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Category Archives: Easter & Good Friday

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.

 
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Good God

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Posted by on December 17, 2016 in Christmas, Easter & Good Friday, Scripture

 

You can’t ignore the resurrection

What difference does the Resurrection make in the life of the Christian? That’s the question asked in an article in the Wall Street Journal. The Challenge of Easter.” Whether you’re a believer or not, the article points out, you cannot ignore the radical claim of the Resurrection.

 
 

The Resurrection: Urban Legend or Center Point of History

Each year, Snopes.com publishes a list of the top 25 urban legends of the year. Facebook made four different entries on the list. (1) Posting a legal notice on your Facebook wall will protect your copyright and privacy status. (2) Mark Zuckerberg is giving away $4.5 million to Facebook users who share a “thank you” message. (6) Facebook will soon start charging users a monthly fee for using their social network. (23) By participating in a Facebook “secret sister” gift exchange, you’ll receive 26 gifts (or books) in exchange for one $10 contribution.

What if Snopes.com attempted to prove the resurrection of Jesus Christ didn’t happen? What if they were successful? Is the resurrection really that important to faith? In 1 Corinthians 15:1-19, the apostle Paul asks the question, “What if the resurrection isn’t true? What have we lost?”

The first part of verse 3 tells us we are not dealing with minor or secondary matters. These are matters of “first importance.” Just as the heart pumps life-giving blood to every part of the body, so the truth of the resurrection gives life to every other area of the good news about salvation.

Even if they miss everything else, Paul wants his readers to understand that there are two key facts about Jesus. Jesus died for our sins and he came back to life.

The first fact is that Christ died (3). The proof of his death is that he was buried (4). The second fact is that Christ came back to life. He rose (4). The proof of his resurrection is that he appeared (5-8). Notice the connection: “Christ died (how do I know?) . . . He was buried.” “He was raised (how do I know?) . . . He appeared.”

But suppose for a moment, as the apostle Paul does, that the critics of the resurrection are right. According to verse 12, some false teachers in Corinth taught that Jesus did not really rise from the dead. The resurrection was just a hoax.

If that is true, then what happened to Jesus? Down through the years, four primary theories have been advanced as to what happened.

The first one is the “Swoon theory.” This theory states that Christ was indeed nailed to the cross. He suffered from shock, loss of blood, and pain, and he swooned away; but he didn’t actually die. In the coolness of the tomb, he revived sufficiently to roll away a two-ton boulder covering the entrance of the tomb and walk out. Not knowing any better, the disciples insisted it was a resurrection from the dead.

Look at the facts. Christ was beaten with a cat-of-nine-tails with 39 heavy strokes. He was nailed to a cross and hung in the sun for 6 hours. A Roman soldier ran a spear through his heart. He was wrapped in yards of graveclothes weighted with pounds of spices. He was placed in an airless tomb for 36 hours. With no medical attention, he revived, undid the graveclothes, rolled away a stone that three women felt incapable of tackling, and walked miles on wounded feet.

Another prominent theory is that the disciples stole the body on Sunday morning. The religious authorities at the time paid the Roman soldiers to tell this lie. Once again, consider the facts. To steal the body, the disciples would have had to get past a guard of probably 16 heavily armed soldiers, who could have been executed if they had been caught asleep on duty.

The other possible explanation is that the disciples went to the wrong tomb. It has been claimed that Jesus’ female disciples went to the ‘wrong’ tomb and mistook it for the actual sepulcher in which Jesus had been placed. Even if this were possible, Joseph of Arimathea, who owned the tomb, would have known where it was.

In each of these theories, the authorities could simply have gone to the proper tomb and produced the body of Jesus if it had still been available.

All of these theories break down at some point. But suppose for the sake of argument that one of them was true. Suppose that the resurrection did not happen. Would that be so bad? We would still have Jesus’ ethical example and moral teachings, his miracles and parables, his good deeds, and his model of sacrifice. If the resurrection is false, what have we really lost?

That is the question that Paul asks in verses 13-19. He bases his argument on the logical consequences of the belief the resurrection is false. He pushes the argument to its logical extreme.

Our Faith is Lost (14, 17). If the Christian message does not include a risen Christ, and we have put our confident trust in Him, then we are leaning on something that will ultimately collapse.

Our Forgiveness is Lost (17). Without a substitute who died in our place, there is no satisfaction for a holy God who demands that sin’s price be paid. If Christ is not risen, forgiveness for sin is an impossibility.

Our Future is Lost (19). If Jesus is not raised from the dead, we only have hope in this life. All the promises of heaven are false. Death should terrify us for there is no hope beyond the grave. If there is nothing beyond today, why bother enduring persecution, suffering, and trials? Why bother trying to live a moral life?

Our Family & Friends who Embraced the Christian Message and then Died are Lost (18). If all of this is a hoax, we still have time to find another way, another hope, another Savior. But our loved ones and friends who have died believing the Christian message about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are hopelessly lost. They do not have a second chance.

Our Integrity is Lost (15). If the apostles, the prophets, and the New Testament writers lied about the heart of the gospel why should they be believed about anything else?

In a court of law, “Exhibit A” of the evidence for the resurrection would be the empty tomb. It was in the interest of both the Roman and Jewish authorities to produce Jesus’ dead body and thus squelch the rumors that he had risen from the tomb. Their failure to do so increases the likelihood that the resurrection actually did take place as described in the Gospels and 1 Corinthians 15.

The second evidence of the resurrection was the post-resurrection appearances by Christ (4-8). In a Jewish court of law, the presence of two or three witnesses was mandatory to prove the veracity of an event. By appearing to five hundred believers at one time, Jesus provided overwhelming proof of being alive. In addition, by appealing to the witnesses still alive, Paul was inviting his readers to check his facts if they had doubt about his words.

The third prominent piece of evidence for the resurrection was the changed lives of the early followers of Christ. Following His death, the disciples ran for their lives. But something happened after the resurrection. Peter boldly proclaimed Jesus alive, even on threat of death. Thomas the doubter affirmed the risen Jesus as “my Lord and my God.” James became a leader of the Jerusalem church. Paul went from persecuting the church to preaching the gospel.

If you honestly consider the evidence, you must conclude that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures . . . that He was buried . . . and that He was raised the third day according to the Scriptures . . . and that He appeared.

Our faith is not futile, but well-placed. Our forgiveness is not lost, but complete. Our future is not hopeless, but hope-filled. Our family and friends who have died in Christ are safe in the arms of Jesus. Our integrity is not compromised, but maintained.

We can only conclude one thing, He is not dead. He is risen indeed!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016. It is part of a collection of messages on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2016 in Easter & Good Friday, Scripture

 

Easter Extravaganza at FCBC

Today was our annual Easter Extravaganza at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA. In addition to train rides, we also offered crafts including edible ones, games, food, and a puppet show about the meaning of Easter. It is our way of blessing the community by offering a fun activity for families to do together. It gives us an opportunity to share the joy of the Lord with those who live around us.