405:  Come and Die

405: Come and Die

In his classic book, the Costs of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer sums up the teaching of Jesus in this one phrase:  “When Christ calls a man, he calls him to come and die.”  That’s die to self.  Die to our dreams.  Die to our reputation.  Die to our wants and rights.  Die to our families, friends, and future.  And die to our very lives.

We see Jesus continually calling men “to forsake all and follow Him” (Luke 5:11)  Consider the following.

Matthew 16:24-26 – Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him (1) deny himself, and (2) take up his cross, and (3) follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Note the order.  First, there is the desire to “come after” Jesus.  This is followed by the list of conditions to “deny” yourself and then visibly and publicly show others your self denial by taking up your cross.  And finally, after the conditions are met, the desire is fulfilled.  Only then does Jesus say, “follow Me.”

Which raises a few questions.  Do you follow Jesus?  Have you died to yourself?  If so, in what way?  Can others tell?  Are there areas in your life you have refused to die to?  And if so, what are you prepared to do about it?

Do you want to know more about what it means to follow Jesus?  Good.  Then keep listening.

The following is a study on John 21:19-25.

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403:  God Never Waste an Experience, Good or Bad

403: God Never Waste an Experience, Good or Bad

God never wastes an experience in our life, good or bad.  When we sin, for example, God uses our failure as a ministry to help others struggling with the same sin.  He allows us to share the times we fell flat on our face to encourage others who are doing the same.  It seems that’s what Jesus was teaching Peter.

In the upper room, during the last supper, Jesus told Peter He was praying for him.  But His prayer was not to remove the temptation and inevitable fall from Peter.  No, His prayer was that when Peter fell and suffered the consequences of that fall, that once he repented and returned to Jesus, he was to strengthen his brothers by that experience.  Consider the following:

Luke 22:31-32 – And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

Jesus didn’t tell Peter he would deliver him from the temptation, the sifting.  He promised Peter that after he fell and recovered and returned to his faith, Jesus would use that experience to encourage and strengthen others who were struggling in the same way.  That’s why, in John 21, we see Jesus restoring Peter by saying, “Feed My lambs” (John 21:15).  Even after Peter’s epic denial of Jesus, his ministry was not finished.  In fact, it was just beginning.  And so it is with us.

Does this thought encourage you?  It does me.  If you want to learn more about your usefulness after your failure, then keep listening.

The following is a study on John 21:15-23.

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401:  How Life Changes in a 100 Yard Swim

401: How Life Changes in a 100 Yard Swim

In John 21, we have the account of Jesus revealing Himself to a few of His disciples while they were fishing.  As soon as it was revealed to John that it was Jesus on the shore, he said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (John 17:7).  And in perfect Peter style, he overreacted and jumped into the water to swim to Jesus.

But by the time he swam the 100 yards to where Jesus was, something happened.  You can see it in Peter’s demeanor.  You can almost feel his reluctance to approach Jesus.  Why?  Maybe Peter was afraid Jesus was angry with him for his denial in the courtyard.  Or maybe Peter was ashamed he had drawn the others away and gone fishing, back to their old life, like nothing important had happened these last three and a half years.

Or maybe Peter hadn’t forgiven himself for his denial of Jesus.  Maybe he was ashamed.  Who knows?


Change is Not Always for the Better

But something changed.  Not just with Peter, but with all the disciples.  They had excitement and passion that can only come from belief while on the boat.  But once ashore, it seems more like calm reservation.  In fact, John goes out of his way to tell us what the disciples weren’t thinking.  It was his way of trying to explain the strange way they approached Jesus.

John 21:12 – Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.”  Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?”—knowing that it was the Lord.

There are life lessons to be learned in these fourteen verses.  Profound lessons.  Are you interested?  Then keep listening.

The following is a study on John 21:1-14.

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399:  Signs (or Not) of the Kingdom of God

399: Signs (or Not) of the Kingdom of God

If you’ll take the time, you’ll find the core message of Jesus was about the kingdom of God.  Over and over again we find summary verses like this one:

Matthew 4:23 – And Jesus went about all Galilee, (1) teaching in their synagogues, (2) preaching the gospel of (what) the kingdom, and (3) healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.

In fact, Jesus said the object of the gospel He preached, and commanded us to preach, is the kingdom of God.  Consider what Jesus said in His olivet discourse:

Matthew 24:14 – “And this gospel of (what) the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

There are also certain kingdom characteristics in the lives of believers that the Scriptures point out to us as signs of His kingdom.  In essence, when believers manifest certain characteristics of the kingdom in their lives, we can know the kingdom of God is present.  And, conversely, when a believer doesn’t manifest these kingdom characteristics, we can also safely assume the kingdom of God is far from them.

This is a sobering thought.  Character, holiness, and sanctification matter.  Do you want to discover more about the signs of life in the kingdom?  Then keep listening.

The following is a study of Acts 4:32-5:16.

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397:  The Same Day at Evening

397: The Same Day at Evening

In John 20 we find some events that took place on that momentous Sunday, the first day of the week, when Jesus was raised from the dead.  Some of those events took place early that Sunday morning and other events happened later that day, at evening.  It was at this time, in the evening of the same day, that Jesus appeared to His disciples and others who were hiding for fear of the Jews (John 20:19).  And then, to this frightened and confused group of friends and disciples, Jesus spoke these words:

John 20:21 – “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

His words to them were comforting and also challenging.  Just like they are to us today.  And then Jesus uttered some of the most misunderstood words in all of the gospel accounts.  He said:

John 20:23 – “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Do you see how a lazy interpretation of this verse could lead you to believe that God has granted fallen, mortal men the ability to forgive sins?  And those sins are forgiven, not because they are confessed by the one who has sinned, but by the forgiveness of an uninterested third party.  How can that be?  Want to know more?  Then keep listening.

The following is a study on John 20:19-23.

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All Dressed Up and No Place to Go

All Dressed Up and No Place to Go

For the last couple of months I have been preaching about the Holy Spirit and His gifts, focusing on John 14 and 1 Corinthians 12-14, but specifically on 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.  We have asked the Lord to show us what these gifts mean, are they all still operating in the church and, if so, what does that look like today?  That’s right, we’ve dealt with all the controversial topics that tend to divide the body of Christ: second filling, baptism of the Spirit, Cessationism vs. Continuationism, the five-fold ministry, tongues and the interpretation of tongues, the role of apostles and prophets, if any, today, what is a word of knowledge and word of wisdom, and all the other crazy, scary stuff.  It’s been quite an eye opening experience to see, not what I was taught in Seminary or grew up believing in a Southern Baptist church, but what the Scriptures actually teach regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in His church back then, as well as today.

Naturally, in the course of this study on the Holy Spirit, we moved to the Acts to see how this was played out in the early church in real time.  Last Sunday we preached about Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:14-39) and the amazing results of a 297 word message, excluding Scriptures, that was empowered by the very Spirit they received a few verses earlier (Acts 2:1-4).  The Promise of the Father was given (Acts 1:4), and 3,000 people joined the 120 in faith in the risen Lord Jesus.

What an amazing day that must have been.

But now what?  How do these 3,000 new believers, many from areas outside of Jerusalem (Acts 2:5-11), grow in their new faith?  What are they to do?  Where do they go?  How do they learn?  There would be so many questions each of them had.  Where would they go to find the answers?

If they returned back home to Egypt or Rome, for example (Acts 2:10), who would disciple them?  Who would teach them truth from error?  They would be the only ones in their country that had received salvation as evidenced by the giving of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14).  No one carried the light of Christ to their families and friends but them.  No one was to speak into the darkness but them.  They were alone.  Uncertain.  Literally babes in the midst of Jewish wolves.  By returning home they were, in effect, being sent out as missionaries to tell others about the new life found in Christ— the Christ whom they knew nothing about other than what Peter had preached, and what they were just now discovering for themselves.

It was a recipe for colossal failure.  Much like sending an eight year old to convince an atheist University professor of the validity of the New Testament text.  They were vastly outgunned and woefully inexperienced in the things of Christ.  They needed a time to grow, to mature, to understand what just happened to them.  They needed time to come to grips with their faith in the Lord Jesus, and what that faith meant from that moment forward.


A New Home

So, most likely, many of them stayed.  Where else were they to go to hear about the “wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11).

Once, after Jesus proclaimed His unpopular, politically incorrect truth about the kingdom of God that offended the half-committed, many of His followers “went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:65).  Jesus had been telling them about the all-consuming relationship they were to have with Him.  This new life they had experienced, this born-again reality was not like going to the synagogue once a week to dance around their Jewish maypole, feel good for a moment or two, faithfully perform their religious duty, and then go back to life as usual.

This was different.

Religion tries to make us feel good about ourselves by following some man-made ritual that, at least on the outside, makes us look better than we were before— especially when we compare ourselves with ourselves or with others who are struggling like us.

But this was different.  Completely different.

What Jesus came to bring was a totally new life.  The old man, our old life, is not rehabilitated or made better, or less offensive, by Christ’s sacrifice.  He is put to death.  Dead and buried.  Just like Christ.  Jesus sees nothing in us worth bringing into the new life He’s purchased for us (Isa. 64:4).  Nothing.  So all of the old man, the pride, fear, lusts, wants, desires, religion, rights, needs, literally everything— dies.  Everything gets buried.  Everything rots.  And the new man, what Paul later called the “new creation” in Christ, is born again (2 Cor. 5:17).  Born anew.  Born from above.  Resurrected to a new life (Rom. 6:4), created in the image, or likeness of God (Eph. 4:24), and secured by the indwelling presence of God Himself— in the person of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14).

This was a message the religious crowd in Jesus’ day, and in our day, finds offensive.  So they left Him to find another guru that was willing to teach what they wanted to hear, about how to have Your Best Life Now!

Look at the question of Jesus and the answer of Peter.

John 6:66-69 – From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.  Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”  But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Exactly.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

This was the same sentiment those who came to faith at Peter’s sermon most likely had.  Why go back home?  Back to what?  People who don’t know what I now know, which is next to nothing.  Everything has now changed.  I’m a new man.  I see things differently.  And I now have needs I didn’t even know existed before.

“Lord, I need to grow in my faith.  I need to understand more of You who re-created me into something new.  I need to know what Your will for me is now.  Where am I to go?  What am I to do?  I need to learn how to hear Your voice and recognize when You speak.  I need to be taught how to pray?  I want my faith to grow.  I want to understand the gifts the Spirit has given me to exercise for You.  Lord, I need to spend time in Your presence and at Your feet.  There’s so much I don’t know.  So much that seems confusing to me.  Lord, if I may, these other believers are now my family.  And this, Your church, is now my home.”

And so they stayed.


They Continued Steadfast

Notice what happened next.

Acts 2:42 – And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

But there is so much more here than we read on the surface.

Do you want to know how these new believers spent the rest of their lives?  Do you want to find out what made them the kind of people that turned the world upside down in the span of a few years (Acts 17:6)?  Do you think we, as the church, can learn anything from the life they forged for us with the Spirit?

I do.  But that’s something we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to discover together.

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