All Talk But No Action

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

What people were saying about Jesus from His birth—before He preached a sermon, performed a miracle, or stepped on the toes of religious or political leaders—was revealing the truth. I’ve already discussed the words of the Magi and King Herod the Great, but all of these men also interact with another group (Matthew 2:1-6). Matthew calls them “all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law.” 

This group was commonly called the Sanhedrin. It was an influential body of 70 + 1 leaders (Numbers 11:16), whose influence was felt in the temple in Jerusalem, in the synagogues in small villages, in King Herod’s throne room, and in the palace of the Roman governors. 

Notice that Matthew says “chief priests” in the plural. At the time of the birth of Jesus, Caiaphas was high priest and Annas his father-in-law was the former high priest. In the time of the early church, Annas is again called the high priest (Luke 3:2; John 18:13; Acts 4:6) 

Even under the Roman government the Sanhedrin held tremendous power…

  • they were experts in the Mosaic law and its application (Matthew 22:35) 
  • Jesus said, “the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses” (Matthew 23:2 NLT) 
  • Jesus also said they had storehouses of helpful knowledge (Matthew 13:52) 
  • they decided who would get to use their authority (Mark 11:27-28; 1:22) 
  • they were keepers of the traditions and became “indignant” when those traditions weren’t followed (Mark 7:5; Matthew 21:15) 
  • they were exorcists (Mark 9:14-17; Acts 19:13-14) 
  • Jesus said these leaders would be instrumental in His death (Matthew 16:21) 
  • they had their own armed guards and prisons (Mark 14:43; Acts 4:1; 5:18) 
  • yet they were afraid of the opinions of the people (Luke 22:1-2; Mark 11:31-32) 

(check out all of the above Scriptures by clicking here)

Jesus said they were “the official interpreters of the law,” yet they oftentimes interpreted the law to benefit themselves. 

When Herod asks them where the Messiah is to be born, they quote Micah 5:2 as saying, “a Ruler who will be the Shepherd of My people Israel.” But the word they use for “Ruler” means a leader with authority, or a governor (the same word is used for Joseph in Acts 7:10). Remember Herod’s violent temper and his insane suspicion? The word these religious leaders used gave them an “out.” They were almost saying to Herod, “When the Messiah does come, He will be a governor, which means there’s a good chance that He would report to you.” This “tame” interpretation was an attempt to keep them in the good graces of King Herod the Great 

But Micah himself uses the word for “Ruler” that means one with absolute dominion. Jesus will be THE Sovereign King. 

After hearing that this long awaited Messiah had finally been born in fulfillment of the prophecies, take a look at their response—

  • they said   . 
  • they did   . (even though Bethlehem was only 6 miles away!) 

How sad! 

But I think this is because they believed themselves to be “in” with Jehovah because they so carefully kept the rules. They didn’t need a Messiah to save them because—in their minds—they believed they were already saved from God’s punishment. 

Keeping religious rules doesn’t save anyone. 

Honoring age-old traditions doesn’t save anyone. 

Only coming to Jesus saves anyone! 

A key prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 9:2 says that the Messiah will save us from darkness and shadows. What exactly are these? 

The writer of Hebrews tells us that the law and rules are merely shadows of the True Substance. God said through Isaiah that relying on the rules keeps us trapped in meaningless religious traditions. But Jesus came as the Light and as the Substance that set us free. His death and resurrection made it possible for our sins to be forgiven (see Hebrews 10:1-7; Isaiah 1:11-14, 18).

Rules don’t take us into God’s presence, but Jesus does. Not just talking about Jesus, but coming to Jesus as our Savior and Lord. 

People will talk about Jesus—even you may talk about Him. That doesn’t do anything. But when we do more than talk—when we come to Him to follow Him as our Ruler and Shepherd—then we find forgiveness and freedom. 

Let’s not just talk about Jesus, but let’s be actively obedient! 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our Advent series People Will Talk, you can find those messages by clicking here. 

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A Leader’s Sincere Apology

…I’m sorry, brothers… (Acts 23:5). 

It started off innocently enough. Paul was addressing the Jewish high counsel and simply said, “Brothers, I have always lived before God with a clear conscience!” 

That doesn’t seem too controversial nor insensitive, but the next move does—Instantly Ananias the high priest commanded those close to Paul to slap him on the mouth. What?! That seems like a bit of an over-reaction on the part of the high priest, or maybe a bit of show of force to let Paul know who was really in charge here. 

If you were Paul and got slapped in the face for a pretty simple and true statement, how would you respond? Paul responded like I think I may have, with a little verbal “slap” of his own: “God will slap you, you corrupt hypocrite! What kind of judge are you to break the law yourself by ordering me struck like that?” 

Yeah, take that, you big meanie! 

Those standing closest to Paul must have gasped in horror as they said, “Do you realize who you’re talking to?” 

Paul is an old man by this time. He’s been through shipwrecks, beatings, imprisonments, without food, traveled more miles than he can count, preached more sermons than he can remember. His body was giving out on him, and his eyesight was especially weak. Clearly, Paul didn’t realize to whom we was addressing his remarks. 

But Paul immediately owned up to his mistake. “I’m sorry, brothers. I didn’t realize he was the high priest, for the Scriptures say, ‘You must not speak evil of any of your rulers.’” 

A mark of a godly leader is one who is quick to apologize.

Paul could have made excuses. He could have justified what he said by explaining, “He deserved it because of how he spoke to me!” or “He started it!” 

But Paul offered no excuses or justifications, just a quick, simple, sincere apology. 

Oh, that all Christian leaders were as sensitive as Paul and as quick to apologize!

This is part 26 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

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.

7 Quotes From “Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?”

Did Jesus Rise From The DeadDid Jesus Rise From The Dead? is an excellent apologetic for both the biblical skeptic and the biblical student. You can read my full book review by clicking here. Below are seven noteworthy quotes and one infographic from this fascinating book.

“One of the most noteworthy facts about the early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection was that it flourished in the very city where Jesus had been publicly crucified. So long as the inhabitants of Jerusalem thought that Jesus’ corpse lay in the tomb, few would have been prepared to believe such silliness as the claim that God had raised Jesus from the dead.”

“We have the extraordinary number of at least five independent sources for Jesus’ burial, some of which are extremely early. The Gospels describe Joseph as a rich man, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. As a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention. The Sanhedrin was a sort of Jewish high court made up of seventy of the leading men of Judaism, which presided in Jerusalem. There was an understandable hostility among early Christians toward the Jewish Sanhe-drists, for Christians blamed the Sanhedrists for engineering a judicial murder of Jesus at the hands of the Romans. … Therefore, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is very probably historical, since it would be almost inexplicable why Christians would invent a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who gives Jesus a proper burial.”

“Matthew is clearly working with an independent source, for he includes the story of the guard at the tomb, which is not derived from Mark and is unique to his Gospel; moreover, his comment that the rumor that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body, ‘And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day,’ (Matthew 28:15) shows that the guard is not Matthew’s own creation, but was part of prior tradition. Luke also has an independent source, for he tells the story, not found in Mark, of two disciples’ inspecting the tomb to verify the women’s report that the tomb was vacant. This story cannot be regarded as Luke’s own creation, since the incident is independently reported in John’s Gospel. And, again, given John’s independence of the other three Gospels, we have yet another independent report of the empty tomb.”

Did Jesus Rise From The Dead infographic

(click image for a larger view)

“To appreciate how restrained Mark’s narrative is, we need only read the account in the second-century apocryphal Gospel of Peter. It describes Jesus’ triumphant exit from the tomb as a gigantic figure whose head reaches above the clouds, supported by giant angels, followed by a talking cross, heralded by a voice from heaven, and all witnessed by a Roman guard, the Jewish leaders, and a multitude of spectators! This is how real legends look: They’re richly decorated with theological and apologetical motifs. By contrast, Mark’s account is stark in its simplicity.”

“Think about that: ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away’ [Matthew 28:13]. The Jewish authorities did not deny the fact that Jesus’ tomb was empty; instead they entangled themselves in a hopeless series of absurdities, trying to explain it away. In other words, the Jewish claim that the disciples stole the body presupposes that the body was, in fact, missing. Therefore, we have evidence from the very adversaries of the early Christian movement for the fact of the empty tomb.”

“All the followers of those first century messianic movements were fanatically committed to the cause…. But in no case right across the century before Jesus and the century after Him do we hear of any Jewish group saying that their executed leader had been raised from the dead, and he really was the Messiah after all.” —N.T. Wright

“A supernatural explanation of the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith is not contrived given the context of Jesus’ own unparalleled life, ministry, and personal claims.”

No Conspiracies Here

Burning heartsCould it really be this simple? Could it be that Jesus died and rose again just like the Bible says? Or does it need to be more complicated than that? Are there other theories that seem to fit the facts?

At the feast of Pentecost where Jewish people from all over the world convened in Jerusalem just 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus, Peter stood up to address them:

  • Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem… (Acts 2:14). He addressed locals and guests.
  • Jesus of Nazareth was a Man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you, as you yourselves know (v. 22). No one shouted Peter down or disputed this claim. Quite possibly because there were those in this audience who had personally seen or experienced one of Jesus’ miracles.
  • God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact (v. 32). Anyone could have easily refuted this claim because the tomb of Jesus was within walking distance, and yet no one did dispute what Peter said.

A short time later, healing a lame man outside the temple, Peter and John were hauled before the Sanhedrin (rulers and elders of the people [Acts 4:8]). This was the very group who convinced the Roman governor Pilate to have Jesus crucified.

  • It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Whom you crucified but Whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed (v. 10). They didn’t dispute this, but they just told them to stop preaching in this name (v. 17).

Paul was a devout member of the Jewish religious leadership until he had a personal encounter with Jesus. It became awfully difficult for Paul to argue Jesus was dead, when he had seen Him and talked with Him! Paul’s former colleagues had him arrested by the Romans. The Roman governor Festus noted that the claims of the Jews against Paul was about a dead man named Jesus Who Paul claimed was alive (Acts 25:19). This is nearly 30 years after the resurrection of Jesus occurred. King Agrippa didn’t scoff this off. In fact, Paul said he was glad to talk to the king since “the king is familiar with these things…. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). Again, Agrippa didn’t dispute the claim of Jesus’ resurrection, but simply accused Paul of trying to convert him to Christianity.

There is something in our hearts that wants the resurrection to be true.

  • We don’t want to work all our lives for nothing.
  • We don’t want to invest in relationships, only to have them end when one person dies.
  • We want there to be something more. We want there to be something that makes sense of the world.
  • Only the resurrection helps us make sense. Only the resurrection gives us lasting hope. 

An old song by the band Kansas says:

Deep within the hardest heart

There is something there that knows

There’s a hunger life can never fill

Til you face the One Who rose

There were two followers of Jesus that were out for a walk later in the day after the resurrection. They, too, were trying to figure out if the news reports they heard about Jesus’ resurrection was fact or fiction. Jesus met them on the road (although they didn’t recognize Him) and He walked and talked with them. He explained how all of the things in the Bible pointed to these facts: a Savior would come, a Savior would die, and a Savior would be raised to life again. As Jesus sat down to eat with them, they recognized Who He was, and then He disappeared from their sight. As they hurried back to tell the other disciples, they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He talked” (Luke 24:32).

Does it take faith to believe the biblical resurrection story? Yes!

Does it take faith to believe the conspiracy theories? Yes!

But I believe not only is the resurrection account more plausible, but it’s more satisfying too. The resurrection of Jesus rings true because IT IS TRUE, and because you were created by God to believe this truth so you can be in a relationship with Him.

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