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Category Archives: Easter & Good Friday

From Broken Hearts to Burning Hearts

Have you ever felt disappointed about something God did? Have you been disillusioned because God did not answer a prayer the way you wanted? Have you been discouraged because faith is much harder than you imagined? Have you wondered if trusting God was worth the trouble?

Over the past five months, I have wrestled with each one of those issues as I recover from my broken hip. The question of “Why God?” came to the forefront of my thoughts. This is not the first time I’ve questioned God’s decisions or actions. More times than I care to admit, I have wondered aloud why God didn’t give me a different personality or set of gifts to be successful in ministry. “Why did God call me to a task that he did not equip me for?” I’ve thought on several occasions.

If you have ever been disappointed, disillusioned, discouraged, or despairing about your relationship with God, you’re in good company. Jesus’ own disciples felt those emotions following the crucifixion. Luke 24:13-35 tells the story of two disciples who gave up after the crucifixion and went home. The story points out that Jesus can handle our disappointment, discouragement, and doubt. He can restore our hope and reignite our passion.

The story begins at the end of the worst weekend of their entire lives. For three years, the disciples followed Jesus. They learned from him. They believed in him. A few days previously, they hailed him as the triumphant hero as he entered Jerusalem. But then he was crucified. Now, feeling discouraged (17) and disappointed (21), they gave up and went home (13). These two disciples had a threefold problem—they didn’t see (16), they didn’t understand (17-24), and they didn’t believe.

As they are traveling the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Jesus joins them on the journey. He asks what they are talking about (17). Surprised he doesn’t know the current events (18), they fill in the backstory (19-24).

During the course of the conversation, Jesus meets them right at their point of need, though he does so in reverse order. He rebuked their unbelief (25), he explained the truth (26-27), and he opened their eyes (30-31).

While the text doesn’t tell us the content of their discussion, it’s not hard to imagine what they might have talked about. Perhaps Jesus began in Genesis 1 by explaining that God created a perfect world and perfect people. But sin entered the world and people chose to sin (Genesis 3). Perhaps Jesus reminded them that God promised to send a deliver who would crush Satan (Genesis 3:15). Maybe he discussed the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) and how Cain tried to earn God’s approval through his own efforts but Abel brought a sacrifice. Chances are Jesus brought up Abraham sacrificing Isaac and his confidence that God would provide a substitute (Genesis 22). Undoubtedly, Jesus talked about the need for the Passover lamb to be without spot or blemish (Exodus 12:5) and that atonement came through the blood of the sacrifice (Leviticus 17:11). Jesus probably spoke of the fact that the Messiah would suffer for our sins (Isaiah 53, Psalm 22).

Arriving at their destination, the two disciples invited Jesus to join them for a meal and to spend the night with them. During the meal, their eyes were opened as he broke the bread and gave it to them. Maybe his language or mannerisms reminded them of when Jesus fed the 5,000. Perhaps they had heard the story of the last supper in the upper room. Possibly they saw the nail prints in his hands when he distributed the bread. Either way, they recognized him right before he disappeared from their presence.

Now that their eyes were opened, they had to tell someone. They hustled back to Jerusalem to spread the news (33-35). The risen Christ gives us a message of hope to share with others.

What can we take away from this story?

  • Jesus suffered and died for our sins as the Scriptures foretold.
  • He rose from the dead on the third day as the Scriptures predicted.
  • Not only did he appear to these two people, he also appeared to over 500 others.

How should we respond to this message?

  • Examine the evidence. See for yourself what the Bible says about Jesus.
  • Ask God to answer your questions. He can handle your doubts.
  • Believe the message. Ultimately, it comes down to making the choice to believe the facts.
  • Receive the gift of forgiveness. Jesus died on the cross so we can be forgiven.
  • Tell others what Christ did for you. Be like these two disciples and spread the good news.

The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 1, 2018. It is one of several messages preached on the resurrection of Jesus. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Chicopee Easter Egg Hunt 2018

Rather than host an Easter Outreach on our property, First Central Bible Church joined with the City of Chicopee for their Easter Egg Hunt. This is our second year to participate in the event. We hosted a table where we gave out coffee, water, and snacks. We also gave out free bags which included brochures about the church. Our team served the coffee, gave out the bags, and had many conversations with people. The event allows us to bless the community and be present in a non-threatening manner. Who knows where the conversations and brochures might lead?

 

Good Friday 2018

During the Good Friday service at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, I shared a few thoughts on 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

  • “He himself” – Jesus was personally involved. He died in my place.
  • “bore our sins” – actually comes first in word order in the Greek New Testament. Peter wanted to emphasize that Christ died for our sins.
  • “die to sin and live to righteousness” – not only did Christ free us from the power and penalty of sin, he gave us the power to live differently, to live righteously.
  • “By his wounds you have been healed” – this speaks of spiritual healing, not physical healing. The verb is past tense. It has already been accomplished.

I had people write their name of the card, signifying that Jesus died for their sins. They then nailed that card to the cross to drive home the point. Afterwards, people took communion before exiting quietly.

 

All Hail King Jesus

Spring is the season of expectations.

In MLB baseball, every team starts out in first place, believing that this is their year. In the NFL, teams prepare for the draft, hoping they get the right player to help put them into the Super Bowl.

Around the house, people begin their spring cleaning to declutter the storage room or clean out the garage. Others plant flowers and resolve to rid their lawn of crabgrass, moss, or dandelions.

Palm Sunday is a day that is all about expectations. The king is coming and he is going to make changes. We tend to think of Palm Sunday as a day of celebration. We have children waving palm branches. We sing songs of praise. But after the confetti settles, what are we left with? Is the king on his throne? Do we all live happily ever after?

Not hardly.

The reality is that Palm Sunday is a declaration of war, not a day of celebration. The king throws down the gauntlet and pushes for a confrontation. Palm Sunday is a day when expectations clash head on.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus Christ presents his claim to be the Messiah. He introduces his credentials. He orchestrates events that fulfill the Scriptures. He calls attention to himself and challenges the religious establishment. This was the only time in his ministry when Jesus actually planned and promoted a public demonstration. Up to this event, he had cautioned people not to tell who he was. He had deliberately avoided public scenes.

Now, Jesus throws down the gauntlet. He publicly presents his credentials. The responses he receives range from praise and adoration to statements of personal expectations to outright resistance and disrespect.

Three events immediately precede Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and help explain what occurs. (1) For the third time, Jesus predicts his imminent death (Matthew 20:17-19). (2) In a discussion on rank and privilege, Jesus explains that greatness is based on service (Matthew 20:20-28). (3) In a nation of spiritually blind people, Jesus gives sight and salvation to the blind (Matthew 20:29-34).

Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is one of the few events of his life recorded in all four gospels. By weaving them together, one can gain a composite view of the chronology of the events that took place on that day.

Jesus makes preparations for his entrance into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-3, 6, 7a; Mark 11:1-7a; Luke 19:28-35a; John 12:2, 12). As Jesus departs from Bethany, he sends two of his disciples into a small village, Bethphage. He gives them detailed instructions in order to enable them to fetch a donkey on which he plans to ride into Jerusalem. The disciples carry out Christ’s command.

Jesus starts riding toward Jerusalem (Matthew 21:4, 5, 7; Mark 11:7b; Luke 19:35b; John 12:14, 15). The disciples throw their garments on both of the animals, and when it becomes clear that Jesus wishes to ride upon the colt, they assist him in mounting it. Jesus starts riding toward Jerusalem. Jesus is deliberately staging the manner of his entrance into Jerusalem to fulfill the prophetic expectations of Zechariah 9:9.

People accompanying Jesus from Bethany spread their outer garments on the path, while others cut branches from the trees to help pave the way (Matthew 21:8; Mark 11:8; Luke 19:36). Between the garments and the branches, they are giving Jesus the “red carpet treatment.”

Pilgrims already in Jerusalem who had heard about the raising of Lazarus join in the celebration (John 12:1, 12, 13a, 18). The crowds in Jerusalem pour out of the city to join with those on the road to welcome the Messiah.

As the two groups meet, the enthusiasm mounts (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9, 10; Luke 19:37, 38; John 12:13b). As the crowd moved along, they shouted words of praise, celebrating the arrival of Israel’s Savior, the Messiah-King. Hosanna is literally a plea to “save now.”

The excitement reaches a climax as those who had seen the resurrection of Lazarus bear testimony (John 12:7).

Beside themselves with envy, the Pharisees appeal to Jesus to stop the celebration (Luke 19:39, 40).

As Jesus sees the city of Jerusalem, he weeps (Luke 19:41-44). Jesus knows that the praise will soon turn to scorn and the voices crying, “Hosanna!” will soon be shouting, “Crucify him!”

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the entire city is stirred (Matthew 21:10, 11; Mark 11:11, 12). Everyone is asking, “Who is this?”

On Palm Sunday, the question is asked, “Who is Jesus?” (Matthew 21:10). Some think he is the Messiah (Matthew 21:9). Others believe he is just a prophet (Matthew 21:11). What the people missed is that Jesus had already presented his credentials.

  • Jesus is the suffering servant who will die for his people.
  • He has power over sickness and death.
  • Jesus is omniscient, knowing all.
  • He is Lord of all. He fulfills prophecy.
  • He is the king who brings peace.
  • He accepts worship.
  • He is compassionate.

Palm Sunday declares boldly that Jesus is the Sovereign King who brings Salvation.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 25, 2018. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Changing the Mind of a Skeptic

Being a bit of a wordsmith, I am intrigued by the word of the year determined by the Oxford University Press. In 2012, it was omnishambles which means a situation of total disaster. In 2013, selfie referred to the phenomenon of taking pictures of yourself. 2014 introduced vape, inhaling the vapor produced by electronic cigarettes. In 2015, the word of the year was a picture, an emoji. In 2016, the word was post-truth, which built on the preponderance of fake news.

Fake news rose to the forefront during the 2016 US Presidential campaign. One website described five types of fake news: (1) News that is intentionally deceptive; (2) Jokes taken at face value; (3) Large-scale hoaxes; (4) Slanted reporting of facts; and (5) Stories where “truth” is contentious.

The sad thing is that many people are taken in by fake news. Oftentimes, they pass it on through social media without even checking the veracity of the stories. While countless people were taken in by these pranks, there are others who are reluctant to believe that Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning. If we are so gullible to believe a compelling lie, why are we so skeptical of the truth?

If you find yourself among those who have a hard time believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you are in good company. Luke 24:1-12 explains that even Jesus’ disciples had a hard time believing he rose from the dead. But the passage also demonstrates that the truth of the resurrection transforms skeptics into passionate witnesses.

The passage opens on Easter morning with several female disciples heading for the tomb where Jesus was buried (1). Rather than checking to see if the resurrection had taken place, they were there to properly bury the body. When they found the stone covering the entrance absent (2) and the body missing (3), they didn’t know what to make of the situation (4a).

To their surprise, two angelic messengers (4b) roused their attention with the shocking question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; but has risen!” (5-6). They went on to remind the women of what Jesus had taught them during the past three years (6). He would suffer and die and come back to life three days later (7). You could see the light bulbs go on in their heads as they recalled Jesus’ teaching (8).

The women left the tomb and raced back into Jerusalem to tell the other disciples (9-10). Rather than be overjoyed by the news, Jesus’ closest friends and followers were not convinced. In fact, they concluded that the women were delusion and out of their minds (11).

The fact that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection demonstrates the uniqueness of the gospel. In the culture of the day, women were considered unreliable. You would never build a case on the testimony of women. And yet, the gospel records that they were the first ones to believe the message that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Peter, at least, goes to investigate the report firsthand (12). Rather than be convinced by the empty grave clothes, he goes home even more perplexed. He is taking the first step on the road to faith, moving from disbelief to curiosity to wonder.

Dr. Luke’s account of the resurrection (Luke 24:1-12) can be summarized in six words—“Come and see … Go and tell!”

  • Read the Scriptures. 14 Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled on Good Friday alone.
  • Examine the evidence. Read the source material firsthand. Study the proofs of the resurrection.
  • Believe the testimony. Read the stories of those whose lives were transformed by the gospel.
  • Tell the story. Once you are convinced the story is true, share the message of hope with another person.

Christ is not dead; He is risen indeed!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church on April 16, 2017. It is part of a collection of messages on Easter & Palm Sunday. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Blessing the Community – Easter 2017

In past years, First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, held an Easter outreach on our property. We had train rides, puppet shows, and food. This year, we decided to participate in a community event, the Chicopee Easter Egg Hunt at Szot Park. The parks department coordinated the egg hunt, had a bunny foot contest, and provided balloons and an appearance by the Easter bunny.

The city gave us permission to have a refreshment table and put our labels on the coffee and water. Robin Dolbow put together a team that served coffee for adults and provided snacks and water for kids. We also had brochures about our children’s ministry and church programs. It was a ministry of presence where we could serve the community. Rocco, the husky/lab mix put on a T-shirt and dressed for the occasion. Our presence naturally led to conversations about who we are and why we were there. Thank you to the team who made it all happen and to those who donated the snacks and drinks.

 

A day of clashing expectations

On Palm Sunday, churches around the country give palm branches to children and stage their own version of the triumphal entry. We celebrate the fact that Jesus is the king. We want a feel good moment.

The term, “Triumphal entry,” however, does not describe the apostle John’s recollection of those events. As he describes the event in John 12:12-26, it was a day where expectations clashed head on. Amidst conflicting expectations, Jesus reveals that he is going to die so that others might live.

In verses 12-15, Jesus is presented as the King of Israel, the one who fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. As John explains, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem occurred the day after Mary had anointed him in Bethany (John 12:1-11). She understood he was going to die and she was anointing him beforehand for burial.

As he began his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus was accompanied by people who were present at the raising of Lazarus (John 11). There were those in Jerusalem who heard about the miracle and came out to meet Jesus. There were others who were in the city for the Passover feast. Estimates of the crowd range from 120,000 to Josephus’ estimate of 2.5 million. Whatever the number, the people started crying, “Hosanna!” or “Save now!” The words of the crowd, “Hosanna” and “Blessed” were taken from Psalm 118:25-26. They were part of the Hallel, sung during the Passover Feast. The people hoped Jesus was coming as a conquering general to drive out the Romans.

If we were to stage Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, we would use a Presidential motorcade, a stretch limo, or at least a white stallion. Rather than enter as a conquering king, Jesus entered as a humble servant. He chose a young donkey rather than a chariot and horses. In so doing, he fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.

Present among the crowds of people were at least five different types of people. John describes them by their reactions to Jesus. Mixed in the crowds watching Jesus enter Jerusalem were the confused, the consumers, the legalists, the seekers, and the followers.

The disciples were confused (16) and did not understand what it all meant. It would be sometime later after the resurrection before the light bulb of understanding would turn on.

Many of the people were consumers who wanted another miracle (17-18). They were curious to see what Jesus might do next. They wanted another entertaining experience.

The religious leaders (19) were jealous of Jesus’ growing popularity. As other verses explain, they were upset that Jesus did not practice religion according to their rules. They were legalistic in thinking that worship could only be done their way.

There were some god-fearing Greeks who wanted to see Jesus (20-22). They were seekers who approached first Philip and then Andrew about getting an audience with Jesus. The fact that Greeks were coming to Jesus demonstrated the time had arrived for him to die for the sins of the world. He no longer belonged only to the Jews.

Rather than respond to the Greeks directly, Jesus reveals his impending death (23-26). Rather than speaking of tragedy, Jesus saw his hour as one of triumph. Instead of being dishonored, he was going to be glorified. Using an agricultural metaphor, Jesus explained that the way of fruitfulness lies through death.

Jesus also explained the ultimate cost of discipleship, of being his follower, involved the death of the disciple. To follow Jesus we must die to self. Jesus promised eternal life and heaven to those who made that choice.

As you consider the events of Palm Sunday, which group do you identify with?

  • Are you Confused—not understanding what it all means?
  • Are you a Consumer—wanting something from God; waiting for the next big thing?
  • Are you a Legalist—opposed to Jesus because he does not follow your rules or meet your expectations?
  • Are you a Seeker—wanting to see Jesus and know him better?
  • Are you a Follower—have you died to self and are serving the King?

All Hail, King Jesus!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 9, 2017. It is part of a collection of sermons on Palm Sunday and Easter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.