Risen

During the time of the Russian revolution, about the time of World War I, some Russian communists made a village turn out for a long harangue. They then called out the local pastor of the village church and gave him five minutes to reply. The pastor replied that he only needed five seconds. He then stood up before the village and gave them the familiar Easter greeting: “The Lord is risen!” The thunderous reply came back from the crowd: “He is risen indeed!”

The central truth of Christianity, the linchpin on which it hangs, is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This event is the basis of the timeless validity and certainty of the gospel, and it is based upon the unanimous and consistent testimony of the apostles through the New Testament that the Lord is risen indeed. The fundamental belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is fundamental to a person having saving faith in Jesus Christ. And as this one event stands it reduces other religions to myths and stories and other philosophies to vain speculations and mere imagination. Marx and Mohammed remain in their graves, but the sure and confident faith of the Christian is that Jesus rose from the dead and is alive forevermore.

One of the eyewitness testimonies to the risen Christ comes from the apostle John. He passes on to the world the turnaround of his fellow apostle, a man whose hopes had been dashed and who seemed to have been turned into a confirmed skeptic of the resurrection. This account was passed on to persuade us of the fact of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and to guide us to a personal faith in Jesus. For the apostle, and for the apostles and the New Testament itself, the proper outcome of the persuasion of the fact of the resurrection is a personal trust in Jesus himself and him alone for salvation, for eternal life. What was written was given to us in a confident, gentle and loving manner to guide us to enter into an experience of him as a living Savior who is able to bring us eternal life.

“But Thomas, who was one of the Twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples were then saying, ‘We have seen the Lord!’”

“But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the wounds in his hands and I put my finger into the wounds from the nails and I put my hand into his side, I won’t believe it!’”

“And after eight days the disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came while the doors were closed, and he stood in the center and said to them, ‘Shalom to you!’”

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Bring your finger here and check out my hands, and bring your hand and put it int0 my side, and don’t be unbelieving but believing!’”

“Thomas answered him and said, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

“Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen do you believe? Blessed are those who have not seen and who have come to faith!’’”

“Jesus performed many other signs before the disciples which have not been written in this book. But these things have been written that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that as you believe you might have life in his name.”

(John 20:24-31, Dale’s sight translation, click here for other translations)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ assures us of his reality as a living Lord and Savior. The risen Lord lives and is able to give us all that he has promised, and in view of his resurrection, having been persuaded that he is risen, belief in him, trust in him and following him is the greatest realism.

The resurrection of Jesus was a real event three days after the crucifixion. There was no controversy among the disciples who were there that they were seeing the same Jesus alive whom they had seen arrested and crucified three days earlier. This is what they had to say to Thomas about that: “But Thomas, who was one of the Twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples were then saying, ‘We have seen the Lord!’”

The apostles, the eyewitnesses of the resurrection, had recognized the same Jesus whom they had all known and loved was alive among them on the evening of the day of resurrection. The invitation of Jesus to touch his body and see and touch the wounds of the crucifixion, show that it was the same body in which he was crucified, and it was able to be touched and handled. This establishes that the resurrection wasn’t a ecstatic vision, nor the haunting of a ghost, nor a hallucination, nor the shared memory of a dear departed friend, as some have tried to explain the resurrection appearances. It was the resurrection of Jesus in the same physical body in which he had lived and died, but radically changed in nature and capability. The testimony of the eyewitnesses is that the body of Jesus was the same but he had undergone a radical transformation. It was a real body that they saw and touched, but a spiritual body that was no longer subject to death. His resurrection was more than the resuscitation of a corpse, like Lazarus. Rather, it was the entrance of an entirely new physical life from the power of God. His resurrection was not the loss of personal identity nor the loss of corporeal life, but the reception of physical immortality and incorruptibility. And this points out the ultimate destination of the believer in Christ, glorification, resurrection to be like Jesus himself.

It was and remains entirely reasonable and realistic to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, and it is the ultimate moment of transformation in this life. For the apostles, it meant that a scared and defeated group of men, most likely from a couple of men as young as John to older men past middle age, saw behind the closed doors the visible, demonstrable triumph of the Son of God over the power of sin and death. This was the basis of their later zeal and preaching that turned the world upside down, and eventually, all but one of them laying down their lives for their testimony to the risen Lord. This was the power of the cross and then the resurrection that changed these men then and continues to change lives today. There’s a story about an undertaker’s son who was in Sunday School who said confidently that Jesus would never have risen if his father had gotten ahold of him. It makes a cute story, but it’s true that no power on earth could have held him down, as Dallas Holm so wonderfully put in the song, “Rise Again.”

This passage then also shows something extremely important in our day and age about the nature of belief in the resurrection of Jesus and the nature of saving faith in Jesus. It is not belief without evidence, as some may try to mischaracterize Biblical faith. It is believe through the testimony of the eyewitnesses, and it ultimately goes back to the evidence that came through the apostles, the chosen witnesses of Jesus to the resurrection.

So here’s how Jesus lovingly corrected Thomas for his refusal to believe on the evidence that came through the apostles to him:

“But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the wounds in his hands and I put my finger into the wounds from the nails and I put my hand into his side, I won’t believe it!’”

“And after eight days the disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came while the doors were closed, and he stood in the center and said to them, ‘Shalom to you!’”

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Bring your finger here and check out my hands, and bring your hand and put it int0 my side, and don’t be unbelieving but believing!’”

Thomas wasn’t a gullible or naïve man. He was passionate and intense, as it would seem, from the gospel record. But he knew then what every normal adult man and woman knows from his or her experience in this world: dead men do not rise from the dead. Except, though, there would be this one case where that would happen despite his prior determination not to believe it. Before long, the proof would be standing before him. And not only that, the risen Lord would be standing before him speaking directly to him and contradicting his refusal to believe what he had been told.

Jesus obviously considered that the testimony of the other apostles was sufficient for Thomas to have believed their word about his resurrection. Their testimony is recorded throughout the New Testament. It is the testimony of those eyewitnesses who laid down their lives for the certainty of their claims. It is an intellectually reasonable and defensible and historically accurate record of events that actually happened. There have been many over the centuries who have examined the record of the New Testament and found it reasonable and credible. Here are two:

Charles Hodge (past president of Princeton Theological Seminary): “It may be safely asserted that that the resurrection of Jesus is at once the most important and best authenticated fact in the world.”

John Broads (past president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary): “If I don’t know that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, then I know nothing in the history of mankind.”

The evidence is therefore considered sufficient for saving faith from all the gospel writers and the writers of the New Testament. The resurrection was the culmination of the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God throughout his life and ministry. What there is is sufficient to confirm the claims of Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, the Messiah, to back up his promises and teaching, and the reality of his resurrection. There’s a report that a Muslim once taunted a Christian that, “You Christians do not even have a tomb to which you can point, where your Jesus lies buried. We have the tomb of Mohammed in Mecca.”

The Christian then replied, “That is just the point; your prophet is dead and lies buried; our Christ is risen and with us always.”

Therefore, the historic, Biblical faith of the Christian lies in a risen Savior. The persuasion of the truth of the resurrection is the basis of a strong, securely grounded faith. And this means that faith in Jesus Christ is not an escape from reality, a childish mind game, a comforting refuge for the weak minded, nor a fantasy, but an acceptance of the deepest reality in our world, and a living, livable, the only viable option of life. The persuasion of the truth of the resurrection must then lead to the point of personal faith in and commitment to the Lord Jesus, the risen Savior.

Persuasion of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ calls for a personal faith in him. It is completely reasonable and fitting for someone who claims belief in the fact of the resurrection to come to personal belief in and commitment to the risen Lord himself. This is the proper response which is recommended from the gospel itself:

“Thomas answered him and said, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

“Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen do you believe? Blessed are those who have not seen and who have come to faith!’’”

The personal commitment of faith in and obedience to Jesus comes from the words of Thomas himself. It means making that personal commitment of faith in him and obedience to him, to be his follower and disciple in the Biblical sense of the words. For Thomas, these words meant a full pledge of his allegiance and submission to Jesus as his Lord and Master: “My Lord!”; in our day, some try to use the word, ‘leader’, here, but I think that’s too weak a word for the complete and total commitment that these words describe. In our day and age a leader may seem to be someone out in front, but it’s often seemed to me that people feel themselves under very little obligation to follow a leader unless that person leads them in a direction which they approve. But what this meant for Thomas was giving Jesus total authority over his life.

It is, moreover, personal submission to Jesus himself, and full acceptance of his Deity, as Thomas acknowledged, “ . . . and my God!” Thomas knew Jesus as an extraordinary man. He had witnessed the miracles of Jesus and had heard all the teachings of Jesus over the course of the ministry of Jesus. It’s also evident from his earlier mention, in John 11, that he was deeply attached to Jesus personally and thought that he would be willing to die for Jesus. This admission of Deity is way more than a normal Jew of the time would have made unless he had come into contact with extraordinary, incontrovertible evidence. And the final evidence was more than the teaching and the miracles, though they had pointed forward to this moment. In this moment, what came from his mouth was the acknowledgement that the man before him, bearing wounds of the crucifixion, the one that they had known to be dead but was now alive, was God himself. The nature of this belief would later be worked out over years to come, to the attestation that Jesus was the Son of God in the unique sense, as the Second Person of the Trinity. The belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God was not upon mere assertion but upon the stupendous reality of his resurrection.

From this, then, the confession of Thomas would be a fully viable expression of saving faith from those who would come to faith later on. This is why Jesus put in that remark about those who have not seen and who believe. It was more than his gentle, loving rebuke of the previous unbelief of Thomas. It was the indication to them that there would later be those who would not have the eyewitness experience that they did and yet would come to saving faith in him.

So then the apostle gets gently personal with each person who is reading: “Jesus performed many other signs before the disciples which have not been written in this book. But these things have been written that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that as you believe you might have life in his name.”

The apostle is asking each one who is reading to take the words he has written and upon them, come to faith in Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus was loving and gracious with Thomas, the apostle echoes this grace and love in extending this invitation. No high pressure; no strong demands; no spittle flecked ranting into a microphone like the caricature of an old time evangelist; the apostle just gives you the opportunity to consider what he has written and come to saving faith, eternal life, in the name of Jesus. The invitation is to make that open declaration of faith in Jesus which the Bible calls saving faith. This is the way that the apostle Paul put it: “. . . if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

What this is is personal submission to Jesus himself, from the personal conviction that he is risen from the dead, to make him Lord of your life. This is more than church membership or commitment to a church. So many may be a part of a church and may be good and moral people, but may never have made that personal commitment of saving faith in Jesus Christ. For instance, a long time friend of mine from years ago, unfortunately (for us) now deceased, years ago went to a convent and became a nun because she was seeking direction and discipline in her life. But then some years afterward, she volunteered to become a counselor at a Billy Graham Crusade in her area. It was as she she was reading the material that she was expected to explain to another person that she realized that with her discipline and work with the church, that she had missed the most important point: she had never put her faith in Jesus personally, for herself, and had not received eternal life by faith in him. And then she did so.

Lots and lots of people visit and attend churches and explore and become involved in religions and religious activities, but miss the point. I myself attended church with my family for years as I was growing up, but until August 27, 1974, I never understood or discovered the point of it all. It’s like the reaction of the newspaper editor in Dayton, Ohio, to whom Katherine Wright, the sister of Orville and Wilbur Wright, gave this telegram: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” The editor said, “How nice that your brothers will be home for Christmas.” People get involved with churches and religions for guidance, for spiritual curiosity, because of family and tradition, and out of desire for some kind of social connection. But they often miss the point of the witness of the church to the resurrection of Jesus and the invitation through the apostles to receive eternal life by faith in him alone.

Years ago Leon Jaworski was a household name during the Watergate controversy in the USA. He was the special prosecutor for that time, but what is less known about him is that he was the son of a Polish immigrant who was an evangelical preacher. In 1981 he went beyond his years of church attendance to speak more openly of his faith in Jesus Christ, and he said, “I had a heavy burden off my heart because I did something that I felt I should have done a long time ago.”

Saving faith in Jesus Christ, then, is this openly professed faith in Jesus Christ and submission to his Lordship. It means belief in his resurrection and his Deity, and upon the authority of Jesus Christ, the truthful and almighty Savior, this brings the assurance of eternal life. The assurance of eternal life is not in anything that we are, in anything that we have done, but in whom we have come to know, the risen Savior, through a personal and conscious decision of faith.

Jesus Christ is risen! The same Jesus Christ who died on the cross has risen from the dead! This truth calls us today to celebrate, with worship and praise to the Lord for his victory. And the point of the celebration is to celebrate with faith in him.

Join in the celebration, with all believers everywhere today. Give your praise and adoration to the Lord of life, the resurrected Son of God! Praise him for his almighty power and for his all powerful love and goodness, which has conquered sin and death. Praise him for the hope which he has made certain, for the eternal life of those who love and follow him. Praise him for his eternal glory, as the Son of God, who is greater by far than anything or anyone else is or ever shall be.

Keep on in the celebration! The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is to give us joy and confidence every day of the year, even though we focus on it today. His resurrection is truth to nourish and strengthen our faith and the foundation of our faith. This will bring us consistency and stability in the faith, as we live with the understanding and awareness that we serve a risen Savior. The constant realization that the Son of God is alive means that we are not pursuing a fantasy, but that our love for him and our obedience to him is to a real and living Person. And our declaration that the Lord is risen will ignite our hope to be with him and to be like him, and make it a burning expectation within our hearts.

Enter into the reason for our celebration. For believers in Jesus, his resurrection is not something that happened far ago in history that happened to a stranger. It is the victory over sin and death of the Lord whom we have come to know personally when we put our faith in him. The reason that we celebrate is because we have received eternal life by faith in the risen Son of God. So then, the question come to you through all the ages: have you made a personal commitment of your life to Jesus Christ? Have you made a conscious decision to repent of your sins and to put your faith in him alone for your eternal salvation? Will you declare your faith in him and then follow him as your Lord?

Incomparable

The late Marjoe Gortner was probably the most infamous example of someone who had been pushed forward as a child evangelist and later renounced his public profession of faith. Yet because of his experience he had some perceptive comments that he made later about what he saw and experienced. He once said, “When I was traveling, I’d see someone want to get saved in one of my meetings, and he was so open and bubbly in his desire to get the Holy Ghost. It was wonderful and very fresh, but four years later I’d return and that person might be a hard nosed and intolerant Christian because he was better than anyone else because he had Christ. That’s where the danger comes in. People want and experience. They want to feel good . . .”

That continues to be a problem. His remarks do give credit that this happened with some people and not everyone. It’s conceivable that many became faithful, humble, loving Christians as well – but there’s no drama or the self righteousness of the renegade former evangelical that feeds on the hypocrisy of the few. But the issue for everyone everywhere remains not the faithful Christians or the hypocritical ones. It always remains Jesus – who he is and what he has done. And this is why the gospel of Jesus Christ constantly and relentlessly points us away from our feelings and experiences to Jesus Christ himself. Some years ago there was a song about coming back to the heart of worship, but it never seemed to come more than halfway back, since there was still a lot of “I” and “me’ in that song. But the final word was that it is all about Jesus. It’s not about getting a buzz on the music and the atmosphere, and the words of so many of our songs are fuzzy about the fundamental truths should be crystal clear for someone abiding in Christ and growing in him and in the knowledge of his Word. So many things are backhanded references and you have to think way too hard to find anything Biblical in so many of the words of our worship songs. And so many of our worship songs seem to be more like third rate poets celebrating their feelings and finding bad metaphors and similes to express what they think their experiences are than wholehearted scriptural praise comparable to the hymns and songs of praise that have been the repertoire of the church for two thousand years.

There needs to be a new and fresh vision of Jesus Christ beyond the foggy, cloudy and gushy experience that we’ve been taking on in the past few years. We need a fresh realization of the glory of our Lord. The fog, cloudiness and almost incomprehensible expressions of our shallow and superficial experiences needs to give way to the bright and shining glory of God in the incomparable person and work of Jesus Christ. It must be that we’ve only settled for what we’re finding is that there is a great lack of realization of who Jesus Christ really is and what we have done. We seem to celebrate a sentimental familiarity with Christ rather than the stunning statements of who the man of Galilee really was and is and what he has done for us. It may seem like heavy theology, because we seem to have been accustomed to shallowness. Yet what was written for us, and what has often been in the faith and worship of the church for centuries, was intended for ordinary people, not for academics. It may be difficult for the mind to grasp – indeed the finest merely human mind cannot come to a full realization and understanding of all that the scriptures say about Jesus. What the scriptures say is there for our faith to believe and seek understanding upon that basis. This then corrects what may be a deeply faulty, inadequate and shallow inner image that we have of Jesus, as far too small, weak, and less than the Lord of glory. So next stop is the portrait of Paul of the incomparable Christ, the cosmic Christ, in terms and attributes that are far too often passed over even by Christians who have been in the faith for many years. The cosmic Christ, the Lord of all nature, superior in nature and rank to all the creation, and who is first in the universe in every way, preeminent above every being, shocks and astounds us out of the self concerned, festering morass of our feelings and experiences into an adoration and worship where we become enthralled with him and only him.

So here’s how the apostle Paul described how Jesus Christ is first in the universe in every way:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation, because through him all things in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things were created through him and for him. And He is before all things, and all things are sustained through him. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might be first in all things; because in him all the fullness of god was pleased to dwell and to reconcile all things to himself, as he made peace through the blood of his cross – whether things on earth or in heaven.”

Jesus Christ is, first of all, God incarnate. Those two words, “God incarnate”, describe something that we may often forget is astounding bey0nd all our thoughts, experiences and experiences. They describe Deity robed in human flesh, the fullness of Deity dwelling bodily. They mark Jesus as so supreme above every human teacher, guru and self described savior that they deserve no comparison, because he is incomparable.

As the Son of God, God incarnate, the Second Person of the Trinity, as Christians for centuries have described him, Jesus is the perfect image of the invisible God. He is incomparable in that way to all human teachers. In Jesus, all that God is comes into perfect focus for all of humanity. He is the perfect, living theophany, through whom the invisible God demonstrated and expressed his character and personality. He was not nor did he posses just a “piece” of God in himself, or a partial but incomplete depiction of God that other teachers, gurus, prophets and avatars may fill out in other ways. He cannot be reduced in who he is and what he has done to someone small enough to be compared to someone else that someone might find preferable from their own background or tradition. That would reduce Jesus to an idol and elevate the others to whom one is comparing Jesus to idols, since idols are incomplete models of what people may think God to be. At best those idols, those fake images of God, may show something that may be some attribute of God, but they cannot express all that God is through a human personality and life. They always leave a lot out of the fullness of Deity and often include large elements of human sin and frailty – just look at the fallibility, follies, foibles and depravities of the old Indo-European sky god whom we know historically as Zeus, Jupiter and Dyaus.

As God incarnate, Jesus Christ is the creator and sustainer of all things. As Deity, the Second Person of the Trinity, his being is eternal, and as the eternal Son, he was creator with God the Father, and the universe continues to exist and be sustained through his personal agency. He is the Creator of all visible and invisible beings, all living things, even the mightiest of archangels, and all of mankind and the nations of this world; they all come from the invisible creating and sustaining agency of the one Person who is the Man of Nazareth. None among them are equal to or prior to Christ, and so they are not rivals of his in any way, and they do not deserve any comparison with him. And as the creator and sustainer of all creation, all human beings continue to live through his almighty power; we do not have life in ourselves, but only through the Son of God, the Second Person of the Godhead. And so there is nothing in the universe that is a mystery to him, and to the believer in Christ, the universe itself is no mystery, since he or she personally knows who is responsible for bringing it into being and keeping it in existence from moment to moment.

Next, as the Son of God, God incarnate, Jesus Christ is the owner and possessor of all that exists. This is the meaning of the phrase, “firstborn of creation.” That phrase, in its history, had little to do with being created or being physically born the first in the family. For instance, in the Old Testament, David, Jacob and Joseph were not the first ones physically born in their families, but each one received the right of the firstborn. It was what has been called the right of primogeniture, and it does not mean, as some counterfeit, cultish imitations of Biblical Christianity would have it, that the supernatural nature of Jesus was a superior created being. The right of the firstborn is not the same as being the first one born in a family. And what this means is that all things were created for him and his will is pre-eminent in the universe. All other commands and priorities are secondary and fade to nothing beside the word of Jesus Christ. He will have his will accomplished in all things, and the goal of all the universe is the Kingdom of God under God’s anointed King Jesus.

One of the stupendous things about this is the agreement that the apostle Paul has in what he has just asserted with one of the original Twelve apostles, the apostle John, who was writing almost a generation later and in another part of the Roman world. Here is what the apostle John had to say:

Dr. D. James Kennedy noted that most unbelievers and nominal Christians are unaware of the Deity of Jesus Christ, and sharing the meaning of what it meant for Jesus to be the Son of God as himself being Deity, God in the flesh, was a significant part of the Evangelism Explosion presentation which he developed. It was often true in that era in which he formulated that presentation, the 1960s, that there were many people who attended church at that time who were nevertheless in the dark about what the words that the hymns and the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds really meant when they referred to Jesus Christ as the Son of God. And to be fair, many of the men in the pulpit of the church at that time may not either have realized its significance or believed in the Biblical meaning of the Deity of Christ, as this doctrine is often called in the systematic theology books. Making this a part of the gospel presentation, then, meant that he was correcting a part of the theological instruction that many may never have heard in the churches in which they grew up and which they attended, as to understanding and accepting that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, as Deity. And this is one of the crucial reasons for sharing this as part of the gospel; it establishes Jesus as a Savior that can save to the fullest extent possible in anywhere in this world for anyone in this world.

Even more, Jesus Christ is the only Savior. The extent of his reconciliation is too often missed in our preaching and teaching; we tend to reduce it to just providing forgiveness for our sins – and that is perfectly fine and Biblical when sharing the gospel — but it goes way beyond that. His reconciliation through the cross went far beyond cancelling the condemnation to eternal punishment for sinful people, though that is fine and Biblical and definitely a part of the presentation of the gospel to those who need to come to know Christ. Even more staggering is also the realization that Jesus Christ, in a profound and cosmic way, through the cross brought reconciliation to the universe and the genesis of a new humanity. This is a part of what the cross meant and what it continues to mean; the depth, breadth and extent of the reconciliation that Jesus brought to the universe is staggering to understand and contemplate, and this is often something that may be missing in our normal preaching and teaching from week to week. Certainly the truth that we’re about to touch upon is probably far beyond the normal understanding that many believers who attended church weekly have come to realize.

The cross meant the pacification of God to all that is evil and in this fallen universe. First, this meant a stay in the ultimate judgment of the human race and gave fallen humanity the opportunity across centuries to become reconciled to God through faith in Christ. Make no mistake about it, the biggest complaint that godly people have had over the centuries about the justice of God in this world, which is not the poor formulation that unavenged evil means God does not exist, but the often voiced complaint that God’s justice is inexplicably delayed, finds its answer in the reconciliation which Christ has provided in the cross. One of the unconditional benefits of the cross is the stay in the judgment of God until the opportunity for reconciliation has been fully come to this world.

But next, the cross meant that Jesus through his resurrection would be the ultimate, incomparable Savior provided for the human race. That is what it meant for him to be the firstborn from the dead; his resurrection was more than a temporary resuscitation from death, to die later, as Lazarus and the son of the widow in the town of Nain. Rather, he was the firstborn of a new mankind, a new and resurrected human race, made from the people of the first race descended from Adam, that would supersede the original race.

Even more, this meant that he has become the Head of the Church, the fellowship of the redeemed. There is no earthly head but only the Son of God, the Savior from heaven! Then, the term that the church is his body means that he is the source of its life and each one has a unity of life with him and each other. That’s a striking thought that too little affects how we see our Lord and how we see and how we treat each other. This statement means that the church exists because of, through and in the dominion of Christ. It knocks down and reduces to ashes the human presumption that a church is our fellowship and that we are in charge and run the church. It means that our presumption is in conflict with his authority and supremacy, and that means that we need to be careful that we please Christ rather than ourselves. But this even more is the basis of the new fellowship among those who know Christ, and the understanding that we are people of destiny in a far greater way than we often realize. This means that the most obnoxious person you know, or the person that you cringe when he or she enters a church building, nevertheless shares your life and destiny under Christ if he or she has genuinely repented and placed his or her faith in Christ. All this means that there needs to be definite re-thinking of many of us on how we think about our church involvement and how we treat others in the body of Christ.

Taking another look, then, at the portrait of Christ which has been painted in the words of the apostle Paul through the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, there’s that familiar face again, but greater in a way which we may have never seen before. That face is our Lord! If we linger and contemplate and gaze with the eyes of our heart, we will see him in a new way. And once we have truly seen him in this way, we can never think of him in the same way again. And even more, we can never responsibly live the same way again!

The Jesus that we see in a new way is a Lord who is worthy of all our worship and adoration! Let us never again think of our due homage to him in worship ever again as any kind of drudgery. That hero worship that we have often given to incomparably less figures in this world and our human saviors who cannot save us has a far more worthy and adequate objects, Jesus Christ himself!

And the Jesus that we see is a Lord worthy of all our obedience. Our Lord who has given all, promises all and is able to keep and will keep all of this promises. Therefore never let us give him mere lip service again, or use him as a mere figurehead for our lives!

The incomparable Christ that we see is also a Lord who is capable of helping us in all our difficulties, each and every one. He suffered himself in our world and he is able to give us a depth of sympathy and compassion beyond all that we can fully know. But he is also a Lord who is able to solve the problems and bring the comfort. Therefore let us never again go to anyone else first!

Finally, Jesus Christ the incomparable is the only Lord who can satisfy. All others will fade away and fall apart, yet he is eternal and he brings us eternal satisfaction. Let us never again act as if there is real, lasting and ultimate satisfaction that we will find anywhere else.

Offering

Years ago there was a pastor in Kentucky that sent his parents a microwave oven as a Christmas gift. The gift thrilled his parents, but they found that they couldn’t get it to work even after they had read over the directions. So two days later, as his mother was speaking with a friend, she said that she couldn’t even get that microwave oven to boil water. She confessed, “To get this darn thing to work, I really don’t need better directions; I just needed my son to come along with the gift.”

This situation was like how God dealt with his chosen people of Israel. He gave them the directions in the Law of Moses as the way of life, but they found that they couldn’t live up to the requirements of the Law and achieve their own acceptance with God because of their good deeds. Even the sacrificial worship of the Temple could not ease their consciences. So God gave them a greater opportunity; he sent his Son Jesus Christ. The Son of God was God’s gift of salvation in person, and in him he offered them all his promises of the King who would come in the line of David who would be their Savior, and, indeed, the Savior of the entire world. But still the gift of God’s Son, his appeal to them to accept his mercy through his Son, respected their free choice as human beings. The King came to them to be either accepted or rejected. Jesus publicly entered the city of Jerusalem, on the day that Christians around the world have celebrated as Palm Sunday, as the living fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and as a national theophany. Although there was celebration on that day, ultimately it would come out that the nation had missed the opportunity to receive properly their King that God was offering to them.

This still is how God now deals with us now not so much as nations but as individuals who will one day stand before him. One day it will just be y0u standing there before God before the whole universe. Yet long before that time, and sometimes even many times over may present Jesus Christ to us through the gospel as Lord and Savior for our acceptance or rejection. And along with that, there will be ultimate, eternal consequences to our acceptance of Jesus Christ or rejection of him as he comes to us through the gospel.

“When Jesus had already drawn near to the egress down from the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty deeds that they had seen, as they said, ‘Blessed be the King who is coming in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’”

“And some of the Pharisees who were in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, correct your disciples!’”

“And he answered them, ‘I say to you, if these people were silent, the stones would cry out!’”

“And as he came near, as he saw the city he wept over it, as he said, ‘If you have only known on this day what would bring about peace – but now it has been hidden from your eyes. Because the day will come when your enemies will surround you with a barricade, and they will encircle you and completely hem you in, and they will dash you and your children in you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on another, because you did not know the time that God would visit you!’”

(Luke 19:37-44, Dale’s sight translation)

Jesus Christ is himself God’s gracious offer of salvation. He himself is the gospel, the good news which God has for our world, in person. And God’s offer of his Son to us as Lord and Savior is his final answer, his only offer of salvation. Even more, the open, public offer of Jesus Christ is the open demonstration of the grace of God to our world – his gracious love and mercy to a rejecting, rebellious and dying world, to each individual who is rejecting, rebellious and dying through his or her own sins. Through the person of his Son, then, his public appeal comes for the acceptance or rejection of the salvation which he has provided.

Verses 37-44 describe something that would appear rather modest to a modern witness: “When Jesus had already drawn near to the egress down from the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty deeds that they had seen, as they said, ‘Blessed be the King who is coming in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’”

This was a procession of a crowd, maybe of several hundred to several thousand people, that went several hundred yards from the Mount of Olives on the usual way down the mountain to the Temple in Jerusalem. Since we usually celebrate Palm Sunday in the morning, we may often see this as having taken place in the morning. The gospel of Mark tells that Jesus went to the Temple just after this, looked around and left, because it was evening. So it may have started around 5 PM local time, and continued until just about 7 PM or so, when sunset would have come.

The crowds, though, recognized the significance of what it meant when Jesus entered Jerusalem on the colt. It wasn’t an occasion just to wave palms and sing songs, because we have done so since our childhood in our churches. There was no tradition of Palm Sunday to fall back on on that day. There was a tradition that explained that act, though. Jerusalem had been the capital of the forefather of Jesus, King David, and this entrance was something that recalled the entrance of the prince, the heir to the throne, who was to be crowned king of Israel. It may have in fact been the same road since in ancient cities which were continually rebuilt the roads were often repaved on top of each other. So this entrance of Jesus was the prelude to a coronation ceremony – as some of our Palm Sunday hymns acknowledge — and his public declaration of his Messiahship by his miracles and his heritage. It represented the offering of Jesus to Jerusalem and to Israel as the heir and successor of David, their promised King. The praise of the people around him, then, was their acknowledgement of his claims to the throne of David. His entrance as God’s promised King, the successor of David, was a part of the demonstration of God’s renewed favor to them.

So now we don’t see Jesus coming personally down the Mount of Olives on a young colt, but a strong reason that churches have celebrated Palm Sunday for centuries is that it reminds us that he continues to approach us through the centuries with the message of salvation through his death and resurrection. The offering of salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ and the public declaration of the grace of God has now been extended throughout the centuries beyond Jerusalem and the nation of Israel to the entire world. It is still the offer of the promised King, the Prince of peace who brings peace with God when he is accepted. It is the open offer of peace with God through the Son of God, which comes to those who receive him as their Lord and Savior. It is an offer which still called for the response of those who receive it.

Nevertheless, there will be some who will not tolerate God’s offer of salvation through his Son, for whatever reasons that they may have. And the truth is that the free offer of the grace of God through Jesus Christ is often a threat to many in our world, to those who may be comfortable in the routine of the status quo. There are often spoilers in every crowd, and this is what happened then. This is what happened, as explained in verses 39-40:

“And some of the Pharisees who were in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, correct your disciples!’”

“And he answered them, ‘I say to you, if these people were silent, the stones would cry out!’”

There were some Pharisees in the crowd, on that road down the Mount of Olives into the Temple at Jerusalem. They may have been some of the Pharisees who had for years gravitated in and out of the crowds and asked hard, even trapping questions of Jesus, or schemed against him behind his back. They might have themselves been going toward the Temple for their own worship and became absorbed into the crowd. Some may have seen their objection as being grounded in good intentions, to forestall Roman intervention into an illegal demonstration. But it is more likely that it was simply their annoyance at the popular recognition of a claim that they had disputed. There was some grudging acceptance of Jesus as a lay religious teacher, who had nevertheless not been through the rigorous training of an officially recognized rabbi and member of the Sanhedrin. But this was going too far – the crowd was cheering and singing for him as if he were the promised King himself. But Jesus refused to shut down the crowd for them, and he refused to disown the kind of honors that they were giving him. His reply about the the rocks crying out was a proverbial expression that declared that honor would come to him from God no matter what anyone did.

Yet today this is still the reaction of some when Jesus Christ is publicly celebrated and offered as Lord and Savior, of those who do not believe trying to shut it down. It may even come from those who are religious, who themselves may be nominal Christians, and many of those from other religions who are willing to accept Jesus as a religious teacher, but try to shut it down when he is publicly celebrated as Lord and Savior, the salvation of God to this world. Yet even in this, God will still reach out to them with the offers of grace and save some, but others will still continue in underground opposition for a long time afterwards. Ultimately, though, no antagonism of any human being to reaching others with the gospel will bring silence to the honor due to the Son of God.

God desires for the people of this world to receive the salvation that he offers through his Son, and so he gives them the opportunity to respond to his grace. Those who are close to God will seek to be a part of this mission as much as possible; those who understand and empathize with God, who are filled with his Spirit and walking in his Spirit will then also seek that others will respond to God’s offer of salvation through his Son Jesus Christ.

God’s grace, then, calls for acceptance or rejection; acceptance brings salvation, but rejection has its consequence also. The rejection of the grace of God leaves only the consequence of God’s judgment. God in his love and patience gives this world the offer of his salvation through Jesus Christ. If that offer is rejected, though, that leaves only his wrath. The rejection of the grace of God brings his sorrow, regret and mourning. Yet God respects the choice of people to reject the terms on which he offers his salvation. To allow them to choose salvation on their own terms would mean that he abdicates his authority and sovereignty as God, but for him to allow people the choice to refuse his salvation is in accord with his creation of men and women as free moral beings with free choice.

In verses 41-42, then, we see the reaction of Jesus, God incarnate, to the ultimate rejection of him from Jerusalem and the Jewish nation of that time: “And as he came near, as he saw the city he wept over it, as he said, ‘If you have only known on this day what would bring about peace – but now it has been hidden from your eyes . . .’”

What we should see is that Jesus has come to a point where he can see the city as a whole, and he knows what will ultimately happen. His compassion for Jerusalem and the Jewish nation of that time led to his tears and lamentation of that time. He recognized the real spiritual blindness that so many would have to himself, his ministry and his Messianic credentials. He knew that he was not going to find the kind of reception in Jerusalem that showed spiritual readiness but rather spiritual blindness that would not mean peace with God. Though there were the crowds that were around him, there would be strong, profound and murderous rejection from the civil and religious powers that be of that time by the end of that same week. Yet still he had compassion for them, over their hardened and unrepentant hearts.

The rejection of the grace of God then makes judgment inevitable. The sad reality is that when God’s patience has finally reached its limit, then his justice begins the process of its terrible reckoning. This is what Jesus is talking about in verses 43-44: “’ . . . Because the day will come when your enemies will surround you with a barricade, and they will encircle you and completely hem you in, and they will dash you and your children in you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time that God would visit you!’”

This was the prophecy of Jesus that was fulfilled in A.D. 70. The land of Israel, what the Romans called Galilee and Judea, would revolt from Roman rule, and the Roman governor of Syria, Vespasian, would invade from the north to put down the rebellion. While the rebellion was still being put down, he found himself proclaimed emperor, and left the final conquest of Jerusalem to his son Titus. This conquest is still commemorated in the Arch of Titus which stands in Rome today. The prophecy of Jesus was a graphic description of the destruction of Jerusalem. The Romans would build a stockade around a walled city to cut it off from the outside world, from all outside reinforcements, and through a combination of starvation, calculated terror and well honed siegecraft conquer the city. Those who were left inside, who survived when the Roman troops broke through the walls, were enslaved or crucified, and small children killed. Some cities were razed to prevent any rebuilding and as a warning to any other cities and nations that would rebel. The siege, capture and destruction of an ancient city was a horror to all involved. And here Jesus ascribes it to the coming rejection of him as their Messiah and the Son of God.

Here it’s necessary to give a pause to make it clear on the limits of what Jesus meant. The judgment would come upon that generation, but not upon all Jews for all time. The pogroms that came later in medieval times in Europe in nominally Christian countries have no justification in scripture; the rejection and persecution of any Jew at any time with the vicious and repugnant term of ‘Christ killer’ is a crime of fanaticism and ignorance. Whatever happened then was between God and Israel, and no one who has the name of Christian has any part to play in inflicting any further justice of God for the death of Christ on any Jew at any time. Rather, the prophecy of scripture was that there would be a continued, partial hardening of Israel to the gospel until near the time of the Messiah’s return (Romans 11), and over that time there would still be those who are Jews who would come to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, as has in fact happened in the ages since the destruction of Jerusalem. Our reaction today, then, is to love the Jews, whoever they are and whenever we can, for the sake of God who chose them and Jesus who is from them, himself of the tribe of Judah and the descendant and heir of David. We are to love them with sharing the gospel when we can, and love them as people when we see them and get to know them, and seek for the highest good that we can in this life that we can.

As a matter of fact, then, the significance for this nowadays is for each of us to realize our responsibility before God when the gospel comes to us. The good news of the salvation of Jesus Christ comes to us now, each of us, as an individual who stands before God, with the alternative of acceptance or rejection. Acceptance means salvation, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But for each person who rejects it, there is only left the consequence of judgment that one brings upon oneself. The question is often asked on why a loving God would send a person to hell; rather, the question is why a person would choose hell over a loving God and eternity in heaven. The refusal of the grace of God does not put a person into a neutral ground between heaven and hell, but rather on the path to hell because it is the choice of his wrath. It is terrible to consider, but it is only and completely fair. The person who refuses the grace of God in Jesus Christ is choosing to be treated entirely fairly and with complete justice by God for eternity. The rejection of Jesus Christ is the rejection of the only and ultimate expression of the grace of God, and there are no alternatives which he has left us. But in the tears of Jesus over Jerusalem we see the reaction of God to that choice that anyone makes to refuse his grace: the deep regret and mourning of those who are not choosing something second best but something that will be horribly the worst for them for all eternity.

God’s grace through Jesus Christ shows that he would rather show mercy than show wrath, but the penalty of refusing his mercy and grace leave only wrath. His compassion continues for those who have not heard, who have not understood and not yet have accepted his gospel, and that’s why his wrath tarries. This is the time of God’s visitation for this world through Jesus Christ to reach out to all, and to provide the opportunity for the gospel to go to the ends of the earth. Those who are close to Jesus Christ will also share his compassion for those who have not yet received the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that’s why we continue to seek to reach all the earth with the gospel. Thus the believer in Christ who is walking closely with him must also share his concern and his compassion for those who are lost and heading toward judgment. The tears of Jesus for Jerusalem are echoed in the tears of intercession that we shed in prayer for those who are in this lost and dying world, who need to come to faith in Christ, as we pray for the softening of their hearts and the conviction and witness of the Holy Spirit to them. The tears of Jesus for Jerusalem are also echoed in the tears of compassion which may come in those times that we may have the chance to explain the gospel to others and express our concern and love for their eternal destinies – not as tallies on our gospel belt, but as real people, persons who are eternal souls who will one day stand before God.

And yet, those there are terrible consequences to the rejection of the grace of God, no one has to reject them. The possibility of the acceptance of the grace of God continues for each man or woman while he or she is alive. The consequence of the rejection of the grace of God is a strong warning not to refuse the call of his grace when it comes to you. The opportunities of grace need to be accepted when they come through the gospel. The grace of God meant that the rejection of the offer of Jesus as the Messiah to the nation of Israel on Palm Sunday, which happened finally on the evening which he was betrayed, tried, sentenced to death and then crucified on a Roman cross resulted in a deeper and more lasting offer of Jesus in love of himself as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. The offer of Jesus as King, Lord and Savior then made way to his offer of himself on the cross for the sins of the world, as the innocent and willing victim for us, who took the wrath of God for us. The truest reception of Jesus as king, then, comes through those not who wave palms and sing traditional songs of Palm Sunday, but those who come to him in repentance and faith and receive him as Lord and Savior. The gospel of the Son of God who died on the cross and rose from the dead shows the further and deeper good which God brought out of the rejection of the Son of God to be the redemption of the whole world, and through him now he gives his appeal to the people of this world to be reconciled to him.

So then, have you accepted the King? Is he your King? Have you crossed from death to life through faith in him and him alone as your Lord and Savior? Choose life, eternal life, but repentance for your sins, and place your faith in him and him alone for your eternal salvation.

If you yourself have received the King, does his compassion flow through you for those who have not received his salvation and who may be refusing his salvation? Do you desire that others would come to know his salvation? Will you let the tears of Jesus for Jerusalem come through you as his compassion and love, and share the message of his love to those who need it most.