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Weekly Word

Entries in Signs and Wonders (2)

Tuesday
May032016

The Death and Burial of Jesus

Luke 23:44-56.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on May 1, 2016.

More than any other man, the death of Jesus has impacted the whole world.  In fact, it impacted even the heavens.  His death brings condemnation to the fallen angels and the wicked of the world that join with them in rebellion against God.  However, it also pays the price of our sins so that those who believe in Jesus can be saved from their judgment.  Thus Jesus told us that everything the Old Testament prophesied had to come to pass, even his own death.  It is easy to want to avoid the horrible aspect of the cross.  However, we must hear it and face the horror of what our own sin does.  My sin breathes death and destruction into my life and the life of those around me.  But, worse than that, my sin cost Jesus his life.  It is at the cross that we see the true horror of what we choose when we cast God’s way aside.  Praise God that the blood of Jesus breathes eternal life into those who entrust him with their lives and their spirits.

Jesus Dies On The Cross

Of course it is no shock that Jesus dies on the cross.  We have heard this for centuries.  Rather, it is what Jesus says and does while he is on the cross that is shocking and critical for us to pay close attention.

Luke points to two ominous signs and wonders that happened while Jesus was being crucified.  First darkness comes over the land from noon until 3:00 PM.  Jesus had been on the cross from some time after 9:00 AM.  The darkness itself would be spooky and cannot be explained by an eclipse.  The time of the lunar cycle is wrong (a full moon), and it lasts far too long to be a solar eclipse.  I am not saying that it is a completely supernatural darkness.  I am saying that something is going on that we do not know.  If you picture the average person watching this controversial execution, you would have to recognize that they would be somewhat freaked out at such a heavenly disturbance.  When the “lights go out,” we are easily scared.  Darkness is a symbol of evil.  This event would fill the average person with dread.  “Have we done the wrong thing?  Is God angry?”  Of course the power of spiritual darkness is exactly what Jesus had come to shatter.  God promises in his word that weeping may last through the night, but joy will come in the morning.

The second ominous sign is seen in an earthquake that tears the temple curtain in half.  Luke does not mention the earthquake, but we are told of this by the other Gospel authors.  Most likely the tearing of the temple curtain is caused by the earthquake.  What would this symbolize?  The curtain veiled the Holiest place where the Ark of the Covenant and the presence of God were.  It was pictured as his throne room.  Only the High Priest could go past this curtain and then only once a year.  God’s holiness could only be approached by one man, once a year.  This veil represents access to God.  God was beginning to remove the obstacles that kept mankind from approaching his throne for mercy and grace.  It represents an end to the old system.  The way to the Father has been once and for all opened up by Jesus.

It is important to recognize that most supernatural wonders in the Bible are not amazing solely because the event can’t be explained.  Earthquakes happen all the time, and they had seen the sky go dark before (however, probably not as often).  Rather, it is the coincidence of these wonders with the words of God’s prophets.  Thus it is not amazing that an infestation of frogs comes out of the Nile.  Rather, it is amazing that it happens at the warning of Moses.  The same is true with a darkness that came upon the land of Egypt as Moses challenged Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”  Thus it is ominous that the leaders are claiming that Jesus is a deceiver.  But, when he is being killed the sky is darkened and an earthquake hits the city.  A person experiencing all of this could not help but be scared by all the strange things that were happening.  “What have we done?”

Luke then tells us of the last statement of Jesus on the cross.  “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  Before I deal with this, let me just say that John’s Gospel records another thing Jesus said right before he died, “It is finished!”    This phrase was used in the culture of that day to describe a bill that had been paid off.  It was equivalent to saying, “Paid in full.”  Thus, the work of paying for the sins of mankind had been completed by Jesus.  There was no more to be done, but die.  Thus, Jesus gives this final statement of committing his spirit to the Father.  It should be noted that these same words are recorded in Psalm 31, where David depicts his own dire straits and yet, his hope in God’s salvation.  Similar to his statement, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” Jesus draws our attention to a Psalm that helps us to understand what he is feeling and what is going on.  Even though Psalm 22 and Psalm 31 are not penned by Jesus, but rather by David, Jesus directs our attention to them.  Thus these Psalms take on deeper meaning when they are read in light of the predicament of Jesus.  Jesus was being attacked on every side, but he still trusted in the Father.  Perhaps that is why Jesus uses the term “My God” when he speaks of feeling forsaken, and why he uses the term “Father” when he stops trying to stay alive.  Yes, he felt abandoned, but at the end of the day, he trusted his father.  This statement is a statement of complete trust.  He puts his spirit into the hands of the Father to do with what he will.  So, every person who wants to follow Jesus is challenged to learn to trust the Father in the same way that Jesus did, completely and over the top of the feelings of our flesh.

Next Luke records some of the reactions of those who witnessed the crucifixion.  He tells us of a Roman centurion who is supervising the execution of Jesus.  He is amazed at how Jesus died and declares that he must have truly been a righteous man.  In Matthew and Mark we are told that the centurion also declared that surely Jesus was the Son of God.  This hardened soldier who had watched many men die, recognizes something different about Jesus and the ominous signs attending his death.  In it he is convinced that Jesus was innocent and the Son of God.

After this Luke turns to the crowd.  They are shocked and beat their breasts as they return to the city [beating the breast was a common sign of mourning].  Whether they are repentant or not will be proven by what they do later.  At least in this moment, a window is opened in their heart that something very bad has just happened.  There are times when God breaks open our crusted eyes and we recognize that our life is going the wrong direction.  We may beat our breast as we go to our house, but that is not what will change us or justify us before God.  It is not enough to be shocked into awareness by what God does.  We must go on to repent of our sin and put our trust in His way.  Otherwise, the moment will be lost and we will go on down the same path of sin.

Lastly, Luke tells us that some of the acquaintances of Jesus stood at a distance.  We have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating.  Those who were closest to Jesus before the cross were not the ones to take a stand with Jesus.  Rather it was a man who had been a criminal and another man who had been a Roman soldier.  Thus the words of Simeon that Mary was given back in Luke 2:34-35, while Jesus was only a baby, echo in our ears. “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against.  (Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

This brings us to perhaps the greatest sign of all.  Jesus himself, who demonstrated no wickedness and did not curse those executing him, is a sign of the love of God.  As he hangs on a cross, bloodied and torn, he is a sign to mankind that God is willing to die in order that we might live.

Jesus Is Buried In A Tomb

It is nearing the Sabbath.  The Jewish day did not begin at midnight, but rather at the beginning of evening.  There was not much time to take the bodies down and dispatch of them.  So what would be done with the body of Jesus?  Criminals were usually tossed aside and left for the birds to pick clean.  Yet, Luke tells us that a member of the Sanhedrin, named Joseph of Arimathea, goes to Pilate and asks for the body.  This is a man who is similar to Nicodemus in John 3.  They were both members of the high council and secret followers of Jesus.  Though they objected to the decision to push for the execution of Jesus, they were careful to keep their distance, until now.  We are told that Joseph was a good and just man who was waiting for the Kingdom of God.  This was supposed to be the description of all the religious leaders and one that they would all lay claim to.  However, is was only true of a few.  Too often, while we are waiting for God and his plan, our hearts can become hard and we can forge our own way.  This is true whether you are a believer in Jesus or not.  Am I really waiting for the promises of Jesus?  Or, have I become busy forging my own way.  What Jesus was doing threatened all that the Pharisees had built up.  Thus they put him to death in order to protect that which they could not keep.  This seems to be the situation today.  Many religious people cling to things that they have built and in the scramble to keep those things they can destroy the very faith in God that they claim to have.  Beware, waiting on God is not easy nor is it for the faint of heart.

Joseph and Nicodemus prepared the body and put it in a fresh tomb that was nearby.  This was a tomb that had been cut out of the rock.  It was not normal to bury a criminal, but Jesus was not a criminal.  The reference to the Preparation day has to do with the Sabbath.  God had commanded Israel not to work on the Sabbath, even to prepare a meal.  Thus, the day before became a day of preparing extra food and the things that would be need for the next day.  As the body of Jesus is put into the tomb we can hear his words from John 12:24, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”  They go forth weeping as they sow the seed of the body of Jesus, but they will doubtless come again rejoicing as God raises up a harvest from this act.  There are many times in life that doing the right thing (obeying God’s Word) seems to kill the hopes that we have.  In those moments we can be like Joseph and Nicodemus putting into a sealed tomb all that we have lost.  Yet, put your trust in God.  He will not leave you nor forsake you.

Lastly, Luke records that they rested because it was the Sabbath.  Yes, on the surface this is just a part of the details.  However, it sets up an interesting picture.  The work of Jesus on the cross, and the work of his disciples to put him in the tomb, ends with them resting on the Sabbath.  Whether Luke does so purposefully or not, this parallels the Genesis 1 account.  When God finishes creation he enters into a time of rest.  So, Jesus finishes creating our salvation and enters into a time of rest.  Even after his resurrection this time of rest continues.  He ascends into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.  It pictures Jesus as beginning a new creation by his own death and resurrection, and providing for his people a new place of rest.  Today, we can experience the spiritual side of this new creation and also enter into a spiritual rest.  We are not called to a life of slavery to commands in order to be saved.  Rather we are set free by the grace of God so that we can live for him out of love and not threat.  Even this spiritual life affects our natural life from day to day.  However, we must recognize that all things on earth and in the heavens are destined to be recreated.  Thus we have a picture of the followers of Jesus resting from their labors and living a life of worship to him as they wait for what he has promised to do for them.  This is what it means to be a Christian today. We rest in the grace of Jesus, and live a life of worship to him, as we wait for his Second Coming.  Let us run the race with all our hearts in such a way.

Death and Burial Audio

Tuesday
Nov182014

The Blessing of God's Word

Today we are going to look at the passage in Luke 11:27-32.

Have you ever noticed that it is easy to see the blessings that others have and overlook our own?  Whether it is self-pity, or the ignorance we have of the lives of others, we get stuck in blindness towards what true blessing is.  In fact, that is the case even when we have the best of motivations.  However, we often are envious of what others have and too greedy to be content with what we have.  This only makes the situation worse.  May God help us to be thankful for the portion we have received from Him and to put it to good use.

The context of this passage involves Jesus ministering in miracles and in teaching the Word of God.  His powerful command over an evil spirit and knowledgeable teach about how evil spirits operate amazed the crowd.  This leads to a woman in the crowd crying out how blessed Mary, the mother of Jesus, must be.  She is so smiled on by God.  She is so lucky.  I wish this was my son!  Of course, I don’t know what all is in this woman’s heart.  But the greatness of Jesus caused her to think about how nice it would be to be his mother.  Jesus takes advantage of this interruption to teach them and us something about what really makes us blessed by God.

We Misunderstand God’s Blessings

This woman and her outburst is a good illustration of the natural condition of our human hearts.  We so easily overlook the blessings that God has given us.  Yet we have “hyper-sight” of the blessings of others.  This spontaneous exclamation gives us insight into what is happening in our hearts as humans all the time.  Although we may have learned to control our words and outbursts, we all have the same visceral reactions to life.  “How lucky that person is!  I wish I was even half as blessed as them!  God sure blessed them.  Why doesn’t He bless me?”  When we think this way we are truly thinking foolishly.

This woman ends up comparing and contrasting her situation with that of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  When she sees Jesus she sees what she doesn’t have- a son who is amazing the people of Israel.  Even if her sons had turned out great and had good reputations, they couldn’t compare to Jesus.  “What must it be like to have such a great son?  That Mary is so blessed!”  Yet, the truth of Mary’s blessing is far more complicated than that.  In Luke 2:35-36, when Joseph and Mary brought the eight day old Jesus to the Temple, the prophet Simeon said to her, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  Mary had good times.  But she would also have extreme soul-piercing times as well and most likely far more than this woman would ever have.  In 2 Corinthians 10:12 we are told that we are not wise to compare ourselves to others.  We can’t know the half of what it is like to walk in their shoes.  We need to learn to focus upon our self and not by contrast with others.

James 1:17 tells us that every good and perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of Lights.  He is the source of our blessings.  The “woe is me” attitude causes us to look down upon the blessings that God has given us, which is looking down upon Him.  This woman misses the reality of her own blessing.  In fact, we today can be envious of the fact that she got to physically see and hear Jesus.  Yet, later Jesus would say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Please catch the fact that we do not understand what a blessing is.  We look to all the wrong things and say that is a blessing.  Yet, Jesus corrects us and points us back to what our true blessing is.  This woman misses the reality of her own blessing because she is looking at Mary’s lesser one.  We focus on what we think are big blessings, when all along we are overlooking those that really are big.  Mary was blessed, but not any more than her.  Even to this day groups within Christianity will look to Mary in awe because she was the “Mother of God.”  Of course that statement misrepresents the reality that Mary only mothered the physical flesh that God took upon Himself in Christ.  Mary was not near to God because she birthed the Messiah.  In fact, we can end up with a heart that has to have a son who is Jesus in order to be content.  Does God have to do such and such in order for you to believe that He has blessed you?  Does God have to bless you with a certain something in order for you to be happy?  Be careful, because that thing has become an idol in your life.

Jesus answers the woman with the truth about who was blessed.  The Word of God is the greatest blessing that we can receive.  In that sense they were all just as blessed as Mary.  Many who have had material blessing in this life will go into eternity lost and ill prepared for judgment.  Don’t envy the material blessings at all.  They cannot save you and are not proof that God loves those people.

Yet, the Word of God must always be mixed with faith; belief.  Think of it this way.  Was Judas blessed?  Yes, in that God gave him a great position in His band of followers.  Yet, in the end Judas wasn’t blessed because he failed to trust Jesus.  Thus Jesus emphasizes hearing and keeping the Word of God.  The word “keep” means to guard, watch over, and nurture.  It is also in the present tense.  Blessed are those who are hearing the Word of God and keeping it.  Are you guarding God’s Word to you this morning, or are you allowing the evil one to use every manner of tricks to plunder it?  Get this deep into your heart.  When you truly understand blessing, you will understand that the greatest blessing is simply receiving the Word of God and then doing it.  This is what brings us near to the heart of God.

The Evil Generation

Jesus then turns to speak about the generation of Israel in His day.  It was an evil or bad generation.  Of course, not every single individual was bad.  But overall they did not trust the Word of God.  Rather they trusted the word of men.  They lack faith in God and obedience to Him.  Are we part of an evil generation here in America?  Forget about Iran or ISIS.  What about us?  I think it is clear that we too have crossed a threshold where we as a people have decided that God has nothing to say to us.  We can figure it out for ourselves. 

Jesus says that an evil generation looks for signs and wonders.  They demand spectacular proof from God.  Now Jesus did many miracles, but they weren’t enough.  They always wanted Him to do something greater.  In that sense our desire for God’s miracles can come from a place of hypocrisy.  We want God to jump through our hoops in a very specific way and then we will believe.  However, we never get to belief because our unbelief keeps asking for something greater.  You can never please or convince a person who doesn’t want to believe.  Even if it takes a ridiculous argument, they will come up with reasons why your argument isn’t enough, or why God hasn’t done enough.

Yet, it is God who chooses the signs we will receive.  God will not put himself in a position of scrambling to please every whim and desire of those who refuse to believe Him.  He chooses the signs and gives enough to those who want to believe.  We are not in control He is.  If you want to be blessed then be quick to trust Him rather than continually challenging His love and care for you.  If His commands lead you to a cross then say, “Your will be done.”

Jesus tells them that the sign they are going to get from God is the sign of Jonah.  Although in Luke this phrase is not explained, in Matthew 12:40 we are told, “as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  Now the story of Jonah being swallowed by a large fish or sea creature is an amazing one.  When you read Jonah chapter 2 and the prayer that Jonah prays when he has been swallowed, you get the impression that Jonah may have actually died.   Whether he did or not, God miraculously causes him to be transported and regurgitated onto the beach.  Having spent 3 days in stomach acids he must have been a sight to behold.  He was probably pale and lacked any hair on his body.  Whether or not there were any witnesses to his projection onto the beach, he would have looked like he had been in the belly of a fish.  Thus he is a picture of a prophet of God coming back from the dead to proclaim the Word of God.  This picture corresponds to the Resurrection of Jesus.  That is the main sign that God would give to their generation and to ours.

Now Jesus then points to other generations that the people of Israel would have thought of as evil.  In the time of Solomon, the Queen of Sheba traveled a great distance to hear the wisdom of Solomon and believed in him.  But Jesus had brought greater wisdom to that generation and most did not believe in him.  Yes, they were amazed, but most did not mix it with faith.  Are we guilty of this today?  Do we scour the internet and the whole world for wisdom and yet look down upon the Word of God, or never even give it a hearing?  Jesus wasn’t in some far off country.  He had brought the Wisdom of God right to them and yet they were rejecting it.  Jesus said that the Queen of Sheba would be Exhibit A in the case against them.  Even if we try to say, “but God you can’t expect me to believe that,” He need only point to those who responded to far less.

Another example of this is the Ninevites.  The Ninevites repented when Jonah warned them of the coming Judgment.  Yet, Jesus was greater than Jonah and preached a greater message, yet few repented.

We are swimming in the blessing of God in this world.  The gospel has gone out to the world.  Especially here in the West, we have God’s Word everywhere.  God’s Word has never been more prevalent and more accessible to mankind, and yet we persist in demanding greater proof and refuse to seek it out; refuse to repent.  Even though we think our reasoning is air-tight, God need only point to those many people through each generation who believed with far less than us.  No, we truly are an evil generation.  Judgment hangs over us.  But you can be spared.  Jesus calls you to come, pick up your cross, and follow Him.  Join the band of people who not only heard God’s Word but also mixed it with faith.

 

Blessing of God's Word audio