Last week, as I was mindlessly flipping through Facebook, this picture caught my eye. It was attached to a news article about the Supreme Court’s hearing on same sex “marriage”. I was already at my saturation point with the reporting on the day’s events, but this picture just reached out and grabbed my heart.
“God loves gays,” the young man’s sign says. Rarely, perhaps never, has a statement been so beautifully true and so painfully false all at the same time.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:7-8
It’s true. God does love gays. He doesn’t love them because He sees what they might someday become after leaving the lifestyle behind. He doesn’t love them because they’re great “fixer upper” projects. He doesn’t love them because He feels sorry for them. He just loves them. Right where they are. Not after they get cleaned up. Now.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Have you ever really thought about the implications of that statement?
God loves the homosexual man while he is sodomizing his partner.
God loves the gang banger while he is pulling the trigger of his gun.
God loves the prostitute while she is servicing her client.
God loves the child molester while he is violating that precious little one.
God loves the atheist soldier in a godless country while he is torturing Christians.
In the deepest, blackest night of our sin, God loves each and every one of us. Only a profoundly, unfathomably good and kind God could, or would, do such a thing.
But the story doesn’t end there.
You see, as unbelievable as it is that God could love someone so drenched in evil, He takes things a step further. God’s love motivated Him to act.
while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Rescue. Redemption. Salvation. However you want to put it, God personally came down and sacrificed Himself so that even the most wretched sinner would have a way out. No more enslavement to evil. No more being pawns of the devil in his never-ending quest for revenge against the King. No more separation from God, now, or in eternity.
God drove a cross-shaped stake into the ground at Calvary and said, “No more.”
God does love gays. And murderers. And child rapists. And hookers. And even prideful, rebellious, good little Sunday School girls like me. But not like this young man’s sign implies. He thinks God shows love by approving of his homosexuality. But an all-powerful God who would say He loves sinners and yet leave them to rot in their sin without lifting a finger to help them isn’t loving. Isn’t all-powerful. Isn’t God.
God does love you, my young friend. You simply have no idea how much.
I’ve just been in a funk, lately. Nothing out of the ordinary is wrong, but it’s been raining for eleventy two days in a row, and the constant darkness and dreariness seems to have wormed its way into my psyche and, I noticed recently, even into my prayer life.
A couple of days ago, I started out my prayer time with a huge sigh followed by a bunch of wimpering and whining about nothing of consequence. I was just moody. And I didn’t feel like praying.
And then God graciously brought a lovely little snippet of Scripture to my mind:
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Want to know God’s will for your life? There it is: give thanks in all circumstances. When you get a new car. When you catch your spouse cheating on you. When you’re on a glorious vacation. When you get laid off from work. When you’re happy. When you’re sad. When you’re in the mood, and when you’re not in the mood.
Give thanks in – not necessarily for, but in – all circumstances.
Well, this was certainly a circumstance. Why not give gratitude a try? I was in the car headed to pick up my boys from school, and I decided to spend the entire twenty minute drive just thanking God for things.
I started with the big stuff: salvation, forgiveness for my sin, times when God has miraculously provided, specific answers to prayer…
I was starting to slow down and I still had about half the drive left. Surely there was more to be thankful for! And that’s when it struck me. How often do we forget to thank God for all the (in our eyes) tiny little unnoticed things He does for us every day? We thank Him for the miracles, but what about the mundane? What “little things” had I forgotten to thank God for?
1. Air conditioning. I live in the South. Enough said.
2. I know where my next meal is coming from.
3. Social media and e-mail. I can keep up with far off loved ones, and I’ve “met” some awfully nice people.
4. I can see. I can hear. I can think clearly. I can walk.
5. I live in a country where Christianity is not yet against the law.
7. Cute baby animals.
8. I can read and write. That’s not the case for women, globally.
9. I was able to conceive and carry my children to term.
10. Warm quilts on cold nights.
11. The Bible is available in my native language, and I have several copies of it.
12. I have no fear of suicide bombers in my community.
13. The beach.
14. A crawfish boil with friends.
15. Reliable electricity.
16. Hearing my children sing when they think no one is listening.
17. My husband is a believer and is good to me.
18. Mountains. I miss mountains.
19. Indoor plumbing and clean drinking water.
20. Laughing hysterically with my family.
21. Level-headed discernment ministries.
22. Peanut butter and chocolate ice cream.
23. A roof over my head.
24. Home schooling.
25. People who are kind (or crazy) enough to read my blog articles all the way to the end.
Well, that was my list, and I think I’ll keep looking for things to add to it. Thanking God for the “little things,” realizing they might be big things to others, and recognizing the pervasiveness of God’s blessings and provision cheered me up and was truly a worship experience.
“…half of U.S. churchgoers (51%) say they do not know this term. It would be reassuring to assume that the other half who know the term are also actually familiar with the passage known by this name, but that proportion is low (17%). Meanwhile, ‘the Great Commission’ does ring a bell for one in four (25%), though they can’t remember what it is. Six percent of churchgoers are simply not sure whether they have heard this term ‘the Great Commission’ before.”
Now, if you know anything about statistics, you know how important it is to structure your questions carefully and get a representative sampling of the population you’re surveying in order to get the most accurate results. What does “churchgoer” mean? Is it possible people have never heard the term “The Great Commission” simply because churches don’t use this particular phrase any more? It’s important to take things like this into consideration because it affects the results of the survey. (You can find out more about Barna’s structuring process for this study at the end of the article linked above.) But even if the numbers of the Barna survey aren’t exact, I think it’s safe to say there are a lot of people out there in churchland who aren’t familiar with The Great Commission.
Just for fun, let’s see what the results would be if we surveyed readers of my blog:
The Great Commission refers to some of Jesus’ final words to the disciples before His ascension and is cited from Matthew 28:18-20:
And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.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,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
With these words Jesus commissioned the eleven remaining disciples to go out into the world and carry on His mission. Since every Christian is a disciple, or follower, of Christ, this is our commission from Him as well. Let’s examine what it says.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Before commissioning his disciples, Jesus reminds them that everything He’s about to say is founded on and imbued with His authority. Jesus alone has the divine authority to establish the church and to dictate the way in which His church is to be set up and to grow.
We 21st century Christians would do well to keep forefront in our minds and hearts the authority of Christ over His church.There is no need for churches to “cast vision” or come up with mission statements. Christ is the head of the church and has already given us His vision for it. The Great Commission is His mission statement for the church.
Go therefore “Therefore” in this little phrase refers back to what Christ has just said about His authority. In other words, because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me, I am telling you to go.
“Go” is a very generic verb in English. We can “go” into the kitchen or we can “go” to the moon or we can “go” out and conquer the world. We can “go” anywhere from our own personal microcosm to the edges of the known universe. And that is the same sense the Greek word πορεύω captures: as you “go your way,” as you “go forth,” as you “walk”, as you “pursue the journey on which [you have] entered.” Wherever life takes us, whether it’s across the street or across the world, we go as ambassadors of Christ, carrying the good news of the gospel with us.
All nations Revelation 7:9 tells us that God will save people from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” So that’s who we share the gospel with as we go our way. Everybody. Regardless of where they’re from, what they look like, or how they talk. We are not to withhold the gospel from anyone, and we’re to make sure the church is proactively carrying the gospel to every populated geographical location on earth.
Make disciples…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you Notice the language Jesus uses here. He doesn’t say “make converts” or “make Christians”. He says “make disciples.”
Think about what the disciples did while Jesus was on earth. First, they answered His call to follow Him. Then, they began the journey of following Him wherever He went. He trained and equipped them day and night. They loved Him and worshiped Him. They imitated the things He did and said. They carried on His work after He ascended. Jesus is saying to the disciples, and to us, “Replicate yourselves. Make more like you.”
That means that the Great Commission starts with sharing the gospel with a lost person, but it doesn’t end there. There’s more to our mission than just evangelism. We are to train and equip Christians to follow Jesus daily, to love and worship Him, to imitate Him in obedience, and to carry on His work.
Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit After salvation, baptism is the first step a new Christian takes on the road of discipleship. It is not optional. Baptism publicly identifies a person – to the church and to the world – as a Christian, and is a personal pledge to follow Christ obediently all the days of one’s life.
Being baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” carries several layers of meaning.
💧Again, pay careful attention to the language in this phrase. Jesus does not say “in the nameS” – plural. He says, “in the name” – singular. This is a boldly Trinitarian statement directly from two of its members: Jesus, who spoke these words to the disciples, and the Holy Spirit, who breathed them out through the pen of Matthew. This is God Himself telling us who He is. Jesus spoke these words to good Jewish boys who were born and bred on the shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” There was to be no confusion for new Believers back then, Believers today, or to the onlooking world, as to who these Christians are following. They are not following three different gods. They are following the one true God in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – the whole ball of wax.
💧Names meant far more in biblical times than they do to us today. We see God changing people’s names – Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter, etc. – when He commissioned them for a new mission or phase of life. Being baptized “in the name of” the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit echoes that tradition of God changing people’s names. You are no longer your own, you are Christ’s. You are no longer “Sinner”, you are “Saint”. You no longer go forth in your own name, but in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as their emissary, endowed with the power and authority of God to live for Him and to proclaim the gospel to a lost and dying world.
💧Because Christians are, by definition, Trinitarians, and because baptizing a Believer is commissioning her to go forth into the world as a representative of Christ, it’s appropriate for pastors to take this verse literally when performing a baptism and verbalize its words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. What a sweet promise, both to the disciples and to us today. Obediently following Christ in our daily lives, sharing the gospel, and making disciples can be lonely, exhausting, and discouraging at times. But we don’t have to do it alone, and we don’t have to do it in the flesh. Christ is with us and He knows all too well how hard it can be. God has given the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower Believers to live for Him and to carry out The Great Commission.
Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot of preachers and divangelistas out there teaching that Christians have to constantly take “risks” as proof that we’re growing in Christ, that we have to perform acts of faith that take us outside of our comfort zone, that we have to dare to attempt things that could never be done without God’s direct, miraculous intervention or empowerment.
Well, I’d like to challenge all the proponents of that teaching to take a risk that (I hope) won’t be out of their comfort zone and doesn’t require any miraculous intervention from God:
Find the prescriptive passage of Scripture, chapter and verse, in context, rightly divided, that teaches this “risk doctrine”.
Because I don’t see it.
I see 1 Thessalonians 4:9-11 exhorting us to love the brethren, live quietly, work with our own hands, and walk wisely before outsiders.
I see Titus 2:1-10 telling Christian men and women to learn to be, and teach others to be, submissive, self-controlled, loving, reverent, and kind.
I see the book of 1 John saying that salvation is evidenced by loving Christ, obeying God’s word, shunning worldliness, and confessing our sin.
I don’t see a single Bible character deciding “Hmmm…I’d better come up with some kind of daring deed to do to prove my faith.”
Moses was minding his own business tending sheep when God spoke to Him from the burning bush and called on him to confront Pharaoh and lead Israel out of Egypt. Moses’ response? “Send somebody else.”
David wanted to do a great thing for the Lord by building the temple, and God said no.
Paul and the apostles simply obeyed God’s command to preach the gospel. Their earthly reward? Persecution and martyrdom.
Sometimes, as we walk in daily obedience to God’s word, situations will arise that are scary. Circumstances in which we must trust Scripture over our experiences. Life events that require us to obey God’s word even if we lose a job or a friend. Times when we have to believe that God is doing what is best even if it isn’t the outcome we wanted. That’s not a risk; that’s walking in faith and obedience, depending on Christ to carry us through whatever He places in our path.
But the Bible doesn’t say anywhere that we have to prove our faith or growth in Christ by proactively coming up with some big, fat, hairy risk to take, stepping outside of our comfort zone, and daring to do what can only be done by the power of God.
In fact, that kind of thing sounds eerily similar to what Satan tempted Jesus to do. Among other things, Satan tempted Jesus to prove Himself by literally “stepping out on faith” – right off the top of the temple – and trusting God to catch Him. And what did Jesus do? He went straight to God’s word and obeyed it by saying no. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” It didn’t work that way for Jesus, and it doesn’t work that way for us.
The Bible teaches us to act in wisdom, to walk in obedience to Scripture, to trust God even when it’s scary or inconvenient or counter-intuitive. But for a pastor or teacher to say that Christians have to commit acts of derring do as proof of our faith or level of growth?
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning,23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive.24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther,29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together,34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
It had been a long, confusing, emotional couple of days. Eventful? The word could hardly capture all that had taken place. As they made their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Cleopas and his friend rehearsed the trials, the scourging, the crucifixion, and the reports of the empty tomb, trying to make sense of it all.
How could this have happened? It just didn’t add up. Everything their beloved Jesus had done, taught, and said fairly screamed, “This is it! This is the Messiah!” Jesus was the one they had been waiting for. The one who would throw off the iron-heeled boot of Roman oppression, take the throne of His father, David, and reestablish Israel as a sovereign nation, restoring her former glory.
But…a crucifixion? His body missing? It didn’t fit the narrative they’d been weaned on. Maybe Jesus wasn’t the Messiah after all. Their hopes for the future, so recently a roaring flame, waned at the cross and dwindled to an ember at the tomb.
Try to put yourself in the sandals of Cleopas and his companion. Every day of your life has been lived shivering in the shadow of the evil Roman empire. Unclean Gentiles, pagans, haters of God and His people, who ruled with impunity and maintained pax romana by any means necessary. Crosses laden with the corpses of criminals and insurrectionists lined the road leading into town, lest there be any question as to the fate of those who dared rebel. There was no real right of redress. No true due process. And since Rome ruled the known world, virtually no way of escape.
“Someday,” Jewish boys and girls learned for hundreds of years at their mother’s knee, “Someday God’s promised Messiah will come and deliver us. This will all be over. We’ll be free.”
This was the Christ – the Messiah, or “anointed one” – most of God’s people hoped in. A Christ who would save them from earthly suffering. A Christ who would set things right and make their temporal circumstances better. No thought to their need for atonement. No concerns about eternity. Never mind the Bread of Life, just give us bread.
And Cleopas and his fellow disciple had found him. Maybe they were afraid to believe it at first. Could Jesus really be the one? But as they followed him for days, or months, or years, they began to believe. Finally, He was here. Finally, things would turn around for them. Everything was going great.
And just like that, in a matter of a few days, all hope was lost.
They stood still, looking sad.
Was it because Jesus had, in reality, failed to fulfill His mission? No. It was because they had poured every drop of their faith into a false Christ. A christ of their own imagination and design. An unbiblical christ who had been passed down to them over the years by false or misinformed teachers.
And, to this day, people are still placing their faith in that same false christ of their own imagination, promulgated by false or misinformed teachers. A christ who will solve all their earthly problems. A christ who will heal their diseases, fix their broken relationships, grant them power, imbue them with influence, and shower them with wealth.
Sure, their hope in this christ will burn brightly for a while, but just like that, in a matter of a few moments, hours, or days, that hope can be extinguished forever. A car accident. A house fire. An affair. A child gone prodigal. Wasn’t Christ supposed to make my life better?
But – thanks be to God – that’s not the end of the story. There’s a true Christ. The true Christ of Scripture. The Christ that Jesus showed the two disciples from Moses and the Prophets on the road to Emmaus. The Christ that God reveals to us today in the New Testament. The Christ that all of Scripture points to – not as a life enhancement genie – but as the spotless Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world.
This is the Christ in whom we find the hope of sin forgiven. The peace of being made right with God. The joy of knowing He will never leave us nor forsake us.
Are you foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the Bible says about Christ, or does your heart burn within you as the true Christ of Scripture reveals Himself to you in God’s word?
A false christ promises hope, but brings only despair and discouragement when hard times come and his promises go unfulfilled. But all the promises of God find their fulfillment in the Christ of Scripture. He will never fail you nor disappoint you.
The road to Emmaus is a two-way street. Cleopas and his friend started their journey going the wrong direction, but they repented of their unbelief, turned around, and walked the other way. If you’ve been following a false christ, you can repent and trust the true Christ of Scripture today. He’s only a you-turn away.
I know you have been going through some rough times lately. Perhaps you have recently lost a loved one. Maybe you’re ill with a serious disease. You might struggle with depression. You could be watching a loved one battle cancer or another terminal condition. Your marriage may be close to breaking up. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re simply sick and tired of the way your everyday life is going. That the world is going to hell in a hand basket and you’re getting sucked right down with it.
I’ve listened as you’ve poured out your heart. I’ve walked with you as you’ve struggled. I’ve held your hand and prayed with you. And while my heart breaks for you because of the circumstances you’re going through, what crushes me even more is the despair, the hopelessness I hear in your voice. That there’s no way out. That it’s impossible to deal with the pain. That there’s no one who can really help you.
But there is. And that’s what I desperately need to tell you.
I haven’t told you before, because when everything was going fine for you, you didn’t want to hear it. But sometimes people just get to a point in their lives where things are so bad they’re willing to try anything.
And so, I’m asking you to try, just try, one more thing. If you’ve already tried everything else, and nothing’s working, what do you have to lose?
Please try Jesus.
Jesus loves you. He cares about your pain and your struggle. And He’s the only One powerful enough to actually do anything about it.
I’m not talking about simply bowing your head and asking Him to get you out of the horrible situation you’re in. I’m talking about bowing your life to Him. Giving up. Surrendering. Letting this King you’ve been doing battle with all your life conquer you for your own good, sit on the throne that rightfully belongs to Him, and set up His rulership over your life.
This King doesn’t desire to reign over you so that He can tyrannize you. He’s a freedom fighter. He has already made the ultimate sacrifice to set you free from the oppressive regime under which you’ve been living: you. All you have to do is renounce your throne and become one of His subjects.
What does this mean in practical terms? You set aside a little uninterrupted time to talk it out with God. You recognize that He is God and you are not. You admit to Him, and to yourself, that you have sinned.
“Sin” means to break God’s laws. You know the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), right? At least some of them? Have you ever lied, stolen something (even something small), dishonored your parents? Then you have sinned. And by the way, your opinion on whether or not something should be a sin doesn’t make a hill of beans of difference. When you can create the universe, heal the sick, walk on water, and rise from the dead, maybe you’ll get to make the rules. Until then: God’s turf, God’s rules. And you’ve broken them. All of us have.
What happens when you break a local, state, or federal law? Well, if you get caught, there’s supposed to be some kind of punishment. If you speed, you have to pay a fine. If you steal, you go to jail. If you murder somebody, depending on where you live and whether or not you can get the verdict overturned on a technicality, you get the death penalty.
There’s punishment for breaking God’s laws too. James 2:10 tells us:
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.
In other words, if you’ve broken one of God’s laws, you’ve broken them all. So, since we’ve all committed the same crime against God– breaking all of His laws –we’re all destined for the same punishment. Hell.
Yes, there is a hell just as surely as there is a heaven. Once again, your opinion on whether or not hell does exist or should exist matters about as much as your opinion on whether or not the sky is blue or whether or not it should be a different color. Your opinion does not change the facts.
The good news is that God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, has already taken the punishment for the crime that we committed. Have you ever heard of a completely innocent victim of a crime volunteering to take the death penalty for the perpetrator for no other reason than that he loves him? Me neither. But that’s exactly what Jesus did for you and for me. And believe me, it was cruel and unusual punishment.
But Jesus didn’t just die in our place. He did away with the eternal death of hell by coming back to life after three days in the grave. And He’s willing to share that victory over hell with anybody who wants it badly enough. It’ll only cost you your life. Not your physical life, of course, but your spiritual life.
After admitting to God that you’re a sinner, the next step is to believe with your whole heart that Jesus died and rose again to take the punishment for your sin (Romans 10:9-10). You gratefully tell God that you accept that Jesus did this for you. You ask Him to forgive you, and make a commitment to Him and to yourself that with His help you’re going to turn away from a life of sin and serving yourself and turn to a life of serving and obeying Him. (This turning away is called “repenting”.)
Finally, you put your money where your mouth is and act on what you’ve just committed to. You spend time reading your Bible and praying in order to get to know God better. When opportunities to sin arise, you turn away from them. As you grow in your relationship with God, you discover what He wants you to do with your life, and you follow that path.
This last step is a very important one that, all too frequently, gets left out. Simply mouthing a prayer and then going back to business as usual ain’t gonna cut it. In fact, if you are able to go back to living the way you always have, with no discernable change of heart or behavior, at least a gradual one, you probably aren’t a Christian. If you’ve truly given your life to Christ, you’re going to be a different person. You’re going to have an aversion to sin, and a love for God. Your attitudes towards others will change. Your priorities will change. Your beliefs about right and wrong will change.
Simply SAYING you’re a Christian doesn’t make you one. I could sit here all day long and tell you I’m a doctor. Sure, I’ve taken some biology classes, and I do have some medical knowledge, but I didn’t go through medical school, I’m not licensed, and I don’t treat patients. If I wanted to become a doctor, I’d have to submit myself to the things that are necessary for becoming a doctor. It’s the same way with Christianity. We have to submit ourselves to what God says is necessary for becoming a Christian: true repentance, and trust in Christ.
If you’ve stuck with me this far through this seemingly interminable article, you’re probably thinking back to my very first paragraph and saying to yourself, “This ‘giving your life to Jesus’ stuff is all well and good, but my husband is dying/I can’t find a job and my house is about to be foreclosed/my mother just died/I’m on the brink of divorce/etc. That’s all I care about, all I can think about right now.”
That’s precisely why I told you about Jesus. When (and ONLY when) you give your life to Him, He helps you through your problems. You want peace when you’re struggling with a rebellious child? Comfort after the death of a loved one? Strength when your body is in pain? Joy instead of sadness? These things, and many others, are just some of the “fringe benefits” you get from being a Christian. But you only get them as a result of giving your life to Christ. There is no other way.
Thanks for allowing me to get this off my chest, Friend. I just couldn’t go one more day telling you that I’m praying for you to have peace or strength or healing without telling you how to get those things. And so I’ll urge you just once more: try Jesus. Or as the Bible puts it (Psalm 34:8):
O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
There are so many great Easter hymns and worship songs out there. After all, how can a songwriter go wrong proclaiming the glorious truth of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection? It was hard to narrow it down to my ten favorites, but I gave it a shot.
(Please note- I am not familiar with all of these musicians. Their presence here is not an endorsement of any unbiblical theology any of them may hold to. Please thoroughly vet the doctrine of any Christian musician you choose to follow and make sure it matches up with Scripture.)
1. Jesus Paid it All– Nominated by my 11 year old son, who said in the car on the way home from church, “They need to do ‘Jesus Paid it All’ next week, because it is a very appropriate Easter song.”
“What should I preach about on Easter Sunday? Help me out, here.”
That’s the gist of a tweet I saw recently from a pastor. It caught me quite off guard, and it must have had the same effect on many others who punctuated their excellent advice –“preach the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for our sins”- with lots of “duh’s” and other indications that this should be a no-brainer for a Christian pastor.
Traditionally, the prevailing line of thought about Easter (and Christmas) services has always been, “This is one of the two times a year that a lot of lost people go to church. It might be our only chance to reach some of them. Let’s make sure we give them the gospel.” Maybe after so many years of that, some pastors feel that their church members have heard it all before and they need to move on to something else in order to keep people’s attention. Sometimes, as a pastor, it’s tough to know just what to do to best reach people for Christ.
But, see, the thing is, Christians never move past our need for hearing the gospel again and again. Young or old. Newly saved or seasoned saint.
We need the gospel.
We need it because we forget. We forget that we are great sinners in need of a great Savior. We forget to slow down and pour out our gratitude and worship for the sacrifice of our beautiful Savior. We forget to bask in our wonder, our amazement, at His glorious and triumphant resurrection.
As Christians, every day our sin sick souls need to bow at the cross and be washed afresh in the precious, atoning blood of Christ. What can wash away my sin? Nothing –nothing– but the blood of Jesus. Daily, we must approach the tomb, see the massive stone rolled away and shout with joy over its emptiness. Hallelujah! Death has lost its victory and the grave has been denied! The very reason we worship on Sunday instead of Saturday is the celebration of an empty tomb. Every Sunday is Easter Sunday.
“She’s at it again, going off the deep end about some church or Christian celebrity who does things just a little differently. She’s so nit picky, judgmental, and divisive. Why doesn’t she just shut up and be nice?”
That’s what I imagine most of my friends on my (personal) Facebook page are thinking whenever I post something about the latest false doctrine or false teacher. Maybe that’s what you think, too. “Ugh. One of those dreaded discernment bloggers.”
I don’t consider myself a discernment blogger, but rather a discipleship blogger. Discernment (warning against false teachers and false doctrine) is part of discipleship, but so is missions and evangelism, Bible study, and assorted “Christian living” topics, all of which I try to cover in balance.
Nobody seems to mind those latter topics, but a lot of people get their noses out of joint when I call attention to a false teacher, an unbiblical doctrine or practice, or an apostate “church.” I have been asked why I hate women. I’ve been told I’m what’s wrong with Christianity. And, I’ve been called every name in between for pointing out “Christian” teachers, doctrines, and “churches” that behave and teach in ways which directly contradict Scripture.
Who needs that? Who needs the hassle and emotional stress of being attacked, especially when you’re not even getting paid for it? Why don’t I just drop the discernment portion of my blog and social media and blow rainbows and unicorns up everybody’s skirt? It’s certainly a formula that works for other bloggers who choose to go that route, and everybody would be happier.
Well, let me tell you a little story.
I recently shared the gospel with someone who claimed to be a Christian. Why would I do that? If she says she’s a Christian, she must be one, right? Wrong. Before I shared the gospel with her, I asked her to explain her understanding of the gospel to me. Instead of talking about repenting of her sin and placing her faith in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection to save her from her sin, she gave me a laundry list of ways she was a good church member and all the activities she had ever participated in at her church. The name of Jesus did not come up once, nor did the cross, sin, nor repentance.
In case she had misunderstood my question, I then gave a very simple, biblical explanation of the gospel. She proceeded to tell me how wrong that was according to the teachings of her church. You see, all her life, this lady has belonged to an apostate church that teaches a false gospel of works righteousness (your own good works make you righteous before God, instead of Christ’s work on the cross).
This is a very real lady who really believes she’s a Christian who’s going to spend a very real eternity in Hell unless she repents and believes what the Bible says about salvation. Which is not what her so-called church is teaching her.
That’s why I do discernment work. Because real people’s eternities are at stake. False doctrine is not some trivial little difference of opinion over nothing issues in the church like pews versus chairs or what color the sanctuary carpet is. I’m not being judgmental or hateful over unimportant preferences.
People are dying and going to Hell forever
because they’ve been taught false doctrine.
And sometimes I wonder if anybody gets that.
So, if that’s what’s so important, why don’t I limit myself to writing about “first tier” issues like works righteousness or the deity of Christ which directly affect a person’s salvation? Does it really matter if churches allow practicing homosexuals to be church leaders or allow women to preach to, teach, and exercise authority over men?
Yeah, it does. Because if you take a look at churches that have their first tier issues wrong, they took their initial steps down the road to that destination by compromising and disobeying Scripture on issues, such as homosexuality and female usurpation, which are indirectly related to salvation. In other words, by the time the cancer has metastasized, it’s too late. Early detection, early cure.
In the same way that a couple of teaspoons of yeast leaven my entire batch of dough and a few cancer cells will grow and spread throughout the whole body, so, a little false doctrine, if left unchecked, will spread throughout the local Body of Christ and eventually kill it.
I care about y’all. I care about your churches. I don’t want to see a single person damned or church turn apostate. It absolutely breaks my heart when I encounter women who don’t know the gospel or have a complete misunderstanding of Scripture simply because that’s what they’ve been taught by a so-called church or a “Christian” celebrity that they trusted. These things should not be. Christ loves you and wants you to have a right relationship with Him and a right understanding of Him and His word. And I couldn’t live with myself – or Him – if I didn’t tell you that.
My voice and my platform are small. I don’t reach the millions of people the false teachers on the shelf at your local Christian bookstore reach. I am flawed and far from perfect. But I will continue to do everything I can, as biblically as I can, where I am and with what God has given me, to reach the women God places in my path in real life an on line with the glorious truth of His word.
Eternities are at stake. The church is at stake. I can’t sit down, shut up, and play nice.
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.6 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.7 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.”8 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.
[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.]
9 [[Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept.11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.
12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country.13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.
14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues;18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.]]
1. Jesus was crucified and buried on a Friday afternoon. What day did the women go to the tomb to anoint His body? (2) Why did they wait until Sunday instead of going on Friday evening or Saturday? (1) How does verse 1 say the women obtained the spices? Would they have been able to purchase them or do the work of anointing Jesus’ body on the Sabbath? What was the purpose of anointing a dead body with spices?
2. Read verses 1-5, focusing on the women’s actions and conversation. Do their words and behavior indicate that they expected Jesus to be dead or alive? Why would they not have expected His resurrection since He prophesied it multiple times?
3. Why was there a stone sealing the entrance to Jesus’ tomb? (3-4) Compare what Pilate and the chief priests believed about Jesus’ resurrection, and their subsequent actions, with what the women believed about Jesus’ resurrection, and their subsequent actions. How did the unbelief of the two groups differ?
4. Even though Jesus had prophesied his resurrection many times, the women didn’t have much of a frame of reference for someone rising from the dead. How does God sending the angel to explain things to them (5-7) instead of scolding them for their failure to grasp the situation demonstrate His mercy and understanding of their human frailty? What was their emotional reaction (8) to all these events? In light of the recent events of the crucifixion, and the actions of people such as Pilate and the Jewish leaders, explain why the women might have reacted (8) the way they did.
5. Imagine the book of Mark ends with verse 8. Who and what is the focus of the last chapter of Mark’s gospel? Why is Jesus’ resurrection crucial to the Christian faith, and to you personally as a Christian?
6. What does the notation between verses 8 and 9 mean? Read the following note on verses 9-20 from the MacArthur Study Bible¹
What evidence does Dr. MacArthur cite that Mark may not have written verses 9-20 and that it may have been added later? Does this in any way mean that the Bible is unreliable or inerrant? What are some precautions Dr. MacArthur suggests we should take with 9-20, and how should we handle this text comparatively?
7. Compare verses 9-20 with Matthew 28, Luke 24, and John 20, and any cross references (on 9-20) your Bible lists. Is there anything in verses 9-20 that isn’t mentioned elsewhere in Scripture? Is it “safe” to believe everything in 9-20 that matches up with other Scripture?
8. What has been the most important thing you’ve learned from our study of the book of Mark?
¹John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), p.1464-1465
Read the following resources on the ending of Mark: