Encampment Of Blessings

I am so proud of our Sunday School class! They don’t just talk about being disciples of Jesus Christ, they live it out daily.

33-Scott & HungarianOn New Year’s Day, they braved the frigid temperatures to minister to needy people in the inner city of Grand Rapids. They are going back again on Saturday, April 23.

You can help in several ways:

  1. Go with them on April 23. They will be leaving 1:00pm.
  2. Donate some items that they will be passing out. You can find a complete list here → Encampment of Blessings
  3. Make a financial donation. If you cannot purchase these items, you may make a financial donation via PayPal on the church’s website. Please write “Encampment” on the memo line.
  4. Help with the organization of all the donated items on Sunday, April 17, right after church.
  5. Pray that God will use this outreach to open doors for these folks to hear and see the love of Jesus.

Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me. Then the righteous will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see You sick or in prison and go to visit You?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.’” (Matthew 25:35-40)

Thursdays With Oswald—What Does Your Religion Mean?

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

What Does Your Religion Mean? 

     To believe is literally to commit. Belief is a moral act, and Jesus makes an enormous demand of a man when He asks him to believe in Him. To be “a believer in Jesus” means to bank our confidence in Him, to stake our soul upon His honor. …

     Many of us use religious jargon, we talk about believing in God, but our actual life proves that we do not really believe one tithe of what we profess. … “The unsearchable riches of Christ”—yet we often live as if our Heavenly Father had cut us off with a shilling! We think it is a sign of real modesty to say at the end of a day—“Oh well, I have just got through, but it has been a severe tussle.” We carry our religion as if it were a headache, there is neither joy nor power nor inspiration in it, none of the grandeur of the unsearchable riches of Christ about it, none of the passion of hilarious confidence in God. …

     Christianity is the vital realization of the unsearchable riches of Christ. …

     We have made Christianity to mean the saving of our skins. Christianity means staking ourselves on the honor of Jesus; His honor means that He will see us through time, death and eternity. … 

     Why do you pray? Why are you religious? Because of a consuming passion for a particular set of your beliefs to be enthroned and proved right, or because of a consuming passion for Jesus Christ? 

From The Place Of Help

Wow, those are excellent questions to consider—What do I think Christianity really is? Do I really believe what Jesus did for me, or is it just jargon I use? Am I consumed in my passion for Christ, or is it only something I profess when things are going my way?

9 Quotes From “Your Joy Will Turn To Sorrow”

Your Sorrow Will Turn To JoyAlthough Your Joy Will Turn To Sorrow is intended to be read each morning and evening of Holy Week (check out my book review here), the content is so good that it will benefit you anytime you decide to read it! Here are some quotes that especially caught my attention.

“The only Savior who truly saves, only saves through suffering. The Cross was the only means of making us sinners right before a holy God. Our salvation was purchased with suffering, and it will be sealed and preserved with suffering (James 1:2-4), not comfort. We are promised comfort in the Christian life (2 Corinthians 1:4), but not the cheap, temporal imitation we’ve grown accustomed to in our modern world.” —Marshall Segal

“Jesus did not come to purchase the approval of others. No, He ‘was despised and rejected by men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as One from whom men hide their faces He was despised’ (Isaiah 53:3). Why? Because it is God’s approval we desperately need. And God’s approval doesn’t come by popular opinion, but by divine intervention—the substitution of His own Son in our place.” —Marshall Segal

“The irony of Mark 14 is that Judas could see the value of the ointment rolling down Jesus’ head, but he couldn’t see the value of Jesus. He was a pawnbroker with cataracts. That’s why he took such offense at the woman. The woman, on the other hand, could see both the value of the ointment and the value of Jesus. That’s why she broke the flask.” —Jonathan Bowers

“No one understands better than God how difficult it can be for a human to embrace the will of God. And no human has suffered more in embracing the will of God the Father than God the Son. When Jesus calls us to follow Him, whatever the cost, He is not calling us to do something He is either unwilling to do or is never done Himself.” —Jon Bloom

“So, now, we say with an entirely different meaning, let His blood be on us, not defiantly as the crowds that crucified Him, but desperately—with gratitude and hope and adoration—as those who depend wholly on His sacrifice. Jesus, let Your blood be on us. Let it cover us. Let the blood that flows from Your head, Your hands, Your feet wash over us and cleanse us from all our iniquity. We proclaim Jesus’ death. We rejoice in his death, not because we believe He was a fraud or a lunatic, but because it is by His death, by His wounds, by His blood that we are healed.” —Marshall Segal

“Jesus spoke of this joy as He faced the torture of Good Friday. He faced denial, faced betrayal, faced beatings, faced splinters and nails and spears—He could not stop talking about joy! Only joy would keep Him going. Joy was on His mind, joy was on His tongue, and joy was drawing Him, not away from suffering, but into it (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus went to the Cross for joy: to buy joy, create joy, and offer joy. As the world celebrated the savage killing of God, out of this sea of foaming rebel hostility emerged a blood-bought, inextinguishable joy.

“If the killing of the Author of life could not extinguish this joy Jesus speaks about, nothing can—and nothing ever will. No opposition from the world, no opposition to the gospel, and no cultural despising of Christ will overcome the resurrection joy of Jesus.” —Tony Reinke

“If Christ is still dead, death reigns, and all our joys our vain. So hoard every plastic Easter egg you find, because whatever you find inside is all the joy you have to grab. Or, as Paul says, ‘If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’ (1 Corinthians 15:32). But if death is dead, and if the dead are raised—if Christ is risen from the dead!—brothers and sisters, let us feast and celebrate, for the daunting light of our inextinguishable and inexhaustible eternal pleasures have broken into the darkness, offering us a life of joy in Christ that cannot fade or rust or be stolen away!” —Tony Reinke

“Easter has now become our annual dress rehearsal for that great coming Day. When our perishable bodies will put on the imperishable. When the mortal finally puts on immortality. When we join in the triumph song with the prophets and the apostles, ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (Hosea 13:14; 1 Corinthians 15:55).” —David Mathis

“Indeed, even agony will turn to glory, but Easter doesn’t suppress our pain. It doesn’t minimize our loss. It bids our burdens stand as they are, in all their weight, with all their threats. And this risen Christ, with the brilliance of the indestructible life in His eyes, says, ‘These too I will claim in the victory. These too will serve your joy. These too, even these, I can make an occasion for rejoicing. I have overcome, and you will more than conquer.’ 

“Easter is not an occasion to repress whatever ails you and put on a happy face. Rather, the joy of Easter speaks tenderly to the pains that plague you. Whatever loss you lament, whatever burden weighs you down, Easter says, ‘It will not always be this way for you. The new age has begun. Jesus has risen, and the Kingdom of the Messiah is here. He has conquered death and sin and hell. He is alive and on His throne. And He is putting your enemies, all your enemies, under His feet.’” —David Mathis

Your Sorrow Will Turn To Joy (book review)

Your Sorrow Will Turn To JoyHoly Week is always a good time to slow down to take a closer look at the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. I never want to “go through the motions” and miss out on some new revelation of all that Jesus did for us. An excellent companion for this journey is Your Sorrow Will Turn To Joy by the writers at Desiring God.

This book covers the eight days of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday. Each day has an insightful reading selection for both the morning and evening. The authors pulled together the accounts from all four of the Gospels, to offer unique insights and observations on each step of Christ’s journey to the Cross, the grave, and the empty tomb. As I read, I marveled again at the amazing love God showered on us!

The good folks at Desiring God have made this book available free of charge in its ebook format. Otherwise, the paperback can be purchased at a nominal cost.

Pick up a copy and read through it on the next Holy Week, and I promise you will see something fresh about the joy that Christ’s finished work on Calvary brings to those who will believe in Him!

3 Possibilities For An Empty Tomb

3 possibilitiesLast week we explored the validity of the evidence for the accuracy of the biblical accounts for the life of Jesus (you can check that out here). You might be one who says, “Okay, I think Jesus was a good Man, but I think it’s a bit of a stretch to believe that anyone could be raised from the dead after three days.” I think that’s a reasonable thing to explore…

If the tomb where Jesus was placed is really empty, then there are only three possibilities for us to consider.

(1) Jesus didn’t really die.

  • It’s hard to imagine anyone could go through the intense torture Jesus did prior to His crucifixion unscathed.
  • The crucifixion process itself is one of the most gruesome forms of execution man has ever invented.
  • As a result, forensic science shows that Jesus most likely died of a heart attack. The mention in John 19:34 of the blood and water that flowed from Christ’s body is an indication of the cardiac distress His body experienced.
  • Men who were followers of Jesus handled His dead body, and undoubtedly would have checked for any signs life (John 19:38-40).
  • A Roman centurion reported to the Roman governor Pilate that Jesus had in fact died (Mark 15:43-45).
  • Extra-biblical historians, many of whom were unfriendly to Jews and Christians, reported Christ’s death as an historical fact.

(2) Jesus didn’t really rise.

  • Some have claimed that Christ’s followers “saw” Jesus only in a grief-induced hallucination. The problem is, Jesus appeared to individuals, small groups, and large groups multiple times and in multiple settings over the course of 40 days (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
  • At least one of Christ’s closest followers said he wouldn’t be convinced by verbal testimony alone, but needed to touch Christ’s body for Himself (John 20:24-28).
  • The disciples were afraid and lacked any military training that would have allowed them to get past the trained soldiers guarding the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-15).

(3) Jesus really did die on a Cross and was raised back to life.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes rightly said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Real-life cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace explains how detectives use abductive reasoning to examine all of the evidence and infer to the most reasonable explanation from that. As a result, Detective Wallace says about this third explanation:

“The last explanation (although it is a miraculous, supernatural explanation) suffers from the least number of liabilities and deficiencies. If we simply enter into the investigation without a pre-existing bias against anything supernatural, the final explanation accounts for all of the evidence without any difficulty. The final explanation accounts for the evidence most simply and most exhaustively, and it is logically consistent…. The final explanation is also superior to all other accounts (given that it does not suffer from all the problems we see with the other explanations).” —J. Warner Wallace, Alive

The truth is Jesus loved you so much that He had to die for you. He had to pay the penalty for your sins. And God loved His Son so much, that He raised Him back to life. Jesus can live in you now, and you can live with Him forever, if you will simply believe what He did for you on Calvary.

Jesus left an empty tomb behind to show how powerful His love and life is!

Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?

Did Jesus rise from the dead

Join me tomorrow morning as we discuss the proofs concerning the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ. Get all of the details by clicking here. If you cannot join us in person, check out our live broadcast on Periscope.

Good Friday—It Is Finished

Your Sorrow Will Turn To JoyThis is from a chapter in Your Sorrow Will Turn To Joy, and is probably one of the best depictions of Good Friday I have read. Jon Bloom writes—

It is Friday, April 3, A.D. 33. It is the darkest day in human history, though most humans have no clue of this. In Rome, Tiberius attends to the demanding business of the empire. Throughout the inhabited world, babies are born, people eat and drink, marry and are given in marriage, barter in marketplaces, sail merchant ships, and fight battles. Children play, old women gossip, young men lust, and people die. 

But today, one death, one brutal, gruesome death, the worst and best of all human deaths, will leave upon the canvas of human history the darkest brushstroke. In Jerusalem, God the Son, the Creator of all that is (John 1:3), will be executed. 

The Garden 

The Jewish day dawns with night, and never has it been more fitting, since today the hour has come and the power of darkness (Luke 22:53). Jesus is in Gethsemane, where He has prayed with loud cries and tears, being heard by His Father (Heb. 5:7) whose will will be done. Jesus hears noises and looks up. Torches and hushed voices signal the arrest party’s arrival. 

Jesus wakes His sleepy friends who are jarred alert at the sight of their brother, Judas, betraying his Rabbi with a kiss. Soldiers and servants encircle Jesus. Peter, flushed with anger, pulls out his sword and lunges at those nearest Jesus. Malchus flinches, but not enough. Blinding pain and blood surge where his ear had been. Voices speak, but Malchus only hears the screaming wound, which he’s grabbed with both hands. He feels a hand touch his hands and the pain vanishes. Under his hands is an ear. Stunned, he looks at Jesus, already being led away. Disciples are scattering. Malchus looks down at his bloody hands. 

The Sanhedrin 

Jesus is led brusquely into the house of Annas, a former High Priest, who questions Him about His teaching. Jesus knows this informal interrogation is meant to catch Him disoriented and unguarded. He is neither, and gives this manipulative leader nothing. Rather, He refers Annas to his hearers and is struck with irony by a Jewish officer for showing disrespect. Frustrated, Annas sends Jesus on to his son-in-law Caiaphas, the current High Priest. 

At Caiaphas’s house the trial gets underway quickly. Morning will come fast. The Council needs a damning verdict by daybreak. The examination proceeds as bleary-eyed Sanhedrin members continue to file in. 

The trial has been assembled hastily and witnesses haven’t been screened well. Testimonies don’t line up. Council members look disconcerted. Jesus is silent as a lamb. Irritated and impatient, Caiaphas cuts to the quick: “I adjure You by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63). The hour has come. Charged in the name of His Father to answer, Jesus speaks the words that seal the doom for which He had come to endure (John 12:27): “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64). 

In a moment of law-breaking (Lev. 21:10) politically religious theater, Caiaphas tears his robes in feigned outrage and thinly concealed relief over Jesus’s blasphemy. He declares the trial’s end with, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from His own lips” (Luke 22:71). 

As the sun breaks over Jerusalem’s eastern ridge, Judas swings from his own belt, Peter writhes in the grief of his failure, and Jesus’s face is streaked with dried blood and saliva from the pre-dawn sport of the temple police. The Council’s verdict: guilty of blasphemy. Their sentence: death. But it’s a sentence they cannot carry out. Rome refuses to delegate capital punishment. 

The Governor 

Pilate’s mood, already sour over the Sanhedrin’s sudden insistent intrusion so early in the morning, worsens as he grasps the situation. They want him to execute a Galilean “prophet.” His seasoned instincts tell him something isn’t right. He questions Jesus and then tells the Council, “I find no guilt in this Man” (Luke 23:4). 

A game of political chess ensues between Pilate and the Sanhedrin, neither realizing that they are pawns, not kings. Pilate makes a move. As a Galilean, Jesus falls under Herod Antipas’s jurisdiction. Let Herod judge. Herod initially receives Jesus happily, hoping to see a miracle. But Jesus refuses to entertain or even respond. Antipas, disappointed, blocks the move by returning Jesus to Pilate. 

Pilate makes another move. He offers to release Jesus as this year’s annual Passover pardoned prisoner. The Council blocks the move. “Not this man, but Barabbas!” they cry (John 18:40). Pilate is astounded. The Sanhedrin prefers a thief and murderer to this peasant prophet? 

Pilate tries another move. He has Jesus severely flogged and humiliated, hoping to curb the Council’s blood thirst. Again the move is blocked when the Council insists that Jesus must be crucified because “He has made Himself the Son of God” (John 19:7). Check. Pilate’s fear grows. Jesus’s divine claim could threaten Rome. Worse, it could be true. Roman deities supposedly could take on human form. His further questioning of Jesus unnerves him. 

One last move. Pilate tries to persuade the Sanhedrin to release Jesus. One last block and trap. “If you release this Man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12). The Council has Pilate where they want him: cornered. Checkmate. 

And the triune God has the Council, Pilate, and satan where He wants them. They would have no authority over the Son at all unless it had been given them from above (John 19:11). Fallen Jews, Gentiles, and spiritual powers unwittingly collaborate in executing the only innocent death that could possibly grant the guilty life. Checkmate. 

The Cross 

Morning wanes as Jesus stumbles out of the Praetorium, horribly beaten and bleeding profusely. The Roman soldiers had been brutal in their creative cruelty. Thorns have ripped Jesus’s scalp and His back is one grotesque, oozing wound. Golgotha is barely a third of a mile through the Garden Gate, but Jesus has no strength to manage the forty-pound crossbar. Simon of Cyrene is drafted from the crowd. 

Twenty-five minutes later, Jesus is hanging in sheer agony on one of the cruelest instruments of torture ever devised. Nails have been driven through His wrists (which we only know about because of the doubt Thomas will express in a couple days—see John 20:25). A sign above Jesus declares in Greek, Latin, and Aramaic who He is: the King of the Jews. 

The King is flanked on either side by thieves and around Him are gawkers and mockers. “Let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!” some yell (Luke 23:35). One dying thief even joins in the derision. They do not understand that if the King saves Himself, their only hope for salvation is lost. Jesus asks His Father to forgive them. The other crucified thief sees a Messiah in the mutilated man beside him, and he asks the Messiah to remember him. Jesus’s prayer is beginning to be answered. Hundreds of millions will follow. 

It is mid-afternoon now and the eerie darkness that has fallen has everyone on edge. But for Jesus, the darkness is a horror He has never known. This, more than the nails and thorns and lashings, is what made Him sweat blood in the garden. The Father’s wrath is hitting Him in full force. He is in that moment no longer the Blessed, but the Cursed (Gal. 3:13). He has become sin (2 Cor. 5:21). In terrifying isolation, cut off from His Father and all humans, He screams, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani,” Aramaic for “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46; Ps. 22:1). No greater love (John 15:13), humility (Phil. 2:8), or obedience (Heb. 5:8) has ever or will ever be displayed. 

Shortly after 3:00 P.M., Jesus whispers hoarsely for a drink. In love, He has drained the cup of His Father’s wrath to the dregs. He has born our full curse. There is no debt left to pay and He has nothing left to give. The wine moistens His mouth just enough to say one final word: “It is finished” (John 19:30). And God the Son dies. 

It is the worst and best of all human deaths. For on this tree He bears our sins in His body (1 Pet. 2:24), “the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). And now it is finished.

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