Right now, of course, there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who have been or are sick with the Covid-19 virus. 

Who will deliver us from these bodies of death?

Jesus will.

Now, when those who have put their faith in Christ are raised from the dead, they will not have the same body that they had before, they will be given a new, resurrected body.  I don’t think that means we will look different or have all the features that we’ve longed for, but we will have a perfect version of our current bodies. 

So take Lazarus for instance.  When Lazarus was raised, which we looked at a couple of weeks ago together, he got his old body back.  Granted it was healed, but it was still weak, sinful, mortal, decaying, body.  It wasn’t a new, resurrected body like the one that Jesus had when he was raised and the one that we will have when we are raised up on the last day. 

Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ is the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20).  The first fruits are those first crops that are harvested.  And the first crops give an indication of what the rest of the harvest is going to be like.  So Jesus here is the first fruit and he shows us what the rest of the harvest is going to be like.  His resurrected body is like the one that each of his followers will receive on that glorious day. 

In the words of a beautiful song written by Sandra McCracken:

We will feast in the house of Zion
We will sing with our hearts restored
He has done great things, we will say together
We will feast and weep no more

-Sandra McCracken

In that day, all because of the death and the resurrection of Jesus, all those who put their trust in Him will have their hearts restored, their righteousness restored and their bodies restored.  God will do it. 

And just as the Scripture could not be broken in regards to Christ’s own resurrection, so too, He will be faithful to His promise to raise us up on that great day when He returns. 

This is good news people.  In fact, this is the best news you will ever hear. 

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

-Romans 10:9

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or failed to do.  This is a second chance.  This is the offer of a new life, a life lived in the same resurrection power that Christ lived in.  I invite you and encourage you to believe. 

Holy Saturday: A Reflection

Among Holy Week celebrations and observances, Saturday of Holy Week is often overlooked or forgotten.  There are no “special” events planned on Saturday—we move from the spectacle of Jesus crucifixion on Friday, right into the jubilee of Easter morning.  For many of us Saturday is a day of hunting for eggs with the children or simply another day to get ready for Easter Sunday breakfast, Easter services and time with family.

But there is a treasure for us on Saturday if we are willing to receive it. 

This treasure only comes in waiting and in silence.  To appreciate Easter, we must begin to enter into the moment with the disciples and to ponder the fact of the death of the Son of God.  This moment is captured well by the song “Buried in the Grave” by All Sons and Daughters: 

There was a day we held our breath
And felt the sting of bitter death
When all our hopes were buried in the grave

Our eyes awake, our hearts were torn
Between our faith and what we knew
Before our King was buried in the grave

And grace was in the tension
Of everything we’ve lost
Standing empty handed
Shattered by the cross

-All Sons and Daughters, “Buried in the Grave”

It would have been tempting to stay busy and to distract themselves from the pain.  But we read in Luke 23:52-56:

This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Luke 23:52-56

The Scripture says that after the Lord’s death they laid his body in a tomb and then his followers rested according to the commandment.  They could have pushed through with all the various activities that one would expect at the time of death but they pause and observe the Sabbath.  They take the time to be still and quiet.  No doubt they spent much time that day in prayer and in reflection.  Maybe for some there was a sense of anticipation as they recalled the Lord’s word that he would rise again on the third day.  Again, All Sons and Daughters captures this in their beautiful song “Buried in the Grave”:

All we have, all we had
Was a promise like a thread
Holding us, keeping us
Oh from fraying at the edge

All we knew, all we knew
Was You said You’d come again
You’d rise up from the dead

-All Sons and Daughters, “Buried in the Grave”

The Saturday of Holy Week is an opportunity for us to take time to do likewise—to pray and to reflect and to anticipate–with the goal of truly appreciating all that the resurrection of Jesus means for us.

(Below are a few thoughts about praying on Holy Saturday.)

The Vigil of Easter

Holy Saturday has two moods.  The first is the keeping of vigil with its longing and waiting for the breaking of the new day.  It is a day in which no candles or fire  are kindled for the light of the world lies in the tomb.  It is a day without music and singing, for sorrow chastens and sobers us for a time.  Often our churches have their altars covered with black cloth.    Proverbs 13:12 summarizes well the two-fold emotion of this night,

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”  

-Proverbs 13:12

The second theme is, therefore,  the joyful anticipation of tomorrow.  Though we sorrow in the moment, we remember Jesus’ promise that He will rise again in victory.  It is traditional to keep vigil through the night of Holy Saturday reading through twelve Old Testament readings that foreshadow the deliverance found in Jesus Christ. 

At sunrise on Resurrection morning, we rejoice to know that death could not hold Jesus Christ in its power.  As darkness gives way to light, we receive the daily parable that it must ever be this way in the Kingdom

“Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.”

-Psalm 126:5

“Most assuredly I say to you, that you will weep and lament…and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy…now you have sorrow, but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you..”

-John 16:20, 22  

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

-Psalm 30:5

Our prayers on Holy Saturday, therefore, have these two moods throughout: sorrow and joyful expectation. Here is a suggested pattern for your prayer time: Begin with a season of mourning over your sin and over the reality of death and darkness in our world. Take some time to repent and be still before God in silence. Then pray for the sick, the dying, the orphan, the widow and for those who are lost.

Then move into the second mood of Holy Saturday, joyful expectation. In this season of prayer we lift prayers up to the Lord knowing that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are heard (1 John 5:14) and can receive the grace and help that we need (Heb. 4:14-16). Pray for the unreached people of the world, your local churches, your leaders, and for your family and children. Pray in the confidence that God loves you and that you one of His beloved children (1 John 3:1). Pray with confidence, knowing that death has been defeated and that God is working all things together for your good and the good of all who love him (Romans 8:28).

(Below are a few categories for spending time in prayer on Holy Saturday.)

Prayer Categories for Holy Saturday (and Scriptures references)

FIRST MOOD: SORROW

-The sick and the dying (2 Cor. 1:8-11; Heb. 4:16; James 5:15-16)

-Spend time repenting of your sins and of your nation’s sins (Psalm 51; Isaiah 60:5; James 4:9; 5:16; 1 John 1:9).

-Our neighbors and the lost in our area (Matthew 9:35-37).

-For the poor and downtrodden, the orphans and the widows (Psalms 68:5; Matt. 5:1-11; 12:19-21; James 1:27).

SECOND MOOD: JOYFUL EXPECTATION

-Give thanks for all that God has done! (Psalm 100; Philippians 4:6-8).

-Our nation’s leaders (Psalms 2:10-11; Rom. 13:1; 1 Tim. 2:1-2)

-Local leaders and servants—police, fire, rescue. Hospitals, nurses, chaplains, teachers, and elected officials.

-The unreached peoples of the world (Utilize Global Prayer Guides that were handed out in church at the start of the New Year)

-Local churches (Luke 11:2; Rom. 15:5-6; Eph. 4:13; 6:18-20; Col. 1:9-10)

-Our pastor and elders and deacons (1 Kings 3:9; Psalms 145:14-15; Prov. 3:5-7; 1 Cor. 15:58; Col. 1:9-10; 2 Tim. 4:7)

-Our children and grandchildren (Deut. 6:4-9; Matt. 22:37; John 10:27-28; 1 Cor. 10:31; Heb. 12:5-6).

Red Door and Covid-19

Every day I read headlines about the indelible mark that the Covid-19 virus has left upon the world. It seems as though no part of the world has been left untouched. Sports and graduations have been cancelled, many have been laid off of work or furloughed. the world economy is reeling and political leaders have taken unprecedented steps to try and stave off another Great Depression. Not to mention over 60,000 deaths and over a million reported cases of the infection (at the time of this article). This will be a year most of us will never forget.

Like everyone else, Red Door Church has been making adjustments to this situation and we wanted to pass along some of that information to you.

First of all, our building is closed until this crisis passes over. Not long ago Vermont’s Governor, Phil Scott, gave a “Stay at Home” order to all those who were not deemed essential workers and he put a ban on gatherings larger than 10. That order lasts until April 15th, but I expect it to be extended.

Second, we are holding online prayer meetings each week. This week and the week before we hosted two and we will likely host at least one this coming week as well. Our other leader boards are also meeting virtually to avoid spreading the virus.

Third, we are increasing our Facebook Live presence. We started doing Facebook Live last summer and it was well received but it was only for the sermon portion of our services. Since the C19 outbreak, we have decided to do a more complete service on Facebook Live, with a time of prayer, announcements, and a little music in addition to the sermon. This will likely be temporary at least until we can make more needed upgrades to our sound and video equipment which we are planning on having installed this summer (if the Lord wills and the C19 virus doesn’t preclude travel for the team from NC that is coming up to help). Here’s a glimpse at what we are doing for Holy Week on Facebook Live this year:

Palm Sunday service at 10am

Monday morning devotion at 9am

Tuesday morning devotion at 9am

Wednesday morning devotion at 9am

Maundy Thursday service at 7pm

Good Friday service at 12pm

Saturday Morning children’s Easter story

Easter Sunrise service at 7am

Resurrection Sunday Service at 10am

Fourth, we are ramping up our efforts at our local Food Shelf. Our church oversees the South Royalton Area Food Shelf and since the C19 outbreak we have seen an increase in need. The challenge has been how we meet that need without endangering our volunteers and the families we are seeking to help. Thankfully the Vermont Food Bank has been passing along helpful info to local food shelves about how they can be more creative in safely helping neighbors during this crisis. At our food shelf here’s some of what we’ve been doing: (1) extra cleaning, (2) wearing masks and gloves, (3) not allowing the public into the building, (4) making deliveries, (5) and only allowing volunteers to serve who are healthy and have not been exposed (to their knowledge) to the virus. We are actively working on more solutions as we speak.

Fifth, the elders of Red Door Church created a Holy Week worship booklet that is available to families on our church website (we also mailed out about 75 of them). The vision behind this booklet is to allow families to engage in worship, prayer, and learning, while at home and away from the gathered body of Christ. The booklets contain reflections, scripture, songs and hymns, and maps and other materials for Holy Week. Those who have internet access are encouraged to tune in and use the booklet in conjunction with the Facebook Live services (or tune in to YouTube later in the week if they are not on FB). I recently did a short video that talks about these booklets and you can download the booklet here on our website.

Sixth, we have ordered 250 face masks for our community. Some in our church have been making masks and distributing them to local organizations, like the food shelf and other places. These 250 will be given away to those who need to be out to shop or to do other essential business.

Finally, we are simply seeking to remain connected with another. We know that community is essential to life, especially the Christian life, and we are striving to be in regular contact with our people. The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us of how critical it is to remain connected and to exhort one another every day so as not to fall away (Heb. 3:12-15). And, as that same writer reminds us later, we must strive to keep our eyes fixed upon the Lord Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith so that we will not grow weary or disheartened (Heb. 12:1-3). Community is essential if we are going to make it through this trying time, so we are making efforts to be in regular contact with our people.

Blessings to you all! May the Lord be with you during this time.

What is Lent?

Since becoming a Christian in college I have not attended a church that observed Lent (to my recollection), at least not while they were observing it.  I have been active primarily in non-mainline Presbyterian, Baptist, or Independent circles and I gather that these traditions generally do not practice Lent and its attendant days and rituals.  Even in seminary (I went to a non-denominational seminary, but most of the students were in the conservative arm of the Presbyterian church), I recall hearing very little about this season of the church calendar.

So when my church here in South Royalton began to talk about “Ash Wednesday” and Lent back in 2014, I had some homework to do.  Thankfully others in the church have helped.

It appears that the exact origin of the practice is unknown though some ancient documents suggest the practice goes back almost to the time of the apostles (if not all the way back to them).  Various writings from the 3rd and 4th century speak of a season of fasting prior to the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Eusebius records a letter in his History of the Church from St. Irenaeus (d. 203) to Pope St. Victor I, commenting on the differences of Easter practice that existed between the Eastern and Western church.  Therein St. Irenaeus makes reference to the fact that a season of fasting had been celebrated in preparation for Easter since the time of “our forefathers” (making reference to the apostles).  1  Today this season of fasting and self-denial lasts forty days in most traditions where it is celebrated (for a long time there was actually a period of 63 days in which preparations for Easter were made beginning with what is called “Septuagesima Sunday“.

The choice of 40 days seems to have stemmed from the story told to us in the Gospels of Luke, Mark, and Matthew, where Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert, being tempted by the Devil. Those who participated in Lent were to fast, as Jesus had, for 40 days, and then return to the community to celebrate the Easter feast and/or to be baptized. 2

Forty days are marked by Lent from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday.  Because Sundays have always been marked as occasions to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we do not include Sundays in the 40 day count. The other days are days marked by special prayer, fasting, self discipline in striving against sin, and sacrificial giving. The Church has always prescribed the three-fold discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving (Matthew 6:1-24) as strong weapons in the fight against self-centeredness and indulgence.  Forty is a sacred number being made up of 4, the symbol of the earth, multiplied by 10, the symbol of the complete judgement of God. Forty days marked the deluge which cleansed the earth in the time of Noah; forty years the wandering of the Jews in the wilderness to purge their unbelief; forty days the fasting and warfare of Jesus in the wilderness against Satan. 3

If you want to learn a bit more about the Christian calendar and seasons like Lent, Pastor Josh wrote a brief article for the Christian Research Institute last Spring (2019) and did a Postmodern Realities Podcast with them as well, which you can listen to here.

  1. Fr. William Saunders, “History of Lent,” http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0527.html.  Accessed on 3/5/2014.
  2. Robert Pannier, “Catholics: History and Meaning of Ash Wednesday and Lent,” http://guardianlv.com/2014/03/catholics-history-and-meaning-of-ash-wednesday-and-lent/.  Accessed on 3/4/2014.
  3. I am indebted to Russell Rohloff of Bethel, Vermont, for the insights and wording in this last paragraph.

What is Pre-Evangelism?

What is pre-evangelism?  Pre-evangelism is the tough work of tearing down objections and obstacles to a sincere hearing of the Christian message of the gospel.  Some persons have walls in their minds and hearts that simply will not allow them to give an open ear to the claims of the Christian faith.  When we do pre-evangelism, we may not be “sharing the gospel” with someone, but we are doing the necessary work of helping them clear hurdles that stand in the way of really hearing the gospel.

A few weeks ago I was reading an excellent book entitled Prelude to Philosophy by Mark W. Foreman.  In the forward, J. P. Moreland, a well-known Christian philosopher and theologian, writes these very true and powerful words which mention the important work of pre-evangelism. It’s a long quote, but it’s worth the 3 minutes it will take you to read and digest it:

“[O]ur culture is in deep trouble.  And while the causes of our malaise are varied, a core problem is the general inability of the American people to think carefully about things that really matter.  And the church of Jesus Christ, which is called to be the pillar and support of the truth, is just as anti-intellectual as the broader culture.  There is a straightforward application of the church’s anti-intellectualism for the body of Christ’s ability to affect the world for Jesus.  To see this, consider the fact that a person’s plausibility structure is the set of ideas the person either is or is not willing to entertain as possibly true.  For example, no one would come to a lecture defending a flat earth because this idea is not part of our plausibility structure.  We cannot even entertain the idea.  Moreover, a person’s plausibility structure is a function of the beliefs he or she already has.  Applied to outreach, J. Gresham Machen got it right when he said:

‘God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favourable conditions for the reception of the gospel.  False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel.  We may preach with all the fervour of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here or there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.’

If a culture reaches the point where Christian claims are not even part of its plausibility structure, fewer and fewer people will be able to entertain the possibility that they might be true… This is why a vibrant intellectual life is so crucial to evangelism.  It empowers the church to be able to create a plausibility structure in a person’s mind, ‘favourable conditions’ as Machen puts it, so the gospel can be entertained by that person.  To plant a seed in someone’s mind in pre-evangelism is to present a person with an idea that will work on his or her plausibility structure to create a space in which Christianity can be entertained seriously.  If this is important to evangelism, it is strategically crucial that local churches think about how they can address those aspects of the modern worldview that place Christianity outside the plausibility structures of so many.1

Churches should labor to teach and train their people to do pre-evangelism.  This is not purely an intellectual exercise, but it is no less either.  Every church can play a role in this great task, even if it’s doing something as simple as supporting ministries like Ratio Christi who focus exclusively on the important work of pre-evangelism, or attending and supporting events like next year’s Why Jesus? in Bangor, ME.

  1. Mark W. Foreman, “Prelude to Philosophy: An Introduction for Christians” (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014), 9-10. The bolded text is my emphasis.

Before Jesus said “Follow Me”

Matthew 4:12-23

“Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.”

_____________________________________________________________________________

The Calling of the First Disciples

What made these men follow Jesus?  Why would they leave it all behind so quickly?  How could someone just up and follow and complete stranger?

At first glance, it would be easy to assume that Peter, Andrew, James and John, at the very first sight of Jesus, got up and left their families and businesses behind.  But there is more to the story.  

In John 1:35-42, we read that Andrew (Peter’s brother), was down listening to John the Baptist preach one day when Jesus showed up on the beach and John shouted “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  Andrew wanted to know more about Jesus so he followed him home and spent the day with him.  

After spending the day with him, Andrew had become convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, so he took Peter to meet him (see John 1:41-42).  After they meet, Jesus gives Peter a new name, which basically means “Rock.” At this point, Peter is likely very intrigued by Jesus.  The word begins to spread to others who Jesus also calls to follow him (see John 1:43-51).

Luke’s account gives us even more information.  Luke tells us that before this day in Matthew 4 when the disciples left their nets, Jesus had been performing miracles in Capernaum where Andrew and Simon lived (see Luke 4:31-37). Undoubtedly, they knew he was a great miracle worker and had observed them with their own eyes.  We know from Luke 4:38 and 39 that one day after teaching and healing in the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus entered the home of Simon Peter and healed his mother-in-law who was ill with a high fever (see Luke 4:38-39). Peter had been blessed personally by the healing work of Jesus.

If we continue on in the Gospel of Luke we find in the very next chapter (5) Luke’s account of this text in Matthew 4. Luke tells us that Jesus actually got into the boat with Simon Peter and performed a miraculous catch of fish.  After all of this, Peter is overcome. He says to Jesus, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).  

Of course, Jesus doesn’t depart but instead calls them to follow him and he will make them fishers of men.  The rest is history. The disciples followed Jesus and went on to make more disciples and the world has never been the same.  

Follow Me

What we see at first glance in this passage doesn’t give us the full picture.  Jesus had been working in the lives of these men for some time before this moment that we see in Matthew 4. He had conversed with them, spent time with them, revealed his glory and even met personal needs.  

I would wager that such is the case with almost every true follower of Jesus.  Before he calls us to “follow him”, Jesus is present in our lives loving, working, and teaching us.  Sometimes what is needed for us to see it is not the great catch of fish but merely the eyes of faith to see his fingerprints all around us on our lives. 

Pray that God gives you those eyes today.

What is Advent?

Maybe the greatest challenge of the Advent and Christmas season is to keep its true meaning in front of us. What is Advent really about?  Why the trees and the presents and the caroling and the parties?  Why all the hullabaloo?

The word advent means “coming.”

What’s coming?  Who’s coming?

Well, when you come to the Bible, you find a lot of talk about future things, but one of the most common and prominent future coming things throughout the Scriptures is the promise of a coming figure who would defeat Satan and evil and bring peace and deliverance to His people.

In fact, we don’t have to wait very long after the creation story to find God already talking about this. All the way back in Genesis 3:15 we find the first place where promises are made and where people begin anticipating or waiting upon someone who is going to come. 

In Genesis 3:15 we have God saying that a future descendant of the woman will crush the head of the serpent, Satan, which lead man and woman into sin.  

Many theologians call this the “protoevangelium” which is a fancy way of saying, the first announcement of the gospel (the good news), that one is coming who would deliver man and woman from their sins.

So right off, in the Scriptures, we have a sense of anticipation—a sense of forward looking towards a future, great deliverer that is coming. 

Jesus, the Long Awaited Deliverer

Of course, over time God would make many more promises to His people and would add many layers to this promise.  We know that he would be one like Moses who delivered his people from captivity.  We know that he would be a son of King David.  We know that he would be born of a virgin.  We know that he would be a suffering servant, one who was crushed and afflicted; one whose own wounds bring about our healing.  We know that he will sight to the blind and set the prisoner free.  We know that he will pour out his spirit on young and old and men and women, slave and free.  All of this and much more, we know from later promises that were given in the time of the Old Testament prophets. 

All of this would take thousands of years to unfold, but finally he came in the person of Jesus Christ.  And the world has never been the same.

But things didn’t stop there, did they?  No!  History didn’t end.  God still has plans and is still doing many things.  With the coming of Jesus came new insights into the Old Testament prophets and also new prophecies about the future. 

So although the advent, or “coming” of the Messiah, the Christ figure of the Old Testament, is here, that does not mean we are done waiting. 

Christians Are Still Waiting Today

Christians are still waiting today.  What are we waiting for now?  Over and over again the New Testament talks about Jesus coming again.  One well known story is found in Acts chapter 1 verses 6 through 11:

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

There it is.  This same Jesus, will come back, just as you’ve seen him go.  And in many other places similar things are said of Christ.

And Advent is a time for us to talk about that and express that reality in tangible ways.  Like today, for instance, we light the candle of hope.  There are two things about hope to realize.  First, hope points to a future reality.  Take Romans 8:24 and 25 for instance:

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Hope points forward.  But secondly, hope also points to something wonderful.  We don’t hope in bad things.  We hope in good things.  So there are good things coming.  Romans 8 that same passage talks about how all creation groans as though it were in childbirth for the restoration of the earth and for the revealing of the sons of God.  Those are good things that have not happened yet, so we hope in them. 

So today we light the candle of hope to say, yes of course, Christ has come, he has fulfilled many prophesies, but not all is complete yet and we are still waiting for his final coming and for the complete and full restoration of all things.

The Second Advent of Christ

The church has picked up on this and that is why historically, Advent has been the time when Christians actively anticipate and prepare for the 2nd coming of Christ. 

The Latin word adventus (where we get the word Advent from) is the Latin translation of the Greek word Parousia (pe-ROO-zea), which is a word commonly used of Christ’s second coming.

Because of Christmas, which follows the season of Advent, and because of the huge commercialization of the holiday, it is easy to think only of Christ’s first coming or first advent during these four weeks, but that would be a mistake.  Because, as I’ve already said, we are still today, waiting upon Christ to come again.

Already and Not-Yet

We live in that already not-yet period of time that I’ve spoken of before. 

Christ has already come and brought fulfillment to many of the promises that we see in the Old Testament, but they are not yet completely fulfilled in some senses. 

For instance, God has promised that he will complete the work that he has started in us who believe (Phil. 1:6) .  In a sense that promise is already fulfilled.  We are complete in Christ and before God we are blameless and clean, right now.  However, we still live in this sinful flesh and we still sin and struggle every day.  So the full fulfillment of that promise will not happen until the day of Christ Jesus, when he returns again and we are changed in the twinkling of an eye and given our perfect, resurrection bodies.

So, in that sense we are already complete and not-yet complete.

This is what Advent is all about for us as Christians.  We live in that in between time—in between the two advents of Christ.

So even today, as Christians, we are still in a posture of waiting.  We are still anticipating.  God has been faithful to send the Deliverer once, and we know He will come again.

And that is what Advent is about.

End Notes

This blog is an excerpt from a recent message by Pastor Josh. Watch on YouTube here.

A Thanksgiving Proclamation

Today it’s commonly argued that our Constitution does not allow for any speak of God in our public life by the government or its officials; that God and government cannot and should not be mixed and that to do so is to violate our Constitution’s most sacred ideals (or not-so-sacred ideals).

For example, groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) suggest that our nation is fundamentally a “secular” one.  Speaking of the phrase “In God We Trust” on our nation’s currency, they argue:

“‘In God We Trust’ is a religious phrase. It does not belong on the legal tender of our secular nation, the first nation to separate church and state with a godless constitution.”

The FFRF believes that the establishment clause contained within the First amendment grants them a constitutional right to be free from religion.

Interestingly, the founders of our nation didn’t feel that way.  In fact, the prayers and speeches of many of our nation’s earliest leaders suggest to us that whatever the meaning of the establishment clause, it most certainly was not to cut God off from our public life or to free people from religion.

Take this proclamation made by George Washington in New York City on October 3rd, 1789, when he first proposed that our nation have a national day of Thanksgiving:

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.” 1

Nearly 75 years later Abraham Lincoln would make Thanksgiving a Federal holiday.  I won’t post it here, but that proclamation as well makes it clear that despite the claims of so many today, the founders of our nation did not think that God and government were like oil and water.  The Federal holiday we know as Thanksgiving Day, a day that was set apart by our government itself, is a day for the offering up of praise, thanksgiving and prayer to our most beneficent Heavenly Father (in the words of Lincoln).  And this holiday stands as a monument to the fact that historically, our leaders have not interpreted our nation’s founding and governing documents in a godless fashion, but rather naturally saw it not only their prerogative to make religious proclamations while in office but also their duty and proper place to exhort the entire American populace to recognize the source of our many blessings in this once great nation as coming down as “gracious gifts from the Most HIgh God” (Lincoln’s words again).

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Image “We the People” by Stephen Nichols, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

  1. The text from this proclamation can be found at http://www.heritage.org/initiatives/first-principles/primary-sources/washingtons-thanksgiving-proclamation. Accessed on 11.26.15.

What is The Reformation?

At Red Door Church here in central Vermont we are celebrating the Protestant Reformation for the sixth year in a row (since 2014).  One way we’ve decided to do that these last few years is by putting on an event we call, “Reformation Day Celebration.”  We open our doors during our town’s annual Fall Festival and invite people in to play Reformation themed games, eat seasonal foods, and look at our displays and booths which tell the story of the Reformation.

It is not uncommon that as I’m telling someone in our community about the event they ask, “What is the Reformation?”

I’m going to try and answer that question now.

A Definition

Definitions only go so far, but let’s start there.  Alister McGrath, professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, defines the Reformation as follows:

The term “Reformation” is used by historians and theologians to refer to the western European movement, centering upon individuals such as Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Calvin, concerned with the moral, theological, and institutional reform of the Christian church in that region. 1

In terms of impact, the Reformation may be one of the most important events in Christian (and world) history.  Yet sadly many Christians are uninformed about this massive event that eventually spawned the Protestant church.

When Did the Reformation Start?

As hard as it is to suggest one particular starting point for the Reformation, if there was one act that set it fully in motion it was the swing of Martin Luther’s hammer on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31st, 1517.  The document he fixed there that day would make him forever famous.  In fact, more books have been written about Martin Luther than about any other historical figure, except Jesus Christ, largely in part because of his actions that day.

The document he posted on the door of the church has been called the 95 Theses because in it Luther raised 95 concerns with the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church at the time.  You can read an English translation of the 95 Theses here.

Factors that Fanned the Flame of Reformation

There were various catalysts for the Reformation.  Maybe one of the most significant was what later came to be know as The Renaissance.  The Renaissance was characterized by a fresh interest in the literature of antiquity.  The Reformation therefore was not something new.  In fact, it was a passionate plea to go back to the things of old.  “The Reformers were never innovators, as the papacy was so often to allege, but renovators.”  2 

One of the popular slogans around the time of the Reformation was ad fontes!, a Latin phrase meaning “to the fountains” or “[back] to the sources.”  A renewed interest in the study of original source documents and ancient literature had many looking to antiquity for inspiration.  The same was true of Christians.  Suddenly, many educated Christians (those who could read Greek and Latin) began to look to the Bible and to the church fathers instead of the Catholic Church and its traditions.3  What they began to see was that a great deal of accepted teaching and practice within the Catholic Church was out of sink with the Bible.

Another major factor was the invention of the printing press.  Just a few decades before Luther’s birth, around 1450 Johann Guttenberg invented the movable type printing process which allowed for the rapid printing and distribution of lengthy texts.  This would play a serious role in the dissemination of Luther’s writings including his 95 Theses, German Bibles and other literature, all of which were instrumental in educating the masses and allowing them to see the force of Luther’s arguments for themselves. 4

For more on the causes and various factors that played into the Reformation, read Russ Rohloff’s helpful entry “The Necessity of the Reformation” posted recently.

What Were Some of Luther’s Complaints?

(1) Indulgences.  One of Luther’s most serious complaints against the Catholic Church of the time was regarding what was called “indulgences.”  Below are numbers 27 and 28 in his Theses speaking of indulgences:

27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.

Part of the money made from indulgences was used in the building fund for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  But here’s the way indulgences worked:

The Catholic Church had created the idea of the Treasury of Merit, sort of a “bank account” of merit deposited by Christ, Mary, the saints, and others as a result of their good works. When church members sinned, they could purchase an indulgence, which was akin to asking the Church to “transfer funds” from the Treasury of Merit to the sinner’s account. The indulgence basically excused the sinner from a certain amount of time in purgatory and/or temporal punishment for that sin. 5

(2) The issue of authority.  Sylvester Prierias, one of Luther’s staunch opponents in the Roman Church, wrote in response to Luther’s 95 Theses: 

He who does not accept the doctrine of the Church of Rome and pontiff of Rome as an infallible rule of faith, from with the Holy Scriptures, too, draw their strength and authority, is a heretic.

Official Catholic teaching saw the church as the highest authority, over even the very Word of God.  This was backwards to Luther, who believed that the Bible was the highest authority.

(3) Distortion of the Gospel Message. Back in 1510 before Luther posted his Theses, he had made a trip to Rome as a representative of his Augustinian Monastery.  Though the trip was for church business, Luther had hoped that it would help him personally.  Ever since he began church as a boy, Luther could not get over his intense fear that God was angry with him.  He once wrote “If I could believe that God was not angry with me, I would stand on my head for joy.”  And his progress in the church only made his guilt and anxiety about his standing with God worse.  He was ordained into the priesthood in 1507, received his Doctor’s degree in theology in 1512 and was given the chair in Biblical Theology at the University of Wittenberg (which Luther held the rest of his life).  But none of it helped.

Rome was to be for Luther a time to find healing and help.   But God had very different plans. Instead of finding answers to his questions and help for his troubles, Luther left Rome frustrated.

It was not until Luther began to read the Scriptures for himself that he found help.  It grieved Luther that the pure gospel message of salvation in Christ alone through faith alone was obscured and distorted through the teachings of the Church at the time.  Most people, in fact, could not read the Bible for themselves because common Bibles were written in Latin and were extremely expensive.  What is more, the Church taught that the Bible was difficult and hard to understand and therefore should not be entrusted to the interpretation of the common man, but only the Magisterium (or teaching office of the church) could accurately interpret them.  Luther himself saw that not only was the belief of the Church untrue, but it prevented people from having access to the very thing that gave freedom to those suffering under guilt and the oppression of sin. 6   He writes in his book Bondage of the Will:

But, if many things still remain abstruse to many, this does not arise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from [our] own blindness or want [i.e. lack] of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness of the truth… Let, therefore, wretched men cease to impute, with blasphemous perverseness, the darkness and obscurity of their own heart to the all-clear scriptures of God… If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures, but he that hath the Spirit of God… If you speak of the external clearness, nothing whatever is left obscure or ambiguous; but all things that are in the Scriptures, are by the Word brought forth into the clearest light, and proclaimed to the whole world.

Protestantism Born Out of the Reformation

After Luther’s death in 1546 the Reformation continued to spread and evolve.  Out of it was born the Protestant churches, which make up one of the three major branches of Christianity in the world today.

  1. Taken from his book Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought (Blackwell Publishing: Malden, MA, 1998), 156.)
  2. Tim Dowley, ed., Introduction to The History of Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 370.
  3. If you are interested in the church fathers, who they were, some of what they wrote, click here.
  4. You can read more about the importance of the printing press in The Reformation here.
  5.  http://www.satisfactionthroughchrist.com/2014/10/what-is-reformation-day.html
  6. Luther would eventually translate a Bible in German to distribute to the common folk while living under the protection of Frederick of Saxony in the Wartburg Castle.  Luther’s Bible became the major German Bible of the time; all other later translations were dependent upon it.  He finished the New Testament in 1522 and the Old Testament over the course of the following ten years, from 1522 to 1532.  The first complete Luther Bible appeared in Wittenberg in 1534.  According to Dowley’s History of Christianity, “Luther’s Bible was a literary event of the first magnitude, for it is the first work of German prose.”