Monthly Archives: February 2019
“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith or delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; toward disobedience and call it freedom; toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the non-discipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”
D. A. Carson
To help improve my preaching skills, I read books on the subject by preachers as well as periodically attend conferences and workshops. I am currently working my way through John Piper’s book, Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship, and recently started H. B. Charles, Jr.’s book, On Preaching: Personal & Pastoral Insights for the Preparation & Practice of Preaching.
I found myself nodding in agreement with Charles’ personal assessment in his introduction.
For the record, I am never satisfied with my preaching. I know all too well that I have not “arrived.” Every now and then, I finish preaching and feel like I hit it out of the park. Most weeks, I am grateful just to get on base—even if I have to lean into a pitch and take one for the team. Like most pastors, I can’t stand to hear or see recordings of my preaching. It’s cruel and unusual punishment. I try to press on with my regular preaching duties without paying much attention to the weaknesses in my preparation and presentation. But that only works for so long. At some point, I come face-to-face with the fact that I have along way to go as a preacher.
Since I’m not satisfied, I will keep reading, studying, practicing, and striving to sharpen my skills and improve my effectiveness. That, and of course, praying that God will anoint me, fill me, and use me for his glory.
Over the years, I’ve been asked a number of questions about death, dying, heaven and hell. I’ve also heard an equal number of statements indicating what people believe about those topics. Here are four I’ve heard recently, written in the form of a question and answer.
Q: Do people become angels when they die?
A: The short answer is, “No.” The long answer is that we will be elevated above the angels. People and angels are in completely different categories of created beings. At the present time, human beings are “a little lower than the heavenly beings” (Psalm 8:5). If we have trusted Christ for our salvation (John 3:16; 14:6), then when we die and go to heaven, we will be in a position where we will judge the angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).
Part of the confusion on this topic comes from Matthew 22:30 where Jesus said that when we die, we “are like angels in heaven.” What he meant is that we will not be married in heaven. However, Jesus did NOT say we will become angels.
Q: Do our loved ones who died watch over us?
A: Yes, and, No. The answer is, “Yes,” in the sense that they are aware and watching. Hebrews 12:1 says that we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Luke 16:19-31 tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man was concerned about his relatives’ spiritual condition and wanted to warn them about the afterlife. The answer is, “No,” in the sense that they don’t watch over and protect us. God has sent angels for that purpose (Hebrews 1:14).
Q: Does the presence of a red cardinal mean someone beyond the grave is trying to communicate with me? Is this a visit from the spirit world? (My wife and I saw this on a garden ornament at a local country store and few weeks back.)
A: Unfortunately, the answer is “No.” This is a belief that comes from Native American spiritism. No where in Scripture will you find this.
Q: What do we mean when we say, “Rest in Peace”?
A: This question requires a much longer answer, as you can see below.
In one sense, death is a time of rest, at least for our physical bodies. Scripture uses the metaphor of “going to sleep” to describe death. This picture is mentioned three times in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Dr. Luke uses the same concept in Acts 7 and the apostle Paul uses it again in 1 Corinthians 15 on two occasions. In Mark, chapter 5, the daughter of a religious leader had died and Jairus, her father, begged Jesus for help. Jesus said, “She’s not dead; she is asleep.” In this sense, death is a time of rest.
In another sense, death is a time when we rest from our labors and enjoy our inheritance. Hebrews 4 talks about the “Sabbath rest” for the people of God. It links the idea to God’s work of creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh day as well as Israel’s wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. Tying them together, to rest means to cease from our labor of trying to earn God’s favor and enjoying the inheritance and blessings he has prepared for us.
This doesn’t mean, however, that eternity will be spent floating on clouds strumming a harp. Scripture pictures heaven as a place where we engage in meaningful activity. We will be engaged in worship (Revelation 22:1-3), praising Christ for providing our salvation. We will also be serving as we reign with Christ in eternity (Revelation 20:6).
However, these pictures of rest are only true of those who trusted Christ for salvation during their lifetime. Those who rejected Christ as savior will find themselves in hell enduring an eternity of suffering (Matthew 13:42, 50).
With this is mind, we need to be careful about whom we say “Rest in Peace” to. We don’t want to come across as closet universalists who believe all people go to heaven regardless of their beliefs or lifestyle. Nor do we want to communicate that we secretly believe God grades on a curve and the more well-known you are, the more likely you will be in heaven. We also don’t want to act as if this life is all there is, and there is no afterlife. In addition, we don’t want to say “Rest in Peace” simply because we don’t know what else to say.
Eternal rest is only available to those who stopped working to earn their salvation. For the Christ follower, they can go to sleep and later wake up in the arms of Jesus. They can rest and fully enjoy the blessings of salvation and heaven.
Spirituality is big business these days. People are fascinated by and drawn to astrology, horoscopes, Ouija boards, channeling, avatars, and spirit guides. People buy books and watch TV shows about reincarnation and encounters with angels. The writer of Hebrews has much to say to those who are drawn to such teaching. In Hebrews 1:4-14, the author uses seven quotations from the Old Testament to present the truth that Jesus Christ is superior to angels because of his title, dignity, role, and authority.
The theme of the book is that Jesus is greater than … In 1:1, he is greater than the prophets. In 1:2, we learn that Jesus is the heir, the creator, the one who radiates God’s glory, the exact representation of God, the one who sustains the universe, the one who purifies us from sin, and the ruler of all.
In 1:4-14, the author goes on to explain that Jesus is superior to the angels. The is an important point because the Jews of the first century considered angels to be very important. They assisted God in giving the Mosaic Law at Mt. Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:2; Psalm 68:17; Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19). Angels appeared on occasion to make important announcements (Genesis 16:9; 31:11; Exodus 3:2). The author of Hebrews uses 7 quotations from the Old Testament to prove the superiority of Jesus over the angels.
Jesus is better than the angels because …
He has a better title, a better name (4-5). The author quotes Psalm 2:7 to prove that Jesus is the Son of God. He also quotes 2 Samuel 7:14 to demonstrate he is the promised son of David.
While angels are called “sons of God,” Jesus was declared to be “the Son of God.” “Son” is a more excellent name than “angel.” Jesus was the “Son” in three respects: He was the pre-existent Son; he became the incarnate Son at his birth; and he became the exalted Son when he returned to heaven.
He receives worship from the angels (6). “Firstborn” does not always refer to birth order, or the first one born. It can also refer to rank and honor. Since Jesus was not created but existed eternally, he is the firstborn in terms of his rank and exalted status. The angels worshiped Jesus at his birth and they will worship him more fully at his second coming.
He is served by the angels (7). The author quotes Psalm 104:4 to demonstrate that angels are God’s servants. The phrase “His angels” show they belong to Jesus while “His ministers” show they serve Jesus. The phrase “winds” refers to their nature while “flames of fire” indicates they are agents of judgment and illumination. The angels do Christ’s bidding and become his messengers.
He has a more important role than the angels (8-9). The author quotes Psalm 45:6-7 to demonstrate that Jesus will reign eternally.
He is unchanging (10-12). The author quotes Psalm 102:25-27 to explain that just as you roll up and discard a garment when you are done with it, so Jesus will one day discard the heavens and the earth. While the earth will end, the Son’s rule will continue for eternity. We can find stability and security in God’s unchanging character.
His destiny is to rule and the angels are his servants (13-14). The author quotes Psalm 110:1 to show that while angels stand and serve, the Son sits and rules. The primary purpose of the angels is to assist human beings. They bring us to conversion and protect and strengthen those who are believers, so that we may one day obtain our full inheritance with Christ in glory.
Don’t settle for a substitute. Jesus Christ is superior to angels. He has a better name. He receives worship. He is served by angels. His role is more important than the angels. He is unchanging. His destiny is to rule and the angels are his servants. Jesus is greater than angels.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 24, 2019. It is part of a series of sermons preached on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
On Monday, I lost one of the more encouraging people in my life. Jackie Tisdale was a godly woman who loved Jesus and was not shy in talking about him. Some time that day, she stepped out of this life and into the presence of her Savior. Her departure was sudden and unexpected. She was so very much alive when I chatted with her on Saturday at our Senior Saints luncheon and on Sunday when she was at her post at the Welcome Desk at church.
On February 3, I preached a sermon on “The Three Chairs” which looks at how faith is not always passed on from one generation to the next. Each one of us needs to be a “first chair” follower and to have a firsthand experience of God rather than second hand knowledge. At the conclusion, I challenged the congregation to recommit themselves to following Christ. Jackie told me she recommitted herself to staying in the first chair.
On Wednesday afternoons, Jackie attended our Seniors Alive program. She would always stop by my office to say “Hello” and to chat. On the first Wednesday of the month, she would come into my office, lay hands on me, and pray for me. (Some people say they pray for you, and some people PRAY for you.)
A few weeks ago, Jackie told me that she never had a relationship like this with a pastor. After a previous pastor fell morally, she realized she needed to pray for her pastor. So she decided to adopt my wife and me and to diligently pray for us.
Wednesday afternoons will never be the same. I will miss her presence, her laughter, her joy, her love for Jesus, and her prayer support.
Thank you, Jesus, for Jackie and her godly encouragement. I look forward to seeing her again in heaven.