The Scriptures Are a Shut and Open Case

An open and shut case is a court case, legal matter, or problem that is easy to decide or solve because the facts are clearly known or plainly obvious to all.

But, the scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, are not an open and shut case. The truth within them is not clearly known and plainly obvious to all. There are problems and questions in the Old Testament that are not easy to solve or answer.

So, instead of being an open and shut case, the scriptures are a shut and open case. In a fascinating way, the gospel of Luke reveals just this to us. But, Luke’s gospel also reveals the one who can solve and answer the difficult problems and questions of the Bible for us – Jesus.

Take Zechariah.

An angel of the Lord came to Zechariah and told him that he would have a son that would be great before the Lord and turn the hearts of the children of Israel to God. But, Zechariah doubted the word of the angel. So, the angel told Zechariah, “And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place.” (Luke 1.20) In other words, Zechariah’s mouth was shut. But, when everything that the angel told Zechariah would happen happened, “immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed.” (Luke 1.64)

What had been shut was now open.

Take Mary.

She was a virgin. Her womb was shut. But, after Mary gave birth to Jesus, their time for purification came. So, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord. Luke 2.23 says they did this because “as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.'”

Take the heavens.

They were closed. But, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened.” (Luke 3.21) The heavens could not have been opened at Jesus’ baptism if they were not closed before it.

Take the door.

Jesus tells a parable about a man who goes to a friend at midnight asking for three loaves. The friend tells the man not to bother him because the door is shut. But, Jesus is that door. “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11.9-10)

Luke repeatedly tells us of things that were previously shut that have now been opened. This is an important theme throughout Luke’s gospel as each shutting and opening foreshadows the final opening of what was shut in Luke’s gospel.

So, take the scriptures.

They were shut to everyone. No one understood their true meaning.

Even the disciples did not understand the scriptures. Because of this, Jesus said the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were slow of heart to believe all the prophets, meaning the scriptures, had spoke. So, Jesus taught them from Moses and all the prophets about himself, how it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and enter into his glory.

Jesus simply teaching these two disciples where he was in all the scriptures did not reveal the true meaning of the scriptures to these two. The answers to they had were still hard to come by. The case was still shut and not open.

But, Jesus broke bread and gave it to them.

In other words, these two disciples experientially shared in the suffering of Jesus. They symbolically received the broken body of Jesus and ate it.

“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?'” (Luke 24.31-32)

After doing this for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus did it for the other disciples as well.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'” (Luke 24.44-47)

Over and over, Luke shows what was shut is now open.

By the end of Luke’s gospel, the shut and open case of the scriptures has been solved.

The difficult problem of understanding the truth of scripture was solved as the disciples shared in the suffering of the Christ.

Jesus solved the shut and open case of the scriptures for us.

Jesus opens that which has been shut.

Jesus, and only the suffering of Jesus, can open our minds to understand the truth of scripture.

Are Christians to Defend Themselves and Others?

Jesus was non-violent.

Can we honestly read the New Testament and come to any other conclusion?

Obviously, I can’t.

The cross was the ultimate representation of Jesus’ non-violence. The cross was also the fullest and most complete embodiment of God’s essence – love. Remember, God was in Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5.19)

Jesus willingly was crucified instead of doing violence, as was expected by everyone else, including the Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and his own disciples. He chose love – “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” – over any semblance of violence. (John 15.13)

Christians are to follow Jesus.

Jesus says we should take up our own cross.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”(Matthew 16.24-25)

Jesus says we should love one another as he loved us.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13.34)

Therefore, Christians should be non-violent like Jesus.

In my experience, I have found that many Christians will philosophically believe this and quote the scriptures above as well as others. Yet, when the discussion turns to living this out in their actual lives, they don’t really believe it and they don’t think it is possible.

Typically, when I profess that Jesus was non-violent (Isaiah 53.9 says “he had done no violence”) and we should do the same, I am almost immediately confronted with questions about self-defense. And, if I say that we should not use violence in self-defense, then I am confronted with the seemingly ultimate question, “What if a rapist broke into your home and attacked your wife?” For, isn’t it clear that everyone would use violence in that situation?

But, what does scripture reveal about Jesus?

And, what does scripture reveal about the followers of Jesus?

He and they never resorted to violence in any situation, even in self-dense.

Have you noticed that?

In every situation where we could expect some sort of violent reaction or self-defense, Jesus and his followers responded without violence and without defending themselves. They did not do nothing, but they responded in a way that did not involved violence or self-defense to express God’s love. And, keep in mind, that God’s love is most fully displayed by one laying down their life, literally in death if necessary, for another.

Here are just a few examples to prove the point.

In Matthew 2, the life of the baby Jesus was threatened by Herod and his edict to kill all the male children. Did God send someone to kill Herod? Did anyone rise up to do any violence to protect Jesus? No. Instead, God sent an angel to Joseph and told him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus.

In Mark 3.1-7, Jesus entered a synagogue and healed a man. This enraged the Pharisees because Jesus healed on the sabbath. The Pharisees went and conspired how to destroy Jesus. “Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there.”

In Luke 22.47-53, Judas came with a great crowd with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus. The crowd laid hands on Jesus and seized him. Then, one of the disciples took out a sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Jesus said, “No more of this,” and he healed the ear of the servant. In Matthew’s account, Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Jesus neither defended himself nor needed anyone else to defend him. Also in Matthew’s account, Jesus asked if they didn’t realize that he could appeal to his Father and at once have 12 legions of angels to defend him. But, he didn’t do that.

In both Matthew 27.11-14 and Mark 14.53-65, Jesus was on trial. Yet, he said nothing in his defense. He did not answer a single accusation.

In John 8.53-9.11, Jesus defended the woman caught in the act of adultery without any violence.

In Acts 4, Peter and John were arrested for preaching Jesus. They were threatened by the authorities to never teach about Jesus again. But, just read their words to the other disciples in response.

“‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4.29-31)

The disciples very lives were being threatened. Yet, they prayed that they would speak about Jesus with boldness. As they spoke, God will heal and do signs and wonders. Jesus had been crucified unjustly. That’s what the disciples were speaking about. It’s what Christians are to be speaking about today. How could they, and we, use violence to defend ourselves when Jesus never did.

The apostles were brought before the chief priest and the council again for preaching about Jesus. They were threatened again. They were beaten and told never to preach about Jesus again. “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5.41-42).

They were teaching that the Christ was the one who was crucified, the one who willingly laid down his to life to show God’s love and forgiveness. How could any of them use violence to defend themselves and preach that message with any integrity at all?

Stephen was doing great signs and wonders when men from the synagogue argued with him. They seized him and brought him before the council. Stephen goes on a long speech about Jesus. This enraged the council and they had Stephen stoned to death. Yet, there is no account of any follower of Jesus defending Stephen. There is no record of anyone using any form of violence to stop his arrest or execution. Surely, some of the other apostles and disciples were present at his arrest. Surely, some of them tried to hear and see what was going on at his trial. But, we have no record of them doing any violence to stop it.

Saul approved of his execution. “But, Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8.3) Here is the very example that gets thrown out by Christians in their arguments against being non-violent. Here, Saul, a great persecutor of Christians, is coming into their very homes and dragging off men and women to prison. Yet, we don’t have a single recorded instance of self-defense. There’s no statement of Christians protecting their families or their property.

Shouldn’t we ask ourselves why?

Paul, the converted Saul, went from barging into people’s homes to drag them off to prison to becoming one of those Christians that never defended himself. He was beaten and flogged. He was left for dead outside a city. He was lowered in basket over the city wall to flee his persecutors. Instead of defending himself at trial, he preached the gospel. Ultimately, he was beheaded for his following Jesus.

But, after his conversion, Paul never did any violence. Instead, he said talked about rejoicing and participating in suffering.

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1.24)

“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3.10)

Paul routinely and repeatedly cited his sufferings and his willingness to undergo those sufferings as evidence for the veracity of the gospel that he preached. In other words, Paul’s words about Jesus would have had no power if he had remained the violent Saul. Paul could not have spoken truthfully about Jesus if he used violence to defend himself. Paul’s message of a Christ who died for you out of love to forgive you would have carried no weight. For, how would Paul be able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2.20-21)

Just as it was for Paul, so it is for Christians today. If we want to preach Jesus Christ, Christ crucified, then we have to lay down every violent tendency and every need and reason for self-defense. For, it is the willingness to suffer, to even die, for the ones you are preaching Jesus to that lends power to the gospel.

In my opinion, there is why the American church is seemingly so weak. We have lost the understanding of the power of suffering. American Christians negate suffering at every turn. Instead, American Christians seek to defend our families, our property, our rights, our country, and on and on. And, we kill you if necessary.

Yes, this sounds foolish, but “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1.18) “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1.25)

Therefore, if Christians today truly want to preach the message of the apostles, the early church, and Paul, we need to lay down all violence and self-defense (even in words). We need to be willing to lose our lives. This is to follow Jesus and pick up our cross daily. This is to have the same mind as Jesus (Philippians 2.1-11).

Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible: Part 5 – Knowing His Resurrection

(This post is Part 5, and the last, of the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Introduction,  Part 1 – Drawn by the Holy SpiritPart 2 – The Word of the Lord Appeared, and Part 3 – A Low Whisper, and Part 4 – Seeing Jesus.)

We come to the Bible with presuppositions about God. Typically, as we study the Bible, those presuppositions about God – no matter if they are right or wrong – are confirmed. However, when we truly experience the life of Jesus Christ, our presuppositions about God are challenged, overturned, changed. Then, when we go the Bible, we see this new perspective of God confirmed.

In Parts 1 through 4, I shared about some of the suffering I went through – loneliness, my wife’s battle with cancer, and my wife’s death. But, this post is about the fruit, the new life, that was produced from all of that suffering. This is about how I met Samatha, my wife of the last five plus years. If you haven’t read Part 1, then you will want to because the two stories have some interesting similarities.

A few weeks after Dawn passed away I went to Asia for three weeks. The first week was a mission trip to the Philippines that Dawn and Trey, our son, were supposed to go on with me (Trey still ended up going with me). Then, the last two weeks were for work in other parts of Asia.

I had two opportunities to speak on the mission trip. The first was at a conference of more than 1,000 youth and the second was at the church that hosts the youth conference we attended. I had prepared messages for these opportunities. But, on the flight over, the Holy Spirit told me to put away those messages and speak about everything that Dawn and I had been through. The last week of Dawn’s life, Part 4, of this series, was what I spent the most time talking about.

Imagine being in front of more than 1,000 people and sharing all the suffering your wife and you went through together just weeks after she died. It was tough but a real blessing.

Towards the end of part 4, I mentioned that we needed to focus on what God will do – his love for us – and not on all the many things that God could do for us. Focusing on what God will do – his love for us – instead of the things God could do but hasn’t keeps us from becoming bitter and angry. If we don’t become bitter and angry about what God hasn’t done for us, then we open ourselves to untold blessings form God. Even though it was just weeks since my wife had died, this was the thrust of my talk.

For me, the root of this belief was Romans 8.28, which says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” More than a decade earlier, this was the first scripture that ever became more than words on a page to me, the first scripture I understood by the Spirit. Not coincidentally, it was during a very dark time in my marriage to Dawn. But, it was a scripture that we (and many other Christians have as well) clung to over the years. In fact, the scripture is quoted on Dawn’s tombstone.

At the end of this three week trip to Asia, I was in Taiwan with two co-workers and our sales representative. It was late in the day before we were going to fly home. We were driving from Taichung to Taipei, which was a several hour drive. I was exhausted and ready to go home.

I was riding in the back of the van with no on paying attention to me. I began to think about Dawn. I started crying. My parents had stayed with Trey and me from the week before Dawn died to the time I was coming home from this trip. But, I knew they were leaving when I got home. It was going to be just Trey and me in the house. The realization that Dawn was dead and I was going to be without another adult in the house was finally sinking in.

Dale, the pastor of church, went to Ghana for two weeks to preach at a funeral just as I was arriving home from Taiwan. We were very close and I had just become an elder at the church at the beginning of the year. Dale told me that even though he wouldn’t have electricity where he was going in Ghana he wanted me to write him while he was gone. Then, we he got to back to the airport in Ghana he could read my emails.

I wrote Dale twice while he was gone. Both times I told him that things were more difficult than I thought they would be. I told him how much I missed Dawn, how I needed to focus on being a parent, and how I didn’t have time to be an elder at the church right now. I cried throughout the writing of both of those emails.

When Dale got to the airport in Ghana he read those emails. He wrote me back and said he had been praying for me and wanted to come see me when he got home. Seemingly, Dale came to my house immediately after he landed in Cincinnati. It was less than two months since Dawn had died.

Dale and I went to the basement of my house to talk. For 10 minutes or so, Dale just kept telling me what a great marriage Dawn and I had, how we touched so many people, how I had handled everything so well, and on and on. I was thinking this can’t be what he came to talk to me about.

So, I told Dale that we were friends. He was the only person in the room with me when Dawn died. That’s how close we were. Whatever he had to say wasn’t going to offend me.

I’m paraphrasing, but Dale said, “You know how I tell people to not go around saying, ‘God told me to tell you…’ right? You know how I warn people against that, right? Well…I was praying for you. And, I felt like the Holy Spirit told me to tell you that it was time to start dreaming about your next wife.”

On the one hand that was not what I was expecting to hear. It was less than two months since Dawn died.

But, on the other hand, unbeknownst to Dale, I had already started doing that. Dawn, had battled cancer for six years. And, since the beginning of the year she would pass away, I knew the end of her life was close. So, I had mentally prepared myself for this possibility. While Dale was in Africa, I actually started to fill out a profile on eHarmony. But, I stopped about half way through. I thought to myself, “What if someone I know sees me on here less than two months after my wife died? They will think I’m a huge jerk.” So, as soon as I heard these words from Dale, I knew I needed to do this. But, I didn’t say anything to Dale. I just kept listening to what he had to say.

Dale continued, “You need to make a list of whatever you want in your next wife. I don’t care what it is. Just make a list and write it down. Then I think you should get on eHarmony. Meeting someone from church, your son’s school, or your office is not a good idea. God works so fast for you. Everything in your life happens just like that.” When Dale said that, he snapped his fingers.

So, the next day, I got up and made a list of everything I wanted in my next wife. The list had 31 things on it. There were serious things, such as she had to be a strong Christian woman and love my son like her own son. There were five such things that I starred because I could not compromise on them. But, then there were some not so serious things. For example, I wrote down the type of diet or food that my next wife should eat. At the time, I was eating a paleo/primal diet. So, I wanted my next wife to eat that way too. At the time, the diet was no where near as popular as it is now. I actually laughed when I wrote that down because I assumed that would never happen.

After I made my list, I got on eHarmony again. Filling out the profile seemed like it took hours. I felt like I was being psychoanalyzed. But, that same night I got my first set of matches. At the time, eHarmony gave you matches in groups of six, probably so you would actually take the time to look through them and not just go by looks. But, the woman in the very first match was beautiful. I thought to myself that I have no shot at her, but I will read her profile anyway.

Her profile was fascinating. She had a list of her favorite books. One particular book caught my attention. Even though I had not read that book, I had just read some others on the same subject.

Now, eHarmony has a system of “guided communication.” When you find a match you are interested in, you can send them a pre-written message. Then, they can send you a pre-written message back. Then, you can send them some pre-written questions. And, they can send you some pre-written answers. I thought this was a complete waste of time. So, I just emailed this woman.

Her name was unusual – Samatha with no “n.” So, I made sure I spelled it right. The email was pretty short. I simply asked her about why this book was one of her favorites because I was intrigued by that. And, I recommended another book on the same subject that I thought she might find interesting.

I sent that email on Saturday night, just one day after Dale told me to start dreaming about my next wife and the same day I made my list. Sunday afternoon I was sitting in a chair in the room that Dawn had died in, thinking about my life. I hadn’t heard anything back from Samatha yet. I said to myself, “This is such a waste of time. I’m never going to meet anyone this way. Why am I bothering with this?” It hadn’t even been 24 hours since I sent the email to the first interesting match I had and I was ready to throw in the towel on the whole process.

When I went in to work on Monday, I had an email from Samatha. The very first thing in the email was a thank you for spelling her name correctly, which is often overlooked. Score! Then, Samatha gave an in-depth reply about why she liked the book so much. She discussed several quotes from the book, too. I thought, “How did she pull quotes from the book like that so fast?”

By the time I finished reading the email, I knew I was going to marry her (just like the first time I met Dawn).

We continued to email each other for the next few days. The emails got very personal very fast. By the fourth day, we decided to shut down our eHarmony accounts and focus on this relationship. Also, we traded phone numbers so we could call each other.

So, just a few days after we met on eHarmony, I called Samatha. We talked on the phone for hours. In fact, we were on the phone until almost 3 a.m., which was really late for me to be up. I told Samatha that I had to go to bed because I needed to get up for work the next day. So, the phone call just sort of ended, awkwardly.

I called Samatha again the next day. Right away I asked her if she thought last night’s phone call had ended awkwardly too. She said yes. I told her that was because I wanted to tell her “I love you,” but I was afraid that would scare her away. She said she felt the same way but was not ready to say it.

So, we kept calling each other for the next six weeks or so. During that time we made plans to finally meet each other in person. Samatha lived about a four drive from me, but she was visiting some friends who were about half way between us. So, she would come down to visit me for a couple of days after she saw her friends.

I can remember the moment I saw her when I picked her up from the hotel. Beautiful! Just like the picture. We went to get sushi. Then, we went to see a play (I had season tickets to the theater).

During those couple of days we met in person for the first time, we actually went shopping for engagement rings. I mentioned in Part 1 that I had no clues about the rules of dating when I met Dawn. Not much had changed in 15 years.

The first person I told about this new relationship was my cousin Melissa. We work together in our family business. At the time, our offices were right next to each other. It was about three months after Dawn died. When I told her about Samatha and that we were likely to get married, Melissa said that she was not surprised. In fact, she had told the rest of my family the week before Dawn died that I would either get married in six months or I would never get married again.

Eventually, Samatha and I got married. It was six months and 12 days since Dawn had died.

Remember, when Dale said God did things for me quickly, in the snap of a finger?

Yeah, pretty much. Samatha was the very first person I was matched with on eHarmony. We shut off our accounts four days later. We went shopping for wedding rings six weeks after we met online. We were married six months after Dawn died.

But, about that list of 31 things?

Over the first few months that I knew Sam, I would go back to the list and check off the things she had that matched what I wrote down. Right away I could tell she had a lot of them. During some emails back and forth, it came out that she even ate the type of food I wrote down. Eventually, I crossed off everything on my list.

Do you know the odds of that?

Zero!

God is amazing!

So, how did this experience with the life of Jesus – his working in my life – open the Bible for me?

What presuppositions needed to change so I could see God clearly in the Bible?

Suffering.

Death.

Suffering and death are everywhere. I, along with many other Christians, viewed God as the cause of them. But, it wasn’t until 2017 that I truly understood that God doesn’t cause suffering and death. Instead, Jesus suffered and died himself. Most of all, he suffered and died at the hands of his own creation.

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things…?” (Luke 24.26)

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer…” (Luke 24.46)

But, that was not the full picture. Jesus did not suffer and die and the story ended.

Luke 24.46 says that the “Christ should suffer these things and enter his glory.”

Luke 24.46 says “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”

I began to understand that God does not cause suffering and death. Rather, God enters into suffering and death only to enter his glory, to rise from the dead, to be resurrected, to change minds, and to forgive sins.

I had been through a lot of suffering and death. But, Jesus entered that suffering and death. But, Jesus brought new life out of it because of his love. By focusing upon Jesus’ love and not becoming bitter and angry, I was able to receive the resurrection, the new life, that Jesus wanted to bless me with.

Truly, when Samatha and I met and got married, it felt like a completely new life to me. I really have no way to explain what that feels like. One life was over – not just Dawn’s, but mine. And, a new life had begun.

I know have a better understanding of Philippians 3.10-11, which says, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I mat attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Now, I see this everywhere in the Bible. God did not cause suffering and death. Rather, the stories, the accounts, are witnesses to Jesus’ own suffering and death from which he was resurrected so that he could change our minds about God and our sins could be forgiven. Acts 18.5 says that “Paul was occupied with the word.” Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection was the word Paul was occupied with.

And, it is this same word that I have become occupied with. Once you have seen it, you cannot unsee it. And, once you have seen it, it becomes the thing that you see in scripture.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24.44-48)

The scriptures has been opened to me. They have been revealed in my experiences with the life of Jesus. I am a witness to these things.

What Makes You a Child and Heir of God?

TODAY’S READING: ROMANS 8-10

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” – Romans 8:16-17

More and more with each passing day I am convinced that there is one thing that I must truly know and apply in my life.

It was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.

Jesus’ entire life and ministry was driven toward the hour that he would suffer and rise from the dead.

The necessity of his suffering and rising from the dead is the sum total of everything Jesus taught his disciples during the time between his resurrection and ascension.

Luke 24:25-27 says, “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

The necessity of the Christ suffering and rising from the dead was the word that Paul was occupied with and completely consumed by. (See “What Was Paul Occupied With?“) It is this single word that incredibly changed Paul from a persecutor of the church, and therefore Jesus, to, arguably, the greatest sufferer for the sake of the church, and therefore Jesus, in history.

The Bereans searched the scriptures daily to see if what Paul preached to them – the necessity of the Christ’s rising and rising from the dead – was really true. (See “Why Were the Bereans Examining the Scriptures Daily?“)

While Romans is the first of Paul’s letters in the Bible, it was actually the last of the letters in the Bible that we wrote. Consequently, Romans contains Paul’s most complete understanding of God and Jesus. It is Paul’s magnum opus.

And, if Paul was occupied with, consumed by, the necessity of the Christ’s suffering and rising from the dead, then surely this letter to the Romans would have been inspired by this single word.

Therefore, if we want to truly understand what Paul is writing to the Roman church, then we must read every statement he makes through the fact that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead.

This morning I could have read Romans 8 over and over again, meditating on each word as it relates to the necessity of the Christ suffering and rising from the dead.

Paul says that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. God is our father and we are his sons and daughters.

Now, if you are a son or daughter of a man, then you are his heir. Therefore, because the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God, then indeed we are heirs of God. More than that, we are heirs together of Christ.

The Holy Spirit speaks this truth to us if one other thing is true.

“Provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

We are children of God and heirs of God “provided we suffer with him.”

We are children of God and heirs of God

  • not because we have a large and growing ministry
  • not because we are a great preacher
  • not because you are a worship leader with an awesome music minsitry
  • not because we have led many people to salvation
  • not because we have great political influence
  • not because we are rich and famous
  • not because we are healthy, wealthy, and wise
  • not because we are living our best life now
  • not because we have found our purpose and calling
  • not because we tithe
  • not because we pray the right way
  • not because we strictly maintain specific rules, laws, and moral codes

but because “we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

While it’s not a major issues, I would argue that this should be translated “if we really suffer together in order that we may be glorified together.”

The Greek word translated “suffer with him” is sympascho. It is used only one other time in the Bible, and the one other use was also by Paul.

First Corinthians 12:24-26 says, “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together [sympascho]; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

Our suffering together, for one another, shows that we truly know and understand who God and Jesus Christ are. For, it was necessary that the Christ suffer and rise from the dead.

Where did Paul get this idea?

In Matthew 5:9, at the beginning of the sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”

The sons of God are peacemakers.

How do you make peace?

The world tries to make peace through war, violence, domination, and oppression. The world tries to make by inflicting suffering.

The night before he suffered, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27)

Unlike the world, Jesus makes peace by suffering and dying. God makes peace, not by causing suffering, but by suffering himself. God makes peace not with violence but by being violated.

So, the sons of God are peacemakers in the same way that Jesus was a peacemaker.

 

For the rest of his sermon, Jesus tells us what it looks like to make peace through suffering.

“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

“If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”

“Give to the one who begs from you.”

“Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is heaven.”

“When you pray…pray then like this…”

“If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”

“You cannot serve God and money.”

“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”

“Judge not, that you be not judged.”

“First take the log out of your own eye.”

“Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

So, Jesus says those that make peace are the sons of God. Then, he tells us the actions, the suffering, that makes peace.

In Romans 8, Paul has told what makes us a child of God. We suffer together. This is how we make peace. This is how “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)

And, after Paul tells us that we are children of God by making peace, even for the whole creation, he gives us his understanding, his retelling, of the sermon on the mount.

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, but fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-19)

This is how we suffer together.

This is how we make peace.

This is how we know that we are children and heirs of God.

Are You an Instrument of Righteousness?

TODAY’S READING: ROMANS 4-7

“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” – Romans 6:13

What is an instrument for righteousness?

How do I know if I am an instrument for righteousness?

First, we have to know what righteousness is.

The word righteousness sounds like being right. Therefore, we tend to get it in our minds that righteousness is behaving rightly or correctly according to some set of rules, laws, or moral code. Conversely, if we break one of those rules or law, if we violate our moral code, then we are unrighteous.

But, this is not what righteousness is, at least according to God.

In “What Is the Righteousness of God and Its Effect?“, I showed that the righteousness of God was manifested at an appointed time. This time was the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Paul wrote that the scriptures – the law and the prophets – bear witness to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as the righteousness of God.

This is the very thing that Jesus taught the disciples. Luke 24:44-46 says, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.'”

Romans 5:18 says, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”

The one act of righteousness is the suffering and rising from the dead of Jesus. That one act, which is the righteousness of God, justifies and gives life to all men.

Therefore, the righteousness of God is suffering and dying for others at the expense of oneself while trusting God to raise you from the dead to life. That sounds a lot like love and how we know love according to 1 John 4.

Consequently, unrighteousness is seeking my own advantage, benefit, blessing, comfort, contentment, ease, favor, and pleasure at the expense of others while becoming death. That sounds a lot like living in fear, which is the opposite of love according to 1 John 4.

On the one hand Paul says to present our members to God as instruments for righteousness. But, on the other hand, Paul says to not present our members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness. It’s a direct contrast that Paul is making.

Except Paul tells us to present ourselves, not just our members, to God “as from death to life” (that’s the literal Greek).

What does Paul mean?

He means that we should present ourselves, our whole beings, to God just as Jesus did. To truly present ourselves to God we must know that it is necessary to suffer so that we can be raised to life. We cannot be raised to life without suffering.

And, if we do that, then we can present our members to God as instruments for righteousness.

Just what is an instrument for righteousness?

It means that we suffer to be raised to life for others.

But, the Greek more literally translates as weapons of righteousness.

To present our members to God as instruments for righteousness is to to present our bodies as weapons of suffering and rising to life for others.

Do you get that?

We are to be weapons of suffering.

This is how we fight in God’s war against evil.

We present our bodies as weapons of suffering.

We do not fight in God’s war against evil by trying to perfectly live up to rules, laws, or a moral code.

We fight in God’s war as weapons of suffering.

We love our enemies.

We bless those that persecute us.

We return evil with good.

As Paul says in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

In Romans 12:10-19, Paul says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves.”

If you do those things, then you be a weapon of suffering.

In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Paul says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

The Greek word for weapons in verse 4 is the same Greek word that Paul uses in saying we are to presents our members to God as “instruments for righteousness.”

So, what are “the weapons of our warfare?”

The righteousness of God.

Suffering, dying, being raised to life.

It is out suffering in the very face and onslaught of evil that has divine power to destroy the strongholds in the mind of the evil doer. It is our suffering in the face of persecution that destroys evil and wicked thoughts against the true knowledge of God.

Is this not what Christ demonstrated on the cross in his one act of righteousness?

Is this not what Jesus said all of the scriptures testify to?

Look at what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:2-7.

“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons [same Greek word] of righteousness for the right hand and for the left.”

Afflictions.

Hardships.

Calamities.

Beatings.

Imprisonments.

Weapons of righteousness.

Weapons of suffering.

In the right hand and the left hand.

Where was Christ nailed to the cross? Where were Jesus’ weapons of suffering?

Ephesians 6:10-11 says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”

The Greek word for “whole armor” has the same root as the word Paul has been using for weapons of righteousness. We can truly stand against Satan and his schemes when we present our members to God as weapons of suffering. When we do that we cannot be deceived by Satan’s schemes to act in our own self interest. This is how we war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1-2)

Peter makes the direct comparison that since Christ suffered for others then we should think the same way. When Peter says to arm ourselves, the Greek word for arm has the same root as the word for weapons and instruments.

So, to be an instrument of righteousness is to be a weapon of suffering. We need to have the same mind as Jesus – the necessity of suffering to be raised to life.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

Is Your Zeal for God Saving You?

TODAY’S READING: ACTS 22-23

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.” – Acts 22:3

In the first words of his own defense before the Jews who wanted to do violence to him, Paul said that he zealous for God. But, Paul said that he was zealous for God just as were all the Jews were threatening him at that very moment.

To be zealous is to be filled with or characterized by zeal, which is eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something, or to be marked by fervent partisanship for a person, a cause, or an ideal.

Zeal can be a good thing.

When Jesus drove the animals out of the temple and flipped over the tables of the money changers, he said, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” And, the disciples remember that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:17)

Jesus had an eagerness and ardent interest in his Father’s house. He was fervently partisan to his Father and his father’s cause. Jesus’ zeal certainly seems like a good thing.

In Romans 12:8, Paul said that “the one who leads [gives aid], with zeal.”

And, in Romans 12:11, Paul said, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”

And, there are other places in the New Testament where we are encouraged to be zealous.

But, is being zealous always a good thing?

Just after he said that he was zealous for God just as the Jews who wanted to do him harm, Paul said, “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women.” (Acts 22:4)

Paul is saying his zeal for God drove him to persecute others just as the zeal for God of the Jews confronting him was driving them to persecute him.

We know our zeal is good based on what it is driving us to do. Zeal is only good if it is driving us to submit to God’s righteousness. Submitting to God’s righteousness is a rather vague notion. What exactly does it mean?

Go back to John 2 and Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. The disciples remembered that according to the scriptures zeal for God’s house would consume Jesus.

What did Jesus’ zeal for God’s house drive Jesus to do?

Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) Of course, Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. Jesus was saying that he had to suffer and rise from the dead, which has been our theme for several days now.

Zeal is good when it drives us to suffer and die for others. Zeal is good when it drives us to the cross.

Paul talked about this in Romans 10:1-4.

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Zeal goes wrong when we are ignorant of the righteousness of God, seek to establish our own righteousness, and do not submit to God’s righteousness.

What is the righteousness of God?

Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. The Greek word for end is telos. It basically means the goal or the fulfillment. Christ is the goal or the fulfillment of the law for righteousness.

How so?

The theme that we have been reading about for the last several days – that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead. “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

Everything in the law pointed to Jesus needing to suffer and rise from the dead. That was the goal, the fulfillment, the end, of the law for righteousness. If you know that, then you are not ignorant of God’s righteousness. If you submit to God’s righteousness – the necessity of suffering, going to the cross, and rising from the dead – then your zeal will lead to good works.

But, if you do not understand that the righteousness of God leads to the necessity of suffering, then you will seek establish a righteousness of your own. You will establish your own righteousness through violence and persecution, verbally and/or physically, of others. This is just what Paul’s zeal drove him to until Jesus shined his light upon him. And, throughout the entire book of Acts, this is what the zeal of the Jews was driving them to do.

Paul says that we can have a zeal for God, but that the zeal we have is not according to knowledge. The Greek word for knowledge here is epiginosko. Ginosko means to know. Epiginosko means a full knowing. It suggests a more special or advanced knowing because of a special participating in or with the thing that is the object of knowing.

Zeal for God that is not according to knowledge leads to persecution because we have not fully known who Christ is – that it was necessary for him to suffer. This zeal is not according to full knowledge because we have not participated with Christ in his suffering.

We have a true zeal for God when that zeal leads us to suffer, to lay down our lives, to go to the cross.

If we, in any way, are persecuting others, doing violence to them, making war, etc., then our zeal is leading us away from God and down a path of destruction.

Look at how Paul addresses zeal and the righteousness of God in Philippians 3:4-11.

“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law; blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

If our zeal is leading us to do any sort of violence at all, without exception, then it is not true zeal for God.

We have a true zeal for God when our zeal leads us to shun every appearance of evil, wickedness, and violence in our lives. We have a true zeal for God when that zeal is driving us to suffer for the sake of others, to lay down our lives for others, to love our enemies.

If we have this true zeal for God, then our zeal is saving us.

This is what Paul means in Titus 2:11-14.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Go back to Romans 10:1-4. Paul said that his “heart’s desire and prayer to God them [the Jews] is that that may be saved.”

How would they be saved?

Having a zeal for God that was according to knowledge. A zeal for God that drove them to suffer and lay down their lives for others just as their Messiah did.

This is what it means to be saved.

Your zeal for God is saving you when your zeal turns you from persecuting others, from violence toward others, to suffering for others, including loving your enemies.