Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Message of the Cross

“Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus and led Him away. And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.”  John 19:16-18  NKJV

Early this past week as I began to reflect on the sacrifice our Lord made for us which we will celebrate this weekend, I found myself considering more than just the events which took place, but more the motivation and emotions of Jesus and the Father which prompted the crucifixion and resurrection.  As I did this, I was surprised to find that I began to realize things I had overlooked in the past because my focus had always been on what occurred rather than trying to understand the feelings of my heavenly Father, and why He chose to do what He did.

I am sure many of you can relate to this, but it seems like only yesterday I was single and (reasonably) carefree.  Yet now, as I sit here with three daughters and five (and a half) grandchildren, I would have to admit I understand much better the feelings a father can have towards his children, and the lengths to which he will go to show his love towards them.  As I looked at the death of Jesus this week, and the Father’s decision to sacrifice His own Son for our sins, what became apparent to me was that there were two things I may not have fully appreciated in the past and that was the depth of God’s love for me and His willingness to forgive unconditionally.

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  John 15:13  NKJV

How many people would you be willing to die for?  Now that might sound like an odd question, but considering what the Word tells us here it would appear that the ultimate expression of love would be to give your life for someone else.  Yet I am willing to bet that if you were to answer yes, it would be because you loved them.  I believe I would be willing  to die for my wife, my children, or my grandchildren because of the love I have for them, yet I would have to truthfully question whether or not I would be willing to do that for a stranger.  Yet the first message of the cross is that God loved us so much He was willing to sacrifice His own Son for all, even those who choose not to love Him.

“We love Him because He first loved us.”  1 John 4:19  NKJV

Early this past week I received a question about compassion, or rather a lack of it in a certain situation.  It did not take long to discover that the lack of compassion was the result of an unwillingness to forgive.  Why is it that even as believers, after having the forgiveness we have received from our Father as an example, we find it so hard to forgive others?  Over and over again in the Word we are told to forgive others, not just once but “seventy times seven” and even to not let the sun go down on our anger, yet we ignore what we are told and become bitter while holding on to that which we are instructed to release.

“And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.”  Luke 23:33-34  NKJV

Has it ever occurred to you that Jesus was willing to forgive without even being asked?  As I read this passage this week this was the thought that came to me.  No one had asked for forgiveness, but rather we are told that the crowd was mocking and making fun of Him.  What an example it is for us, that while we find it hard to forgive even those who ask for forgiveness, our Lord was willing to forgive those who were crucifying Him without ever being asked.  What a difference it would make in this world if we could only follow that example of our Lord and Savior.

As you celebrate the resurrection of our Lord this weekend, ask yourself the question “what is the message of the cross to me?”  As I asked myself that question this week, the answer seemed to me to be, love and forgiveness.

"Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes. But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher)."  John 20:1-16  NKJV

God loved us enough to make the choice to save us, but it is up to us to make the choice to accept it. My prayer for you today is that if you have never made the decision to believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again for you, you would choose to do it right now. Invite Jesus to come into your life and forgive your sins, and begin to experience the joy that comes from having a relationship with a living God, and the knowledge that He has promised us eternal life with Him in Heaven if we only believe.

Keep watching.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Our New Home

“Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”   Revelation 21:2-5  NKJV

Years ago we made the decision to uproot from the western part of the state and move to the eastern side where life seemed to offer a more relaxing and conservative atmosphere to raise a family.  Selling the home in which we had lived for so long presented us with emotions that seemed at the time to be more intense than we had imagined they would be.  Although tempered with the enthusiasm and anticipation of our new home, leaving the old and all of the memories that accompanied it was difficult to say the least.  Over the years, as I have talked and taught on the subject of heaven, it has surprised me to find that many people would appear to have similar feelings when it comes to contemplating leaving our earthly home to take up residence in our heavenly home.

Trying to explain to three little girls why we were making the move and talking about concerns we had as parents for our children’s well being truthfully didn’t get us very far.  We were then reduced to discussing how much fun we were going to have in our new home much as we would explain a trip to Disneyland.  That approach seemed to work much better, and created a sense of anticipation in the minds of our children as to what they would find in our new surroundings.  To be truthful, it has often appeared to me that this same circumstance has affected the way that God has chosen to approach His revealing of our future home to us, and especially the way He has chosen to describe it to us.

The first thing we find about our new home is that it is described as being as beautiful as a bride on her wedding day.  I have mentioned before that thanks to my daughters I am quite familiar with the time and effort, and expense, which a bride goes through to achieve the perfect look on her wedding day.  I am sure most of us can understand that line of thought as well and it comes as no surprise to me that Jesus uses that same picture to describe the time and effort He put into creating our new heavenly home. Best of all we are told that not only is it physically beautiful, it is at this time that the old passes away and all things become new, including the memories of an old life with all of its painful memories and sorrows.

“And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”   Revelation 21:6-8  NKJV

How many of us have imagined at some point in time just what it would be like to live someplace where everyone had the same beliefs and convictions as we do?  Just as the move we chose to make as a family was in part motivated by a desire to live in an area where society seemed to reflect the morals and standards we believed in, we are told that the inhabitants of our new home will all have made the same decision to accept the grace freely offered by our Lord and have received the “water of life” and become overcomers.  Those who chose to reject that same grace will instead be sent to an entirely different place, “the lake which burns with fire and brimstone”.  

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.”    Revelation 21:9-17  NKJV

Again I would like to share some words from Jack Kelley as he talks about our new home.

“I’ve written about the New Jerusalem several times, how it will be the exclusive home of the redeemed Church. At about 1400 miles tall, wide, and deep it will be much too big to fit on Earth. In fact, it will be almost 2/3rds the size of the moon. Put in a different perspective, if the entire world population, currently about 7,000,000,000 people, lived in one geographic location with the population density of New York City, it would be a city the size of the state of Texas. The way it’s described in Rev. 21:16 leads many people to believe the New Jerusalem is either a cube or pyramid shaped. But if it was a sphere, like the moon, the New Jerusalem could easily accommodate 22 cities this size on its surface area. That’s 22 times the total current population of Earth. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not big enough for the Church.”

How would I describe our new home?  Truthfully, I don’t think I can.  All I know is that it will be a place of unimaginable joy where we will live for eternity with our loving Father in a place of incredible beauty.  I fall back on what the apostle Paul said in his first letter to the church at Corinth.

“But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”            1 Corinthians 2:9  NKJV

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to move to my new home.

Keep watching.

If you have not had the opportunity to visit Jack Kelley’s website I encourage you to do so.  It is by far one of the most helpful and educational sites available and the source of a wealth of knowledge.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Making All Things New

"Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea."   Revelation 21:1  NKJV

Do you recall a program on television from a few years back called “Extreme Makeover”?  What it was about was that they would find a home badly in need of restoration and bring in a host of volunteers to work for a week and totally transform it from its state of disrepair into a practically new and unrecognizable home.  How often I wished they would somehow choose my home for one of their projects, but of course that never did occur.  Yet it was at the very end, when the new home was revealed to the owners, that the climax occurred as we watched their faces as they saw their transformed home for the very first time.

I believe it is entirely possible that many of us are unaware of the magnitude of the coming transformation of this world that we are promised in this passage from the book of Revelation.  Where many might believe in a simple “makeover” of what is already here, a closer reading makes it clear that God intends to completely do away with the old and again create a new world for mankind to inhabit.  Have you ever read the creation account in the book of Genesis and wished you could somehow have watched God create the world we live in?  Very soon it would appear we will get the chance to observe that very thing again.

"So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.Matthew 19:28  NKJV

In this passage from the book of Matthew, Jesus speaks of this very event as a “renewal” of all things. The Greek word for regeneration used here is the word paliggenesia.  It is translated to mean; a new birth, reproduction, renewal, recreation, regeneration, hence renovation, regeneration, the production of a new life consecrated to God, a radical change of mind for the better. The word often used to denote the restoration of a thing to its pristine state, its renovation, as a renewal or restoration of life after death.  I am sure most of us would agree that what is soon to occur is not only desperately needed, but probably long overdue, yet would it surprise you to know we are not the only ones impatient for this event to take place?

"For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now."   Romans 8:19-22  NKJV

According to this passage, the creation itself has been groaning and laboring, waiting for the Sons of God to be revealed so it can finally be released from the imperfect state it has been forced to endure by the choice of mankind to invite sin into this world.  We have discussed this passage before, considering the fact that the seismic events which seem to be increasing are in truth a sign of this world’s awareness of the nearness of the presence of God, and its coming liberation from the state in which it is in.  Although the thought of creation itself having “awareness” might be something we struggle to accept, the Word of God makes it clear that this is, in fact, exactly the case.

"Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the LORD. For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with His truth."         Psalms 96:11-13  NKJV

Not only will mankind, believers already with the Lord as well as those who survive the tribulation rejoice, but this passage from Psalms tells us that the heavens will rejoice, the earth itself will be glad, the sea will roar, the fields will be joyful, and even the trees will rejoice at this time when Jesus returns at the end of the Great Tribulation to judge the world.  Consider if you will this excerpt from a great commentary on the book of Revelation by the late Jack Kelley;

“The judgments of the Great Tribulation served in part to prepare the Earth for its restoration. In all probability, its orbit and axis will have been returned to their original configurations, bringing again the world wide sub-tropical environment likely enjoyed by our first parents. The vast oceans, silent witnesses to the enormity of Noah’s flood will be hoisted back into the outer atmosphere, restoring the water vapor canopy that protected early man and allowing the return of long life spans they experienced (Isaiah 65:20). The sea floors will be elevated and the mountains lowered, and Earth will once again resemble the Garden Planet it was when Adam came on the scene. Its atmosphere will no longer be the haunt of demons, and the heavens will have been purified of Satan’s rebellious minions forever.” 

If you choose to take the Bible at its word, what will occur at the end of the tribulation period is not a simple “makeover” but an entirely new creation.  The old will be destroyed by fire and God will again create a new and wonderful world for man to inhabit which will by all accounts, be like nothing we have ever seen before.  Of course, this is just the world that this passage is referring to.  As raptured believers, the Church will inhabit an even more amazing and wonderful place, and that will be the New Jerusalem.  We will see what the Bible tells us about our new home next week.

Keep watching.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Pro Choice

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.”    Revelation 20:1-3  NKJV

Why?  I confess I have often read this account of what occurs at the end of the millennium and wondered why is Satan let loose again?  Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary was once asked this question and his answer was “you tell me why God loosed him the first time and I'll tell you why God loosed him the second time.”  When I first read this I laughed, but after thinking about it for awhile it occurred to me that this is exactly the answer we need for it is apparent that the reasons for God allowing Satan to have free rein to deceive are the same in both instances.

 “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”   Revelation 20:4-6  NKJV

If you recall the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, when questioned as to why she disobeyed God’s instructions Eve blamed Satan, in the form of the serpent, for the reason she sinned.  If you were to take a poll now and question people as to why they sin, they would probably blame this corrupt world, and the temptations within it as the reason for sin.  Thirdly, I am certain that many would also claim that it would be so much easier to choose not to sin if we could actually see God, and He lived among us and talked with us much like He did in the garden of Eden.  Then of course, it would be impossible to sin, and we could live a perfect life.

In the coming millennium, for one thousand years we will see an earth that resembles what the Garden of Eden might have been like in many ways.  All humans who enter the millennium will be believers, and they will live extended life spans which will result in a population explosion much like in Adam’s time.  Conditions on earth will reflect the perfection seen in the garden in the form of weather, fruitfulness, peace and harmony, and above all, a temple in Jerusalem where Jesus will rule and reign along with His saints from the ages before.  So why release Satan?  Although many will proclaim to love God, and claim to be believers, just like in the garden the truth is never really known until you are given a choice.  

“Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”  Revelation 20:7-10  NKJV

Does it really surprise you that so many will choose to join Satan after a thousand years of peace and prosperity such as this world has never seen since the Garden of Eden?  What we find here is simply irrefutable proof that man is by nature, sinful, and even when presented with a life of seeming perfection, many will still reject God and choose to follow Satan.  This is why I and many others believe that one of the greatest gifts we receive when we are finally taken into the presence of God, when we are “changed” as we enter Heaven, is that as a result of choosing to follow Jesus and accept His sacrifice for our sins, our sin nature is removed.  

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”                 Revelation 20:11-15  NKJV

As funny as this may sound, God is pro-choice.  Man chooses his own destiny, and the Word of God is clear that everyone who has ever lived will be given the opportunity to choose.  God does not choose to send anyone to Hell; we make that choice for Him.  God designed Hell for Satan, and designed Heaven for us.  The trouble is, all too many will choose to follow Satan into eternal torment in “the lake of fire and brimstone”.  Thankfully we are given the ability and opportunity to choose, and if you have made the choice to give your life to God and accept His invitation to spend eternity with Him, your future is secured.  If you haven’t made that choice, what better time than right now to do it, before it’s too late.  

Simply pray a prayer like this; Jesus I know that I am a sinner, and have sinned against you.  I believe you loved me enough to send your Son Jesus to die for my sins, and that He rose from the dead so that I can live.  Forgive me of my sins and come into my life and help me to live for you.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Keep watching.