Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Responding to the Resurrection

What word or phrase comes to mind when you think about the resurrection of Jesus? Christians have been conditioned to believe that this was good. And it was. But not everyone agrees. Not everyone can accept the thought of a dead man coming back from the dead. But it was even more unbelievable then than it is now.

This past Sunday, in church gatherings around the world, we remember, and therefore celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. His death provided forgiveness, but without the resurrection, we could not know that He was truly the Son of God. His resurrection is important because to be resurrected means one has been dead, and Jesus had to die to truly buy our pardon.

So, the death and the resurrection are both important, equally so, as one purchased our forgiveness and the other provides us the hope of life eternal. But again, consider the word that came to mind a few moments ago. And now, as we look at the biblical responses to the truth of the resurrection, see if your response matches any of those that were there on that day, or the days to follow.

Initial Responses

In this section, I am going to list the Scripture reference, a name or group, and their reaction. It may not read conventionally here, but it should make sense. For the complete story, or for comparison, please check the passages in the Bible. All responses/word choices here are from the English Standard Version (ESV). For a more complete analysis, as usual, you may listen to the message online at http://www.fairfaxbaptistchurch.org/listen.html.

Matthew 28.1-10 The Resurrection Scene
  • The guards – trembled with fear, fainted
  • Mary Magdalene and the other Mary – fear; fear and great joy; worship, but still had fear

Matthew 28.11-15 The Attempted Cover-Up
  • Guard – fear they didn’t go to their Roman commander, for fear – see verse 14
    • They went to the chief priests
  • Chief priests – plotted a response (taken counsel) cover up, paid money

Mark 16.1-8 The Resurrection Scene
  • Mary, Mary, Salome – fear – v. 6 (they were alarmed) But entered the tomb anyway
    • Trembling and astonishment; afraid

One implied response might be bewildered because they were asking themselves who would roll away the stone (v. 3), only to find it had been moved when they arrived (v. 4). And the statement – it was very large, gives us an indication that they were amazed at some length by this. But that response is somewhat speculative, so let us now move on to Luke.

Luke 24.1-12 The Resurrection Scene
  • They – the closest antecedent for this is the word women (23.55) who would prepare the spice (23.56) and return on the first day of the week (26.1)
    • v. 4 – perplexed v. 5 – frightened
  • Apostles – did not believe (v. 11)
  • Peter – marveled (v. 12)

Luke 24.13-35 Two Disciples On the Road to Emmaus

  • Walked with Jesus, but did not recognize Him – their eyes were kept from it
    • Sad – v. 17
    • Amazed – v. 18 – amazed that Jesus had no idea what had happened
    • Crushed hopes – v. 21
    • Hearts burned within  v. 32 – they finally believed! And thus they told others.

Luke 24.36-43 Jesus Appears to Disciples
  • The Disciples
    • Startled, frightened – v. 37
    • In disbelief – v. 41
    • Joyful – v. 41
    • Marveled – v. 41

John 20.1-10 The Resurrection Scene
  • Mary Magdelene – Ran to tell others
  • Peter/Disciple Jesus loved went to tomb
    • Disciple Jesus loved – got to tomb, looked in, but didn’t go in – why?
    • Peter – went straight in
    • Then the other disciple went in – and believed!

John 20.11-18 The Resurrection Scene, cont’d
  • Mary Magdalene
    • Weeping – v. 11 – sad, concern (v. 13, not knowing where Jesus was)
    • Belief – v. 18

John 20.19-23 Jesus Appears to Disciples
  • Disciples
    • Fear – v. 19 – of the Jews
    • Glad – v. 20 – when they saw Jesus

John 20.24-29 Jesus Appears to Thomas
  • No belief – v. 25, end
  • Belief – v. 28, when He saw Jesus, but did not have to touch

This brief look has simply been the reactions from those recorded in the gospel accounts. Matthew gives us the account of the guard and the priests, but all other instances are from people who knew Jesus, who spent time with Jesus, who had heard Jesus talk about the sign of the Jonah, of rebuilding what others would destroy, etc. The same people who had seen Jesus bring others back from the dead. And what were there reactions?

By my count, upon first learning of the resurrection, the two primary responses were fear and disbelief.
  • Fear was true of everyone except for the religious leaders who plotted a cover-up.
  • Disbelief was true of all of the apostles/disciples.

After having seen Jesus, then we get responses of:
  • Astonishment, joy, and marveling (the women and the disciples)
  • Worship (by the women) according to Matthew.

I am guessing that these words, whether you believe in the resurrection or not, were not the first thought that came into mind at the beginning of this post. Again, for some disbelief may be where you are. But your change will almost certainly not come from seeing Jesus. And that is why Jesus says to Thomas (and really to all the disciples), in John 20.29: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!”

What's the Point?

Jesus defeated death. It was nearly unfathomable to those alive in the 1st Century. But it has become so commonplace to us that we often overlook its significance. You might say, that is an unfair statement. But I dare say, if someone came back from the dead today, we would tell everyone whether they would listen or not. That is what happened to the women and the disciples. Once they determined this resurrection was real, they couldn’t help but tell others about it  no matter the cost.

What had happened was the best thing that ever happened. Death was defeated. A man, who was also God, had died, but came back to life, and more importantly has never died again. And they wanted to tell the world. And so should we.


Thus, our JOURNEY letter for this post is E for Evoke. This post has dealt with the emotions and the responses of the people then, and you have recorded yours today. But we need to be about stirring up the emotions of all people for the sake of Jesus. That is what the word evoke means  to stir up something. And the something in this case is the heart.


Two types of people are reading this post.
  1. Those who believe that Jesus rose from the grave.
  2. Those that don’t.

First, let me take a moment to cover at a generic level some reasons for not believing Jesus died, and rose again.
  • Some have not really heard the truth of the story.
  • Others have heard and have questions.
  • Others have heard and have doubts.
  • Others have let their doubts become calloused and think it impossible.

If any of those descriptions fit you, let me ask you to examine the facts openly. I am not suggesting that you change your mind. I am saying simply seek the truth, at all costs, regardless of where it leads you. A new movie called Risen gets at this concept. (You can find my review on my personal blog here.)While the movie is not entirely biblical, it is based upon events of the Bible, and shows a Roman Tribune who seeks to know the truth no matter what. I think before we can honestly dismiss anything, we should seek to know the facts. As we have seen today, a lot of our reactions are based upon emotion. But emotion doesn’t always deal with facts. Seek to know the truth and then make your decision. It will still require faith, but you might be surprised how the facts support the Christian claims.

Now, for those who believe Jesus rose from the grave, your next step is to tell others. We talk about a lot of things that we see on the news, or in a ballgame. But the greatest news of all time is still impacting people today. And God allows us to be His broadcast team. This isn’t gossip. This is real. This isn’t just a possibility of something that might happen. This is something you are already convinced has happened. So why don’t we share this greatest hope, this greatest truth, with everyone?

On a recent trip to Israel, our group saw many tombs. Of course, we saw Jesus' tomb, the tomb of John the baptizer, the tomb of Lazarus, caves (Sidonian) near Beit Guvrin which date to 200-300 BC, and many sarcophagi of the Sanhedrin dating between 70-135 AD at Beit Shearim. Despite covering a period of 300-400 years, all of these tombs/graves had one thing in common. They were all empty!

Now the reasons for their emptiness might be many. Grave robbers have always been a threat. Decomposition is certainly a factor. And other causes are possible (as in the case of Jesus). But regardless of the reason, all of the the tombs are empty. And that means that one day your tomb will be empty too. So, if there is more to you than this shell, which the Bible says there is, where will you be spending it? Again, there are two types of people reading this post:
  • Those that believe the Jesus is who He says.
  • Those that don’t.

Either way, eternity will not be spent in a grave. But your response to the Savior who was crucified, buried, dead, and now lives will determine where you spend it, just as my response will determine where I spend it. You may not believe today, but neither did Jesus' closest friends – initially. But their response would change and the message they spread has changed the world. Whatever your response has been, I hope that all of us will choose to begin to share the greatest truth in all history – that Jesus is alive. Forevermore.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Engage! - The Opportunity

We have arrived at the end of this series – a series designed to re-orient our thinking towards what Jesus meant when He said I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH. Over the course of the weeks, each letter was covered with the general thought for each captured below.

I – Jesus and He can be trusted because of the other promises that He has fulfilled throughout history.

WILL – It is His will or our will. Only one is in control at any time. Do we submit to Him?

BUILD – Jesus purchased His materials (us) by His blood? Let Him build with whomever is available!

MY – It is not our church, it is His. He has been, is, and will continue to build until He returns.

CHURCH – Jesus didn’t mean a building, He meant a people. Are you one of them?

Last week, having completed the focus on each of those five words, last week, the attention shifted to the importance of the location, Caesarea Philippi, where He said these five words. It was noted that another promise was also given – that the gates of hell (located there as well) – would not prevail. This week, we turn to one further promise – to give His disciples the keys to the kingdom, that is, to bind and loose things in heaven.

So, based upon Jesus’ promise to build His church, and the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail, and now a promise of the keys being given, let me ask an important question. What should we do? Well, first let me tell you what we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t try to ride a dead horse. This is what many people, and most churches try to do, but it won’t work. Why? The horse is dead. (For the various ways churches try to make the dead horse ride again, do a google search on How to ride a dead horse).

A New and Living Way

Then on what should we focus? The easy answer is: focus on what Jesus wants. The hard part of the answer is staying true to that statement! Why? Because we are human. This past Sunday was Palm Sunday, a day that we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It is referred to as the Triumphal entry. Jesus was celebrated as a king parading into town, and the people thought His triumph would mean overthrowing Rome. That was their thoughts…their hopes. But Jesus had a greater purpose and a greater triumph in mind. His true triumph would come one week later when He had defeated the grave and thus taken away the sting of death.

The opportunity Jesus had in mind was new. It was not just working harder to make the old better. Jesus knew it would take something completely new. In fact, He called it the New Covenant. The Old way was replaced. Jesus way, unlike the thoughts we often have, wasn’t about being good, it was about God’s grace. It wasn’t about trying harder, it was about training smarter. It was about forgetting what they thought they knew, and embracing Someone worth truly knowing.

The problem is that we, as humans, like to cling to the past. So the Pharisees and Sadducees rejected Jesus. They were concerned about holding on to their power, their prestige, their position above the people. And it is easier for people to allow that because that’s how it had been for a decades, if not the last couple of centuries. The people didn’t like the horse anymore, and it had stopped moving some time before, but they were still trying to ride it. Jesus effectively says, No…I have (am) a better way. The writer of Hebrews says it this way, the new and living way (Hebrews 10.20).

So, what exactly is this 3rd promise of Jesus in this passage, and how does it relate to us? Well, let’s just break this promise down into four components. We have already considered the Jesus portion throughout this series, so we will focus on what He does, who it is done to, what is made available, and what it effects.

Four Parts of a Promise

1. Jesus promises to give...

I don’t want to spend much time here because this has partially been covered under the weeks relating to the I and the Will but it is important to consider two very important truths behind Jesus promise to give something.

  • He has what He offers to give.
  • He has the authority to give it away.

For the sake of simplicity, I will provide just one reference which fits both truths. In Matthew 28, just before Jesus ascends into heaven, He says, All authority has been given to me. With this statement, He then commissions the disciples to do His work. So, Jesus has the authority, and He can offer it to whom He pleases.

2. Jesus promises to give you...

Now this you might seem to be a little stickier. Jesus is obviously talking to the people before Him in the moment He makes this declaration. Specifically, here, the word you is the second person, singular pronoun (soi). Thus, Jesus is talking to one person. So, this promise is not meant for us, or even for the other disciples, it is meant for Peter. This fact, by the way, is why the Roman Catholic Church prescribes each of these promises to be fulfilled in Peter, not the truth of Peter’s statement – You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

However, we must remember that while Jesus only used the word church (or eklessia) three times (see the post about the church), His promises in both passages can be linked together to show that His promise in Matthew 16, is for everyone. What do I mean? In Matthew 18, Jesus is again speaking, but now to more than just His disciples. He is speaking to others around Him (see verses 1 and 2). Then, in verse 18, Jesus says, “I say to you (this you is plural – hymin), if two of you bind (plural, desete) or two of you loose (lusete), it will be done in heaven (paraphrased). This is the exact promise that was made – regarding binding and loosing in Chapter 16, but now it is meant for more than Peter, but to anyone who is present.

Furthermore, most people claim Jesus’ promise that where “two or more are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” Well, that statement is in this same passage. And while that promise of His presence is still in the context of binding and loosing, the truth is that if that statement is true of us today, then how can we say that Matthew 18.18 is only true of the early disciples? And thus, how can the promises of Matthew 16.18-20 not include us as well?

So this you, may have been originally Peter only – in context. But Jesus’ words make it clear that He is talking about each of His followers – for all time.

3. Jesus promises to give you the keys...

Keys are not a foreign concept to us in any way. And Jesus is using the term in a way that we would understand. Keys are used to lock and unlock. The locks could be on a home, or a car, or a fence, and chain, etc. But Jesus says something amazing here.

He is giving you, me, us the keys to God’s Kingdom. Think about that. If you went to the governor’s mansion, do you think you would be allowed on the property after hours? What about the White House? Of course not. But this isn’t just an invitation to the throne room of God, but for His entire kingdom. And not just as a day-pass, but for all of eternity.

Now truly, keys represent authority. A person who has keys to your house has the authority to enter your house without breaking and entering. And that is ultimately what Jesus is saying. I give you this kind of authority as it relates to...well, that is the next point.

4. Jesus promises to give you the keys to the Kingdom.

Remember, Jesus has just mentioned the idea of church for the first time.  He mentioned the word Kingdom often – over 100 times in Matthew alone. But here, we see the two together, and we see the importance of the Church – it is the chosen tool of God to do the work of the Kingdom. That is an astounding thought.

But many people think the Kingdom must be worthless because church is boring. On the other hand, many will consider the idea of “going to heaven” as fire insurance because they don’t like the alternative of hell. This idea relates to a hope that Jesus can keep them from the bad.

But that is not what Jesus says. He says He gives these Kingdom keys to His followers, those that acknowledge the truth of Peter’s statement – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus giving you the keys is not about avoiding the bad. It is about gaining access to EVERYTHING that is good. It is a part of Jesus promise in:
  • John 10.10, to give life abundantly. 
  • James 1.17, that every good and perfect gift is from above.
  • Ephesians 3.20-21, that God has more for us than we can possibly fathom – and it begins with the fact that others we don’t deem worthy of the Kingdom will not only be there, but are doing His work, with the same keys that have been offered to you and I.

Jesus’ plan is not just to fix what does not work. He is not interested in riding a dead horse, or even a sick one. Jesus wants to use what works, He want us to move forward and engage whatever future God has for you, your church and for all of His people. We remember, respect, and learn from the past. But just as we do not do our best driving looking out of a rear-view mirror (focusing on what is behind), we must be a people who go forward looking out a large wind-shield.

Redeeming the Time

Ultimately, what we are to do is to redeem the time. Paul writes that the days are evil. And thus we must walk as wise, not as unwise (Ephesians 5.15-16). We all have a certain amount of time. What are you choosing to do with yours? I know the first inkling is often to forgo certain challenges because the challenges will be met with opposition. But are we not glad that Jesus didn’t forgo His greatest challenge? For if He had, we would not be here today, nor could we have any hope for tomorrow.

And the truth is that overcoming the opposition is what brings the greatest joy. Again, the writer of Hebrews states this plainly that our Lord endured the cross because He knew the joy which awaited on the other side (Heb 12.2). Paul writes that the afflictions he faced were nothing compared to the glory he would one day experience (2 Corinthians 4.17).

Yes, opportunities will meet opposition. And that opposition will seek to limit what we can do. But those limitations should drive us to prayer, because the hearer of our prayers is the One who is truly unlimited, unbound, and unhindered in any way when we allow Him to work in and through us. But again, the truth is that the gates of hades cannot prevail against Him, but we often limit what He will do because of our lack of faith. It may be human to experience a lack of faith, or to experience some hesitancy because of fear. But GOD!

But God!

If we are going to be a large church in a small town, that must be our motto: But God.

  • We must redeem the time.  “But I don’t have the time.” – But God, can give it.
  • We must make the most of our opportunities.  “But I can’t contribute much.”  But God, made you.
  • We must reach to the unreachable.  “But I don’t agree with them.” – But God, loves them.
  • We must learn to live beyond ourselves. – “But I like my comfort.” – But God, died 4 you.

Whatever our excuse, we must remember it is just that. An excuse. And when we stand before our maker one day, and He asks what we have done with all He has given us, we won’t be able to say (in a whiny voice), “But God!”

The truth, as Ronnie Floyd has said, is that “God can do more in a moment, than we can do in a lifetime.” But He wants to do it with you, in you, through you, and through us collectively. Why? I don’t know. I promise you God can do more without me than He can with me. I know I get in His way sometimes. But the fact is, He chooses to use me. Furthermore, I know He has. But He has chosen to use each one who heard this message, or is reading it now. His choice is to use us both individually, and collectively.

But we must seize the opportunities that He brings our way. You have probably heard the phrase Carpe Diem. Well, how about Carpe Occasionum – seize the occasion (or opportunity). That may sound ambitions, but remember, Jesus promised to give the keys to the kingdom. So, what will you do with them?


And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is... Y – You The choice is up to you. Who do you say Jesus is? Your response to that question is the most critical response to any and all questions. You may choose to serve, but do you choose Him? Will you follow His leading – wherever that may be? How do you respond?


So, what about our next steps?

Once again, our next steps continue to build on our previous steps in this series. We need to be ready to see what opportunities God brings our way. And we need to be ready to respond. How do we do that?

  • Remove the obstacles. What obstacles in our lives keep us from giving ourselves to God?
  • Create a MAP Team. Develop opportunities and see them through to completion/evaluation!
  • Pray for faithfulness to God’s leadership. We ask Him to lead, and we respond by obeying.
  • Commit to one another. We must be united to truly be all that God intends.
  • Find an on ramp. We must find opportunities to grow by merging in with others who serve.
  • Be the church Jesus intended. We must learn to live together by the truth of His gospel.
  • Love. Love God. Love others. Love one another.  Leading others to learn and live by His gospel as well.

“Follow me.” This was Jesus command. Jesus knew if we followed Him, then everything else would take care of itself. But following requires movement. And following has the sense that you are going ahead – or even forward. That does not mean you might not backtrack at times, but overall, forward progress should be made. And it is impossible to make progress by riding a dead horse. It is also most likely that you will make better progress using the windshield rather than the rear-view mirror. Again, we keep the past in sight; it can help us, but it is not our guide. Jesus is. And Jesus is as much future as He is past. But think about the idea of opposition for a moment. The wind-shield does just that. It shields us from the opposition – the wind. But it also shields us from the bugs, and the rain, and the snow, etc. But though it is designed to protect us, to shield us from those elements, if it gets dirty we can’t see to move forward.

So, in the words of Jesus, with regard to the person of Jesus, we are to “Follow Me.” But we must keep our view clear to know where we are going. We must seek first His Kingdom (for which we have the keys) and His righteousness (which He gave to us through His death and resurrection) and trust that He will provide everything else.

A Better Future?

In the first post of this series, I concluded with the following hypothetical questions. It seems pertinent to conclude the series with the same questions. What if, for the next 13 months – when the next series (which will focus on the life of Jesus and how He responded to various opportunities) , we as individuals worked to hold one another accountable to seek God, and the opportunities that He presents us, with an earnestness that we have not had before? We may not know exactly what our response will bring. If we respond like Jesus wants us to imagine the answers to the questions like:
  • What might this county look like in April 2017? 
  • What might this town look like? 
  • What might this church look like?
  • What might your family look like?
  • What might you look like?

We may not know the answers now, but as we make this JOURNEY together, we will be led by a TOUR GUIDE that does know the answer to these questions and so many more. It is a JOURNEY that has been set before us. It is our JOURNEY that we must take together. Are you with me?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Modest Servant (Steps)

Over the past five weeks, we have looked at the first five words of Jesus promise as recorded in Matthew 16.18 - “I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH.” Having concluded that phrase, we still have a couple of weeks to conclude the series – this week and next. So we will continue to look at the promise as it extends to the rest of the verse and the rest of this direct passage. This week, we see the first half of two gates that Jesus juxtaposed together. He speaks of the “gates of Hades” (covered below) and then the keys that unlock the kingdom gates (next week’s focus).

To properly understand this significance, we need to not only know what has happened in the preceding timeframe, but also where Jesus is teaching. So, once again, let me set the stage by giving some background. I have covered this in brevity a few times thus far, but seeing the entire picture, now with the location, should bring clarity to the passage.

Identity & Identification

You will notice below that in points 1 and 8, the word identity is used. That is because Jesus is the One revealing Himself. In the other points, it is about identification. Identification is how others know who you are, but identity is who you really are. This is true for each person, and this is true for the church (which was part of my dissertation to be covered elsewhere in the months to come).

1. Jesus displays His true identity.

In Matthew 13, Jesus teaches about the Kingdom. He is rejected in His hometown for this teaching. (Keep this rejection in mind for a few minutes until point number 3.) Then John the Baptist is killed. Then we have a series of miracles recorded. Feeding 5000, walking on the water, healing the sick, a little teaching, but then more healings and finally feeding 4000. In this process, Jesus is showing everyone who He really is and the authority He truly has.

2. Jesus is asked for some identification.

So, after all of these miraculous signs, Matthew 16 begins with the religious leaders asking for a sign from heaven that Jesus is who He says He is. Basically, the question is: “Can we see some proof of ID, please? Matthew 16.1 says they asked for “a” sign. He had performed many, but they wanted one. Jesus’ response is that they will be given just one – the sign of Jonah.

3. Jesus asked how He is identified by others.

After some teaching about how the teachings of Pharisees and Sadducees were dangerous, Jesus asks His disciples what others think of Him. The answer, as I have mentioned several times, is flattering. He is compared to John the Baptist – who has just been killed, to Elijah, to Jeremiah, or perhaps another prophet. Again, this is high praise. Very high praise. And the question comes after He has been rejected in His own boyhood home. Furthermore, the question comes after He has been rejected by the religious leaders of the day. But it also comes after the masses have seen great miracles. In many ways, the response of these people reminds me of the modern day election process. Give the people what they want (even if just in the form of a promise) and the people will vote for you and call you great. But ask something of them – discipleship, taking up your cross, which is just a few more verses ahead – and they will turn on you fast! But, for now, the masses love Jesus, and can’t wait to see what He will do next. The disciples obviously love this too because they are like stars in the people’s eyes.

4. Jesus asks His followers how they identify Him.

Again, as I have said many times in this series, those who are with Jesus the most, should know Him the best. The disciples have seen and heard things that many others have not. They have spent most of the last three years with Him. They should know Him best. And Peter’s response shows that in spite of all their missteps as a group, they have figured this out. But as Jesus said, this knowledge was not just by deduction, it was by divine inspiration (Matthew 16.17).

So, the scene is now set for our focal verse of this series. After Peter makes the great confession, Jesus makes a stunning promise. But first, let me remind you of point 3. It is significant in this process. The disciples may know the truth, but it doesn’t mean that they have properly internalized its truth. We know this to be true because:
  • Judas was disappointed that Jesus didn’t rise up to be the military leader Judas wanted Him to be.
  • The disciples argued who was (or would be, talking about themselves) greatest in the Kingdom. (See Matthew 18)
  • The disciples knew more would one-day come. Consider the passage read earlier today – that Jesus would make His Kingdom fully known one day.

Building a Kingdom or a Church

So with that understanding in place, let us begin to consider what happened next in the minds of the disciples. As Jesus begins to respond to Peter’s confession, the disciples would have inched forward as Jesus declared: “I will build my Kingdom.” Wait, what? “Did Jesus just say church?”

We look on this passage with such familiarity of the word church. The word church is so entrenched into our vocabulary, even if we are misusing the term, that we don’t think a thing about Jesus statement. (See last week's post about what Jesus meant when He used the term church.) But given all that had happened in the previous days, weeks, and months (most of Matthew 13, for instance, is Jesus teaching about the Kingdom!) the word church – or ekklesia, in the original Greek, would have been the last word the disciples would have expected to hear. That is true in part, because this is the first time Jesus has used the word, at least as recorded in Scripture.

I can imagine a look of bewilderment on the disciples' faces as they were trying to process what Jesus said. The thought, as quickly as it might have come and gone, would probably have been something like this:

“Wait, Jesus! You just told Peter that His answer was perfect. You are the Son of the Living God, and so that means that it is time for this kingdom you have been talking about to come to fruition. I mean, Jesus, you did just do a lot of teaching about that. The Kingdom is like the farmer who sowed good seed, and a mustard seed, and leaven, and a hidden treasure, and a pearl of great value, and a net, and a master of a house. And Jesus, if you are ready, we’re behind you, and we’ve got all of these others who will join us. So wait, did you really just NOT say Kingdom? And church – CHURCH!?! What do you mean by that Jesus?”

So, now we have a setting of the events that led up to this moment. But now let’s look at the significance of the location to the words of Peter and the next promise of Jesus.

The Significance of the Location

5. Jesus is identified as the Son of the living God.

The place was Caesarea Philippi (modern day Banias). The location was (and is) nearly to the northern-most point in Israel. The town itself was named by Herod Philip in honor of Caesar Augustus. Much like the ancient Pharaohs of Egypt, the Caesars of Rome were considered to be gods after their death. Thus, their sons, whether the next ruler or not, were considered sons of the dead gods. But not Jesus, Jesus was the Son of the living God.

6. Jesus is identified as the Son of the living God.

Jesus had yet another reason for bringing His disciples to this place. This location was so evil that Jews were taught that no good Jew would go to this place. But Jesus not only went there, He took His followers with Him. What would they have seen? Well, many shrines were built into the rocks of various gods or goddesses (you can see the slight insets, such as just about the small cave below). In fact because of these shrines, the cliff is often referred to as the “Rock of the gods.”
Rock of the gods
One of the gods that was worshipped in the area was the god of nature and the mountains and the wild. But this same god, Pan, also instilled fear, and thus we have the term, panic.
The god - Pan
So, this great declaration of Peter comes not only from the Father in heaven – the living Father, but also from a God that is real.

7. Jesus identifies the rock solid truth of Peter’s statement.

Just before Jesus makes the first of His promises in this passage – the one to build His church, our focal phrase over this past month – He says that it is on this rock that He will build His church. This statement, like so many in the Bible, is full of meaning. Let me provide three quick reasons.

  1. The English word rock is the Greek word petros. Obviously, this word is closely associated in both sight and sound with the name Peter. That is intentional, as Jesus previously renamed Simon in John 1.42. In the Aramaic, the word was cephas, but in the Greek, the word was petros. Either way, it means rock. But it isn't the person that Jesus would build upon, it was the truth of the statement! Upon the truth of Jesus being the Messiah (God's anointed One) the church would be built!
  2. Jesus is comparing the truth of this statement against the false worship of the rocks next to Him. In other words, He was saying, “On THIS ROCK is the truth on which I will build, NOT the false shrines that people build into this stone around us.” This is a powerful, POWERFUL truth. And the place Jesus delivered it, is quite significant.
  3. Jesus is saying that He can build His church upon such a profound truth – ANYWHERE! This is true even in the midst of the pagan worship which was all around Him, and the disciples in that place on that day. We will come back to this third idea in a few moments.

8. Jesus reveals His identity as all-powerful.

Again, I remind you that when Jesus started by saying “on this rock,” the expectation of His disciples would have been He was about to say Kingdom. Fortresses were built on top of hills to keep the advantage – So when Jesus began, “On this rock, I will build…” the disciples imagination started running rampant. “Jesus is going to rename this town and establish His Kingdom! Three cheers for Jesus! – Uh wait! Did He just say church?”

So, Jesus is with His disciples about 60 miles (about a 12 hour walk) from Capernaum, Jesus home base for ministry. He has warned His disciples on the way about the leaven of the Pharisees, and having taken the disciples to a place of pure evil, His disciples are best able to see the truth. But it wasn’t just a place of evil because of the worship of the false gods like Pan. It was also a place near the realm of the dead.

The little cave on the right was the previous picture where the shrines were. Now, just a few feet to the left, we see a bigger cave. A cave known as the “cave of the gods.” In this cave was a flowing stream. The understanding was that the god called Baal, which is often mentioned in the OT, was believed to be able to exit the underworld wherever water came out of the ground. And in that cave, water comes out from the ground. So, Jesus is claiming to build His church not only amidst the false gods, but amidst the very realm of the dead as well.

In the Greek, some suggest that the “gates of hell” is an idiom for the siege towers used by Roman armies. That may be true, but the Jewish idiom of the same expression means “realm of the dead.” Either way, for nearly 2000 years, the truth of Christ building His church has not been extinguished during the early persecution at the hands of the Romans nor by the evil powers present in this world. But given the location where Jesus made this statement, it is most likely He was referring to the Jewish meaning.

Specifically, the promise of Jesus is that the realm of the dead is no match for the Son of the Living God. So when He builds His church, this realm will not prevail against Him nor His church. Furthermore, consider that Jesus reveals His plans to the “called out ones” in the very place that the pagan gods are called out from the “realm of the dead.”

But that is the key as we have found out over these last six weeks, right? It is His church. I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH are the words of Jesus. He doesn’t build a church for us. He builds His church. And if we build a church, it will not prevail. But His church will.

So, how does this teaching from Matthew 16 impact us?

Clarity in the Midst of Evil

I think we need to put mentally put ourselves in Caesarea Philippi. We may see the evil in the world “out there,” but we become often become blind to how insensitive people are to the gospel right around us. It is the principle of the leaven of the Pharisees that Jesus had to clarify for his disciples on the way to Caesarea Philippi. Many places are dark and evil with little, if any, knowledge of God. But in some areas, especially in the area in which we live , most people are “good people.” And most know about God, so we feel that they are ok. But if they have not submitted to Jesus, they are not…and, thus, are bound for hell!

We need to realize that just as the disciples were taken to Caesarea Philippi, maybe we need to go “there” as well. Again, Jesus took His followers to a place filled with evil in so many ways. And this is the same Jesus who taught these same disciples, “Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Please understand, Jesus didn’t lead them INTO temptation, He led them into a place where temptation occurs. But He also promised that evil would not overcome them as long as they were following Him. The same is true for us. James wrote that God cannot be tempted, nor can He tempt others with evil (James 1.13). But that doesn’t mean that God might not lead us to go to a place where others are bound in sin so that we can deliver the message that can free them!

That brings me to the title of this post. We are simply modest servants for a great king. We are not great, His message is. It is not for our glory that we may do great things, it is for Him. We must focus on learning and living as He wants us to (a part of last week's post). But our learning and living is so that we can then love and lead. We must focus on the message of the gospel – one that we share in love to lead others to follow Christ.

As a modest servant, nothing we can do can defeat the enemy. But nothing the enemy can do can defeat Christ. God simply asks that we do our part. We don’t walk into evil (Lord’s Prayer), but if God leads us to it, like Jesus did His disciples, we can stand firm in the truth that the truth of the gospel cannot be overcome by the powers of hell. It is our trust in Jesus that shows our modest nature. And it is that modest nature that allows us to yield to His will because we are just one part of the church He has been building for nearly 2000 years.


And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is… E - Evoke. The central verse for Evoke is Acts 1.8. God’s power was promised upon the early church. That same power is present in your life if you are a Christian. But, too often, we hold it back – usually due to fear. But keep in mind, that when Jesus made His incredible promise, He did so right in front of the god of fear (Pan). Jesus has overcome, but we still hold Him back. Let us remember the example of the early disciples. When the promised power arrived, they proclaimed God's message immediately, and they proclaimed it boldly.

For what are you waiting? You may not think you have anything left to give. You may think your church is dying (or dead) and that all hope is gone. Well, let me remind you that Jesus knows something about resurrection! Without a doubt, Jesus will remove a church that is not intent on letting Him be in control (see Revelation 2 and 3 as five of the seven churches face such a possibility). But Jesus' promise to build is as true today as it was then. He is still calling for us to join together as His agents to a dead world around us. We are to extend His offer to bring life to others, just as He has brought life to us – first as individuals, then as a body of believers. Ultimately, we must live intentionally to bring joy thru then church to the community with the message of Jesus.


So, what about our next steps?

Our next steps continue to build on our previous steps in this series. We need to be ready to see what opportunities God brings our way. And we need to be ready to respond. How do we do that?

  • Remove the obstacles. What obstacles in our lives keep us from giving ourselves to God?
  • Create a MAP Team. Develop opportunities and see them through to completion/evaluation!
  • Pray for faithfulness to God’s leadership. We ask Him to lead, and we respond by obeying.
  • Commit to one another. We must be united to truly be all that God intends.
  • Find an on ramp.   We must find opportunities to grow by merging in with others who serve.
  • Be the church Jesus intended. We must learn to live together by the truth of His gospel.

And today we add:  Love. We are to love God, love others, and love one another. And a part of that love is leading others to learn and live by His gospel as well.

The truth is that if we don’t love God, we can’t love others (1 John 4.19). If we don’t love others, we can’t love one another. And if we don’t love one another, then we disregarding all elements of love that Jesus said to be important.

Furthermore, if we don’t love others, we are ultimately saying that we don’t care if they spend eternity in hell. It takes love to tell someone about Jesus. It takes love to help someone change their life. Here is the simple truth. Jesus loved you enough to make sure someone told you. He did that because He never gives up on us? So why do we so easily give up on others?

Who does God want you to tell? Who needs to know about how much Jesus loves them? Do you love them enough to tell them? More importantly, do you love God enough to tell that person for Him?

It is time for more than talk. It is time to start the walk. Or, in the title of this series, as Captain Picard, from Star Trek: TNG would say, “Engage!”

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Simple Portion (Steps)

What comes to mind when you hear the word church? For many, it is a matter of buildings. Maybe an ancient cathedral that has been around for nearly 1000 years such as the Westminster Abbey? Perhaps a quaint country church comes to mind? Or maybe one of the large church buildings constructed over the past 20-25 years?

The reality is that for most people, when the word "church" is mentioned, the idea of a place is the first thought. And specifically that place is a place to worship. But is this what Jesus meant? No. Jesus was talking about people, and specifically, people called to come together for a purpose. Let me give you just a little background on the etymology of the word we know as church.

The Old Testament uses two Hebrew words to describe a gathering. The first is ‘edah. This term was used in regards to the gathering before the tent of meeting with over one-half of its uses in the book of Numbers. The second term is qahal. This term describes the summons to assemble more than the assembly itself.

The New Testament term for church is the Greek word ekklesia. The term was used to describe an assembly of the citizens of a city. The word consists of two Greek terms - ek, which means "out of" and kaleo which means "to call." So the words together mean "the called out ones." Jesus is calling us out to be His church. (I will note here that the Greek translation of the Old Testament - the Septuagint - uses ekklessia to translate qahal. Ekklesia is not used for 'edah.)

Use of ekklesia

It surprises most people to learn that the term church (ekklesia) is only used three times in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). One of those instances is in the focal passage for this series where Jesus declares, "I will build my church." The other two uses are in Matthew 18 (both in verse 17). The reason for this lack of use is that the church is not Jesus intended destination for His people. The Kingdom is! The church is His tool to do Kingdom work. The emphasis of Jesus during His earthly life was on teaching the principles of the Kingdom - through words and deeds. But after His resurrection and ascension, the role of the church began to develop. For instance, Luke did not use the term church in his gospel account, but in the book of Acts, he used the term is used over twenty times. And Paul uses the term often when writing to the various churches. A quick review shows that the term is used of:
  • individual gatherings in homes (e.g. 1 Corinthians 16.19)
  • all believers of a given city (e.g. Acts 8.1)
  • and the believers in a given region (Acts 9.31)

More specifically, Paul uses the term ekklesia for all believers in an area (1 Corinthians 1.2), and within a small gathering of believers (as would be the case in 1 Corinthians 14.27). And important to our consideration, ekklesia was true of Jesus' first followers (Matthew 16.18), but also of all believers of all time (Colossians 1.18).

Why the Confusion?

So, if ekklesia is meant to be a people, not a place, why do we consider it a place? The reason is when the idea of "church" was translated into German (and Dutch), the word choice reflected a building instead of a people. The German translation used the word kirche, which refers to a building (the actual definition stems from the idea of "belonging to the Lord") while the Dutch used the word kerk (also building, of a "Christian place of worship"). While we, as Christians, do belong to the Lord (as we saw in last week's post with the word "MY"), the intent of kirche being more focused on a place caused a change in understanding over the centuries. Thus, while Jesus was at a specific place when He made the promise to build His church, it was not a place with which He was concerned - it was the principle, and specifically the principle of what the gospel message would do for the people.

Therefore, as we consider our focal passage for this series, Matthew 16.18, and specifically the words, "I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH," we must consider the word church in the context of what Jesus meant, not the definition we have developed for it.

What's the point?

If church is best defined as people instead of a place, then we must consider the impact of this new meaning. If Jesus meant for the church to be an assembly of people, what should those people do? Well, the answer is extraordinarily simple to say (or type), but much, much harder to do. Ultimately, we are to live as Jesus for the sake of the world. That means we love God, and love others. And we make disciples. In a current study on discipleship in one of our Community Groups, the author of the study, Bill Hull states,

"We must remember that discipleship is not one of the things the church does, it is the thing the church does."
Bill Hull, Choose the Life

If a church doesn’t make disciples, what is it doing? Think about it this way…

  • a car manufacturer makes cars.
  • a home builder builds houses.
  • a food manufacturer produces food.
  • a fisherman fishes for...

Ok, a fisherman actually tries to catch fish, but Jesus did use the terminology of fishing for men (Matthew 4.19). He meant we were to find others and disciple them. That is what the church, as Jesus designed it, must do. A church makes disciples. Per Jesus, that is what we are to do. So, what is the point of going to church if you are not making disciples or if you are not being discipled?
So, what does it mean to make a disciple? According to Jesus, to learn from Him, to live like He did, and to love as He loved. The following verses point to these purposes.

John 14.25-26: "These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."

Matthew 28.18-20: "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."

In just these two verses, we see Jesus promising further instruction. And that instruction is to be passed on to those we disciple - "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Certainly, that was directly applicable to the first disciples, but it is no less true for us today. And then His last words, per Matthew, before He departs the earth are, in effect, "Hey, while you are continuing to carry out my mission - that is, living as I lived - I will be with you."

Let’s tie this back to our focal verse and word of the day - "church." Jesus said that He would build His church. Very shortly after that statement Jesus died. The church had not been built. Jesus rose from the dead. Yet before He left the earth, He had not built His church. So, what instructions does Jesus leave to build it? What does He tell a group of people, none of whom are construction workers, engineers, stone masons, etc? He tells them to make disciples.

So, Jesus has either changed His mind about building "MY" church. Or He is stating that "I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH" = "MAKE DISCIPLES." The latter is obviously the correct answer.

At Church vs Making Disciples

Consider what happens "at" church. People gather together to read Scripture, hear a message, sing, pray, give of their tithes and/or offerings, and talk about missions. Perhaps each team/committee meets periodically to talk about what must be done which leads to some opportunities for people to serve. A few special events are held annually to fellowship together. And servants are asked to serve in areas of need (e.g. children's and youth ministries, etc). Depending on the size of a church, many more details might be added, but these basics are true of most churches regardless of size.

Each of the items in the previous paragraph could be included in "being disciples." But for many these items are a part of simply belonging to a church and, more pointedly, being "at" church. But what about the idea of “making disciples?” When we learn what to do and start to do it, eventually we can help others to do the same. And we do not need to be perfect at what we are doing, we just need to be moving in the right direction. As we invite others to join us, we begin to make disciples. And as it relates to our JOURNEY, we must remember that the destination of a disciple is not the church, it is the Kingdom. Our training as disciples is so that we can be better learn-ers, live-ers, and love-ers of God’s Kingdom, in God’s Kingdom, for God’s Kingdom. And the church - the concept Jesus promised to build - is His tool for building the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God.

Being a disciple and making a disciple is accomplished through the living of lives together. It is a part of being and doing together. While going about the nature of living our lives, when we do so with an intentionality of investing in others for Jesus' sake, disciples are made and God is glorified. (Matthew 5.13-16 says that we are the salt of the earth and the light to the world and when we are living for God, people see our works, and glorify the Father in heaven.)

If what Jesus said is true, than being a disciple means bringing God glory. And shouldn't that be our goal? After all, we can carry out our functions with or without God. We can go forward as individuals or as churches with or without God. And, from the world's perspective, we can be successful with or without God. But we cannot fulfill the mission He has given us without God. If we want to be successful for His sake, we must be faithful to God. Biblically, success can be defined as faithfulness. And living faithfully for God means being a disciple and making other disciples.


Our JOURNEY letter for this week is… N - Nurture.

As we think about the concept of nurture, and our focal verses for this letter of JOURNEY, we must realize that nurture and discipleship are closely related. Nurture is more than just caring and helping someone. It is about preparing them for something greater. For instance, a parent should nurture their child when sick or injured. But if they do not also teach the child how to care for themselves, then the child will still need to have his "boo-boos" fixed when they are 35 years of age.

In Ephesians, 4.11-13, Paul writes that God has given some individuals a special calling to help equip others to do the work of ministry. That is, these leaders help people learn what to do and then how to do it. The phrase "work of ministry" appears only here in the Bible, and says that it is the saints - the people of God - a.k.a., the church, that are to do it. The results of each saint, that is the entire church, being involved is that it builds up the body of Christ. These are God’s words, as recorded by Paul.

So, the idea of being and making disciples not only helps you to grow, but makes the church stronger, which makes the Kingdom stronger. Isn’t that something we, the church, should aspire to do? Don’t you wish to be a part of a church that:
  • stands strong for God?
  • is active for God’s Kingdom?
  • fully reflects the kind of church Jesus wants to build?
If so, then it begins with making disciples.


So, what about our next steps?

Our next steps continue to build on our previous steps in this series. We need to be ready to see what opportunities God brings our way. And we need to be ready to respond. How do we do that?
  • Remove the obstacles. What obstacles in our lives keep us from giving ourselves to God?
  • Create a MAP Team. Develop opportunities and see them through to completion/evaluation!
  • Pray for faithfulness to God’s leadership. We ask Him to lead, and we respond by obeying.
  • Commit to one another. We must be united to truly be all that God intends.
  • Find an on ramp. We must find opportunities to grow by merging in with others who serve.

This step is one must be made with others.
  • Be the church Jesus intended.

For our church, this step has two distinct pieces. One is the formal creation of the MAP Team which will be voted upon this Wednesday evening. Again, this team will charged with developing a Ministry Action Plan (MAP) to guide our church to become what God is calling us to be.

The second piece this week is the intent to better define our church's membership. Unfortunately, over the years many of our records are no longer as accurate as we might hope them to be. So, we are kicking off  Operation: Membership Recovery. This idea is to promote biblical membership, restore members who need restored, apologize where apology is needed, and create an updated list of the membership (along with their current information) for those currently involved in the body of believers at Fairfax Baptist Church.

Ultimately, these two steps, in addition to other initiatives are designed to help make our church stronger. The stronger we are as a community of believers, the stronger we will be as individuals. The updated membership will help us more clearly identify with one another as members, and the MAP Team will help us be, and make, better disciples for Jesus.

That is what Jesus asked of His first followers. That is what He asks of today's followers as well. Let us be a church that lives intentionally to make disciples responding to the hope we have in Christ by sharing that joy with others.