Amos Coltrane Francisco

Amos Coltrane Francisco was welcomed into this world on April 14, 2017 or, as it’s known in our house, “Ruination Day.” Amos, you share your birthday with the opening of SunTrust Park, Greg Maddux, David Justice, and Steve Avery, so it’s hard not to take the timing of your birth as anything other than a sign. But… April 14th is also the day Lincoln was shot & the Titanic struck an iceberg, so we won’t read too much into it.

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Here, little one, is why your weird parents named you as we did:

Amos

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Amos was a simple shepherd before God raised him up to be a prophet and gave him his unenviable task: proclaim God’s coming judgment to Israel. You see, Amos lived in a time of great prosperity in Israel, a time where many were quite faithful in practicing the external rites of religion, but God held this against them:

God’s people loved comfort and wealth more than God Himself. They drew up how to practice their faith according to their own wishes & convenience, rather than listening to their loving Maker’s repeated calls for them to “seek me and live” (5:6).

The main way that the people’s rebellion was displayed was that they “oppress[ed] the poor and crush[ed] the needy” (4:1). The people lived as though their wealth was meant solely for their own benefit and so hardened their hearts against the poor (2:6-7). Through Amos, God called his people to

“Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate… Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream

Amos 5:14-15, 23-24

What does it mean to establish justice at the gate? It means to strive to cultivate a society that is free from oppression, exploitation, and injustice; it is a call for us to live in such a way that reflects God’s own heart for the poor, the fatherless, the widow, the foreigner, the minority, and the refugee. It is a call for those of us who claim to know the Creator God to use our time, our influence, our talents, and our wealth to “let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6).

Amos, our prayer for you is that you would be a voice for the voiceless and a defender of the defenseless, that you, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed, would “not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Our prayer is that you would use your time, your influence, your talents, and your wealth to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. You know, like Batman.

Coltrane

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Though we would be loath to admit it now, during the first few years of our marriage, Erin and I were (nearly) pure romantics. After a tumultuous season of dating, marriage had come as such a wonderful, joyous relief to us. In that beautiful, sweet season, we wanted capture every second and squeeze every last ounce of enjoyment out of it. We were up for any adventure, and we constantly thought of ways to transform the simple, ordinary moments of our new lives together into the extraordinary.

Dinners alone became romantic dinners by candlelight, punctuated by the jazz bouncing off the walls in our tiny, one-bedroom apartment. And we fancied ourselves cultured.

The soundtrack to most of those nights was John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, a chance purchase that has become a mainstay for our family over the years. Even our kids know where to find the Coltrane albums on our shelves, and they know that dinner-time is usually Coltrane-time.

Even though we’ve come to enjoy many other of Coltrane’s works, A Love Supreme has been the signature soundtrack of our home as our family has progressed from two naïve, star-crossed lovers, wide-eyed with wonder at the possibilities before them, to a family of five who have now called The Magic City home these fourteen years.

There’s something positively otherworldly about the album, something in part meditative and enrapturing, majestic and unassuming. To hear Coltrane describe it, A Love Supreme was composed as a sort of offering. In light of God’s grace towards him, he asked God for the privilege to bring others joy through his music & believed that A Love Supreme was God’s answer to his prayers. From his liner notes:

During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD.

As time and events moved on, a period of irresolution did prevail. I entered into a phase which was contradictory to the pledge and away from the esteemed path; but thankfully, now and again through the unerring and merciful hand of God, I do perceive and have been duly re-informed of His OMNIPOTENCE, and of our need for, and dependence on Him. At this time I would like to tell you that NO MATTER WHAT … IT IS WITH GOD. HE IS GRACIOUS AND MERCIFUL. HIS WAY IS IN LOVE, THROUGH WHICH WE ALL ARE. IT IS TRULY – A LOVE SUPREME –

This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say ‘THANK YOU GOD’ through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor…

May we never forget that in the sunshine of our lives, through the storm and after the rain – it is all with God – in all ways and forever. ALL PRAISE TO GOD.

With love to all, I thank you, John Coltrane

“One night, after an exceptionally brilliant performance of the suite… [Coltrane] stepped down from the stage and was heard to say, ‘Nunc dimittis.’ These are Simeon’s words in Luke 2 after he had seen the promised Messiah. They mean, essentially, ‘I could die happy now.’ Coltrane claimed to have had an experience of God’s love that liberated him from the work for the sake of the work itself. He had been given God’s power and had felt God’s pleasure. Coltrane had stopped making music for his own sake. He did it for the music’s sake, the listener’s sake, and God’s sake (Every Good Endeavor, 240-241).”

It is our prayer, son, that whatever you do, you would do it all for the glory of God and for the joy of all people, & that in your work you would feel the smile of God upon you.

(If you are so inclined, here’s the link to Ezra’s name story & Sarah’s)

Peace & The Garden

Peace & The Garden

 [7] Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. [8] And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. [9] And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. [10] A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. (Genesis 2:7-10)

[1] Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb [2] through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. [3] No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. (Rev. 22:1-3) 

[11] He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

OUR BROKEN WORLD

There’s a movie that came out in the early 90’s called Grand Canyon. Danny Glover is a tow-truck driver, and there’s a great scene when he argues with some gang members attempting to steal the car he’s been sent to tow. He says, “Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this. I mean, maybe you don’t know that yet. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without having to ask you if I can. That dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off. Everything is supposed to be different than it is.”

Don’t you know that too? When you read the news & hear about what’s going on with ISIS or Boko Haram or hear about another unarmed black person killed by a white cop or hear about another famous, powerful person somehow eluding justice for their crimes (or watch The Big Short), don’t you feel, “Everything is supposed to be different than it is.” Maybe it hits home for you when you see your brother or sister struggling or your parents’ marriage falling apart or you’re helping a friend battling depression or when someone you love gets cancer: “Everything is supposed to be different than it is.”

It is a horrifying reality that 22,000 children die each day in poverty, half of the world lives on less than $2.50 a day, and that there are an estimated 20.9 million sex slaves in the world (about 5 times the population of Alabama).

  • It’s no wonder that so many people have looked honestly at the world and concluded, “There must not be a god. The world is too jacked up.”

But we know that it’s not just the world out there that’s jacked up, right? None of us eat or exercise or study the way that we want to or know we should, right? Or we fall on the other extreme, and eating or exercise or studying consume us & loom over every decision. We either struggle to love our parents or friends well or we struggle to become our own, independent people.

We’re rarely truly content or satisfied, except, sometimes when we imagine a future hypothetical scenario when we imagine our future selves with the future we imagine that God has in store for us- one with a loving spouse, a secure job, healthy & obedient & thankful kids, a decent house in a safe neighborhood, etc. We are very broken people living in a very broken place. The odds are if you’ve fallen into the trap of looking for satisfaction and purpose in approval or power or a relationship or achievement or your body image, you still struggle with it.

“I look around & pretty much 100% of people are texting and driving. Why? Because they would rather potentially take someone’s life & ruin their own than be alone for 5 seconds.” – Louis C.K.

We are all longing for the world, for the family, for the self, for the satisfaction, for the peace that we’ve never really had. We long for something better. We long for the garden.

3 Things We’re Going to Look at Tonight: (1) The Lie in the Garden, (2) The Truth of the Garden, & (3) The Test of the Garden.

  1. The Lie in the Garden

The Story of the Bible

  • God the Father, Spirit & Son in perfect joy & love from all eternity (they do not need anything)
    • Why make a world? “This is so good, we want to share it” (foie gras)
  • “Let’s make mankind in our image” (reflect & relationship)- bring our rule, order & justice to the world even as they experience perfect joy, peace, and purpose in the garden
    • Garden: paradise, everything worked as it should (the world was in perfect peace); Adam & Eve walked with God, fully known & loved, submitted to God as king.
    • Isaiah 43:7- created for glory. God says, “Only my glory can satisfy, but my glory will ever-satisfy.”
  • Genesis 3- Satan whispers a lie into Eve’s heart: “God is not good. God is not for you. God is a ‘withholding’ god. He doesn’t want your peace or happiness.”
  • Eve imagines what it would be like to become wise by eating from the tree, imagining what it would be like to be “like God” until her desire to be “like God” gives birth to sin as it surpasses her desire for God Himself.
  • Adam & Eve rebel against God- not submitting to God as King, but choosing to be king in his place, having ultimate authority over what is good, right & wrong, etc.- eat the fruit, and lose paradise. They lose the perfect world they were created for. They would never again know true peace.
    • “And terrible pain came into God’s heart. His children hadn’t just broken one rule; they had broken God’s heart. They had broken their wonderful relationship with him. And now he knew everything else would break. God’s creation would start to unravel, and come undone, and go wrong. From now on everything would die- even though it was all supposed to last forever… [sin broke everything] God couldn’t let his children live forever, not in such pain, not without him. There was only way to protect them….” ‘You will have to leave the garden,’ God said through tears, and killed an animal to cover their shame & guilt. Jesus Storybook Bible
  • Psalm 16:11- Outside of his presence, we cannot have perfect joy, peace, & purpose
  • Isaiah 59:2- separated… ruined by our rebellion
    • Reason everything has gone wrong… The reason the world is like this
    • We have hunger that nothing but glory can satisfy.
    • Ever since, trying to get back to the garden… or try to “simulate” the garden by taking good things like relationships or sex or being ‘good’ people or our families or achievement and turning them to “ultimate things,” things that cannot hold that weight & cannot satisfy in the way we hope they would.

Like Eve, we have believed lies about God, about ourselves & about the garden.

LIE #1: We Can Get Back to the Garden

In other words, this lie says, “This is a fixable problem. I am not that bad.”

Stanford Prison Experiment- Phil Zambardo

  • In the 70’s, a Stanford Psychology professor held an experiment where he took a bunch of college students & made a mock prison in the basement of the psychology department.
  • He only chose the most physically and psychologically healthy students, and then he randomly assigned them as prisoners or guards.
  • The “criminals” were picked up by the cops, booked at the station, and given numbered uniforms.
  • There were no other real instructions, so at first, no one took it seriously, but on the 2nd day, a few prisoners rebelled and ripped off their numbers.
  • One of the guards said, “these are dangerous prisoners. We have to show them who is in charge.” They entered the cells, stripped them naked, blindfolded them, and then began to mock them.
  • Within 36 hours, some prisoners began to have emotional breakdowns, and within 5 days, the guards began to sadistically torture the prisoners.
  • An experiment that was supposed to last two weeks lasted 6 days

These were wealthy, well-educated, generally good & well-adjusted college students! What went wrong? There is something fundamentally broken & evil in the human heart. 

Now, before you start to say, “Matt, this is Samford”- let me stop you. It’s not as different here as you may think it should be. The Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership here at Samford revealed that the typical Samford student is 5 times more likely to be religious, but no less likely to cheat on a paper, project, or exam. Why? We can cheat a little & still feel like we’re good people, because we often judge our behavior in comparison with others, right? But what does James 2:10 say?

“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it”

We want God to be just AND merciful, and we think that He is, but, in general, we want Him to act in justice towards other people’s sins (think the Nazis or child predators), but to let our sins slide & show mercy, right? Habakkuk 1:13 says that God’s eyes are too pure to look upon evil- that He doesn’t stop at the “big” sins. He’s so holy that all sin is worthy of his judgment. His line is absolute perfection: “only the perfect can enter the garden.”

  • We are too broken to make it back to the garden on our own.
  • We are alienated from God (Col 1:21)- our only source of true joy, peace, joy, and purpose- to such a degree that we could never hope to repair our relationship.

LIE #2: We Can Make Another Garden

We see this lie as early as Genesis 11 & the Tower of Babel: mankind decides that they don’t need God; they’ll build a perfect world of lasting happiness & peace on their own.

  • This is the lie of the “religion” of politics.
  • In general, conservatives are guilty of nostalgia: “if the government would leave us alone, the world would go back to the way that it should be.” “Make America Great Again.” The past was paradise, and “those” people are the problem.
  • In general, liberals think “we can legislate a better world for everyone.” “Change you can believe in.” The future could be paradise, but those people are in the
  • What’s the problem? The past wasn’t as innocent or fair as we may be led to believe & people are not inherently good. Fundamental lie in Babel & politics: people are basically good; we know what the problems are; we know how to fix it; we know what could satisfy us. 

“A Nice Place to Visit” (Twilight Zone- April 15, 1960)

  • Rocky is robbing a pawn shop & gets shot. He wakes up & meets a guy named Pip who tells Rocky that he’s his guide & can give him whatever he wants.
  • Eventually, Rocky realizes he’s dead, and he thinks Pip is his guardian angel.
  • Rocky’s never had any luck. He keeps winning at a casino, surrounded by beautiful women, drives a spectacular car, etc.
  • At first, he’s elated. Eventually, after a while, he loses it.
  • Rocky: “If I gotta stay here another day, I’m gonna go nuts! I don’t belong in heaven, see? I want to go to the other place”
  • Pip: “Heaven? Whatever gave you the idea that you were in heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!
  • Narrator: “A scared, angry little man who never got a break. Now he has everything he’s ever wanted- and he’s going to have to live with it for eternity- in The Twilight Zone”

“The loneliest moment in life is when you receive that which you thought was the ultimate, and it lets you down” –Ravi Zacharias

Wright Thompson, “Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building”:

Here lies the greatest basketball player of all time. That’s his epitaph… Jordan couldn’t have known that the closest he’d get to immortality was during that final walk off the court… He still knows how to play. He could shut down LeBron, if his body wouldn’t betray him, if he could hold off time … All that can happen in the days and years that follow is for the shining monument he built to be chipped away, eroded. His self-esteem has always been, as he says, “tied directly to the game.” Without it, he feels adrift. Who am I? What am I doing? For the past 10 years, since retiring for the third time, he has been running… he’s still restless “How can I enjoy the next 20 years without so much of this consuming me? How can I find peace away from the game of basketball?”

Ronda Rousey, MMA fighter who won 11 fights in the first round, was named by an ESPN poll the greatest living female athlete, lost to Holly Holm a few months ago, and here’s what she said about her experience in the hospital immediately after the fight:

Honestly, my thought in the medical room, I was sitting in the corner and was like, ‘What am I anymore if I’m not this?'” Rousey said. “Literally sitting there thinking about killing myself. In that exact second, I’m like, ‘I’m nothing. What do I do anymore? No one gives a s— about me anymore without this.'”

-Brett Okamoto, “Ronda Rousey Considered Suicide After Loss to Holly Holm,” ESPN.com, 2/16/16

Even the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre admitted, “There comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?'”

“Among the extremely wealthy, suicide was the cause of 23.6% of their deaths between 2008-2010” –Dr. Hu, Fudan University

All of these people reached what they thought was the ultimate, but when they got it, they found it wasn’t enough. Why? Because we were created for glory & for relationship. Only the perfect can enter the garden, but only the garden can satisfy. 

  1. The Truth of the Garden. WE WERE CREATED FOR ANOTHER GARDEN 

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” -Ecclesiastes 3:11

  • There is an ache for eternity, for the garden in us. The world is grasping for something that will satisfy, that will bring peace, and though inwardly they know there must be more, they don’t know where to find it.

Listen to the way that C.S. Lewis puts it in chapter 10 of Mere Christianity:

“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, then; is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country… There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps’. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them 

What is Lewis saying? Why is there such a deep uneasiness about this world? Why are our souls so restless in this world? Because you KNOW you were meant for more. You were made for another home, and, guess what, it’s coming. That ache inside of you is meant to be filled by a new home, by a greater garden. Here’s a glimpse: 

“God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’… [1] Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb [2] through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. [3] No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him” -Revelation 21:3-5; 22:1-3

There will be no more racism or sexism. No more separation or animosity between us due to popularity, money, education politics, nationality, ability, intelligence, beauty, distance, or anything else. Whatever your struggles in this life are- whether you long for approval or control or a relationship or achievement or independence or power or to be told, “you’re beautiful; you’re valuable”- your longing will be satisfied beyond your ability to comprehend.

And you will see God as He is- face to face- and hear, “You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter in whom I am well-pleased.” And every day will be better than the last as the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.

Can you imagine? Do you have any idea how incredible this will be? We must think about this until it overwhelms us, as it should. Paul said his sufferings weren’t worth comparing to the glory to be revealed (Romans 8:18). If this is true, then whether you are wealthy or poor, hated or loved, successful or not, married or single, are remembered or are forgotten becomes less important. What would it look like if we really believed in the hope of this garden?

  • Christians invented hospitals, homeless shelters, orphanages, and more. They were sawn in two, used as torches in Nero’s palace, ripped up by lions, etc.
  • David Livingstone- “I never made a sacrifice”
  • Persecuted church in Syria- “Don’t pray that the persecution stops, because the church is growing like crazy. Pray for our strength & for people to come to faith.”
  • Those who behold the truth of the Garden so prize their future reward that nothing they lose here seems like too great a sacrifice. They knew there was a garden that satisfied.

HOW DO WE MAKE THIS A REALITY? We must look to another garden.

  1. The Test of the Garden

“[1] Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” -Hebrews 12:1-2

In Luke 22, we see the only perfect One, the only one who could enter the garden, Jesus, entering another garden with another test. He prays, “Father, let this cup pass from me, but not as I will, but as you will,” because He knows EXACTLY what’s coming. And what is coming for Him?

  • First, betrayal & abandonment from his closest friends, followed by being punched, slapped & mocked while blindfolded & subjected to unjust trials.
  • Next, Jesus was to be flogged. He was stripped of his clothes & has his hands tied to a post above his head while he was whipped across his shoulders, back, thighs, & legs with a whip made of leather with metal balls & bits of bone on the end. The whip would start to dig in, ripping His skin into ribbons, tearing apart muscle.
  • Then He knew a group of mocking soldiers would throw a royal robe on Him & crown Him with thorns that would drive into His scalp. Then they beat Him with a wooden staff, spit on Him, and ripped of the robe, re-opening all those wounds.
  • He’s led through town as people mocked, carrying his own cross, led up a hill, and nails- about 6 inches long and 3/8 inch thick- are driven into his wrists.
  • His elbows were left bent so He could hang with his arms above his head, dislocating his shoulders & bringing his full weight upon His pierced wrists. Not only was that horrifically painful, it made it hard to breathe. In order to breathe, He had to push up on His pierced feet until it became to painful & He slumped back down again… for hours…

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was tempted, but unlike Adam, He passed the test & His was a much tougher garden. Jesus did not pray, “let this cup pass from me,” because He could not bear the thought of the coming pain, but because He could not bear the thought of the loss of the favor of His Father.

  • On that cross, He does not cry, “My back, my back,” or “my wrists, my wrists,” or “my head, my head,” but “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”
  • Enjoyed perfect love & joy in the Father’s presence from all eternity, but He was about to become sin, to bear our brokenness, to be that which deserves wrath so that He could rescue & redeem us.
  • “The Father turns His face away; as wounds that mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory”

WHY WOULD HE DO IT? He so prized his reward that nothing he lost seemed like too great a sacrifice.

“[5] For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you… [11] Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.’ [12] And they shall be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the LORD; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken” -Isaiah 62:5, 11-12

He’s saying, “There is nothing I want more than you, and I would do literally anything and everything to have you. You’ve chosen everything but me, and I’ve chosen nothing above you. And there’s nothing more that I could have given to have you. I want you to know me. I want you to have joy, peace, and purpose, but you only really find them in me. Be my son. Be my daughter. Be my bride.” He rejoices over us as His reward & promises everlasting love & kindness towards us. In the garden of His agony, we see that we are loved utterly beyond our comprehension. Does that not stir every fiber of your being, that in spite of our rebellion, God would have us as His prize?

What you have been looking for your whole life can only be found in Him, and though we lost the garden & couldn’t make our own way back to the garden, Christ made a way for us where there was no way, to a better garden, our heavenly home, where we will be with Him in glory for ever.

“Because God has created the appetites in your heart, it stands to reason that He must be the consummation of that hunger” –Joni Eareckson Tada

THIS IS THE KEY: ONLY THOSE WHO TRULY BEHOLD THE GARDEN OF AGONY WILL INHERIT THE GARDEN OF TRUE GLORY.

To the degree your heart is melted by the agony of Christ in the garden, to that degree you will truly begin to experience peace & freedom & joy, and to that degree will you finally be able to be free to truly enjoy the world, serve and sacrifice, and live as you were always made to live.

Ezra Ames Francisco

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Ezra Ames

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Ezra

Ezra is named after the great reformer in the Old Testament. Leading a group of exiles back from Babylon, Ezra was used by God to call the people of God back to Word of God: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach His statutes and rules in Israel” (7:10). And since the “good hand of his God… [was] on him” (7:6, 9, 28; 8:18, 22, 31), Ezra did just that.

With a humility that led him to trust God more than men (8:21-22), to willingly identify himself with others’ sins before God (9:3-9), to lead by first going to God in prayer (8:21; 9:4-6; 10:1), and to develop leadership in others (10:4; Nehemiah 9:1-5), Ezra led the Israelites to become, once and for all, a “people of the book.” Whereas before the Israelites had “cast [God’s] law behind their back,” (Nehemiah 9:26), now they desperately longed for it, listening to it read and explained for hours upon hours and days upon days (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 18; 9:3). As the people heard God’s Word, they began to understand as Ezra had, that all of history painted a picture of God’s unfathomable love, grace and faithfulness to a rebellious, ungrateful people: “You have been righteous… you have dealt faithfully, and we have acted wickedly” (Nehemiah 9:33).

In Nehemiah 10, 13 years after Ezra first arrived in Jerusalem, God’s people signed a covenant to “walk in God’s Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord and his rules and statutes” (Nehemiah 10:29). Ezra’s heart had become the nation’s heart. And with that, Ezra receded into the background (Nehemiah 12:26, 36), letting his faithful students ascend to lead the next generation of Israelites to follow after the Lord their God by knowing God’s Word, obeying it, and teaching it to others.

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Ames

The name “Ames” comes from the protagonist, John Ames, in Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead. Ames is a Congregationalist minister in the small, fictional town of Gilead, Iowa, where he’s lived his whole life. When the novel begins, Ames is 70 years old and has recently learned that he is dying. Having remarried and fathered a son quite late in life, Ames attempts to write down the story of and lessons gained from his life to his young son, whom Ames fears will scarcely remember him.

Ames is a truly remarkable, ordinary man. He is intentional in his every action, thoughtful in his every step, and honest in his every word. He longs for his son to “live long and… love this poor perishable world,” just as he has. Ames sees magnificent beauty in the every day world. He finds the grace of God in every raindrop, meal, friendship, gain, and loss. His eyes are full of thankful awe wherever they turn, no matter how insignificant something may seem.

Like glasses on his aged eyes, Ames sees the world and all of its history through the lens of God’s grace, which he calls the “absolute disjunction between our Father’s love and our deserving.” May we see the world the same.

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Ezra Ames, it is our prayer that you will grow to be a man who cherishes God and His Word, who sees the grace of God in all of life, and who gives His life so that many would see and fear and put their trust in God.

In case you’re interested, here’s why our daughter is named Sarah Auden.

The Best List 2013

The Best List 2013

Best Fiction Book I Read

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

imgresMy wife’s brother-in-law encouraged me for years to read this book. He’s a lawyer and an exceptionally busy man who somehow makes time every year to read this book. I finally listened to his suggestion, and I could not put down this “detective mystery,” that is, in fact, so much more.

Runner-Up

The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor

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It’s a twisted Southern Gothic novel (after all, it is Flannery) that tells the story of Francis Tarwater, a fourteen year old trying desperately to escape his destiny: to become a prophet just like his great-uncle. It’s about the battle between knowledge & faith, destiny & the will. Like all Flannery, it is brilliant, bizarre, and often disturbing. A must read (but, if you’ve never read her before, read a short story like “A Good Man is Hard to Find” to get a taste of her style).

Best Non-Fiction Book I Read

The Triumph of Christianity by Rodney Stark

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Rodney Stark is a historian at Baylor University that is often quoted by Tim Keller in his sermons. This book was fascinating to me. In it, Stark traces one major reasons for the rise of Christianity (Christians’ willingness to die taking care of their pagan neighbors during the Roman plagues), a fair defense of the Crusades,  proofs that the “Dark Ages” weren’t dark (and certainly weren’t dark due to oppression from the church), and more.

Runner-Up

What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell

I love everything that Malcolm Galadwell writes. This collection of essays is excellent, though not as strong, I felt, as some of his books like Tipping Point or Outliers.

Best Christian Book I Read

Jesus the King by Tim Keller

imgresIn this book, Tim Keller walks through the Gospel of Mark in a way that brings both incredible depth & freshness to Jesus’ life and ministry. This is quickly becoming one of my all-time favorite Christian books and one I would recommend to absolutely everyone.

Runner-Up

Basic Christianity by John Stott

From now on, this will likely be the book that I first give to skeptical friends. In it, Stott explores clearly and concisely a defense for the uniqueness of Jesus, a defense for the resurrection, and what following Christ actually looks like.

High Recommendations

Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges & Bob Bevington

Let the Great World Spin by Collum McCann

A Brief History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (a re-read)

Best Movie I Saw in the Theater

Gravity

urlLet it be known that I hate, hate, hate Sandra Bullock- to the point that I almost wouldn’t consider seeing this movie- but this movie was amazing. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.

Runner-Up

Inside Llewyn Davis

I’m a Coen brothers junkie, so it’s no surprise that I really enjoyed this movie. It was along the lines of their movie A Simple Man, in that it captures a time period and a hopeless feeling of being unable to escape one’s own life, pathology, etc. The movie was great, but it’s just not my favorite kind of movie (I also still need to see Ain’t Them Bodies SaintsCaptain Phillips, and a few more…)

Best Documentary I Saw

Blackfish

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I can’t believe I ever went to Sea World.

Album of the Year

Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend

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This is Vampire Weekend at their absolute best, writing short, insanely catchy pop songs. I haven’t stopped listening to this album since I bought in September.

Runner-Up

The 20/20 Experience, Vol. 1 by Justin Timberlake

Yeah, the 16, 20, and even 25 year-old me is incredibly embarrassed to list a former N’SYNC member’s album as my 2nd favorite of the year… but it’s just so… good.

Top Fifteen Songs of the Year

I also made a spotify playlist that includes a larger selection of my favorite songs of the year. In no particular order…

  1. “Diane Young” by Vampire Weekend
  2. “Song for Zula” by Phosphorescent
  3. “Trouble Town” by Jake Bugg
  4. “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Ray
  5. “Youth” by Daughter
  6. “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake
  7. “I Stand Alone” by Robert Glasper Experiment
  8. “Sweater Weather” by The Neighbourhood
  9. “Ways to Go” by Grouplove
  10. “Ohio” by Patty Griffin
  11. “You Never Need Nobody” by The Lone Bellow
  12. “San Francisco” Foxygen
  13. “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams
  14. “The Mother We Share” by CHVRCHES
  15. “Hannah Hunt” by Vampire Weekend

Worship Album of the Year

The Water and the Blood by Dustin Kesnrue

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Dustin Kensrue, the worship pastor of Mars Hill in Seattle and former frontman of the band Thrice, has written some amazing songs (if you can look past the distortion and post-grunge feel), including “Suffering Servant” and “Grace Alone.” I love this album.

Worship Song of the Year

“Man of Sorrows” by Hillsong Live

Hillsong is very hit-and-miss for me… except when Brooke Ligtwood writes a song. This is one of the richest songs I’ve heard in years.

Best Concert We Went To

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes at Iron City in Birmingham, AL

I thought that Edward Sharpe would be good and fun, but I had no idea how engaging they would be and how much more I would enjoy their songs live. Plus it didn’t hurt that Erin and I were hanging out with Lauren Barry and Trevor Starnes during our first adventure into Birmingham’s newest and finest venue.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Mark 16:1-8)

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Given at Campus Outreach Samford 12.4.13

(Audio here)

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. –Mark 16:1-8

We’ve come to the end of our search for the authentic Jesus in the Gospel According to Mark, just as all over the world Christians have begun preparing for the beginning of Christ’s story, Christmas. We, as a staff, planned it this way, because the Christmas story only makes sense in light of the resurrection. Celebrating Jesus’ birth is silly if Jesus simply died on the cross and stayed dead, because Christmas is only good news if Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave. If we lose the resurrection story, if this story in Mark 16 is just some fairy tale or hoax, then all we’ve studied this semester is meaningless & Christianity is a lie. We are without hope & still stuck in our sins.

I came to Christ as a sophomore in high school, and I came to Samford planning to go into ministry. While here, I almost walked away from my faith. I was really wrestling with some questions about where God was in suffering (particularly as I studied the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, where 800,000+ people died in 100 days), the horrors of hell (how a good & loving God could send people to eternal torment), and, most troublingly, the Bible’s reliability (could I really trust this book? Or that what I now have is even what the authors intended?). This story- the story of the resurrection- was the one truth that I clung to in that dark & violent storm of my soul. As I read & studied, I found that I had no tenable alternative explanation of the resurrection. I really believe that Mark 16 tells the truth. And, if Mark 16 is telling the truth, if Jesus really rose again, then He really is who He says He is. And if He is who He says He is, then what He says is absolute truth, because He Himself would be the author of all truth, indeed, the author of all things. As the truthfulness of the resurrection sunk into my heart, my perspective began to shift: when I approached the Bible and found seeming holes or contradictions, formerly, I wondered if I could trust God, but now I began with a trust that, if Jesus was raised, even if I thought I saw inconsistencies, that there had to be a trustworthy answer, because Jesus is trustworthy. I believe that He said He would rise & He did. It is my great and sure hope.

As the Apostle Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is in vain” and, of course, he’s right. If Christ is risen from the grave, then Jesus’ claims to divinity, his teaching, etc. are all verified. If Christ is not risen from the grave, then there’s no real reason to give Jesus any attention at all. This is the “pivot on which all Christianity turns and without which none of the other truths would much matter” (John MacArthur). Either Christianity is, as Karl Marx said, “the opiate for the people,” a false hope & happiness that we use as a crutch to make it through, or it is the truth that shapes everything else. And it is the most important thing in the universe that we know which is true.

Tonight we’re going to ambitiously try to tackle two massive questions: (1) How can we trust the resurrection story? & (2) What did the resurrection accomplish?

First, how do we know that we can trust the resurrection story?

Well, there are those who say, “We can trust the resurrection because it’s in the Bible,” and, speaking simply to Christians, I understand that conviction. The Bible is the Word of God & we are meant to take it at its word. However, such a stance would do you no good in the face of critics, who demand an answer grounded in logic and history. Nor would it help you if you dialoged with a Muslim or Hindu, for they could just as easily say, “For the Koran or Bhagavad Gita told me so.” Nor would it help during those trying seasons when you wonder if you can trust the Bible itself. So, for the sake of us being able to one day say, “For the Bible told me so,” tonight we’re going to examine how history verifies the resurrection of Christ.

Now, there are a number of people today who attempt to dismiss the resurrection story entirely, claiming that ancient people tended to be very superstitious due to their primitive understanding about the world. So obviously, these skeptics conclude, they were more prone to believe in a resurrection story like this one. Not so fast, my friend.

For the Greeks, the end goal of all philosophy was to escape the body. For them, the soul was the ideal, and the body (indeed the whole physical world) was evil (or at least “less than”), so the notion of a physical resurrection would’ve been repulsive to them. Anyone who was wise or godly or powerful would never return to their body after they’d left it. Why would they want to? No Greek would’ve easily believed in God coming back from the dead.

Likewise, though many Jews did believe in a resurrection (see Martha in John 11), they believed that everyone would be raised together on one day to be judged before God. The idea that one singular person could be raised before that day was outside of all their categories of thinking. And besides that, no one imagined that the Messiah, God’s chosen one could die. If you died, it simply meant that you weren’t the Messiah. There were plenty of Messiah claimants in Israel around Jesus’ time, but they all died, and, soon after, their movements died with them.

No one expected this resurrection at all. Even the disciples, though Jesus had predicted his death & resurrection in Mark 8, Mark 9, Mark 10, etc. didn’t get it (“Hey guys, I’m going to die & three days later, I’m coming back.” “Hey, just to be clear…”; “Just to make sure we’re on the same page…”). They never saw it coming. What changed their minds? They found the tomb empty, and everything they had ever thought or believed about the Messiah changed forever in an instant.

One of the reasons we know the tomb was empty is because the gospels tell us that women were the first witnesses. How, you may ask, does this help Christianity’s credibility? Well, this detail isn’t the sort of thing the gospel writers would’ve written in if they were trying to convince someone of their story. Why? Sorry ladies, but in the 1st Century, your testimonies didn’t necessarily carry a lot of weight. In fact, women were not allowed to be witnesses in Jewish courts, because, as Josephus put it, “of the levity and impetuosity of their sex.” In other words, there was an ancient prejudice that women were less rational than men, more easily swayed by emotion, & more prone to jump to conclusions. Celsus, writing in the 2nd Century, essentially said that one of the reasons that we know we can’t trust Christianity is because its first witnesses were hysterical women. If someone was going to make up a story like this, they would almost certainly have had male disciples discover the tomb. As N.T. Wright notes, there must have been enormous pressure on the early church to remove women from the accounts, but the Gospel of Mark, written 20-30 years after Jesus’ death, gives the names of the women who found the tomb, basically saying, “Go find and ask these women what they saw.”

Not only that, but the women who found Jesus were known to be friends of Jesus (and not just any friends, mind you, but friends like Mary Magdalene, who, Luke 8 tells us, was known at one time to have had a bunch of demons. You can imagine how the people of the time loved to poke fun at that fact. “So you believe that Jesus raised from the dead, because the crazy woman told you she saw Him? Nice…”). The only plausible way to explain the fact that these women were recorded as the first witnesses of the empty tomb is if indeed they were.

The tomb must have been empty- otherwise there is no more story. Almost everyone everywhere agrees with this basic fact about Easter morning.  So having established the basic credibility of the empty tomb, let’s address some of the major non-Christians explanations as to why the tomb was empty.

1. Maybe Jesus didn’t die on the cross

First, as many of you may know, Muslims believe (as, at one time, did a number of scholars) that Jesus did not really die on the cross. They claim that He merely “swooned” on the cross, then revived, rolled away a massive stone, and, shortly thereafter, had healed enough that Mary didn’t notice his gaping wounds, thinking He was the gardener.

Matt Chandler, I thought, had a great defense against this theory. He turned to Luke 24, where two guys are heading to Emmaus from Jerusalem a few days after Jesus was crucified, when suddenly Jesus Himself shows up (though they don’t yet recognize Him) and begins walking alongside them, telling them why the Messiah had to die. Now, they’re on a 7 mile trip to Emmaus. They’re walking & talking, and just how far are they walking? 7 miles. It’s 7 miles to Emmaus. Why point this out? Because this theory that He didn’t die (after being beaten, whipped 39 times with bone & glass, having nails drilled through his wrists & feet, having skin ripped off his back, after spending 6 hours hanging on a cross where he had to push up on nails driven through his feet for every breath, & then having a spear run through his side)… is absolutely absurd. Have you ever tried to walk after twisting your ankle? You look like you might as well have just had your whole leg under your knee chopped off. And to think that Jesus, after having his body weight sitting on two nails driven through his feet, 2 days later is up to move a stone that weighed a couple hundred pounds, overwhelm trained soldiers (who would’ve been killed for leaving their post) & a brisk 7-mile jog to Emmaus is ridiculous. Jesus was dead.

2. The Jews or Romans took the body

Some people claim that the priests or Romans took the body. If they had (and history will note that they never claimed to have done so), they certainly would’ve produced it quickly once the rumor spread that He was alive again, right? For the next several decades, both groups went to great lengths to stop the spread of Christianity in Jerusalem where the crucifixion occurred, but they never produced His body or even claimed they could. No, within 5 weeks of His crucifixion, there were over 10,000 Jews following the allegedly resurrected Jesus, worshipping him as God. The Jews & Romans did not take his body.

3. The Disciples Took the Body

Skeptical scholar Michael Martin wrote, “Many biblical scholars have argued that the Resurrection story was shaped by the theological aims of the evangelists.” In other words, Martin is saying, many scholars believe that the disciples took the body & made up the resurrection story as a useful tool to accomplish their goals. This was an early rumor (Matthew 28:11-15). First, could the disciples have overcome the guards at the tomb? Secondly and more importantly, if they had taken the body, would they have spent their lives for something they knew was a fraud?

Remember: These were men who walked, ate and talked with a man that they were convinced was the Messiah, whom they watched die. Then they claimed He rose from the dead, in defiance of anything any Jew had ever anticipated.

These followers of Christ, the argument goes, who’d forfeited so much to follow Jesus decide to carry on his movement (so they won’t have wasted their lives), by stealing his crumpled body & creating an elaborate hoax, like a more important Bigfoot or Loch Ness monster.

Now, let’s imagine that you & your friends have fabricated a picture of Bigfoot. You think it’s great & tell your friends & family, sell a few pictures, etc. Well, a few weeks later, imagine a few government agents come to you guys & say, “Did you really see this?” As you count your money from your magazine deals & look over the list of members in your fan club, you say, “Yes, of course, we did.” Then imagine they whisk you & your friends away to separate interrogation rooms & threaten to torture you & kill you unless you recant. How long do you think it’d take before each one of you gave up the fight? Even if you were the most stubborn person in the world, after the torture started, how long would you hold out for something you knew was a lie? Probably not long, right? What about the followers of Jesus? Not only did they spend their rest of their lives proclaiming the good news of Jesus, they almost all died horrible deaths.

How the Followers of Jesus Died

  1. James- Agrippa kills him with a sword (45 AD)
  2. Phillip- Tortured & Crucified (54 AD)
  3. James, Jesus’ brother- Thrown from the top of the temple (62-3 AD)
  4. Peter- Crucified upside down (64 AD)
  5. Paul- beheaded in Rome (67 AD)
  6. Matthew- Beheaded (60-70 AD)
  7. Andrew-Crucified (70 AD)
  8. Thomas- Thrust through with pine spears & burned alive (70 AD)
  9. Nathanael- Flayed & then crucified (70 AD)
  10. Thaddeus- Beaten to death with sticks (72 AD)
  11. Simon the Zealot- Crucified (74 AD)

As Blaise Pascal, the mathematician & philosopher, wrote, “I prefer to believe those writers who get their throats cut for what they write.”

You see, without the resurrection, “the Christian faith could not have come into being. The disciples would’ve remained crushed and defeated men. Even had they continued to remember Jesus as their beloved teacher, His crucifixion would have forever silenced any hopes of His being the Messiah. The cross would have remained the sad and shameful end of His career.” (William Lane Craig). Instead, the disciples were almost immediately transformed from hopeless, fearful men into courageous witnesses willing to die for their Risen Lord. The disciples did not steal the body.

4. The Disciples Hallucinated in their Grief

Most skeptics will acknowledge that the disciples must have at least thought they had seen the risen Christ, but what, they say, actually happened was that they had a vision of the Jesus in their grief. They hallucinated in a “waking dream.” As Vaughn Bell wrote in Scientific American, “mourning seems to be a time when hallucinations are particularly common.” “You see,” these skeptics will argue, “the disciples weren’t shysters trying to deceive anyone. They were grieving, and they simply saw something that wasn’t there.”

Now there are several problems with this hypothesis. First, as we’ve already discussed, 1st century Jews had no categories for a single person rising from the dead, so their first thought would’ve been to immediately dismiss what they thought they’d seen as a ghost or a dream. But Jesus knows this & takes special care to assure them that He is, in fact, raised. In Luke 24, He makes sure they watch him eat a fish. He invites his disciples to touch him. In fact, Thomas, you remember, told the other disciples, essentially that he didn’t believe his friends had actually seen Jesus & wouldn’t believe that Jesus was alive unless he put his own hands into Jesus’ side, which John 20 tells us he did. These weren’t gullible, grieving men. Jesus ate with them & embraced them to assure them that He had been raised.

Nor did Jesus simply make one isolated appearance. The Bible (basically daring 1st century skeptics to take up its challenge to disprove it) names at least 11 appearances of the Risen Jesus (Matthew 28:8-10, 16-20; Luke 24:13-32, 33-49, 50-52; John 20:10-18, 19-23, 26-30; 21:1-14), & Acts 1:3-4 tells us there were many more, appearing to as many to 500 people at once (1 Cor. 15:6).

If there was only an empty tomb and no sightings of Jesus, no one would have concluded that Jesus had been resurrected; they would’ve assumed that the body may have just been stolen (John 20:15- Mary Magdalene, “If you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him”). Or if there were only eyewitnesses and no empty tomb, no one would have concluded that Jesus had been resurrected either; people claim to have seen departed loved ones all the time. The two factors must have occurred in tandem for anyone to conclude that Jesus was actually raised from the dead. The disciples did not hallucinate.

There is no other explanation. Jesus Christ not only died, but rose again from the grave three days later, changing everything. But what exactly did the resurrection change? What did the resurrection accomplish?

What Did the Resurrection Accomplish?

14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead –1 Corinthians 15:14-20a

I benefited greatly from John Piper’s treatment of this passage, where he argues that since Christ has been raised, we can extrapolate several truths from this text by taking the converse arguments of what Paul has written.

John Piper- Gifts of the Resurrection

  1. Verse 14: ” . . . our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” But since Christ has been raised, our faith and preaching are not in vain.
  2. Verse 15: If Christ has not been raised, “we are found to be misrepresenting God [literally: we are false witnesses], because we testified of God that he raised Christ.” But since Christ has been raised, the apostles are not false witnesses about the work of God.
  3. Verse 17: “If Christ has not been raised then your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” But since Christ has been raised, we are not still in our sins.
  4. Verse 18: If Christ has not been raised, then “those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” But since Christ has been raised, the dead in Christ have not perished.
  5. Verse 19: If Christ has not been raised, then “we are of all men most to be pitied.” But since Christ has been raised, we are not to be pitied.

1. Our Faith and Preaching Are Not in Vain (Jesus is trustworthy)

“And was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” -Romans 1:4

Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection was the proof that He is the Son of God, as He claimed to be. It is our proof and sure hope that He is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God, interceding on our behalf, pouring out spiritual blessing upon us, working his great plans towards His ends and our good, and that the coming of His kingdom is absolutely assured. For if the grave could not hold Him in, what force could thwart His plans? No, neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can stop our God.

Our God and King reigns! His kingdom advances unstoppably, and, therefore, our power for sharing the gospel (for being the ambassadors of this news of the conquering King) comes not from ourselves but from the God who reigns.

2. The Apostles Are Not False Witnesses (The Word is trustworthy)

Jesus’ resurrection means that we can know God and His will for our lives. We can know Him, because the Sovereign King Himself gave us this book.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” –John 1:14

We can, therefore, know how we are to relate to God, true wisdom, the difference between good & evil, how to relate to each other, what awaits us on the other side, how the world will end, and on and on. If Jesus was raised, we can trust this book, because the author of reality assured us of its truthfulness, and every word He has spoken has come true. If Jesus’ words and this Word were not true or only sometimes true, how could we figure out what to trust? We’d be without hope.

3. We Are Not Still in Our Sins

Who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification”

–Romans 4:25

By his death on the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins and purchased our forgiveness, justification, and adoption. To demonstrate that Jesus’ work was finished & complete, God raised Jesus from the dead. Romans 4 tells us that He was raised for our justification. In other words, the resurrection vindicated all that Jesus had done, proving once and for all that He had done all that was necessary to conquer sin, Satan, and death. You see anyone could claim that they would “forgive” people of their sins by their death, but Jesus’ resurrection validated His claim. It affirmed that his death was satisfactory in the Father’s sight, that there is no sin, however small, for which satisfaction has not been made. The resurrection assures us that we, as God’s children, are free from all guilt & punishment.

We need not wonder that so much importance is attached to our Lord’s resurrection. It is the seal and headstone of the great work of redemption, which He came to do. It is the crowning proof that He has paid the debt which He undertook to pay on our behalf, won the battle which He fought to deliver us from hell, and is accepted as our Surety and our Substitute by our Father in heaven. Had He never come forth from the prison of the grave, how could we ever have been sure that our ransom had been fully paid? (1 Cor. 15:17.) Had He never risen from His conflict with the last enemy, how could we have felt confident, that He has overcome death, and him that had the power of death, that is the devil? (Heb. 2:14.) But thanks be unto God, we are not left in doubt. The Lord Jesus really “rose again for our justification.” True Christians are “begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” They may boldly say with Paul, “Who is he that condemns – it is Christ that died, yes rather that is risen again” (Rom. 8:34. Rom. 4:25. 1 Pet. 1:3).J.C. Ryle

Tim Keller wrote it this way: “The resurrection was God’s way of stamping ‘paid in full’ right across history so that nobody could miss it.” You can’t pay for a bill that’s already been paid for, right? The altar’s closed, because the resurrection proved that Jesus was the final sacrifice.

4. The Dead in Christ Have Not Perished

The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that heaven is assured for those who trust in Christ. In John 14, Jesus told his disciples that in his Father’s house there were many rooms & that He was going there ahead of them to prepare a place for them. Jesus’ resurrection means that He did just that and those who have “fallen asleep” in Christ are alive & they live forever in the joy of their Master.

It also means that one day, we the living will also enter into the joy of our Master & be raised bodily, just as Christ was. It means that, though we now struggle with sin, we will be made holy (Hebrews 10:4) and presented spotless and blameless before Him (Colossians 1:22). The resurrection means that we will be a part of the new heavens & new earth, enjoying the eternal bliss of the people of God.

“4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” -Romans 6:4-5

5. We Are Not to Be Pitied.

The resurrection of Jesus assures us that we as Christians are not to be pitied: we are to be envied. Since Jesus has been raised, we know that all our obedience, all our love, & all our self-denial is well spent, for our lives count for something so much greater than ourselves. Everything we do is infused with purpose & meaning, for we labor for our conquering King. The resurrection assures us that, one day, we will see that the worst things that have ever happened to us will serve to enhance our eternal delight, as “every sad thing will become untrue.”

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison -2 Corinthians 4:16-17

Not only this, but we can be assured of all of God’s promises, “for all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). As John Boys wonderfully put it, “The resurrection of Christ is the Amen of all His promises.” It means that the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in us, for God has promised it through his trustworthy word. It means that we have spiritual power & a new position of spiritual blessing before Him in this life (Acts 1:8; Ephesians 1; 2:7) as well as our assurance that He will safely guide us into the next life. It means that we have the mind of Christ, and we, by His Spirit, can withstand sin. It means that we forever have the welcome of God as His beloved children & bride. It means that we will reign with Him, sitting with Him on His very throne. 

“For all things are yours… all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” -1 Corinthians 3:21-23

What Now?

The gospel is the news that the true King, Jesus Christ, has come, has liberated us from the chains of sin & death, and He reigns forevermore. If we repent of our sins, trust in His finished work, and confess our total allegiance to Him, we too will reign with Him. If you have trusted in Christ, rejoice & rest in our certain hope. Give of yourself freely, for your perfect reward, your Savior Himself, awaits you.

If you haven’t yet surrendered to Jesus or if you’re still investigating Christianity, please don’t rest until you know whether what I’ve said is true, because none of the benefits I’ve spoken about tonight apply to you yet. The news of Jesus the King is not good news for you. For the resurrection also proves that judgment is coming. Jesus declared that the heavenly Father “has given all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22), and since the Son is now risen and alive, His judgment is certain. God will put all things under His feet. Why wouldn’t you want to surrender to the King who will not crush you, but was crushed in your place? Let’s pray.

 

Why We Don’t Share Our Faith

Why We Don’t Share Our Faith

Summer Beach Project  6.14.13

“To win men to acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is the only reason Christians are left in this world.” -R.A. Torrey

[These are mostly philosophical observations from looking at my own heart]. My prayer is that we would see the absurdity of our excuses, repent of our sins & selfishness, and ask that God would give us a new heart for himself & his purposes. We have been given a great privilege. God could have chosen to speak audibly and individually to people’s hearts or to write his signs in the clouds, but instead, by and large, He has declared that his gospel will spread from person to person, through intentional relationships and loving, confrontational conversations.

We Don’t Believe

There are those of you here tonight who know that you don’t believe these claims we believe about Jesus. You’re not sure that Jesus is the only way or that there’s really a heaven & hell. That’s okay; we’d love to work through these questions with you at another time, but this talk is not really for you. We hope that you keep investigating the claims of Jesus with us this summer.

However, there are some of you tonight who don’t share your faith, though you claim Christ, because you don’t truly have faith. It’s not that evangelism is a “good work” that we put before God to earn our place in his kingdom, but it is a good work that results from being in his kingdom. Here’s what I mean: I challenge you to take some time to read through the gospels and look at every time someone encounters Jesus. Every time you see some one changed by Jesus, they cannot help but tell others. The news is so good, so liberating, so transformative- they can’t help themselves. It’s not that they’re always incredibly articulate, but what’s going on in their hearts overflows out of their mouths: “Come see a man who told me all I ever did” (John 4), “Jesus healed me when I was paralyzed” (John 5), “I once was blind but now I see” (John 9)… even the people that Jesus tells to keep quiet can’t keep quiet: “And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it” (Mark 7:36). There’s something about Him & His message that, when it grabs hold, comes out.

We Are Afraid 

Most of you would say that this is the number one reason that you don’t share your faith. What are you afraid of?

You fear Rejection from people. You’re afraid of a relationship growing uncomfortable or awkward because you’ve offended someone or trod ground that no one should trespass upon. You’re scared that they won’t listen to you because of your own sin- your present hypocrisy or past failures. You feel too guilty about your life lived before others to share.

You need to remember that you are wholly accepted & welcomed by Jesus, that His approval alone is all you need. His approval alone satisfies & it has already been declared once and for all because of what Christ has already done. Then, move forward just like that woman in well in John 4 (who may have been a prostitute; at the very least, she had a pretty rough reputation). She went in town, around those who knew her & all her flaws, and declared humbly & boldly, “Come see this man who told me all I ever did.” What happened when she did? “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39).

You and I are often have more faith that people will judge us & reject us than we do that the gospel of God in our stories, by the Spirit, has the power to change. We need to see that, when we act out of fear of rejection, we’re acting like our relationships with these people are going to save them or that we are not saved by grace, but by grace and our good works. So we don’t move forward because it’ll make us uncomfortable.

We need to ask ourselves if the church is meant to be a “comfortable” place. People are not transformed in comfort. Go read Acts 9-12 and see how the church presses into uncomfortable situations to share their glorious hope.

“There are no easy steps to witnessing!  No painless, unembarrassing methods!  You must bring men to see that they are filthy sinners under the wrath of God who must flee to Christ for mercy.  That is offensive.  And there is no way to coat it with honey”    Walter J. Chantry

Ultimately, you & I fear rejection because we don’t trust that the Lord doesn’t reject us- that Christ has bought us the permanent, perfect, ever-satisfying acceptance of God.

You fear Failure. You fear that, when the time comes you won’t know what to say, or that you won’t have enough time to put into the relationship or that you’re not trained well enough to share. We need to see that when you & I do this, we’re putting our trust in ourselves & our abilities to articulate instead of the Lord’s power! The power for evangelism is not in our ability; it is in His gospel. You may have never imagined that someone could actually be born again by hearing of Christ from your lips, but that’s not humility.  It’s doubt, a denial of God’s blessing upon His gospel- just because it is spoken by you.  Don’t doubt the power of God to add His blessing upon your words when you speak of Christ. We protect our pride at the cost of their souls.

“First, we must admit that we were silly ever to think that any evangelistic technique, however skillful, could of itself guarantee conversions; second, we must recognize that, because man’s heart is impervious to the word of God, it is no cause for surprise if at any time our evangelism fails to result in conversions; third, we must remember that the terms of our calling are that we should be faithful, not that we should be successful; fourth, we must learn to rest all our hopes of fruit in evangelism upon the omnipotent grace of God.”-J.I. Packer

I wish that we had time to really delve in Acts 8 for those of you who think that you’re not trained well enough or that the “real” evangelism work is merely for pastors & CO staff. I loved hearing Ajith Fernando of Youth for Christ Sri Lanka address this. He pointed people to Acts 8:4-40, which talks of these evangelists being scattered and the gospel going forth to Samaria & then, presumably, to Ethiopia. Ajith said that most people, after hearing him recount this passage, respond by saying, “Yeah! See what I mean! All those pastors & preachers went sharing.” Ajith then points them to verse one: “and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” The only people who didn’t go out and share were the apostles! It was the witness of “ordinary” Christians that was most effective!

“Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.” –Luke 21:14-15 

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” -1 Peter 3:15

Right now, you are receiving more training than almost any other Christian in the history of the world about how to share your faith. You are not called to be formulaic about sharing, but you are called to (1) be aware that God is already at work in those around you, (2) be available because God wants to use you, (3) be alert in listening to the Spirit’s prompting you to act! God has involved us not because He needs us (thank God), but because He loves us!

We Don’t Love People Enough 

“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for” -Charles Spurgeon

Why don’t we think, pray, and act like that? Maybe it’s because we don’t know a lot of non-Christians. Maybe we’re comfortable in our quiet holy huddles & don’t really ever think about the status of other people’s souls. If we can’t think of a non-Christian we’re lovingly investing in towards the gospel, we may be blind to the urgency of eternity (how no one is promised another minute) or love our distractions too much or…  if we’re really honest with ourselves, maybe we don’t share with non-Christians because we don’t really care about them. We don’t love people enough to lose them, because we don’t really want what’s best for them- we want what’s best for us. We care more about ourselves & our comfort than the eternity of non-Christians.

“We protect our pride at the cost of their souls. In the name of not wanting to look weird, we are content to be complicit in their being lost” –Mark Dever

We very subtly try to avoid the implications of the 2nd greatest commandment: “love your neighbor as yourself.” You see, if we love other people we have to want what’s best for them- even if they don’t want it for themselves. What’s best for everyone on the planet is a relationship with Jesus.

Imagine that you are a world-renowned neurosurgeon. Let’s say you grab coffee with an old friend from college, and you start to notice a few things. Your friend is complaining about having frequent headaches, tells you an embarrassing story about how they fell last week into an attractive member of the opposite sex, seems to be having trouble formulating his/her thoughts cohesively… and you know. You’re a neurosurgeon. You see the signs. Your friend, in all likelihood, has a brain tumor. Now, you tell me. What’s more loving: (1) To tell your friend that they may be desperately sick, need to be examined, & potentially need treatment which you know where to find or (2) ignore the signs because you don’t want to embarrass your friend?

Penn Jillette, a great entertainer & atheist, put it this way:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize [share their faith]… If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life… how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that… I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

Listen to how his sentiments are echoed in the following quote:

“I’m a conditional Buddhist… and I try to deal with Christians with a sense of humor… I try not to dwell on the insensitivity that Christianity writes in the Christian heart. I remember reading of a man who was hanged in England long ago. He tongue-lashed those attending his demise and called them a bunch of hypocrites. He said that if he, even a villain like himself, believed that someone he didn’t know was going to burn in hell forever if they didn’t believe in Jesus that he, the villain, would crawl across a desert of broken glass to get to that man or woman. I could walk up in front of any congregation of Christians in the world and put a cigarette out in my hand and they would all jump to their feet in alarm and rush to keep me from hurting myself further, but none of them really give a f– if anyone in their town goes to hell. It’s all a sham. No one really believes in that crap.” -M.H. Hardgrove

I hope that you hear a bit of convicting truth in these two non-believers’ words. If we truly believe that people there is a very real judgment seat that people will come before & we do nothing to warn them, we must, at least in comparison to ourselves, hate them.

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” -2 Corinthians 4:5

We Don’t Love Jesus Enough 

Here is the most disheartening part: While unbelief, fear, and a lack of compassion may be secondary reasons that we don’t share our faith, ultimately, we don’t share our faith because we don’t love our Savior enough. We care more about ourselves than Christ.

I know that some of you may not truly believe this about yourself, so let me use an analogy. Jason Mills is a friend of mine that I met in Montana several years ago, when I worked out there one summer. We kept up for awhile, but we haven’t spoken in a few years now. He’s an agnostic, knows my faith, and we’ve talked about it several times.

Montana

Now, several times in the Bible, God is referred to as our Husband. Let me draw three scenarios to illustrate how our actions demonstrate our lack of love for Christ.

1. Imagine that Jason & I haven’t spoken in a long time. He has no clue that I got married since the last time we talked. We talk for about two hours & have a great time catching up, but never once do I mention the fact that I’m married. I give no hint.

2. Now imagine that Jason has learned that I am newly married to Erin, so he says, “So I heard that you’re married now,” with a hint of surprise and perhaps a smirk. I quickly say, “yep, it’s true” and move on or I dodge questions and say very non-committal things about her & our marriage.

3. Lastly, imagine that Jason knows Erin previously but doesn’t realize that I am now married to her. He recalls a story and says disparaging things about her. I say nothing.

177

What would an outsider say about our marriage? That it’s healthy and vibrant? That I truly love her and would give anything for her sake? Of course not! I love my wife more than anyone in the entire world! There’s no way that I could let any of those scenarios take place, because she has stolen my heart! I can’t help but talk about her, say great things about her, or fight for her! And, as important as my relationship with my wife is, she didn’t save me. She didn’t redeem my soul from death. 

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” -1 Peter 2:24-25

What we need to do is to see how much He loves us! He loved us enough to cast aside all privilege and honor to come and die for our sakes! And what we have been entrusted with is not a burden, but a glorious privilege. We are able to say to the world, “Listen. I know the world is crazy. I know everything you’ve ever tried to gain purpose or identity from has let you down. But there is a King who loves you more than you could begin to dream. And you don’t have to meet a list of requirements to enter into his good graces. Why? Because He sent His Son to live the life you couldn’t & to die the death you should have, so that you could receive his favor as a gift. Everything you’ve ever looked for in anything else is ultimately found in Him. And, oh, how He wants to know you. How He wishes that you would let go of these things that are enslaving you so that you could experience true freedom & true joy in a relationship with Him. Would you lay down your trifles in repentance & trade them for a relationship with the God who created you, who loves you, who knows what’s best for you, and who offered Himself to cover you?”

It is our job to be faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2) & trust God to do the work that only He can do, but how can they believe in Him of whom they have not heard (Romans 10)? The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time.

The Righteous Anger of Christ

As the Holy Spirit has recently been called the “forgotten” member of the Trinity, so well it might be said that righteous anger is the forgotten attribute of Jesus. Today, unwavering tolerance is viewed the ultimate defining characteristic of love, but tolerance, as defined by the present generation, certainly did not seem to define our Lord Jesus. For Him, in order for love to be true, it must necessarily seek justice, display mercy, and clear all obstacles between humanity and God. This led Jesus to display not only outrageous displays of sacrifice and grace, but of holy, righteous anger. Christ’s character is of such a perfect quality that even his anger is profusely filled with love. As Charles Spurgeon wrote, “He could be angry with the sin and yet never cease to compassionate the sinner. His was not anger which desired evil to its object… it was simply love on fire.”[i] Jesus’s love was so great that it compelled him to Calvary to drink down the wrath of God that his chosen flock might be redeemed, and his anger too was toward that end. The righteous anger of Jesus is most predominately displayed when the lost, whom he came to seek and save, are hindered from true fellowship with God.

God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,”[ii] but contrary to popular belief, this does not mean that God does not get angry.[iii] Indeed, as Mark Driscoll has said, “if you love people, you’re going to hate injustice. The fact that we do love means we must hate. The fact that we have joy requires that we also will be angry.”[iv] If I love children, I must hate child pornography & abuse. Jesus, because He so fully loves both God and mankind, necessarily hates anything that hinders the relationship between the two.

There are three major scenes in the gospels which most explicitly display the righteous anger of Jesus: (1) the healing of the man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6), (2) the temple cleansings, which will be examined together (John 2:13-22; Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48), and (3) the address of woes to the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-36). 

The Healing of a Man with a Withered Hand

First, near the beginning of Jesus’s ministry as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus quickly began to draw clear battle lines between himself and the Pharisees. Now the Pharisees tried to diligently follow God’s Law, but Jesus came and challenged the very foundation of their faith- that obedience to the law was the very essence of Israelite religion. Not only did Jesus’s teaching threaten the Pharisees’ religious beliefs, but their societal authority also very much depended on their position being right.

Now in Mark 2:23-28, the Pharisees, as was their habit, tried to find a way to challenge Jesus. They found the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath and confronted them according to their interpretation of the Sabbath law. Jesus defended their actions by first citing a Biblical example as a precedent for their actions, and then he asserted two things definitively: that the Sabbath was created to be blessing to mankind and that he, as Lord over everything, essentially, can do whatever he so pleases.

This intense confrontation at the end of Mark 2 helped to set up an even more dramatic Sabbath confrontation at the beginning of Mark 3. This time Jesus deliberately enters the synagogue to provoke the Pharisees on the Sabbath. There was a man with a withered hand, and the Pharisees wanted to see if Jesus would break Sabbath tradition. As Donald English relates, “Rabbinic teaching allowed for Sabbath healing if life was in danger, but that is not so here. Having narrowed the focal point to one man, Jesus now widens the question to a general principle.”[v]  

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “’Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.”[vi]  Jesus is angry that these teachers of God’s law would so willingly stop their ears to his plain truth and that their hearts would be so utterly unfeeling towards this suffering man. Throughout the Bible, God is said to hear the prayers of the afflicted[vii] and to defend them,[viii] and here the hearts of the teachers of God’s word are as cold as stone, preferring their religious rules to a miracle of God’s liberating grace.

More still, “They dared to sit in judgment upon the Lord… and yet all the while they professed great reverence for God and for His Law. Though they were fighting against God, they made the pretense of being very zealous for Him.”[ix] They were supposed to be teaching and modeling the path to God before the world, but when they came face to face with God himself, the Pharisees and scribes judged themselves holier and wiser. As they urged the nation of Israel to follow their practice, they pointed God’s people not to God, but towards themselves and towards self-righteousness, the most deadly path of all.

Since Jesus is the Lord of love, such a blatant indifference towards truth, a lack of love for men, and, most importantly, a Pied-Piper-like call towards destruction in the name of God, must lead him to grieved, righteous anger, with an aim to point back to himself as the one true way to life and God. 

The Temple Cleansings

 Second, our attention is turned to the temple cleansings. In John 2 Jesus and the disciples are headed to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. They arrive at the temple, and Jesus “found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and over-turned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade’.”[x]

Now, “the temple, together with the worship offered in it, represented Jewish life and religion.”[xi] It was meant to represent God’s glory & His presence among the people, but instead Jesus found that the business of worship had been made to serve the business of the marketplace. Jesus drives out the animals & flips the tables in order to clear the temple.

In an astonishing moment of insight uncharacteristic of the disciples, they remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”[xii] If zeal is defined as great energy exercised towards a particular cause, then Jesus is passionately devoted to God’s glory & His worship. It is with a holy wrath & white-hot zeal for God’s glory that he cleared God’s house: “Where God’s name was to be praised it had been dishonored and besmirched. That was something Jesus would not tolerate, even if, humanly speaking, it would cost him his life.”[xiii]

Now it is exceedingly important to remember that Jesus does not get angry in the same way that men do. His anger, as his Father’s, is always justly directed, and it is always thoughtful & purposed. It is clear here that Jesus is not a reactionary flying into an uncontrolled rage, because he carefully & methodically took the time to make a whip. He knew exactly what he was going to do and why he was going to do it. Now, however, there remain other concerns. As John Calvin wrote, “We must admit this is an astonishing sight, the Servant-Messiah who is bound to suffer on the cross for the sins of the many, taking whip in hand and literally emptying the temple.”[xiv] Why, then does Jesus cleanse the temple, and why especially with a whip? There are two primary reasons that can be deduced from Scripture, though the second reason will become more obvious at the second temple cleansing.     

The first reason that Jesus gives that he clears the temple is that his Father’s house had become a “house of trade.”[xv] During Passover, pious Jews would come from all over Israel to celebrate the greatest moment in their nation’s history, God’s divine liberation of the nation from bondage to Egypt. They and their families would come to worship, celebrate, and sacrifice together. With some having travelled considerable distance, it was necessary for many families to purchase animals for sacrifice once they had arrived in Jerusalem, so, naturally, a marketplace arose. As Matthew Henry relates, this market had probably originally been located by the pool of Bethseda, but the priests eventually moved it into the temple itself, into the Court of the Gentiles: “for, no doubt, the rents for standing there, and fees for searching the beasts sold there, and certifying that they were without blemish, would be a considerable revenue to them.”[xvi]

As the priests began to profit from the proximity of the peddlers, the peddlers themselves seized the opportunity and began to charge higher and higher prices for their livestock or for exchanging money. In reality, they were extorting people who had come to worship and therefore, as Mark Driscoll said, “It’s not just selling products. It’s really extorting people. And it’s not even just making a simple profit; it’s making an exorbitant profit on the backs of poor people coming to meet with God… And so Jesus was furious.”[xvii]

If extortion was practiced in the house of God, it was communicating untrue things about God Himself. By analogy, if this kind of gouging was permissible in the temple under the auspices of God’s own priests, the people could reasonably be misled to believe that God Himself was unjust, cruel, exacting, and unreasonably demanding. Whereas the temple was meant to show the world that God desired relationship with mankind (though his holiness demanding sacrifice for reconciliation), instead it seemed to show that God was as money hungry and petty as mankind itself. As Tom Wright wrote, “If Israel began… to use the Temple and the promises attached to it as an excuse for immoral and unjust behavior, then the Temple itself could and would be judged.”[xviii] This false communication of the nature and character of temple & therefore of God Himself enraged Jesus and was one of the two primary reasons he cleared the temple.

While the first cleansing of the temple served as an inauguration of sorts, “Jesus went into the temple of God again… At the beginning of his ministry…the reforming Prophet intimated what was needed, and now the King proceeds to carry it out.”[xix] In Mark 11:15-19, a day after Jesus has triumphantly entered the Holy City, he comes into the temple and again overturns tables (thus fulfilling Malachi 3:1-5). Then he begins to teach them, saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”[xx]

Jesus combines Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 to display that his major point of contention is “that the place intended for Gentiles (‘all nations’) to pray, was being misused by the Jews for trade.”[xxi] How could the nations, whom God had always intended to rescue through Israel,[xxii] meet with the living God in prayer when their space was occupied with salesmen, bleating sheep, and the constant clinking of change? How could any non-Israelite know that God valued him when God’s representatives clearly thought so little of them? Unfortunately, the temple “had come to symbolize not God’s welcome to the nations but God’s exclusion of them.”[xxiii]

For him who so often went out of his way to display love to the forgotten and despised, surely this not only broke Jesus’s heart, but also pushed him to intense and righteous anger. He drove out the corrupt salesman “not for the sake of proper sacrifices but for the sake of prayer- in fact, prayer for all the nations… he focused attention away from the outward acts of Jewish sacrifices to the personal act of communion with God for all peoples.”[xxiv]

This was God’s ultimate desire- that people from every tribe and language and people and nations[xxv] would be able to freely meet with and worship the Maker of the universe. However, the conversion of the Court of the Gentiles into a bustling marketplace proved to be a great hindrance to the nations coming to know and fellowship with God- hindering some of the very people that Jesus would soon die to ransom.

God and, by equivalency of nature, Jesus, is slow to anger, but he is relentlessly determined to break down barriers to bring people to himself. Here again, Jesus’s anger is meant to point people away from false religion and to himself- the true temple. At the end of John 2, after Jesus had cleansed the temple for the first time, the Pharisees asked him what right he had to do such a thing. Jesus spoke metaphorically of his death and his body as the true temple: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”[xxvi] Zeal for God’s house consumed Jesus, but so did zeal for God’s enemies. His zeal would ultimately lead to His self-sacrificing death to display God’s glory and to make God’s enemies friends.

Woes to the Pharisees

Lastly, just a short while before he was to be delivered over to death, Jesus gives a stern warning to a crowd and to his disciples not to follow the damnable ways of the Pharisees, then turns to directly attack these religious leaders.[xxvii] Eight times Jesus pronounces woe upon them; seven times he calls them “hypocrites;” twice he calls them “blind guides;” once he calls them “vipers.”

Jesus’s virulent language may seem strange, because he is so often seen to display pity on the broken and those who do not know God.[xxviii] However, with these prideful, self-righteous Pharisees, Jesus is absolutely merciless. He clearly intends to make them look foolish before others and undermine their authority. His attacks are leveled at these wolves in sheep’s clothing in order to protect the sheep. As J.C. Ryle wrote, “They would not believe the Gospel themselves, and they did all in their power to prevent others believing it.”[xxix]  

The only loving thing Jesus could do would be to redirect the attention and trust of his hearers from the religious leaders and to himself: “The scribes and Pharisees piled the great load upon them… how different was Christ’s teaching: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!’”[xxx]

Concluding Thoughts

While there are numerous warnings in Scripture against unrighteous anger[xxxi] through the lives and prayers of David,[xxxii] Nehemiah,[xxxiii] and Jesus himself, it is clear that anger can be a holy and righteous attribute. As Christians, Paul has encouraged us in fact to “be angry and do not sin,”[xxxiv] just as James has encouraged us to “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”[xxxv] How then do we reconcile these seemingly disparate opinions? How do we grow in discernment about when to confront someone boldly before others as Jesus did and when to when to lovingly remind someone of God’s unreserved love?

First, as we look back over these three scenes, we can see a common thread. Jesus’s righteous anger is displayed to clear obstacles standing between sinners and the true worship of God. He clears the temple to display God’s justice and his heart for the nations. He heals the crippled man to show God’s love for mankind and that mercy is indeed better than sacrifice. He rails on the Pharisees to awaken the people to the beauty that we can come to God solely on the basis of grace, not by works.

Therefore, taking Jesus’s slow yet perfect anger as our measure, we see that it is Christlike to angrily denounce injustice, oppression, unrighteousness paraded as righteousness, and false teachings about God. We should then, prayerfully and slowly, without regard to our reputations, as Christ had no regard for his own, be willing to boldly and angrily confront others in order that they or others may find freedom in the gospel of Jesus Christ. On the campus for me, I think that this means a tactful but bold willingness to confront blatant hypocrisy in people’s lives and to undermine the authority of false teachers in order to point others to the truth, way, and life.


[i] C.H. Spurgeon, “Jesus Angry with Hard Hearts” (sermon, Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, UK, March 28, 1886), http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols31-33/chs1893.pdf (accessed April 5, 2013).

[ii] Exodus 34:6 (English Standard Version)

[iii] Deuteronomy 1:37, Zechariah 1:15, 1 Kings 11:9, etc.

[iv] Mark Driscoll, “Angry Jesus Cleanses the Temple” (sermon, Mars Hill Church, Seattle, WA, July 10, 2011),http://marshill.com/media/luke/angry-jesus-cleanses-the-temple (accessed April 5, 2013).

 

[v] Donald English, The Message of Mark, ed. John Stott, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), page 77.

[vi] Mark 3:4-5 (English Standard Version)

[vii] Psalm 10:17 (English Standard Version)

[viii] Psalm 72:4 (English Standard Version)

[ix] C.H. Spurgeon, “Jesus Angry with Hard Hearts” (sermon, Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, UK, March 28, 1886), http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols31-33/chs1893.pdf (accessed April 5, 2013).

 

[x] John 2:13-16 (English Standard Version)

[xi] Donald English, The Message of Mark, ed. John Stott, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 190.

[xii] Psalm 69:9 (English Standard Version)

[xiii] Sinclair B Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), page 185.

[xiv] John Calvin, “Commentary On John: Volume One,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library,http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom34.viii.ii.html (accessed April 5, 2013).

[xv] John 2:16 (English Standard Version)

[xvi] Matthew Henry, Commentary On the Whole Bible: Genesis to Revelation, ed. Leslie F Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1961), page 1516.

[xvii] Mark Driscoll, “Angry Jesus Cleanses the Temple” (sermon, Mars Hill Church, Seattle, WA, July 10, 2011),http://marshill.com/media/luke/angry-jesus-cleanses-the-temple (accessed April 5, 2013).

[xviii] Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone, 2nd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004), page 151.

[xix] C.H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Popular Exposition of Matthew (1893; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1962), page 178.

[xx] Mark 11:17 (English Standard Version)

[xxi] Sinclair B Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), page 190.

[xxii] See Genesis 12:1-3, Psalm 22:27-28, Psalm 86:9, Isaiah 49:6, etc.

[xxiii] Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone, 2nd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004), page 152.

[xxiv] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), page 217.

[xxv] Revelation 5:9 (English Standard Version)

[xxvi] John 2:19 (English Standard Version)

[xxvii] Matthew 23:1-39 (English Standard Version)

[xxviii] See Matthew 9:36, Matthew 20:34, Mark 1:40, etc.

[xxix] J.C. Ryle, Matthew and Mark, vol. 1 of Expository Thoughts On the Gospels (repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990), page 302.

[xxx] C.H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Popular Exposition of Matthew (1893; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1962), page 205.

[xxxi] See Proverbs 14:29, James 1:20, etc.

[xxxii] See Psalm 139:19-22

[xxxiii] See Nehemiah 5:6

[xxxiv] Ephesians 4:26 (English Standard Version)

[xxxv] James 1:19 (English Standard Version)

Spiritual Multiplication: 2 Timothy 2:1-2

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Spiritual Multiplication: 2 Timothy 2:1-2 

(Given at Campus Outreach Samford: 3.27.13)

I’m fascinated by people’s last words= they expose the heart of what someone thinks about their lives or want to leave behind.

  • Grover Cleveland: “I have tried so hard to do right.”
  • Elvis: “I hope I haven’t bored you.”
  • Indira Gandhi: “I don’t mind if my life goes in the service of the nation. If I die today every drop of my blood will invigorate the nation.”
  • P.T. Barnum: “How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?”
  • Che Guevara: “Shoot, coward. You are only going to kill a man.”

The book of 2 Timothy is the last book by the Apostle Paul, written to his beloved Timothy, whom Paul lead to faith, traveled with Paul as a missionary to Galatia, Philippi, & Corinth, and who, at the time of the letter, is the pastor of the church at Ephesus. Paul, as many of you may know, was once a terrible persecutor of Christians, but, shortly after Jesus’s resurrection, Jesus appeared to Paul (then Saul) on the road to Damascus, Saul comes to faith, becomes Paul, and from there becomes the most influential Christian in history. In fact, in can be argued that, unless you are of Jewish descent, if you trust in Christ as your Lord & Savior, you can trace (humanly speaking, of course) your hearing the gospel back to Paul, who took the good news of Jesus from the Middle East to what is now Syria, Turkey, Greece, Italy, and beyond. And, of course, not only was he an incredibly faithful minister, but Paul is responsible for writing 13 of the 27 books that comprise the New Testament.

Now here is Paul, writing from a Roman prison sometime between 62-68 AD, awaiting his death. These are, in a sense, his last words. Now what would a man as remarkable as Paul want to say, to leave behind? We as a staff talked before the semester started were so overwhelmed by it, that we decided to spend the rest of the semester focusing on just 13 verses in one chapter of this short book, 2:1-13 (I encourage all of you to read through the whole book later this week. I bet it would take you 10-15 minutes).

What does he say? Paul wants to leave Timothy a bold, clear call for perseverance in the gospel in spite of suffering, and he is a man who knows about suffering. He had faced opposition & danger every where he went for decades, been beaten, whipped & imprisoned countless times (three times with rods), shipwrecked & been stoned- all for the cause of Christ, all so that people like you and I could know the Jesus he knew so well. “I suffer,” Paul says, “but I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and He’s worth it. Therefore, Timothy, you too ought to share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus, enduring anything for the sake of the church, that some may be saved. But, don’t be misled, all who desire to live a godly life & impact others will be persecuted. You’ve seen it in me, haven’t you? For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” In spite of incredible hardship & repeated abandonments, Paul kept the course. He was able to say, “I have fought the good fight.” What faith & faithfulness! How amazing it would be for any of us, at the end of our lives to utter such words, right?

Now tonight, we’re going to spend our time on just the first two verses of weighty chapter 2: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, [2] and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:1-2).”

What do we see as we look at this? First, we see that Paul loves Timothy. He does not talk to him as a teacher to a pupil or challenge him first and foremost as a pastor or as an evangelist, but as his “child.” Paul loves Timothy like a son, and this is why he tells him these things.

Secondly, we see how Paul encourages Timothy. He doesn’t tell him to buckle down & man up. He calls him to be strong, but how? “By the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Isn’t that interesting? It is reminiscent of Ephesians 3:

“[14] For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, [15] from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, [16] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” -Ephesians 3:14-19

Where will Timothy’s strength come from? From Christ dwelling more and more in his heart as he fixes his mind on God’s incomparable love.  “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Remember that He has already abolished death and brought life and immortality though the gospel (1:10). Remember that He did not call you according to your works, but according to His own purpose and grace (1:9). He who was strong enough to destroy sin & death, who humbled Himself enough to die for you & me- traitors though you were- is surely strong enough to give you grace to endure suffering & temptation. Treasure that love deeply in your heart & you will be strengthened. “

Thirdly, and this is where we’ll spend the rest of our time tonight, Paul charges Timothy in verse 2, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Paul says essentially, “Just as I have taught & trained you & others of this news of unspeakable joy, go and teach & train others who will be faithful to teach & train others, that the gospel may go forward to the ends of the earth.”

Now, remember the final charge of Jesus to his disciples before he left the world? “[19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).” Jesus leaves his disciples- those men whom He brought to faith, who traveled with Him on his mission, who heard him teach & saw him serve- with a call to take this news of unspeakable joy to the ends of the earth, making disciples as they go along the way. Sound familiar? Paul is essentially leaving Timothy here with a Great Commission: “As I have followed Christ, taught you & shown you; go and do likewise.” But does it sound slightly different to us? Do we have two pictures in our minds of what these calls look like? Should we?

When most of us hear the Great Commission, we know that it applies to us, but we tend to think our roles primarily (aside from short-term mission trips) as “inviters. “ We say to others, “Come to this meeting; come hear David Platt or John Piper or Matt Chandler or Chris Hodges or Louie Giglio,” and we pray that change will happen as those we invite hear these men proclaim the gospel. First, let me qualify & say how thankful I am for these people, but let me draw up a question for you:

1. Money from Steve Jobs’ Estate

You have two options: (1) $10,000 dollars a week for 52 weeks or (2) a penny the first week and the amount doubled every week afterwards.

(Accounting majors?) At the end of a year, (1) would net $520,000

Option 2:

1-10= .01, .02, .04, .08, .16, .32, .64, 1.28, 2.56, 5.12

10-20= 10.24, 20.48, 40.96, 81.92, 163.84, 327.68, 655.36, 1310.72, 2621.44, 5242.88

Week 21: $10,485.76 (20,971.52; 41,943.04; 83886.08; 167772.16; 335544.32)

Week 27: $671,088.64 (make more every week from 27-52 than you would the whole year earning $10,000 a week)

2.  Evangelist vs. Multiplier

Suppose you were the world’s greatest evangelist, and you went out and led 100 people to Christ every day.  If you were able, by the grace of God, to do that every day for one year you will have led 36,500 people to Christ. If you continued at this astronomical rate, by the end of year 10 you will have led 365,000 people to Christ.

I know that it is more or less preposterous to suppose a person leading 100 people to Christ a day for thirty years, but, for the sake of argument, let’s compare this man with the man who leads one person year to Christ, but disciples him to go and do the same. At the end of ten years, the discipler is light years behind the evangelist: 1,023 to 365,000.

At the end of 20 years, however, the gap has closed: the evangelist will have led 730,000 people to Christ (or about the whole state of Alaska), while the discipler will have influenced 1,048,576 people for Christ. 30 years of the greatest evangelistic ministry ever would result in 1.1 million people coming to Christ, while 30 years of faithful evangelism & discipleship reproduced would result in almost 1.1 billion people coming to Christ (It would take the evangelist 30,136 years to reach that same number).

Do you see just how crazy this is? Can you see what would really happen if we took the Great Commission seriously as a call to pour our lives into our neighbors so that they would do the same? Of course it’s not going happen exactly like this so don’t walk out of here thinking that if you are faithful then the entire world will be reached in 33 years.  It’s not all up to you, but God is redeeming this world and he is using us, especially and primarily as we share our faith with others & say, “come and see how I live, how I follow Christ, how I share my faith,” and train them to go & do the same. We model & mentor.

Think about this: how many of you have ever waited tables? How did you learn? By following someone around and watching them do it! What about you junior nursing majors? How many of you felt like you really started to learn what it meant to be a nurse when you started to do clinicals, following other nurses around? Anyone played baseball or softball? How many of you learned to hit by sitting in a classroom? How many learned by watching a coach, then being coached as you tried?

Certainly, the world desperately needs evangelists & excellent preachers, but when we live like the Great Commission depends solely on such men & women, we miss the point. They can’t do it all! There are so many needs all around the world that need attention & that can grip our hearts.  There are so people to feed, orphans to be cared for, diseases to be cured, houses to build, Bibles to translated, etc.  There is no way that any one ministry or church can meet all those needs.

What needs to happen is for the whole of the body of Christ to be obedient and come together to pray & work towards these goals, and the fundamental way we will fulfill the Great Commission  & bring healing to the world is by prayerfully & faithfully laboring to multiply Christ-like leaders, through:

  1. Evangelizing people who don’t know Christ or practice the faith
  2. Establishing people in the truths of who God is & how to follow Him
  3. Equipping people to minister to others
  4. Exporting them out to go and say, “come and see” to others

If you really want your life to count for something so much greater than you, practice these things! I mean, imagine what happen if everyone in this room went out & this year led someone to Christ and built them up until they were mature in their faith. What an impact this would have on the world!

And we see this in Paul’s interaction with Timothy, don’t we? Paul probably led Timothy to Christ (in Lystra in Acts 14, where Paul is stoned), taught him the fundamental truths of Christianity, then equipped him for ministry by taking Timothy with him on his missionary journey (Acts 16), & then “exported” Timothy by leaving him & Silas to do their own missionary work in Macedonia (Acts 17). Paul & Timothy continued to minister together often (he’s present as Paul writes Romans, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, & Philemon) but Timothy is making disciples of his own- just as his mentor Paul had.

More importantly, not only do we see this pattern in Paul’s life, but this was the manner that Jesus used to reach the world, wasn’t it? Yes, Jesus preached to the masses, but most of his three years of active ministry was spent around just 12 men who heard him explain what He taught, watched how He lived, saw His interactions with the Father, and so on. This was his strategy to reach the world! It wasn’t all that complicated! Remember his call to his disciples? It wasn’t simply, “Follow me & I’ll solve your problems or be your friend & confidant” or even “I’ll save you,” but, “I’ll make you fishers of men.”

“The multitudes… were potentially ready to follow him, but Jesus individually could not possibly give them the personal care they needed… Though he did what he could to help the multitudes, he had to devote himself primarily to a few men, rather than the masses, so that the masses could as last be saved.  This was the genius of his strategy.”

– Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism

In Matthew 9, Jesus tells his disciples to pray for laborers to be sent out into the harvest, then, in Matthew 10, Jesus has them begin to answer that prayer by sending them out. They- and we- are to continue to pray that laborers be sent out & we are to continue to “fish” & send others out ourselves, as we multiply our lives. This is how the gospel will go forth to all nations & the end will come.

So then, what will it take for you to “multiply your life”?

1. A zeal to know & have more of God

This means you need a real hunger for God in His Word & prayer & to live a life of repentance. Lead others to the fountain from which you drink. This does not mean by any means that you are perfect, but are growing & pursuing Jesus & holiness.

2. A spirit of humble, dependent prayer.

You are not in control. You cannot help or save anyone, but nothing is even hard for God. The sooner you remember that, the sooner you’ll be ready to be used: When we remember that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead now dwells within us, when we begin to see that God doesn’t need us, but instead has simply chosen to use us for our joy & for His glory, we grow ready to “multiply our lives.”God promises to hear the humble, to give them grace, & to exalt them… and He promises to oppose the proud & mock them.”

3. A willingness to die to yourself.

“ [44] and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  [45] For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” -Mark 10:44-45

Jesus, the King of all Kings, came not be served, but to serve & give his life away. If you want to be a multiplier, you’ve got to find a way to die, to give your life away as a ransom, being crucified with Christ. I would recommend taking a hard look at how Jesus gave His life away, both on the cross & day to day.

4. A prayerful plan for multiplying.

You see, as long as we think that the Great Commission is everyone’s responsibility, it ends up being no one’s responsibility.

“How can I tell if you’ve taken personal responsibility for the Great Commission?  Simple.  You have a plan to pull it off…for most Christians the Great Commission is really the Great Omission because they walk around in a heavenly daze with no visible, tangible strategy to fulfill this mandate the Lord has given every believer.”

 -Steve Shadrach, founder of Student Mobilization

Jesus knew how everything would unfold, because He planned it, and He still prayed.

How Do I Prayerfully Plan? 

1. Pray.

Jesus, the author, creator, and sustainer of all, spent the night praying before He called His first disciples. If He did so, how much more should we, who are weak, do the same? Who is He calling you to pray for?

2.  Keep your focus on non-Christians.

All true discipleship starts with evangelism.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t disciple people if you haven’t led them to Christ, but if evangelism is not a major part of your life, you can bet it won’t be a major part of any person’s life that you disciple. And it must be if the gospel is to go forward, so keep discipleship focused on the 3rd generation, just as we saw Paul do with Timothy. It is focused on the Timothy’s of the world in love, but it is also saying,  “I am spending time with you…why?…so that you can go and do it with someone else someday.” “What you have heard, entrust to others who will, in turn, entrust it to others.”

“A multiplier is a person who is committed to the task of reproducing his life in someone else, who in turn will reproduce himself in a third spiritual generation”

–Allen Hadidian, Discipleship

This also means that, for the rest of your life, if you’re going to be a Great Commission Christian, a prayerful & thoughtful kingdom-vision should give some shape to where you live, work out, and play. Do whatever you can to grow deep into non-Christians’ lives & become all things to all people that by all means you might win some. Remember, Jesus didn’t drop in to earth on Sunday through Tuesday visits or for a bi-annual vacation, but became flesh and dwelt among us for 30+ years. Where is He calling you to invest?

3.  Get trained and discipled by someone else. 

I think all of you should have some mentor pouring into you & challenging you regularly, but I will not give you an excuse to tell me that you can’t grow or impact others because no one is discipling you.

If you don’t know how to share your faith…then find someone to teach you!

If you don’t know how to spend time with God…then ask somebody to show you!

Practice humility. None of us, no matter how mature, could fail to learn from any other believer. I really believe that. Who is He calling you to learn from?

4. Say no to the right things.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” -John 12:24

This is going to be the hardest for most of you. Being that this is Samford, I’d bet that almost every person in this room would say, “Yes, I would love to see my life multiplied. I would love to see more people in the kingdom. I would love to see Christ come back in my lifetime.” But what happens? We get caught up in so many other good things that we don’t make a real impact. We make small impacts in 100 places & no lasting impact anywhere. Don’t you want more than that? (Me: fraternity, YL, SU, etc.)

Wife: sacrifice time with friends, work, walks, reading, coffee shops… why?

Will it be hard to invest in others?  Yes. Will it be easier not to?  Yes. Will I spend less time with my family because of it?  Yes. Will it cost me financially, emotionally, and physically? Yes, likely, to all three. But we are talking about God’s heart for you & the world! Why would you choose to use your life any differently? Look at your life, what you spend your time, money, & energy on & ask, “Who will be different because of my life? What do I need to give up- even if it seems good- so that someone will be?”

It will cost you.  You might not have the best social life on campus.  You probably will make less money than others.  There will be probably be things that you would like to do that you give up.  But don’t you think it is worth it?  To leave a legacy of changed lives & inherit the Kingdom of God!  What is God calling you to give up (job, internship, etc.) and are you praying to find out or are you to afraid of the cost or being uncomfortable?

5.  Go for it.

Here’s a secret: You are never going to feel ready. If you’re waiting for a point where you feel spiritually mature enough or knowledgeable enough or trained enough to lead others, it’s just not gonna come. None of us are capable…but that’s okay. God is. It’s His message & His Spirit & His word. Take what you’ve learned & simply try to pass it along & pray. The fruit is not up to you anyway.

1st try: Nathan & Chris. You grow, learn, pray, and keep trying. Remember even one of Jesus’s 12 didn’t truly believe & Peter denied him in front of a little girl.

6. Ask God to give you “FAITH”-filled disciples.

Faithful, Available, Interested, Teachable, & Hungry. If any of these are lacking- be it faithfulness or time or humility to learn from others or desire to – you are probably not going to get very far. Pray that these things happen!

7.  Be faithful & depend on God. 

He is the one doing the work!  It is not all about you.  There will be times when you will do your best to disciple people you will see very little fruit.  There will be other times when you put forth a tiny bit of effort and God will blow you way with fruit!  That’s how God keeps us humble… Pray, fight sin, seek God, seek out others, & go!

Revelation 5 is coming… By the year 1000, there was 1 Christian for every 270 people in the world & one church for every 5 unreached peoples. By 1900, there was 1 Christian for every 21 people in the world & 20 churches for every unreached people group. By 2010, 1 Christian for every 8 people in the world (world Christians had tripled in 100 years) & 1,000 churches for every unreached people. It is really happening! Jesus really could come back, but He will not do so until this gospel goes forth to the ends of the earth, so let us pray & labor that Jesus might “multiply our lives.”

Pray: This matters; I like this; I can & want to do this

Show Me Your Glory (Exodus 32-34)

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Show Me Your Glory

(Given at Campus Outreach Samford- 2.27.13)

Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball whoever lived (if you want to argue this, you’re ignorant & clearly did not see him play), is restless. When I was growing up, Michael Jordan was “it” in a way that no other athlete ever has been. Every kid had their favorite teams & favorite sports, but if you asked 8 out of 10 kids in the 90’s who their favorite athlete was, they’d all say, “Michael Jordan.” Was it because of Space Jam? Kid President would argue, “Yes.”

Here he is now, enormously wealthy, maybe the most recognizable & liked face on the planet, regarded as the best ever, as his friend said, “used to being the most important person in every room he enters, and, going a step further, in the lives of everyone he meets… people cater to his whim.” For thirty years, he’s been king. And this MJ said to ESPN last week about his 50th birthday, “I would give up everything now to go back and play basketball,” because he still doesn’t feel like he’s done enough, that he’s truly proven himself & his critics, real or imaginary, wrong: “His whole life has been about proving things, to the people around him, to strangers, to himself. This has been successful and spectacularly unhealthy.”

Wright Thompson writes, “Most people live anonymous lives, and when they grow old and die, any record of their existence is blown away. They’re forgotten, some more slowly than others, but eventually it happens to virtually everyone. Yet for the few people in each generation who reach the very pinnacle of fame and achievement, a mirage flickers: immortality. They come to believe in it. Even after Jordan is gone, he knows people will remember him. Here lies the greatest basketball player of all time. That’s his epitaph.

There’s a fable about returning Roman generals who rode in victory parades through the streets of the capital; a slave stood behind them, whispering in their ears, “All glory is fleeting.” … All that can happen in the days and years that follow is for the shining monument he built to be chipped away, eroded. His self-esteem has always been, as he says, ‘tied directly to the game.’ Without it, he feels adrift. Who am I? What am I doing? For the past 10 years, since retiring for the third time, he has been running, moving as fast as he could, creating distractions, distance.”

Yet he’s still restless: “How can I enjoy the next 20 years without so much of this consuming me? How can I find peace away from the game of basketball?” He spends his days making sure that LeBron knows that he was better than he could ever be- that the world remembers him. He never can rest in the fear that people will forget how good he really was. He gained the world & found that it wasn’t enough. He has a hunger that he can’t seem to satisfy.

As C.S. Lewis once wrote that “a man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist.”

We hunger in this world for something that nothing in this world seems to satisfy. Lewis continues in his sermon “The Weight of Glory,” that “we are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slums because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

You see, Isaiah 43:7 informs us that what we were created for is the glory of God. I think that this means two things: first, that our lives are meant to reflect back to God in glory; second, that our souls were created to be satisfied on God’s glory alone. But what is glory? The Hebrew word kabod, which we translate “glory,” originally means “weight” or “heaviness.” I think the best way that we can think of it today is sort of like the word “matter,” because it conveys both a weight and a depth of importance & value. All of us want to know that we matter, that we’re valued & loved. We can’t live without it. And “matter” implies a heaviness that must be reckoned with.

But we humans tend to approach everything, even God, very pragmatically. We look at everything & examine it with the question, “Will this make me happy? Will this let me know that I matter?” We imply, of course, that, if (x) doesn’t make me happy or validate my worth, then we’ll find something else that will.

If we ask that question about God’s glory, “Will it make me happy?,” we show that we don’t understand God’s glory at all. Asking that question makes about as much sense as asking, “If a nuclear bomb goes off, will it make me hot?” “Well, yes, I suppose, but that doesn’t really describe it. It’s so much more than that.” Or imagine a kid coming up to Michael Phelps winning his first gold medal and asking, “Are you having fun?” His whole life has led up to this moment! This is not less than being happy, but it’s so much more! When we truly encounter the glorious presence of God, it is so great that you won’t have that question any more. You can either have being happy as your main goal in life & never be, or you can seek God & have everything.

Background (Exodus 1-32)

Now, God had brought his people out of the land of Egypt (with a series of terrible plagues), enabled them to cross the Red Sea, made water come out of a rock, made bitter water sweet, and had now brought them to Mount Sinai on the way to the Promised Land. These were the people who were going to inherit the promises that God had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These people had seen miracle after miracle, they knew that Yahweh was God. And now God has called Moses to come up the mountain to receive the law, telling the people that they will be His treasured possession (Exodus 19:5-6). Beautiful!

But Moses was up on the mountain for a long time, and the people grew restless. They say to Aaron, Moses’ brother the High Priest, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1). Aaron then does the unthinkable: he tells the people to take their gold- which the Egyptians had given them on their way out- and makes for them a golden calf, saying, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4)!

The people celebrate & sacrifice before this calf, before God tells Moses what’s going on. How strange, right? Had these people not, just the other day, heard the thunder, seen the lightning, felt the earthquake, & been told not to make gods of gold?

God says that He’s going to consume the people & make a new nation out of Israel. In a magnificent prayer that we don’t have time to look at tonight, Moses reasons with God that if He destroys Israel, Egypt will mock Him- either as evil, inept, or weak. “Remember your promises,” Moses says, “And do not do this thing.” God, amazingly, relents. Moses comes down, breaks the tablets, and destroys the calf.

The Meat

[30] The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” [31] So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. [32] But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” [33] But the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book” (Exodus 32:30-33)

Moses went to go make atonement for the people. Remember: these are a people who complained as he stood up against Egypt, telling him to back down. They coiled back in anger & fear at the Red Sea. And again when they got thirsty and again and again. And Moses, instead of relenting to God’s previous suggestion, saying, “You know what God? Deal. Kill them. Let’s start over,” he goes up to make atonement for them. Now, he knows what he’s asking here. Notice here that he brought no sacrifice with him to make atonement. Why? Because he was willing to substitute himself for them: “Forgive them their sins, Lord, please. And if not, blot me out of your book. Let me be damned in their place.” Moses is not merely asking to die a physical death here, but for the just wrath due Israel here to fall on him instead of the people- the same people who have questioned Moses at every step. Wow! What love! Nothing but Moses’s bold intercession could have saved the people.

Moses’s words mirror words that Paul says in Romans 9:3, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Do you hear that? Paul here (as Moses does) is saying, “God, if were possible, I would endure hell so that these people could be saved.” Have you ever loved anyone like that?

Remember: Man on Fire… but these were people who hated Moses

But God refuses Moses: “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.”

[33:1] The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ [2] I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. [3] Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” [4] When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. [5] For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.’” [6] Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.

-Exodus 33:1-6

God tells them to leave Sinai & that they will be led by an angel, but that He tells them that He will not go with them: “Based on what I just saw with the golden calf, you obviously don’t want me. Don’t worry though, I’m going to give you everything I promised.”

Wow. Now, let’s look at this carefully for a minute. This is exactly what most people, ourselves included, want from God or any other religion. God says, “I’m going to give you a wonderful home, a great family, security, peace, love, and a happy life and you won’t have to go through all of the hard work of drawing near to me, examining your hearts, going to church, praying, and centering your lives on my will. I’ll give you all the benefits of my promises- I’ll give you heaven- just without me.” Most people, in their heart of hearts, would love this. They want God not smack in the middle of their lives, but available & helpful as needed.

We may not quite be able to articulate it like this, but when we really look at our hearts, there’s a lie that creeps in, that there’s something that we need besides God to make us happy. Most people go their whole lives looking for this, something that will truly satisfy, something that will validate the fact that we matter. We think, “If I just got this degree or made this amount of money or if I could just get this guy/girl to notice me or if I just had control of my life or could achieve this, then I would be happy. Then I would know that I have worth.”

And here God offers the Israelites anything they could ever want, and what does the text say? They “heard this word as disastrous.”

Moses says, “God, keep all that if you don’t come. What good would a beautiful wife or loving husband or letters after our names or money or fame or peace or all the power in the world be if we don’t have you? If your presence will not go with us, do not send us. We will not go. We would rather be dead in the desert than in the promised land without your presence.” Moses & the people, though they’d forgotten, knew that all of these other “glories” are fleeting & none satisfy.

You see, God had said that He was going to “tabernacle,” dwell or live, in the midst of the people so that they could truly meet with Him, know Him, and worship Him with intimacy. Moses used to go out of the camp to meet with God regularly. We’re told that Moses used to speak to Moses face-to-face as a man speaks with his friend. He had this vibrant relationship with the Creator built day after day, week after week, month after month, until he really knew God. He knew His character & His promises.

Side note: If you feel that when you pray, you go and get only a very little of God, go get a little! If God won’t meet you in your bed or as you pray in the shower, go get in a closet or go to the library! Wake up early if you need to! You’ve got to declare, “God deserves this much commitment, this much of my time and attention. If it takes 60 minutes, or 60 days, or weeks or months, I’m ready. I’m going to be here, ready to meet with God.”

We see Moses’s intimacy with God in His boldness:

“[15] And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. [16] For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?’ [17] And the LORD said to Moses, ‘This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name’” (Exodus 33:15-17).

Again, God relents. But listen to this, this is the key to understanding Moses’s prayer life: he would not take “yes” for an answer. He always wanted more of God. This Moses, who had just again seen the God of the universe directly answer his prayers, who had been on the mountain with him for 40 days, who’d walked more closely with God than anyone else on the planet, is emboldened further. He wants more of God: “Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory’” (Exodus 33:18).

Like Jacob wrestling last week, we see Moses wrestling with God for a blessing. God’s responses make Moses bolder in his requests. And, get this, God doesn’t body slam Moses here, saying, “Don’t push your luck, buddy.” No, he is encouraged. God grants as long as Moses asks; He gives liberally. Moses is encouraged to pray & not lose heart in light of God’s unfailing goodness, because He is able to immeasurably more than all we can ask or think. He knew that God satisfied & that all of us were created to be satisfied in the glory of God alone.

“[19] And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. [20] But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:19-20)

Now, notice here: Moses asks to see God’s glory, and God says that He will let his “goodness” pass by & “proclaim” his name, but that Moses can’t see his face, because it would kill him. Isn’t that interesting? What does that mean? Let’s read on to see:

[5] The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. [6] The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, [7] keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” [8] And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. (Exodus 34:5-8)

What an encounter! Moses caught a glimpse of the glory of God & it changed him for ever. We are told that his face shone so brightly that he had to wear a veil, because the people were frightened by it. And all he got was a glimpse!

Do you want this? Do you want an encounter with the glory of God? Study who He is, pray & study His word until you sense a presence, like you’re not alone, until some aspect of His character seems to pass by you, “He is gracious! He is holy!” If His wisdom passes by, your fear melts away; if His mercy passes by, your guilt is destroyed.

To encounter the glory of God is to see God grow so ravishingly beautiful in your mind that you can’t help but look at Him in love & wonder. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re not a Christian, but if you’ve ever tasted this, no matter how far it’s receded into your memory, you know that you want more of it.

Now, let’s see what God declared to Moses- His name & His character: “I am a God who is perfectly just and who forgives. I am love, faithfulness, mercy, grace, and justice personified.”

How can this be? To a non-Christian, this makes no sense- either God is merciful or He is just, but He cannot be both. But we have seen differently, haven’t we? You see, in Exodus 32, when Moses offered himself as a sacrifice, offers to have his name blotted out for the people’s sake, but God rejected him. Why? Because the only sacrifice what would do would have to be a perfect sacrifice. And Moses wasn’t perfect. But there would be One who would come, the true & better Moses, full of grace and truth, who would be blotted out so that we, in Him, could receive the promises of God & be welcomed into the final Promised Land.

This God-man, Christ, at the cross revealed His Father’s perfect character, and perfectly displayed His glory. John 1 tells us that He “tabernacled among us,” and 2 Corinthians 4:6 says, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” None can see God’s glory but those who stand upon the rock of Christ and take shelter in Him.

He did not so that we could catch a glimpse of the backside of God’s glory, but so that we could behold Him in all His glory & ourselves be transformed from one degree of glory to the next, as His sons & daughters, His beloved bride-so much more than Moses. So that we would see God’s face looking at us in love & be forever satisfied, dwelling in His presence forever. Let’s pray.

With due acknowledgement (and poor citation): Matthew Henry’s Commentary, C.S. Lewis- “The Weight of Glory,” Tim Keller- “Moses’s Prayer for God” & “Revival,” Joel Brooks-“The Glory of God,” & Wright Thompson- “Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building

Jephthah (Judges 11)

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Jephthah- Judges 11-12:7

(Given at Campus Outreach Samford 1/30/13)

Introduction

If you haven’t been around these last few weeks, we’ve been exploring the Book of Judges, which is famous for its gore, intrigue, and fallible quasi-heroes. Thus far, we’ve examined the lives of Ehud, Deborah, and Gideon. This week, we’re going to look at the questionable character of the pirate king Jephthah.

“To say that these heroes had some measure of faith is not to say that they were consistent models of faith and virtue. Undoubtedly they demonstrated faith (at times) that allowed God to ‘conquer kingdoms’ through them, but just as surely, the book of Judges focuses more on other aspects of their character to make a point about the widespread apostasy during the period. But despite their flaws, the judges often acted heroically. The book of Judges does not exaggerate or romanticize their exploits. These stories are not primarily about the judges as individuals: the judges’ main function is to dispense God’s justice and merciful faithfulness to his people, usually by military deliverance. All servants of God’s purposes for his people have their flaws; the question is whether God should choose to allow those flaws to bear their bitter fruit. Even in these circumstances, God is working out his plan; he is not thwarted, even by human failure.” –ESV Study Bible

As we’ve read Judges, we’ve seen a pattern of ABC’s emerge again & again. What are the ABC’s you ask? Well, if you don’t know those, I’m not sure that anyone here can help you.

A. Apostasy– Basically this is a fancy theological word for abandoning God & turning to other gods, which Israel does again & again.

B. Bondage– God, disciplining his children, puts them in bondage to another nation to wake them up to the horror of their sin

Our background tonight is found in Judges 10:6, “The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord & served other gods.”

10:7- God’s anger was kindled against them & he “sold” them into the hand of the Philistines & the Ammonites

“Every time Israel worshipped the idols of a nation, that nation ended up oppressing them. In this passage, we read in v.6 that they ‘served… the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines’ and then in consequence, v.7 they were ‘sold… into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites.’ So idolatry leads to enslavement… God says, ‘If you want to live for money, instead of for me, then money will rule your life. It will control your heart and emotions. If you want to live for popularity instead of for me, then popular acclaim will rule and control you. If you want another god besides me — go ahead. Let’s see how merciful it is to you, how effective it is in saving and guiding and enlightening you.’ So to be ‘sold’ means to be ‘owned’ by the things that you make more important than God” –Tim Keller

C. Cry– The people cry out to the Lord their God & ask for forgiveness

10:10-“The people of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God.”

D. Deliverance– God sends a deliverer, a savior to rescue his people from their oppression

Here God hears their cry and mockingly asks them, “Why don’t you call out to your gods to save you?” Israel confesses their errors, puts away their idols, and says, “Even if you don’t deliver us, we know that you are God.” This shows that they were going beneath the surface to change their hearts, not just change their superficial behavior.

Judges shows that the Israelites often changed their behavior in order to curry favor with the Lord, but they kept their idols in their homes, as “insurance.” But repentance gets beneath the surface. It does not just focus on behavior but on motives… So the two signs of real repentance are 1) a sorrow for sin, rather than just for consequences, and 2) a sorrow over idolatrous motives, not just behavioral change.” –Tim Keller

E. Ease– What I really want to say here is “peace,” but I couldn’t think of an “e” synonym, but I think “ease” works, because their security leads to their inevitable return to sin.

The Meat

Now we come to Jephthah:

“[1] Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. [2] And Gilead’s wife also bore him sons. And when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, ‘You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.’ [3] Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him” (Judges 11:1-3).

Jephthah was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute & a man named Gilead. He grew up around his half-brothers, but they despised him, kicking him out before he could have an inheritance. He fled & “worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him.” He attracted, as the NIV says, a “gang of scoundrels.” In other words, Jephthah was involved in organized crime, a kind of Godfather or Sopranos underworld boss. You could think of him essentially as a pirate who’d been driven into a life of crime. He was a complete outcast and a criminal from a broken home.

“[4] After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. [5] And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. [6] And they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites.”

-These very same men who had rejected Jephthah now realize their deep need for him. And they beg him for mercy. Now notice, where does this call come from: God or men? It comes from men. This does not bode well for either Israel or Jephthah. Jephthah is never declared to have been “raised up” as a deliverer like the others we’ve studied.

[7] But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” [8] And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the Ammonites and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” [9] Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites, and the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head.” [10] And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The LORD will be witness between us, if we do not do as you say.” [11] So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and leader over them. And Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah” (Judges 11:4-11)

Now Jephthah agrees to deliver his people after they have committed to let him rule over them.

The Spirit of the Lord comes upon Jephthah (11:29) to empower him for the battle, but Jephthah makes a tragic, rash vow that will define the rest of his life: “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors my house to meet me when I return… shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (11:30-32).

This is a most vivid and horrible example of how believers can profess faith in God and hold on to some truth, yet let the world “squeeze them into its mold.” Jephthah had seen how the other “gods” around operated- they gave you what you want if you give them what they want. He’s basically following the patterns of the men around him, saying, “God, if you grant me victory in battle today, I’ll pay you back with a sacrifice.” This is how you buy off a pagan god. How often do we let our culture’s attitudes shape our beliefs and actions more than we let God shape us? How much are our attitudes towards what is acceptable & what is good shaped by what the world says? And Jephthah here falls into a terrible trap.

Jephthah crushes the Ammonites because “the Lord gave them into his hand” (32). 

“[33] And he struck them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel. 

[34] Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. [35] And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” [36] And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the LORD has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” [37] So she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.” [38] So he said, “Go.” Then he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions, and wept for her virginity on the mountains. [39] And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel [40] that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year. 

-Judges 11:33-40

Jephthah’s daughter comes out to meet him & he realizes the tragedy of his vow. He tells his daughter that he cannot take it back now, because he has opened his mouth to the Lord. Here’s the thing: Leviticus 22:19 tells us that an acceptable sacrifice had to be a male without blemish. Now, vows were meant to be kept, but any vow that would end in sin was not binding, since keeping it could not please God. As Leviticus 5:4-6 says, “If anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil… when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt… and confesses the sin he has committed, he shall bring to the Lord… a sin offering.”

But Judges 11:36-40 tells us that Jephthah and his daughter seem to go through with his tragic vow, most likely meaning that she was killed as a burnt offering (though some interpreters say that she was dedicated to perpetual virginity, which is why they think that phrase is repeated here). Either way, this is an absolutely horrible tragedy.

Here’s why I think it’s the worse of the two: The text could in 11:30-32 could rightly read, “Whatever or whoever comes out.” The wording “whatever” here, seems to indicate that Jephthah is intending sacrificing an animal here. Many people believe that he was expecting an animal to come out and meet him, but there are several reasons why this is unlikely. First, it’s unlikely he had animals roaming around in his house that would come out at his arrival. Secondly, and more importantly, if he had simply promised God an animal, then when his daughter came through the doors, he never would’ve conceived the promise to be binding to her. No, the grammar here allows for “whatever” to also be “whoever,” which would mean that Jephthah would be intending a human sacrifice here. Also, if she’d been sentenced to a single life, she wouldn’t have needed these two months, because her whole life was ahead of her.

But here’s the bigger question, why would he keep such a terrible vow? It seems that he has no concept of a God of grace. Jephthah has never been shown any kind of grace or favor from another human, so perhaps he cannot imagine that God would be forgiving. He doesn’t trust God- which is why He made the vow in the first place. Now, he’s thinking, “If this is whom God brought forth from my house, this is whom God has claimed. I must go through with it. It is better to kill my daughter than to break my vow. God is to be blamed, since He brought her out.” And so, mournfully, regrettably, this is what he does.

I feel I must assure you that this is most assuredly not what God would have wanted. Why? God’s will never leads us to contradict His Word. And Jephthah, it seems, never gets over this tragedy. He is a faithful judge over Israel for six more years, presiding over a civil war, before he dies & is buried in Gilead.

What can we learn?

1.    God uses our circumstances to prepare us to be used for his glory.

Just like with Ehud, Deborah, & Gideon, Jephthah’s unfortunate past prepared him to be used by God. Because of his suffering, he became a resourceful warrior & a great leader. If he’d lived a comfortable life, who knows how he would’ve turned out?

“One would not have thought this abandoned youth was intended to be Israel’s deliverer and judge, but God often humbles those whom he designs to exalt, and makes that stone the head of the corner which the builders refused; so Joseph, Moses, and David, the three most eminent of the shepherds of Israel, were all thrust out by men, before they were called of God to their great offices… If Jephthah had not been put to his shifts by his brethren’s unkindness, he would not have had such occasion as this gave him to exercise and improve his martial genius, and so to signalize himself and become famous.” –Matthew Henry

2.    Our tongues can do great damage.

We should be wise in how we speak, because the tongue is a fire, James tells us. Our words are to be the aroma of Christ, encouraging to believer & challenging to unbelievers. Jephthah’s foolish words, spoken in the presence of others, led to the death of his daughter.

3.    Sin splatters.

Your sin never affects just you. All our sin splatters & deeply affects all those around us. This should also remind us that just because God is using us doesn’t mean that we aren’t prone to deep sin or failure.

4.    When you try to “buy” salvation, it costs you something & gains you nothing.

God will not be manipulated or mocked. When we try to manipulate God, he ceases to be God to us & becomes a means to an end. What did Jephthah really want? It seems that he wanted victory at any cost. Why? To prove to the people of Gilead that he was worthy? To gain their acceptance? To take pride in his might? We can’t know for sure, but it’s clear that, more than wanting God- the only true source of life, hope, peace, & joy- Jephthah wanted victory. He got it, but it did not satisfy; it left him broken. So it is with all our “counterfeit” gods.

5.    God is always in control, working out His purposes.

Philippians 4:6-7 tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. [7] And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

We grow anxious & full of fear because we forget that God is sovereign, good, or gracious. Praise the Lord that He is all of these things! If He was willing to sacrifice His own Son to bring us to God- we who were His enemies- why would we begin to think that He would not do whatever it takes to sanctify us & present us blameless before Him? If He takes care of the sparrows & lilies, how much more will He take care of us! It is His good pleasure to give us the Kingdom!

Jephthah lost sight of this as He made His vow. He’d forgotten that following Yahweh was not like following other gods. Our God loves us in spite of what we bring to the table, not because of it. He has chosen to love us & act for our good simply because He wanted to.

6.    God’s Will Will Never Contradict God’s Word

We spend so much time trying to decipher God’s will for our lives, when so much of His will is right before us in His word. If we would just read it, memorize it, meditate on it, and let it speak into every area of our lives, following Him in the little things, He would lead us in the big things.

Jephthah should’ve known that it was not God’s will for Him to sacrifice His daughter, because the Bible forbade it & even offered Him a way out from His foolish vow. He just simply didn’t take it.

7.    Even Jephthah can point us to Christ.

The Bible, from beginning to end, is meant to point us to Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming. And I know this begins to feel like a stretch, but remember that Jephthah is mentioned in Hebrews 11 in the “Hall of Faith.”

“[32] And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—[33] who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, [34] quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” -Hebrews 11:32-34 

First, there’s a strong similarity between Judges 10, where the people beg God for a deliverer, and Judges 11, where the people beg Jephthah to be their deliverer. They had thrust out God through their idolatries, yet in their distress, they beg for His help. God told them how He would be justified in rejecting them, they put away their idols & declare that God should rule them. God, then, graciously acts on their behalf. So too with Jephthah.

Jephthah was “despised and rejected” by his people. They had “hated” and “driven him out” (v.7). No one expected this man to be a deliverer. But he arose on behalf of the people, liberating them though they hated him & set them free to worship the Lord their God.

Ultimately, Jesus himself was “despised and rejected,” and came to his own but “his own knew him not.” Jesus did not save us in spite of his rejection and marginality but through it. God saved us through his defeat and weakness. Here, then, we see that this judge is very much like the great judge.

Jephthah says to them, “If I deliver you, shall I rule over you? For you cannot have me be savior without my rule.” The same question is put before those who desire salvation: “If He should save you from ultimate bondage to sin & death, are you willing that He should rule over you? For He will not come as Savior & not as Lord. If you want Him to make you happy, you must be willing that He would also make you holy. If you want Him to be your helper, you also must submit to him as your head” (adapted from Matthew Henry).

Lastly, think for a moment about Jephthah’s daughter. It was her father who sinned, right? Not her. If anyone should die for his foolish vow, it seems it should be him, right? But no, her is Jephthah’s daughter, as innocent of as she is aware of her father’s sin, stepping forward to bear the punishment that rightly belongs to him. It outrages us, doesn’t it? It should: the innocent dying for the guilty. And as little as Jephthah deserved to have his daughter take his place, how much less do we deserve for Jesus to die in our place, we who hated God with our whole hearts, whose sin marred every action of our whole lives? And yet Jesus, the only perfectly innocent one, did not count his life of any value nor as precious to Himself, but became obedient to death, even death on a cross, so that you and I could become His brothers & sisters, co-heirs with Him, dressed in His righteousness, and prepared as His bride.