I forgive him….but

Originally posted on WisdomForLife:

“I forgive him, I just don’t want anything to do with him any more!” People who say things like this feel obligated to forgive but too deeply hurt to allow a relationship to be restored. In most cases, this statement reveals unresolved resentment. But sometimes people feel this way because they don’t understand the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. This leads them to embrace a cheap version of forgiveness and to vacillate between anger and guilt.

When serious offenses drive people apart, the offended party must first forgive her offender based on God’s forgiveness of her own sins (see: Ephesians 4:32). According to Jesus, this type of forgiveness is notoptional (see: Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25) and does not depend on a request to be forgiven by the offender. This forgiveness occurs in the context of one’s relationship with God. When forgiveness is settled before God, vengeful attitudes are surrendered and the door opens…

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Dancing lightly on the surface of the earth

Originally posted on WisdomForLife:

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither”  (C. S. Lewis).

“Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story… The few years that we live in this body… are a kind of pilgrimage, a sojourn, a preparatory trip on the way to something much greater. For the Christian, this present existence is provisional. He is aware that every activity he undertakes is schooling for something else—that it is all directed toward a higher end.”

“For a person whose roots have been thoroughly transplanted from the present soil into that of eternity, who dances lightly on the surface of the earth and so is ready to leave at a moment’s notice, there would be little point in dwelling on the thought of death. Sad to say, however, this mind-set is rarely to be found among those who…

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Focused on three callings

Originally posted on WisdomForLife:

By staying focused on three main callings, we’ll experience much stronger unity as followers of Christ. Focus on….

1. Your Moment (past salvation)
  • John 1:12-13; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:1-7
  • II Corinthians 5:17-21
2. Your Mission (present calling)
  • Matthew 5:13-16
  • Matthew 28:18-20
3. Your Master (future meeting)
  • II Corinthians 5:9-10
  • I Corinthians 3:11-15; 4:5; Matthew 6:1

Your moment

This is the “I get it” moment when I realized my sin required the sacrifice of the life of the Son of God for me to be forgiven and reconciled to God. This includes is the sobering fact that nothing I do can change my standing with God. 

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3;4-5). 

When I think about this, my heart attaches more deeply to my Advocate with the Father, “Jesus Christ the righteous one” (I…

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What kind of Savior do you want?

83327-truth_in_loveOur songs of praise and worship often focus on God’s power to help us and the fact that there is nothing that He cannot do.

A possible danger in this emphasis is that (like the Palm Sunday crowd) we will connect these songs to a God who is primarily interested in delivering us from difficult circumstances rather than from the power of sin and death. 

This is the emphasis found in a therapeutic gospel promising that God will heal your damaged emotions and broken relationships. Certainly God is gracious to work in every area of our lives but the greatest display of His love and deliverance is what Christ did to free us from the curse of the Law and the power of death (Galatians 3:13; Romans 3:19-25; II Corinthians 5:17-21). 

Let’s not set people up with false expectations about the Christian life being one of boundless triumph over all obstacles. While it’s true that there’s nothing that God cannot do, we must honor His timing.

One day God will restore us to a place where there is “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” but this will not happen until “the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). And the possibility of such restoration is solely based on what God has done for us “when the set time had fully come,” and “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4-5).

We live in the time of history when Jesus calls his followers to take up the cross and follow him. We are not called (at this time of history) to take up our scepter and rule with him. It’s so easy in a fallen world to want a Savior who offers temporal deliverance from difficult circumstances more than one who offers eternal deliverance from sin and death.

Loss of focus

Is it possible to become so consumed with wanting God to solve our temporal problems (a broken relationship or a physical limitation) that we no longer joyfully celebrate what God has done to remove our greatest enemy, sin and death? Don’t allow the temporary things of this life to diminish your grateful worship of the God who, “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).  

Steve Cornell

Triumphal Entry of Jesus

Palm-Sunday-650x487Today is Palm Sunday, a time when churches throughout the world pause to remember a special event that occurred on the Sunday before the crucifixion. The event is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

Many will leave their places of worship today with palm branches as a symbolic identification with the original crowd who cried out,

“Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!”

In reconstructing the scene, all four gospel accounts are necessary for a complete picture. This triumphal entry is recorded in each gospel (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12).

The Triumphal entry took place during the time of Passover when hundreds of thousands of Jews made their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. 

One historian noted that during this time:    

“All the open ground near the city and perhaps the sides of the very hill down which our Lord had recently passed were now being covered with the tents and temporarily structures of the gathering multitudes …” (Ellicott, quoted in Pentecost, pp.372-373)

Matthew 21:1 – offers a geographic point of reference: “When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives…” 

Concerning this path, D. A. Carson wrote:

“The Roman military road from Jericho to Jerusalem passed near the village of Bethphage (a name which means “house of figs,” reminding the reader of the many fig trees in the area). The village stood on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives so Jesus’ route would … afford Him a spectacular view of the city, rising to the heights of the next, slightly lower hill, the hill of Zion; but equally it would enable watchers in the city to detect His approach” (p. 128, Themes From Matthew).

“The Mount (of Olives) stands about three-hundred feet higher than the temple hill and about one-hundred feet higher than the hill of Zion, affording a panoramic view of the city.” (p. 437, E. B. C., v. 8)

John 12:9-19 offers a detail that intensifies the excitement and expectation,

“Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”

“Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.” At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him. Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” 

The raising of Lazarus from the dead made a big impact on the expectation of the crowd and on the hostility of the Jewish leadership.

Jerusalem: the destiny to which Jesus has been moving in submission to the divine plan

  • Luke 9:31 – And they (Moses and Elijah) were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.
  • Luke 9:51 – “As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
  • Luke 13:31-35 – “I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.’”
  • Luke 18:31-33 – “Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

Jesus will only be in Jerusalem for one week but it will be a week that changes the world.

As the scene progressed, Jesus prepared for His entry in a very notable way:

“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away” (Matthew 21:1-3)

What is the significance of this preparation?

Matthew 21:4-5 reveals that it was prophetic, quoting portions of Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9.

“This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (Matthew 21:4-5).

This was a purposeful act of self-disclosure on the part of Jesus sending a clear signal to the Jews of His day that he was presenting himself as their King. The words “King” and “Kingdom” were consistently associated with Jesus from his birth to his death (see: Matthew 2:1-2; Mark 1:14-15; John 18:33-37).

In considering what Jesus did,

Unlike so many other times in Jesus’ ministry, at this point, He does something to purposefully draw the crowd’s attention. 

Alexander Maclaren wrote: “If He had planned to create a popular rising, He could not have done anything more certain to bring it about than what He did that morning when He made arrangements for a triumphal procession into the city, amidst the excited crowds gathered from every quarter of the land (p. 291, Mark)

  • Although horses and chariots were often associated with the procession of kings, it was not out of the ordinary for kings and rulers to use the donkey in times of peace (Judges 5:10; 1 Kings 1:33—horses w/ war times; donkeys w/ peace times)

At the triumphant re-entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (recorded in Revelation 19), the scene will change.

In Revelation 19:11, John observed “heaven open; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war.”

But, in this triumphal entry, Jesus clearly presented Himself to the nation as the Messiah/King in keeping with the prophecy of Zechariah given 500 years earlier. 

Yet He presents Himself in humility and meekness, riding the lowly beast of burden, preparing to bring a very different peace than the crowd wanted — peace with God—and preparing to bear the burden of their sin — as the Passover lamb of God — not the burden of their temporal circumstances, their yoke under Rome .

Alexander Mclaren wrote:

“For so we see blended two things, … absolute authority, and meekness of poverty and lowliness. A King, and yet a lowly-King! A King claiming His dominion, and yet obliged to borrow another man’s colt in order that he might do it! A strange kind of monarch! — and yet that remarkable combination runs through all of His life. He was obliged to a couple of fishermen for a boat, but He sat in it, to speak words of divine wisdom. He was obliged to a lad in the crowd for barley loaves and fishes, but when He took them into His hands they were multiplied. He was obliged for a grave, and yet He rose from the borrowed grave the Lord of life and death. And so when He would presents himself as a King, He has to borrow the regalia, and to be obliged to this anonymous friend for the colt which made the emphasis of His claim. ”Who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich.” (292, Mark)

Before moving forward in the account, it’s important to understand an historical reality of the time.

  • The Jewish people had lived for many years under the domination of heathen nations. Presently they were under the yoke of Rome, and the desire for a Messiah as a deliverer from heathen power ran deep in their hearts and minds.
  • When you combine this strong desire with the speculation that surrounded Jesus, you can see why the crowds erupted in praise.
  • Since Jesus had demonstrated miraculous powers, maybe He would use those powers against Rome and deliver the Jewish people and establish His kingdom.
  • The time seemed right. After all, it was Passover — that feast commemorating the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage.
  • And the means of Jesus’ entrance — was full of prophetic significance— which no doubt stirred the crowd with even greater expectation.
  • And they showed it in their words and deeds. They spread their garments in the road; they spread palm branches down before Him. And putting the accounts together, they cried out, “Hosanna!” – an exclamatory plea meaning “Save now!”

The crowd was filled with excitement and expectation regarding Jesus! And even when some of the Pharisees objected, telling Jesus to rebuke them, so significant was this occasion that Jesus said, “I tell you that if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.’”

Their words of honor and praise were appropriate but they were also tragically short-lived.

How little this crowd understood.

  • They rightly proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah — the son of David, but they misunderstood His purpose at this moment of history.
  • They were right in recognizing His kingship, but they had little perception of His kingdom on spiritual terms.
  • Jesus did not come to conquer Rome. He came to conquer a greater enemy — sin and death.
  • He did not come at this time to make war; he came to make peace with God. 
  • In fact, Jesus would soon predict the very destruction of Jerusalem!

So, in just a few days, when they realized that He would not deliver them on their terms, they turned on Jesus and unanimously demanded the release of Barabbas (John 18:40) after which, they began an ominous chant concerning Jesus: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

As a nation, they united in official rejection of their Messiah, saying, “We will not have this man to reign over us!” And then, the physical sons of Abraham made a chilling request, “His blood be on us and on our children.”

From “Hosanna!” to “Crucify Him!” in just a few days.

Their misguided expectation — broke out into superficial praise — but quickly gave way to a bitter and costly rejection when Jesus didn’t meet their expectations. Isaiah spoke accurately of them saying, “This people draws near to Me with their lips but their heart is far from Me. 

One commentator noted that:        

“The people wanted Jesus on their own terms, and they would not bow to a King who was not of their liking, even though He were the Son of God. They wanted Jesus to destroy Rome but not their cherished sins or their hypocritical, superficial religion. But He would not deliver them on their terms, and they would not be delivered on His. He was not a Messiah who came to offer external peace in the world but to offer the infinitely greater blessing of internal peace with God.”

“Many people today are open to a Jesus who they think will give them wealth, health, success, happiness, and the other things they want. Like the multitude at the triumphal entry, they will loudly acclaim Jesus as long as they believe He will satisfy their desires on their terms. But like the same multitude, a few days later, they will reject Him when He does not deliver as they expect” (Matthew 16-23, p. 262, John MacArthur).

Please understand that no deliverance can compare to the deliverance Jesus provided at the cross. He gives deliverance from the power of sin and the curse of the law.

On a more positive note, we might safely assume that some from among this group were true believers. There were the 120 and the 500 brethren whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection.

We can also assume that some of them were among those who heard the apostle Peter’s convicting message —in Acts 2 — on the day of Pentecost when about 3,000 souls were saved.

And, not long after these events, in Acts 3, at the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful gate of the temple, all the people were full of amazement rushing toward Peter and John. And Peter delivered another powerful message to which thousands responded.  

Finally, consider another large group who hold palm branches and give praise to God. 

 In Revelation 7:9, John wrote,                

“After these things, I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

And verses 14-17 identified this group:                

“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes.” 

What about you? 

  • Like the crowd on Palm Sunday, do you draw near to God with your mouth and yet have a heart that is far from Him?
  • Have you elevated temporal deliverance from difficult circumstances over eternal deliverance from sin and death?
  • Many of our songs of praise and worship focus on God’s power to help us and the fact that there is nothing that he cannot do. The danger is that we (like the Palm Sunday crowd) interpret the songs as God’s deliverance from troubling temporal circumstances rather than from sin and death.
  • We live in the era of history when Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. We are not called (at this time of history) to to take up our scepter and rule with him. It’s altogether too easy for us to want a Savior who offers temporal deliverance from difficult circumstances over eternal deliverance from sin and death.

For reflection:

  • Romans 5:8- “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
  • Romans 8:32 – God “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.”
  • John 10:18 – “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily.”

Steve Cornell

The danger of hot tub religion

Originally posted on WisdomForLife:

In the summer of 1990, my wife and I had the privilege of attending a conference in southern California at the church led by John MacArthur.

One afternoon, on that memorable occasion, we were invited to the home of the Academic Dean of the Master’s Seminary (his brother, Jerry Smith, was my one of my first professors). The dean (the late Dr. Charles Smith) lived in a private neighborhood that shared a common pool and hot tub.

We (men) wasted no time making our way to the hot tub where we enjoyed some deep theological discussions amidst the bubbling waters.

Not long after that enjoyable visit, I purchased a book that intrigued me with its title, “Hot Tub Religion.” The author (J. I. Packer) was no stranger to me. His writings had deeply enriched my life many times. Dr. Packer also shared a hot tub experience that led…

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Should we always use the Bible in witnessing for Christ?

Paul’s approach to outreach and ministry is a great model for followers of Christ. His normal pattern was to bring the gospel message first to the Jews using synagogues as his base.

“As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, “This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah” (Acts 17:2-3, NLT).

But the apostle also expanded his outreach to the market place or the public square.

“While Paul was waiting … in Athens, he … went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there” (Acts 17:16-17).

Consider Paul’s method of communication revealed through the terms used to describe it. He “reasoned with them .. explaining, proving and proclaiming ….” These are not words that describe passive engagement. Paul was clearly intense and passionate in communicating the gospel.

But take special not of how he “reasoned with them” (see: 17:2,17). This is a translation of the Greek word behind our English word “dialogue.”

“Dialogue implies a free and open exchange of ideas, perceptions, problems and options with a desire to arrive at an understanding of truth. Since it allows for people to really communicate where they are spiritually, socially, intellectually, emotionally, and behaviorally, we believe it encourages a more relevant kind of instruction” (John Stott, Romans). (See also: I Peter 3:15).

This was Paul’s method. He didn’t shout bible verses or form a team to march around Athens. He didn’t target territorial demons of Athens and cast them out. He simply found people who were open to discuss the truths of the gospel and presented Jesus to them.

Paul no doubt presented these truths passionately and persuasively. He was a master at dialogue and a strong apologetic evangelism in tune with his audience. He was a clearly man of action who was ready to enter the arena of conflict between truth and error.

The synagogue and market place today

Paul spoke to Jews on the Sabbath and went to the agora (the market place) where people did business and gathered for casual conversation and exchanging ideas (“All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” – Acts 17:21).

The apostle seized the opportunity to intelligently and persuasively present Jesus and the resurrection to all who would listen.

“Today the nearest equivalent to the synagogue is the church, the place where religious people gather. There is still an important place for sharing the gospel with church-goers, God-fearing people on the fringe of the church, who may attend services only occasionally. The equivalent of the agora will vary in different parts of the world. It may be a park, city square or street corner, a shopping mall or market-place, a ‘pub’, neighborhood bar, café, or student cafeteria, wherever people meet when they are at leisure. There is a need for gifted evangelists who can make friends and gossip the gospel in such informal settings as these” (John Stott).

It is significant to note how Paul “used the Scriptures to reason with the people” in the synagogue (Acts 17:2), but he did not quote a single Scripture in his message to the philosophers of Athens (see: Acts 17:22-34).

Paul’s opening text for the philosophers was actually “an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god” (Acts 17:23). He also quoted Greek poets, (“‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’” Acts 17:28). 

What should we take from this?

Paul’s message in Athens was clearly based in truth that could only be known by revelation from God. Look closely at his opening words, 

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:24-27). 

How could Paul speak so definitively about such great truths? Only based on revelation from God. All that Paul proclaimed to these philosophers was true and based on revelation from Scripture. But Paul did not use the Scripture explicitly as he did among the Jewish people in the synagogue (“he used the Scriptures” Acts 17:2).

This is important to recognize for our method today. When people are unfamiliar with the Bible, sometimes explicit use of it with phrases like, “The Bible says…” or “Scripture says…” or “In John 3:16, we read….” can become an obstacle to their willingness to hear the truth revealed in Scripture. We must be careful about “canned methods” of outreach that take a one-size-fits-all approach. We might also want to ask if we hold some kind of mystical belief in the use of quotation as a necessary means for God’s power and truth to be heard. 

There was nothing “watered down” in Paul’s message to the philosophers. He didn’t avoid things that might offend their belief system. “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject’” (Acts 17:32). Paul did not compromise God’s truth in bearing witness but he communicated it differently in different settings based on the context and worldview of the audience.

Does the truth he spoke to the philosophers bring the power of conviction in the same way as a quotation of Scripture? Evidently it does since we learn that, “Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others” (Acts 17:34).

My title for this post might be a bit misleading: “Should we always use the Bible in witnessing for Christ?” The answer is obvious. But, based on Paul’s method in Athens, we should also ask, “How we should use the Bible?” 

Is it possible that it requires an even greater knowledge of Scripture to effectively use the truth it reveals as Paul did in Athens? 

I think the diversity of models for outreach in Acts 17 deserves more thoughtful dialogue in the Church today.

Steve Cornell