From Darkest Night to Brightest Morn

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22). The greatest problem in all the Bible is how can God be just and righteous and still forgive sin? God cannot simply pardon us and still be righteous. That would make him corrupt. He is holy and cannot allow sin into his presence. Sin demands punishment, for the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Because we all have sinned (Romans 3:23), we all deserve God’s judgment for that sin.

How, then, can God love if all humans must die? There had to be an answer to satisfy God’s love without compromising his holiness and justice. A life was necessary, and the life is in the blood; for “it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11).

Beginning with the first animal sacrifice to make clothing for Adam and Eve, to the ram caught in the thicket that took Isaac’s place on the altar, to the Passover lamb of Exodus, the Old Testament teaches the concept of substitutionary atonement, that an innocent die for the guilty.

When John the baptizer saw Jesus walking near the Jordan, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John knew that one day, Christ would be that Lamb foreshadowed by the sacrificial system. At the first Passover while the Israelites still lived in Egypt, every house slaughtered a year-old lamb without defect, spot, or blemish and placed some of its blood on the sides and tops of the door frame. The when the angel came to slay the first born, he saw the blood and passed over the house leaving the first-born son alive. Again, an innocent lamb died to spare the life of the son.

The Last Supper took place at Passover. After finishing the Passover meal, Jesus took bread and wine and established the Last Supper to be a memorial of the sacrifice he was about to make. Later that night he was taken captive and forced to stand trial. The next morning, He was beaten and whipped. Then the soldiers forced him to carry his cross to the place of the skull. Having forced a crown of thorns upon his head, they drove spikes into his hands and feet. He struggled on the cross for six hours while God turned his back on him. There in utter darkness, Christ bore your sin and mine, and paid the ultimate price for the wages of sin. He became the Passover Lamb.

Two other men were crucified with Christ that day, but another man often forgotten in the Easter story is Barabbas. Mark 17:7 described him as a murderer and a rebel. Surely, he was guilty. Matthew 27:16 called him a notorious criminal. The crowd that day, however, demanded his release and Jesus’ execution. Christ carried Barabbas’ cross to Calvary that day. Again, the Innocent died in the place of the guilty.

That is how God can be holy and just and punish sin, and still be loving and offer forgiveness to all who repent and believe in Jesus. How do we know God accepted that sacrifice? Once Christ was taken down from the cross, his body was placed in a tomb. The Jews demanded that the stone that covered the tomb be sealed so that no one would steal the body of Christ and claim he had risen from the dead. Even they knew that Christ had said he would rise from the dead.

That was the darkest moment in human history. The Son of God who had promised to establish the kingdom of God was now dead and buried. The Sabbath passed and Christ remained in the tomb. The next day as some women went to the tomb, they wondered who would move the stone away. Even they did not believe Jesus when he said he would rise again on the third day (Matthew 16:21 and others).

Matthew 28 gives the account of the women on their way to the tomb as dawn was breaking. They experienced a great earthquake as the angel came down to move the stone away. Verse 3 said the angel’s face was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. That terrible darkness caused by the crucifixion now gave way to the brightest day. God had accepted Christ’s sacrifice and he came out of that tomb alive! The angel told them that Christ they were seeking was alive.

That is the gospel story of Easter. Paul wrote: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time” (1 Cor. 15:3-6). Christ’s death did not take God by surprise. He had foretold it in the scriptures and through the sacrificial system.

The writer of Hebrews states: “There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26). God no longer expects animal sacrifices. They never washed away sin anyway. Only Christ’s death could do that. Paul also preached in Athens, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31). There is no sacrifice you can make except “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17).

When each of us stands before God in judgment, we will not be compared to others. We will be compared to Christ. Compared to others I may think I do fairly well; but compared to Christ, I fall way short. All I can do is repent and call upon him to have mercy on me and save me.

How will you do? Will you measure up compared to Christ? Or will you accept Christ’s substitutionary atonement for your soul?

 

 

 

 

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SORROW WITHOUT REPENTANCE?

Sometimes the world shouts at God, “Leave us alone!” yet down deep they experience a sense of guilt and shame they cannot assuage. Thinking about God may make people feel worse since they already know what they are doing is wrong. They may even feel a kind of sorrow about their behavior, but it does not bring about any lasting changes in behavior.

The apostle Paul called this “the sorrow of the world” (2 Corinthians 7:10). This sorrow may bring a sense of regret. It may make people feel sorrow because they got caught doing something wrong, but rather than bringing about repentance, such sorrow leads only to death. It may even cause them to redouble their efforts not to do it again, but they continue to fall into that action because they are relying on their own strength. “I can be good without God,” they reason.

On the other hand, Paul also spoke about the “godly sorrow” that “worketh repentance to salvation.” So, there are two types of sorrow, but each one brings different results. One person could feel sorrow over an act, and that sorrow causes the person truly to repent. Another person senses sorrow over an act, but for some reason does not repent. The outcome is different in each case. One truly repents and finds salvation. The other feels sorrow, but does not repent.

As we prepare for the Easter season, let’s see how this worked out in the Bible. On the night before Jesus was crucified, Judas led a mob to capture Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. With a kiss, he betrayed Christ to the authorities who ultimately had Christ crucified. That same night when Christ had been taken into custody, Peter followed as far as he could, even into the court area to warm himself near a fire built by the enemies of Christ. Three times people accused him of being a follower of Christ. Three times he denied it. Then the rooster crowed, and he realized that he had done exactly as Christ said he would do.

Now let’s look at the actions of these two men. Both of them sinned against Christ. Both of them sensed regret. Matthew 27:4 records Judas as saying, “I have sinned…for I have betrayed innocent blood.” Notice the guilt he felt. He even confessed his sin and admitted that he betrayed Christ. His reaction was that “he went away and hanged himself” (27:5) instead of seeking Christ’s pardon. Paul calls that “the sorrow of the world” that “worketh death” (2 Cor.7:10). Judas’ sorrow did not lead him to true repentance, salvation, and life, but rather to his end.

On the other hand, when the rooster crowed, Peter remembered Christ’s words regarding his betrayal, and he went out and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75). He realized what he had done. He experienced the godly sorrow that Paul wrote about. That sorrow led Peter to genuine repentance, and he found salvation. That sorrow “work[ed]repentance to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10). We can only speculate what must have gone through Peter’s mind between the time of the crucifixion and the resurrection. In John’s gospel, however, we find Peter being restored to fellowship with Christ. John 21:15-19 shows Christ tenderly bringing Peter back into the fold and commissioning him to tend Christ’s flock.

Several weeks after that restoration, Peter preached the first sermon of the Church at Pentecost, and three thousand came into the church that one day. Christ accomplished a great feat through Peter’s sorrow and repentance, but when people think of Judas, they only feel disgust. No one names their son Judas, but many have named their sons Peter.

When Paul gave his defense before King Agrippa, he told the king how he preached to the Gentiles that they should repent and do works which give evidence of repentance (Acts 26:20). Repentance should bring about change of actions. When you feel sorrow for your sin, which way will you run, to Christ, or away from Him?

 

Leave Us Alone!

One Sabbath day while Christ was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, a man possessed by an unclean spirit began to cry out loudly, “Leave us alone! What do we have to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth?” (Luke 4:34). Although this man found himself among the religious at a synagogue service, he himself was still unclean. He was morally corrupt and ceremonially unclean. The authority of Jesus’ teaching elicited a response from the unclean spirit. The spirit cried out for Jesus to go away. Instead of leaving, Jesus rebuked it and told it to leave the man. It obeyed instantly.

The demon recognized Jesus as “the Holy One of God.” It recognized Jesus’ authority to destroy it. The demon also recognized the authority of Christ to cast it out, and it had to leave on Christ’s command.

“Leave us alone!” is the cry of the world today in response to preaching the gospel. It is the cry of morally corrupt people when they sense presence of Christ and it makes them feel uncomfortable. “Don’t tell me how to live. Don’t tell me whom to love!” Rather than changing their corrupt behavior, they scream for Christ to go away. They do not recognize his authority to demand repentance. They do not recognize his authority to obey him. They simply want Christ to leave them alone.

As Noah was constructing the ark in his day, he preached to the people to repent. That preaching lasted one hundred and twenty years. No one repented, and the flood came and took them away (Matthew 24:38-40). In the end, no one was saved except Noah and his family (2 Peter 2:4-6). In the end times, great disasters will come upon the earth, but people will not repent (Revelation 16:9, 11). They will curse God instead. They will say, “Leave us alone!”

In John 3:19-20, Jesus said, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” People react to Christ in one of two ways. Sensing his presence may bring a sense of conviction that causes them to repent and turn to Christ in faith. Others feel conviction, but rather than repenting, they scream out for Christ to go away. They hate his light because they love their own darkness.

They may not be literally shouting at Christ, but they often shout at his followers. They want nothing to do with Christ. They would prefer to wallow in sin rather than repent. So, they want the church to go away. They want Christians to stop preaching the gospel because it induces guilt. They want to silence the church. In effect, they are saying, “Leave us alone!”

They want the church to remain silent, not to speak on political or moral issues. They like the church as long as it feeds the poor, shelters the homeless, or cares for children. They believe in Christ as long as he promises to give them health or wealth, but they want to be left alone when it comes to moral and ethical demands on personal behavior.

The time will come when they will get their way. People who cry out, “Leave us alone” will one day be left alone. Hebrews 9:27 states, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” All those people who wanted God to leave them alone will find themselves left alone for eternity. Rather than being in God’s presence with their loved ones, they will find themselves separated from God, friends and family for eternity. They will be utterly alone.

How will you respond to Christ? Will you say, “Leave me alone!” or “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”? Will you come into the light? The choice is up to you.

 

Brave New Worlds?

 

Driving to work early one morning, I approached an intersection. The vehicle facing me in the other lane had stopped at the red light, and its lights were shining in my direction. As I moved toward it, I noticed someone walking in front of the headlights.

Judging by what I saw, it could have been a Hispanic man. He might have weighed between 200 and 225 pounds. He was probably five feet away from the bumper of the car and moving in a westward to eastwardly direction at approximately three miles per hour. His hair may have been black and it could have been parted on the left side. He may have been going to work that morning, and maybe he worked for some oilfield service company.

He could have been wearing a maroon shirt that may have been recently washed with an aromatic detergent. He could have had a pocket knife in his right-hand pocket. He might have spoken English, and might have had a Spanish accent, and he might have been from Mexico. He could have had a tattoo between his shoulder blades which might have been in the shape of an eagle. He also could have had a pierced ear.

You may be asking yourself, “How can you tell all that from a person walking in front of the headlights of a car?” You know there is not enough information to make such determinations simply by passing in front of a light. Did you notice how many times I used the terms could have, might have, and may have? Did you notice that I left a way out each time? I didn’t say that he was Hispanic; I said he could been a Hispanic man. I didn’t say he had black hair parted on the left side. I said he may have had black hair parted on the left side.

Again this week NASA has announced the discovery of seven new exoplanets (http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/science/astronomers-find-7-earth-size-planets-where-life-may-be-possible/ar-AAne8q7), that is, supposedly earthlike planets outside our own solar system. The title of the article states that astronomers have found seven earthlike planets where “life is possible.” How do they know if life is possible? How did they determine that? As you read through the article, and listen to the video narration, you will notice how many times they use the words could, might, and may.

Three of the planets, they say, are within the life zone that may support life. They say that one may have an atmosphere that could contain water vapor that might mean there is water on the surface of the planet. And how did they determine all this? They looked at a star forty light years away and noticed a diminished amount of light coming from the star. That can only mean one thing, a planet passing in front of it. All the rest is speculation, just like my story about the person I saw passing in front of the headlights of a car.

If it is all such speculation, why are scientists so determined to find life on other planets? It is not a scientific question, but a philosophical question. They are so convinced that evolution is true, and therefore, life must have evolved on one of the many “earth-like” planets out there. They believe that finding life on other planets would justify their belief in evolution. However, even finding life on another planet would not prove that evolution is true. Evolution has too many scientific problems to be true, and it is not supported by observable, empirical science. It just “has to be” because the alternative is untenable. They will never be dissuaded despite the lack of evidence to support evolution.

If the planets are forty light years away, it would take that long just to send a signal and another 40 years to receive a response. Traveling at the speed of light, it would take forty years to get there. Even travelling at ten times the speed of light would require four years to travel even if a ship could travel that fast. Stars would never go zipping by in the background as they do in science fiction movies such as Star Wars. All this is designed to tell us that we got here merely by processes that can be explained naturally. Again, these are not scientific issues, but philosophical. It is a reason to explain the existence of everything without believing in a Creator God.

What would scientists expect to find in space? Paul wrote, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Finding life on another planet is an excuse to accept evolution and disbelieve God’s Word.

What should we find in the heavens? “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4). Rather than trying to find alien life in the heavens to disprove God, we should look to the heavens and see His glory. There is no excuse not to believe in God. Through Christ, you can have a relationship with the Creator God of this universe. Apart from him, you will only be searching through the darkness.

 

A Different Gospel

 

Jesus warned us that in the last days false christs and prophets would come and deceive many, even the elect, if possible (Matthew 24:24). Deception has always been Satan’s ruse. Sin entered the world because Satan deceived Eve, and he has never stopped using the same tactic. He still deceives today.

Since Christ said that false Christs and false prophets would arise, it was inevitable that false gospels would arise, too. Satan never creates; he only counterfeits. Counterfeits look like the genuine object or they would never deceive. That is why they are so dangerous.

Paul warned the Corinthians about receiving a different Christ and a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). Someone may say that anyone who loves and follows Christ is a Christian. Well, which Christ? Not all are the same. To some he is just a man. To others he is one of many great prophets. To still others, he is one of many of God’s sons and the brother of Satan. How would you recognize the true Christ?

Then there are the false gospels. Some gospels say that salvation is by your works. Your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds so you go to heaven. There is the gospel that says that you have to add to Christ’s work on the cross by adding ceremonies, rituals and sacraments. Finally, there is the watered-down gospel that says all you have to do is pray a simple prayer like, “God I believe that you love me and want to save me. I ask you to forgive me and come into my heart.” Then you will receive God’s favor and blessing that will lead to health and material prosperity.

But Christ’s true gospel demands more. Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily  and follow Me” (9:23). He also said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). That gospel is tough to swallow. Many people are not willing to take up their cross because that means they may have to suffer for the cause of Christ. That gospel does not attract large crowds. Jesus even said that few would enter the narrow way that leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:14).

People will put up with a gospel that promises wealth and ease, but balk at the gospel that demands death to self and service to others. It is not popular, and it does not fill pews and offering plates.

The oft – quoted “sinner’s prayer” found in the back of many gospel tracts and booklets does not exist. The sinner’s prayer in the Bible is found in Luke 18:13. A poor tax collector could not even look up to heaven, but he cried out, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” He did not try to justify or excuse his sin. He did not try to compare himself to others as the Pharisee in the story did. He simply admitted his need by crying out to God. Jesus said that man went home justified, not the other, the religious man.

Sit down and count the cost of believing the true gospel (Luke 14:28). In the same way counterfeit money will be of no service at a bank, a counterfeit gospel will not get you into heaven. Have you accepted another gospel? The true gospel is simple, but it is not easy. It is not popular. It is not politically correct. It is not all-inclusive. It is not tolerant of sin, but it is the only gospel that leads to salvation. What will it cost you to follow Christ?

 

Years in the Making

 

Bad habits can develop slowly over long periods of time. Small effects accumulate, and a picture that we do not like begins to develop. Suddenly we decide we need to do something about it, and we want immediate results.

One example is weight gain. Here we are one month into the new year and some people have already given up on their resolution to lose weight and get in shape. Perhaps years of bad eating habits, eating junk food, or simply overeating even good food, has led to being overweight. After several years in the making, suddenly we want an instant fix. We go on starvation diets trying to lose weight quickly.

While success may come quickly, it seldom lasts. After a period of strict dieting, we often bounce back into the old habits that led to the weight gain in the first place. A permanent habit change must take place if we are to lose the weight and keep it off. Being overweight is a health issue we need to deal with realistically.

Smoking is another health issue. Whatever reason a person gives for smoking is not valid. There is simply no good, logical reason to smoke cigars, pipes or cigarettes. Now before you come down harshly on me and say that I should be more empathetic because I do not know what smoking is like, I must confess that I did try smoking for a while in the summer of 1972 right before I began high school. I wanted to be cool and accepted, so I listened to my friends’ advice. I tried cigarettes and even those little cigars, but all I got out of it was sick. I could not breathe well, and it affected my ability to swim (I wanted to be like Mark Spitz). So, I quit. I did not care what my friends thought of me. I thought they were foolish for smoking.

After years of smoking, people develop various forms of breathing ailments or even cancer. Suddenly they want prayer for a miracle to overcome lung cancer. They want an instant solution to their problem that has been years in the making. It is not that easy.

As a pastor, I have often dealt with people who bring personal problems to me to solve for them. About twenty years ago, I spent several hours talking to a man who came to me with a marital problem. If I remember correctly, they were not actually married. The main issue was that he had been living with a woman without the formality of marriage. They had a child together out of wedlock. At the time he was talking to me, the girl was about twelve years old. His common-law wife had left him to move in with a deputy sheriff and took the little girl with her. This man came to me wanting me to tell him how to solve his problem so he could get his daughter back.

I asked him if he was a Christian. He said yes. “So, you realize,” I asked him, “that your actions were sinful?” “Yes,” he replied, “But…” He continued to explain to me how the situation had developed, how his wife had left him for another man, and he wanted me to help him find the daughter and get her back.

“You have spent at least thirteen years creating this mess,” I said, “and now after one meeting with me, you want me to tell you how to solve it?” Problems that are years in the making often cannot be solved overnight. The way to solve these problems is to prevent them in the first place. Had this person followed biblical principles, those problems would not have arisen. He would not have been sitting there with me, his life in a shambles, seeking answers as to how to fix it.

Sadly, I never saw that man again. I never did find out how the issue was resolved, if ever. Life holds enough heartache for us even when we live by God’s principles. How much worse things go when we deliberately forsake God’s ways, develop problems, then go seek a pastor or a counselor to tell us how to get a quick fix.

In the devotional magazine, Open Windows, Tan Flippin wrote, “When you choose to travel down the pathway of wisdom instead of taking other routes, life just seems to go more smoothly and you save yourself a lot of headaches and heartaches…we can base our decisions on greed, selfishness, and without forethought and prayer” (LifeWay, 01/20/17). Choose wisely the way in which you will walk, because small decisions made today can affect the very outcome of your life tomorrow. Those problems may be years in the making.

 

Living the Christian Life

 

One of the misconceptions about eternal life and going to heaven is the belief that somehow, when a person is judged, their good deeds will outweigh their bad deeds. Many believe that one day God will open the books and look at all the things we have done. He will place all the bad deeds on one side of a balance and all our good deeds on the other side. If the good outweighs the bad, we feel as though we deserve to go to heaven.

When I have talked to people about their need to repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ, I often get the response, “I will just try to live the Christian life to make up for it.”

Dennis Rader was an active member and the president of the church council in a local church of his city, and was a Boy Scout Troop leader upon his arrest in February, 2005. Church members were shocked to discover that this man they had known for years was also known as the BTK killer. Between 1974 and 1991, Rader bound, tortured, and killed ten victims, some multiple members of a family. No one knows why he ended his murderous spree in 1991.

In the years following his crimes, he became an active church member and leader. He began to live the Christian life. For fourteen years, he became a Christian example. Surely during those fourteen years after the murders, he did many good deeds.

On June 27, 2005, he pled guilty to all the charges. During the trial he gave many horrifying details about the crimes he had committed. Today he is serving 10 life sentences in a Kansas prison. What if the judge treated his case the way many people feel that God, the most Righteous Judge, will treat their cases? What if Rader had told the judge, “Your Honor, I know that the jury has found me guilty of torturing and killing all those innocent people, but look at all the years I didn’t kill. Look at all the good work I did as a Scout leader. Look at the way I have lived a committed Christian life and served at church”? Then, what if the judge said, “You’re right. I can see how you performed more good deeds than the ten murders you committed, so I am going to pardon you”? We would think that is a miscarriage of justice. We would be outraged.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I am not that bad. I have never murdered anyone.” Haven’t you? First John 3:15 says, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” Have you ever hated a brother or a sister? Then you have committed murder. What about adultery? Have you ever lusted for someone? Then you have committed adultery. The truth is that we have committed more sins than we probably even realize.

So why didn’t the judge let the BTK killer go after living the Christian life for fourteen years after the murders? Think of all the boys’ lives he had affected as a Scout leader. Think of all the people whom he didn’t murder by serving as president of the church council. Living the Christian life does not atone for the sins already committed. No matter how you live after sin, it does not make up for the sin you committed.

If a police officer catches you running a stop sign and you ask, “What if I promise never to do it again? What if I stop ten more times to make up for the time I didn’t stop?” Will that get you out of the ticket? No, you have broken the law and you must pay the penalty. When it comes to sin, we have all broken the law, and not just one or two of them. James 2:10 says, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” We are guilty of breaking all of God’s laws, even murder. God is just and must punish sin. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. God doesn’t simply forgive our sins because he loves us. That would be unjust. Someone has to pay for our sin. Either we pay the penalty ourselves, for the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), or we accept Christ’s atoning death in our place. There is no other way to satisfy both the love and righteousness of God. Your living the Christian life won’t do it.

First, repent of your sin. The only hope is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:14). After you have done that, you begin to live the Christian life because you are Christian. Living the Christian life will never save you. You can only live the Christian life once you are saved.