Tuesday, March 25, 2014

“It is Finished” – What Exactly did Jesus Finish on the Cross?

By: Charlie Kelly
Charlie is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Life Connection Group Teacher at Graceland Baptist Church.

The last words uttered by Jesus before his death were, “It is finished.”  What ending was it that he was announcing?  The great British theologian Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714) points us to several things that Jesus had then finished:

1)      The torment of his persecutors was finished.

Much pain was inflicted on Jesus at the hands of the Jews and Romans.  His scourging and nailing to the tree was ordained before the beginning of time.  Jesus finished his necessary endurance of all the pain.

This makes us ask, to what extent can we expect God to deliver us from the torments of this world?  King David often asked to be delivered, and saw deliverance time and time again.  The Psalms are full of his thanksgiving to the Lord.  On the other hand, the apostle Paul asked to be delivered from the thorn in his flesh, but was not.  In both instances, God was glorified.  When he delivers, he is to receive thanksgiving and praise for his merciful deliverance.  When he doesn’t deliver the way we would like, he can receive glory in demonstrating that his power is made perfect in our weakness. 

It is biblical for us to ask for deliverance from our troubles.  However, we must be willing to trust the wisdom of the Lord, knowing that while he always has the power to deliver us physically, the path to his greater glory is his goal and plan.  In every case, let us say with Job, “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).  May our joy in seeing God glorified ultimately surpass our desire for temporal relief.

2)      The eternal plan of God to redeem a people through the Son’s sacrifice was finished.

The sending of the Son by the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit was not God’s plan B.  Before the foundation of the world, this plan of redemption had been set.  God prophesied and then meticulously fulfilled every single aspect of the birth, life, death and resurrection of the Messiah.

What about our life?  Is God back-peddling, making the best of the mess we tend to make of our lives?  We see through the life of Jesus that God is not making up history as he goes.  Even the deeds of good and wicked men in the life of Jesus fell perfectly into place.  Know that God is sovereign and nothing catches him by surprise.  There is a reason why “all things work out for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  That reason is the sovereign plan of God who “declares the end from the beginning” (Is. 46:10).

3)      The ceremonial law was finished.

Jesus didn’t just die for us.  He lived and died for us.  That living part was important.  He kept every law perfectly.  He did this so that it could be said of him that he, “fulfilled all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15).
So how many of God’s laws do we not have to keep in order to go Heaven?  All of them?  Any of them?  The answer may surprise you.  In a sense, we have to keep them all.  It is not enough to be sinless, we must also be righteous.  This is obviously a problem for all of us!
The good news is that Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf (Matt. 5:17).  Jesus lived and died for us, so that “in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  This doesn’t mean that we can live according to our sinful desires, because loving God and his law is an evidence of our salvation (1 Jn. 1:7).  But it does mean that the perfect holiness of God which commands perfect obedience, has been met on our behalf by our perfect Savior.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Signs, Signs, Everywhere are Signs

By: Adam McClendon

John 6:28b-30, “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ So they asked him, ‘What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?’”

John’s Gospel is known as the book of signs, because of the variety of unique signs presented so that people might believe that Jesus is the Son of God and place their faith in him (John 2:11; 3:2; 4:48; 7:31; 20:31).

What’s interesting in this passage is that Jesus had just given two pretty amazing signs.  He just fed the crowd of over 5,000 people with a young boy’s meager 5-loaf-and-2-fish offering.  Then, right after that, he walked on water.  That’s pretty amazing.  And, yet, what do the people ask for?  They ask for another sign refusing to believe, to trust, to follow.

The Christian faith is not a blind faith.  Jesus has provided many signs during his time on earth, signs that are historically, and I believe accurately, captured in the Gospels as well as in other writings.  The greatest sign Jesus provided was his resurrection from death, which Jesus called the sign of the prophet Jonah (Matt 12:38-40). 

So, what is the point for us today?  Jesus has proven himself to us time and time again.  Jesus has demonstrated his love for us.  We can look back on our lives and see times when Jesus was present and real and his love was evident and yet, we still seek more signs.  Even when looking back, when our memories fail us, we have the ultimate sign of his love and forgiveness, which authenticate all that he did and said, in his resurrection.  But still, we ask for more.

Oh, how weak our faith often is in the middle of the swelling wave of circumstances.  We seek signs and ask questions that have long since been answered instead of charging ahead with confidence in the one who conquered death.

So, will we be like those who “even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37)?  Or, will we surrender our hearts, our doubts, our fears to him and walk in faithful obedience in light of his love.

Jesus is calling us to action.  Will we act in faith or will we question and search for signs, signs that pale in comparison to that which he has already provided in the cross and the empty tomb?

God of all wonder, forgive me for the times in my life when I have doubted your love, questioned your commands, and sought confirmation before responding in obedience to that which I knew you were calling.  Please, strengthen my faith, forgive my unbelief, and use me for your glory.  Help the course of my life to be a beacon others can follow through the storm to lead them to greater faith in you!


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Rocks of Remembrance

By: Adam McClendon

We forget things all the time, such as anniversaries, birthdays, when we signed up to receive emails of this blog, etc.  Our memory is all too often selective and short.  Over time, memories fade, become distorted, distant, and disappear.

That is why memorials are helpful.  We are constantly building memorials to help us remember significant events and people such as World Wars, Vietnam, 9/11, Martin Luther King Jr., and George Washington.

In Joshua 3-4, God commanded that a memorial of twelve stones be made to mark the significant event of entering the Promised Land: an event that has many correlations for believers today.

The text (and the memorial) reveals three truths about entering the Promised Land that point us to marvel in the majesty of God.

1.   God Provides (3:15-17)
God provided in the midst of an insurmountable obstacle.  The Jordan River was at flood stage and God dried up the river all the way to the city Adam so that the people of God crossed on dry ground.

2.    God Preserves (4:1-3)
God preserved all of his people.  The whole nation crossed and no one belonging to God was left.

3.   God Proves (4:4-7; 20-24)
In this miracle, God proved that he alone is God.  He is the God who delivers and the God to be reverentially worshipped. 

So, he tells them to build a memorial that would remind them of what he had done.  The memorial would also serve as a means of teaching their children, so that when their children asked, they could explain the mighty work God had done to bring his people into the land.  Finally, the purpose of the memorial is expanded in verse 24 to show that, ultimately, God desires the entire world to know his power, and his people to walk in reverence before him.

As we look at what God did at the Jordan in bringing his people into the Promised Land, we should be reminded of a New Testament Kingdom into which God is bringing his people.

1.   Through Jesus, God provides for our insurmountable sin problem (Rom 5:17).

2.   Through Jesus, God preserves all his people.  He loses no one (John 6:39-40).

3.   Through Jesus, God proves his loving power by bringing all who trust in him into a new kingdom (Col 1:13-14).

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a memorial like that of Joshua and those who crossed over the Jordan?  Wouldn’t it be great if we had something to continually remind us of the great things God has done, to prompt questions from our children so that we could teach them, and questions from the nations so that they could have record of his awesome power?

But, then again, don’t we in the Bible?  Isn’t the Bible a grand memorial to the amazing work of God in Christ throughout history so that man can be placed in right relationship with God through the blood of Christ?

The Bible is a wonderful trophy we have that reminds us of his work.  Sure, we can build other memorials to help such as a Ten Commandments monument, shadow boxes on our walls, or baptism certificates, but let us not forget that we have the ultimate memorial of the great work God has done in the Bible.

Remember, our memories are frail and often fail us.  So, let us spend time in the Word of God: studying it, memorizing it, and cherishing it.  Let his Word remind us of the power of redemption and motivate us to reverential worship in all that we do.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Take Care How You Listen

By Joanna K. Harris
Joanna Harris is an author and blogger with a tremendous passion for God.  You can contact Joanna here.  For more on Joanna and her ministry, check out her website here.  There you can also find links to her other blogs.

Will you try something with me? For the next five seconds, close your eyes and just listen.

Ok, what did you hear? Did you last for 5 whole seconds?

I heard the music on the radio, the fridge humming, and a chorus of noisy birds outside. I also found it hard to sit still and listen for 5 seconds. It’s sad, really.

Today we have more information available than ever before, yet somehow listening seems to be harder than ever before. I find myself too often trying to multi-task when listening to a sermon online or even while talking with friends. Instead of focusing on listening, I get distracted by other tasks or thoughts.

And yet, one of the things I value most highly in my relationships is when the other person truly listens to me. When they not only hear my words, but also hear my heart. That requires skill. It requires intentionality. It requires discipline.

God has been showing me that listening is a vital spiritual discipline.

We know there is no intimacy in relationships without listening. Both parties must talk and must truly listen in order to communicate effectively. This is true in our relationships with people and in our relationship with God.

Jesus said,
Consider carefully what you hear…. –Mark 4:24

Therefore consider carefully how you listen. –Luke 8:18a

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. –Revelation 3:6

God values listening.

Listening is a skill that takes resolve and practice. No one becomes a good listener by accident.

If you’re like me, you probably find it easier to listen to other people than to listen to God. How can we listen to someone who doesn’t (usually) speak with an audible voice?

Thankfully we have God’s Word, His written messages to us. When reading God’s Word, we can “hear” Him speak to us. We also have the Holy Spirit living in us. He often “speaks” to us in intangible ways that we can’t explain.

The more familiar we are with God’s Word, the easier it will be for us to know when God is speaking to our hearts. But I think being a good listener also requires stillness and surrender. Even if we know God’s Word well, if we never stop to be quiet, we may miss what He’s trying to say to us. And if our hearts aren’t surrendered to God’s will, we may not hear because we don’t want to hear certain things.

So let’s take an inventory –

When was the last time you honestly evaluated your listening skills?

When you ask God for wisdom or direction, do you take time to be still and listen for the answer?

How often do you simply sit quietly and say “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:9-10)?

I know my listening skills need improvement. And I’ve learned that I have to be intentional about listening to God. I have to schedule time to sit quietly, to surrender my will to God’s, and then to be still and wait and see what He will say to me. I can tell you that the times when I practice this, I’m amazed at what God speaks to me! It’s usually nothing like I expected to hear, but always so very precious.

I truly desire deeper intimacy in my friendships and in my relationship with God. I want to work at listening well, and I pray God will make me a better listener. When I’m listening to a sermon, I often pray He’ll anoint my ears to hear what I need to hear. When conversing with a friend, I ask the Holy Spirit to help me focus and truly hear them. When I need counsel, I pray God will help me humbly listen to wise people.

I believe that the discipline of listening can impact every area of our lives.

It astounds me that the Creator God of the universe actually listens to me! I know it’s not because of who I am but who He is. Listening is a natural quality of His divine character. Since listening does not come naturally for me, I look to God and pray He will keep working in me, empowering me to take care how I listen.

Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path. –Proverbs 23:19