Sunday, May 25, 2014

Death is not Normal

1 Corinthians 15:29–34 (NKJV)
29 Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? 30 And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? 31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” 33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.

Prior to becoming a pastor I used to daydream about preaching a sermon on the text in John, “Jesus wept.” I found myself frustrated by the way in which death is often trivialized in our current discourse; by the way in which even well-meaning Christian people speak of death as though it is a normal and natural part of human existence. And so I wanted to preach on that text, “Jesus wept.” There in the face of death, the death of his close friend Lazarus, Jesus wept. Tears that were a protest against death; a protest against the notion that death is natural. Jesus wept.

And we all sense this, particularly we who know our Bibles and who know that Jesus has risen from the dead. We know that death is unnatural; we know that death is an enemy. Jesus wept. And it is this knowledge of the abnormality of death which Paul highlights in our text today.

How can some of you say, Paul has been insisting, that there is no resurrection of the dead? How can you say that death has the final word? How can you say that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead has not transformed all of human history? Jesus is the firstfruits of those who sleep! Because Jesus has risen from the dead, we too shall rise from the dead.

Now Paul appeals to the absurdity of their claim, their claim that death will basically continue on indefinitely. If death is normal, if death is not something that God intended from the very beginning to eliminate when the Seed of the Woman crushed the head of the Seed of the Serpent, then why did God command our fathers be baptized, to be washed with water, whenever they touched a dead body? Further, why do we Christians keep putting ourselves in harm’s way? Subjecting ourselves to ridicule, to criticism, to persecution, to death? Why endure all this pain and agony? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.

But Jesus wept. Jesus wept because death is not natural; it is an invader; it is not a normal thing; it is a foe. But glory be to God, it is a defeated foe. There shall be a resurrection of the dead. Jesus has risen – so we too shall rise. We shall stand before our Creator and give an account of what we have done in the body.

Therefore, we must beware how we conduct ourselves during the time of our stay on earth. We must pursue righteousness and holiness; we must beware departing from the simple Gospel of the death and resurrection of Christ; we must beware embracing ideas that undermine our hope in the resurrection.

So what of you? Are you prepared to stand before your Maker? Have you sought His forgiveness through Christ and endeavored to conduct yourself in righteousness? It is the reminder that we must all appear before our Creator that is issued to us every Lord’s Day. Today we enter into God’s presence – and so we must kneel before God and confess that only in Jesus are we worthy to enter into His presence. So let us kneel and seek His forgiveness in Christ.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Religion and Culture

"In the broad sense, a person's religion is what grips his heart most strongly, what motivates him most deeply. It is the value that transcends all other values... Religions are totalitarian. They govern everything... everything we do in culture will reflect our faith in some way... Culture, therefore, is never religiously neutral. Everything in culture expresses and communicates a religious conviction: either faith in the true God or denial of him." John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 858.

What is the Kingdom of God?

"[The kingdom of God] is God's work in history by which he overcomes all his opponents and establishes his righteousness in the earth." John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 307.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Justice and the Image of God

On Sunday, I preached on the Image of God. One of the observations I made, building on Genesis 9:6, is that because human beings are made in the Image of God, we respect them by taking their choices seriously. The man who murders his neighbor, who rapes a woman, who kidnaps a child is still himself made in the image of God and worthy of respect - the respect that says, "You are a human being who chose to commit a criminal act. We will treat you in accordance with your decision. We will not excuse your action by claiming that you were the victim of your childhood or your mistreatment or your biological composition. We will show you respect and execute you."

C.S. Lewis with his typical genius develops this observation in his essay "The Humanitarian Theory of Human Punishment." This essay is available in the book God in the Dock or online here. Lewis demonstrates the inhumanity of the supposed "humanitarian" theory of punishment which objects to capital punishment in particular and the concept of a person's "just due" in general; he effectively obliterates the foundation of the entire penitentiary system.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Two Humanities, Two Representatives

1 Corinthians 15:20–28 (NKJV)
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.

Today we continue to make our way through 1 Corinthians 15 in celebration of Eastertide, the time of year when we are invited to give special focus to the significance of Easter, the significance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Here Paul unfolds for us the point that we endeavored to make last week: there is an indissoluble connection between the resurrection of Jesus and our resurrection. Because Jesus has risen from the dead, we shall rise from our graves. Jesus came, Paul tells us, as a Second Adam, head of a new and renewed humanity. While the sin of the First Adam plunged not only himself but all humanity into death and judgment, the resurrection of the Second Adam, Jesus, brings new life not only to Himself but to all those who are in Him.

What this means is that throughout history there are two humanities: the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent; the sheep and the goats; the circumcised and the uncircumcised; the wheat and the tares; those who have the First Adam as their representative before God and who will, therefore, face death and judgment; and those who have the Second Adam as their representative before God and who will, therefore, inherit eternal life and salvation.

You see, when Jesus returns in glory, every human being shall be made to appear before our Creator – and when we appear before Him, there will be but two fundamental groups of men and two spokesmen. There will be those who stand with the First Adam and who say to God through their representative, “I will rule my life by my own standards; I will be my own authority.” Then then there shall be those who stand with the Second Adam and who say to God through their representative, “All glory be to You, O Lord; for you have created me so I will live for your glory not my own.”

So in which group shall you be found? Will you stand with the First Adam? Will you stand in rebellion against God, choosing your own way and ignoring the commandments of God? Or will you stand with the Second? Will you stand in submission to God, choosing His way and treasuring the commandments of God? These are our two options; these are the two spokesmen. You must choose one to speak for you; there is no viable third option.

Of course, there are those who try to fool God; there are those who unite themselves with the Second Adam in baptism but who really embrace the life of the First. But on the final day there will be no fooling God or others. He knows the Adam with whom you identify.

So today as we confess our sins, let me remind you to confess them in the Name of Jesus Christ, trusting in Him as your representative. Only in this way shall we rise unto life on the Last Day. And as we confess, let us kneel before the Lord.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


"A vision consists of an attractive, vivid, and clear picture of the future that the movement and its leaders are seeking to bring about... The key to the success of the vision is its simplicity and availability, often in the form of content that transmits, expounds, and applies the vision... In a movement, a shared vision is what guides the day-to-day choices; in an institution, it is typically the rules and established patterns." Tim Keller, Center Church, p. 339.

What was God to do?

I'm doing sermon prep on the Image of God and recalled this glorious passage from Athanasius:

     What was God to do in the face of this dehumanising of mankind, this universal hiding of the knowledge of Himself by the wiles of evil spirits? Was He to keep silence before so great a wrong and let men go on being thus deceived and kept in ignorance of Himself? If so, what was the use of having made them in His own image originally? It would surely have been better for them always to have been brutes, rather than to revert to that condition when once they had shared the nature of the Word. Again, things being as they were, what was the use of their ever having had the knowledge of God? Surely it would have been better for God never to have bestowed it, than that men should subsequently be found unworthy to receive it. Similarly, what possible profit could it be to God Himself, who made men, if when made they did not worship Him, but regarded others as their makers? This would be tantamount to His having made them for others and not for Himself. Even an earthly king, though he is only a man, does not allow lands that he has colonised to pass into other hands or to desert to other rules, but sends letters and friends and even visits them himself to recall them to their allegiance, rather than allow his work to be undone. How much more, then, will God be patient and painstaking with His creatures, that they be not led astray from Him to the service of those that are not, and that all the more because such error means for them sheer ruin, and because it is not right that those who had once shared His Image should be destroyed.
     What, then, was God to do? What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Saviour Jesus Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only made after the Image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image.
     In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image. The Image of the Father only was sufficient for this need.

Athanasius, On the Incarnation, Trans. Anonymous. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1977) 40-41.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Auto-pilot and Sinful Ideas

1 Corinthians 15:12–19 (NKJV)
12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

As readers of Scripture we are often tempted to go into auto-pilot and assume that we know what a text is saying without really paying attention. Consequently, we miss the point of the text.

Take the Scripture before us today. Many read our text and assume that Paul is arguing for the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. “Paul’s point is that Jesus really rose from the dead and that this is what guarantees our forgiveness.” And so we go on auto-pilot and move on to the next paragraph. But this is not Paul’s point. While Jesus’ resurrection is central to Paul’s whole argument, it is not Paul’s point. Jesus' resurrection is not under dispute; Paul has already asserted that Jesus' resurrection is central to the Gospel he preached. 

So what is his point? His point is that all other human beings are going to rise from the dead. You see the Corinthians weren’t denying that Jesus had risen from the dead; they were denying that the rest of us would rise from our graves. Listen to Paul again: Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead [generally, at the end of history]? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.

Notice that Paul is endeavoring to highlight the inconsistency of the Corinthians’ beliefs. If there is no resurrection at the end of history; if the dead will not be raised when Christ returns again in glory, then neither did Jesus rise from the dead. Why? Because Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee that every human being will rise from his tomb and stand before God. Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. So note Paul’s argument: if we deny the general resurrection then we must, of necessity, deny Jesus’ resurrection. And if we deny Jesus’ resurrection, then we are still in our sins and without hope. But Jesus has risen from the dead, therefore there will be a general resurrection. Paul's point is that the resurrection of the dead on the last day is a central part of the Christian faith; we believe, as the creeds remind us, in the resurrection of the dead.

In the modern American church we stand in dire need of re-reading Paul’s words here in these verses. We have gone on auto-pilot. We imagine that we can teach that Jesus rose from the dead and simultaneously teach that our ultimate destiny as human beings is to go to heaven when we die. But this is not the Gospel; this is not the Christian hope for the future; this is not the meaning of Jesus' resurrection. Our hope is that we shall emerge from our graves just like Jesus. So our confidence is that the bodies of those who have fallen asleep in Christ have not perished but that they do rest in their graves until the resurrection. We are not to be pitied; for we have not only in this life placed our hope in Jesus; there shall be a resurrection of the just and the unjust – Jesus’ resurrection is proof.

What Paul’s words remind us is that sins are not simply wrong actions; sometimes our ideas are sinful as well. We can embrace ideas that are erroneous and sinful. By denying the general resurrection, the Corinthians had embraced an idea that was poisonous to the Gospel. So when God in His grace and mercy shines the light of truth on our error and corrects us, corrects our thinking, what ought we to do? What ought the Corinthians have done? We ought to confess our error, ask God’s forgiveness for our folly, and rely upon the sacrifice of Jesus to make us right with God despite our erroneous ideas. Jesus is the sacrifice for our sinful ideas even as he is the sacrifice for our sinful actions. And praise God this is so.

And so reminded that our ideas are often sinful and dishonoring to our Creator, let us confess our sin to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness through Christ. Let us kneeel as we confess.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Is God anti-gay?

I just finished reading Sam Allberry's recent book Is God anti-gay? And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction. Allberry is a single pastor in the UK and has struggled against same-sex attraction throughout most of his life. The book is a store of biblical wisdom, compassionate counsel, and clear thinking.

He writes in the beginning that he refuses to identify himself as "gay" and instead emphasizes that he is someone who experiences same-sex attraction. "Describing myself like this is a way for me to recognize that the kind of sexual attractions I experience are not fundamental to my identity. They are part of what I feel but are not who I am in a fundamental sense. I am far more than my sexuality." This is a crucial observation and one which all of us need to remember in our increasingly sex-saturated society. Christ defines us not our sexual drives.

Allberry does an excellent job explaining the meaning of repentance. "Repentance means turning around, to change course. The implication is pretty clear and a little uncomfortable: we're not heading in the right direction." He goes on to remind us that Jesus calls all of us to take up our cross and deny ourselves (Mk 8:34). And this has direct relevance for the title of his book, Is God anti-gay? Allberry answers: "No. But he is against who all of us are by nature, as those living apart from him and for ourselves. He's anti that guy, whatever that guy looks like in each of our lives. But because he is bigger than us, better than us, and able to do these things in ways we would struggle to, God loves that guy too. Loves him enough to carry his burden, take his place, clean him up, make him whole, and unite him for ever to himself."

Allberry surveys the biblical teaching on sexuality in general before discussing homosexuality in particular. He writes, "Sexuality is a little like a post-it note. The first time you use it, it sticks well. But when it is reapplied too many times, it loses its capacity to stick to anything. We are simply not designed for multiple sexual relationships."

Thereafter he gives a helpful survey of various passages that address homosexuality directly, answers potential objections, and then goes on to discuss ways individual Christians and the Church can assist those tempted by same-sex attraction - both within and without the Christian community. I would highly recommend his book.

Mistakes are Seeds

My children and I are reading Nate Wilson's new book The Boys of Blur - which has a fabulous cover, by the way! The main character is a kid named Charlie whose biological dad abused the family and whose step-dad Mack is a good guy, a retired pro football guy. At one point they have a conversation about Charlie's bio dad and Mack had some good things to say.

"Your father made mistakes. We all do. But instead of working to set things right, he chose to protect those mistakes - he let them be. He even fed them, which made them so much worse. Mistakes don't just hang on the wall like ugly pictures. Mistakes are seeds." He thumped his chest. "In here. They grow. They take over. You make a mistake, you gotta make it right. Dig that seed out. Old Wiz [Mack's former coach] used to say, 'Fruit rots, wood rots, but lazy-ass boys rot the fastest.'"

Beautiful and brilliant imagery. Mistakes are seeds; dig them out or soon there will be a harvest of unrighteousness in our lives. May God grant us grace to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and be diligent to continue rooting out the seeds of our mistakes lest they grow and we rot. For young men in particular, beware pride; beware lust; beware laziness; beware morbid introspection and down-in-the-dumpsness. His divine power has given us all things necessary for life and godliness (2 Pet 1).