The Power of the Resurrection

Happy Resurrection Day to you and yours!

As much as we celebrate the power of the cross, we mustn’t neglect the power of the resurrection.  Many have died on a cross – though only one as the Son of God – but the spectacular coming-back-to-life is the experience of Jesus alone.  God the Father confirmed the power and sufficiency of Christ’s death to forgive sin and His identity as God’s Son, the sinless One, by raising Jesus from the dead (Rom 1:1-4).  The resurrection sealed the deal and confirmed our salvation won at the cross.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy had caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet 1:3).

In Philippians chapter 3, the apostle Paul writes, “Not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:9-11).

In one verse, Paul takes the power of the cross; “the fellowship of His sufferings” and “being conformed to His death” and puts it together with the power of the resurrection in his desire to know Christ in His fullness.  Paul follows a similar pattern in Romans chapter 6, “As Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom 6:4-5).

To walk in newness of life.  Somehow we have landed on my favorite word in the New Testament; the word new.  Nothing goes together better than the words “new” and “resurrection”.  We were raised with Christ to experience all the “new” that He has promised His children.  So on this Resurrection Sunday, take a minute to thank the resurrecting Father for both the privilege and responsibility, and might I add the godly desire, to walk in the power of the resurrection.

The Power of the Cross

Blessed Good Friday to you and yours!

In Luke 9:23, Jesus warns His would-be disciples, “And [Jesus] was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’ ”  The concept, taken from this verse, of “bearing one’s cross” is a prevalent theme in the literature of Christian discipleship.  We often take the term to mean putting up with some physical infirmity, dealing with a challenging relationship, or some other difficult situation.  But to Jesus’ first century audience, the meaning of “bearing one’s cross” cut much deeper and was explicitly vivid.  Being 2000 years removed from the cross as an instrument of execution has so softened the intensity of this phrase for us that we almost miss its potency.

It was not uncommon in Jesus’ day for a convicted criminal to literally “bear his own cross,” carrying the crossbeam of his cross through the streets to the place of execution.  Jesus Himself suffered this fate.  When Jesus spoke these words, this literal “cross-carrying” was what his hearers visualized.  The equation of “cross equals death, not difficulty” was common in their experience.

I believe we can take at least three applications from Jesus’ command to take up our cross.  The most direct is this:  as a disciple of Jesus we must be prepared for physical death that may result.  This was not only the outcome for some of His listeners that day (nearly all of the apostles), but continues to be the experience of Christ followers in many places.  That Jesus had this in mind is clear from the verse that follows.  “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Lk 9:24).

Application two is hinted at in the preceding phrase of verse 23, “He must deny himself.”  Similar to the cross representing physical death is the idea that the cross represents death to self, death to selfish ambition, death to your own hopes, dreams, and plans, even death to relationships that hinder one’s discipleship loyalty (Lk 14:26).  The word “daily” following the command also fits this application as it suggests this death is a continuous and ongoing aspect of discipleship.  Taking up our cross in this sense helps us defeat our last enemy:  ourselves and our selfish ambition.  Our desires and agenda are now subservient to the call of Christ.

Application three moves beyond this specific verse to look at the over-arching message of the New Testament.  When we take up the cross, we are not only embracing its death-to-self message, we are also embracing its power.  We generally ascribe the “power of the cross” to the one time event of our justification.  We rightfully acknowledge that Christ’s death on the cross was powerful and sufficient to deliver us from the penalty of sin.  But could the power of the cross also be our ongoing experience?  The answer is a resounding “Yes!”  And for the past few years, the emphasis of this weblog has been the practical ramifications of how Christ’s work on the cross crucified our sin nature, ushered in everything new about who we are, and empowers us to “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24).

On this Good Friday remembrance, may I encourage you to take a minute to thank our Savior not only for His one time gift of redemption but also for your new identity in Christ, your new nature, your new heart, and the ongoing presence of His Holy Spirit.  In these gifts we experience the power of the cross every day.

Our Counterattack – Prayer and Faith

(8 of 9 in a series on “Why do bad things happen to good people?”)

In Mark 9:14-29, we have a story of demon-possession that includes a long conversation between Jesus, a distraught father, and the disciples.  As Jesus returned from the mountain of His transfiguration, he found a crowd gathered.  While He was away, His disciples had failed in their attempt to drive a demon out of a child and the desperate father turned to Jesus.  After describing the child’s pain, the father pleads, ” ‘But if you [Jesus] can do anything, take pity on us and help us!’  And Jesus said to him, ‘ “If you can?”  All things are possible to him who believes.’  Immediately the boy’s father cried out, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.’  When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.’  After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, ‘He is dead!’  But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up.  When He came into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, ‘Why could we not drive it out?’  And He said to them, ‘This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer‘ ” (Mk 9:25-29).

Our first weapon in our counterattack is our prayers.  An absolute requirement in overcoming Satan’s evil schemes against us is prayer.  And it is prayer saturated with faith.  Notice in verse 23 of our passage, Jesus places great importance on the father’s faith, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mk 9:23).  This leads to our second weapon in our counterattack; our faith.

Faith takes the spotlight in the Matthew account of this same story.  In Matthew chapter 17, Jesus gives a slightly different answer when the disciples quiz Him about their failure to drive out the demon.  “Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’  And He said to them, ‘Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you’ ” (Mt 17:19-20).

Here the emphasis is on the weapon of faith.  In the Mark passage, the emphasis was on the weapon of prayer.  Both are critical in our counterattack on Satan’s evil interventions in our lives.  I know it sounds simple, but it is really, really critical and must be put into practice.  When we interpret the bad things that are happening to us as attacks from Satan, we have a counterattack strategy.  We don’t get angry, we don’t blame others, we don’t lose hope, we don’t abandon our commitments.  We fight Satan’s attacks with prayer and faith.  So when faced with the devil’s roadblocks:

  • Pray for deliverance.
  • Pray for strength.
  • Pray for lessons learned.
  • Pray for God to intervene.
  • Believe that God exists and lives inside you.
  • Believe that He hears you when you pray.
  • Believe that God is good.
  • Believe that you see “the glory of God in the face of Jesus”.

Beyond these short points there is much more about prayer and faith in the New Testament to bring into the picture and I pray you discover these things as you study God’s Word and allow it to impact your life.  Let me close with two verses that highlight our role in the fight.

“With all prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph 6:18).

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6).

Prayer and Faith.  Our weapons of power against the dark enemy; the author of evil.

Under Attack

(7 of 9 in a series on “Why do bad things happen to good people?”)

If Satan is the author of evil and his plan includes harming believers, how do we rightly evaluate the bad things that happen to us?  That is, how do we recognize the difference between God’s training program and Satan’s attacks?  We start by interpreting our situation through “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (II Cor 4:6).  We ask ourselves, “Is this harm that has befallen us consistent with what we expect when we look into the face of Jesus?  Is this the kind of discipline we expect from our Savior, or is this so outside the realm of His love that it must be an attack from Satan?  Let’s think about some example situations that might help us out.

Suppose you have a problem with procrastination and are always just squeaking by at the last minute with your college application, paying your bills, or filing your taxes.  Then your passport application is denied as late because it got held up in the mail.  You thought you sent it in in plenty of time, but you also know you should have done it much sooner.  I think it is safe to say that this “bad outcome” is not the likely work of Satan, but rather an opportunity for God to show you the consequence of your laziness.

Or maybe a lack of patience is a besetting challenge for you.  You stop into the Home Depot to pick up some things.  When you go to pay by check, your check is denied by the system.  You know you have the money in the bank.  You have a choice to make.  Do you blow your top, blame this on an incompetent cashier, and make a scene that the check should go through, or do you step back and recognize a pop quiz, as it were, from the Lord; a test from God in which you respond by patiently taking out your credit card, paying the bill, and saying goodbye to the cashier with a blessing?

Compare these examples to our missionary friend who applies for a visa to a South American country.  As part of the application process, he must fill out a form verifying that he was never convicted of a drug crime.  Sounds simple enough except the form must be accompanied by a $3200 “fee”.  This is capricious, random extortion, and the exorbitant amount has no connection to a service rendered.  The most straightforward explanation is that this is the work of Satan to slow down our friend’s return to ministry.  Of course, God could have a lesson in here for our friend about money, but only he could answer that based on what he knows of his own heart.  But it sounds like the work of Satan to me.

Or how about one of the most painful experiences of all, the death of our children?  My cousin lost her daughter, Nikki, who died of breast cancer at the age of 29.  Nikki left behind a husband and two small children.  You know many stories like this.  I don’t believe God “took” Nikki to teach her husband, or her parents, or others close to her some kind of a lesson.  Does this sound in any way like the Jesus you know from the Gospels?  I believe in Jesus, we see not only the image of God, but the character of God and the work of God.  I believe a stroke in a two-year-old child, cancer in a loved one, and untimely death are the work of the evil one, the power behind death and disease.

So when our life situation carries a harm that is capricious and random, unexplainable and unpredictable, mercurial and fickle, I think we need to consider the possibility that Satan is throwing a roadblock into our way, because this is not how God’s training program works.  So if Satan is at fault in a particular situation, what is our next move?  It is one thing to recognize the enemy’s attack (and this is indeed the first step to understanding the bad things that happen to us), but in light of that understanding what do we do next about the pain?  We will cover this topic next time.

The Dark Enemy

(6 of 9 in a series on “Why do bad things happen to good people?”)

When the pain we experience seems capricious, random, or unexplainable, I believe that rather than blaming God, we need to recognize we have a powerful, dark, and active enemy who hates us.  As C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked about a Dark Power in the universe – a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease and sin.”

God is not the author of evil.  For too long, in our dogmatism about the sovereign plan of God, we have either inadvertently or deliberately, painted God as the author of evil.  With this foundational error, it comes as no surprise that many among us blame God for evil and suffering on both a personal and worldwide scale.  Inquiring minds soon see a contradiction between our teaching on God’s love and goodness, and the evil He supposedly prescribes which, to them, becomes untenable and they abandon the faith.  Let me say again, God is not the author of evil.

We think we are enhancing God’s reputation by ascribing to Him the authorship of all things.  But we are actually harming God’s reputation when we imply the evil that befalls us is part of God’s sovereign plan.  I believe the best way to make God’s name famous in all the earth is to point people to Christ as the most complete image of God.  When we look into the face of Christ, we see God the Father.

“The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (II Cor 4:4,6).  Satan, the god of this world, is the one actively working to keep men from seeing the “glory of God in the face of Christ.”  Why?  Because when we look into the face of Christ, it becomes clear that Christ, the image of God, is not the author of evil.  It does not fit the New Testament picture of our Savior.

Satan does this to cover his tracks, because, as the Bible teaches, Satan is the author of evil.  Jesus simply called him “the evil one” (Mt 13:19).  By his very nature, he is evil, deceptive, and a pathological liar (Jn 8:44).  As to his influence, he is “the god of this world” (II Cor 4:4), “the ruler of this world” (Jn 16:11), “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2) and “the whole world lies in the power, or grip, of the evil one” (I Jn 5:19).  Satan is the author of evil.

If Satan seeks to do us harm and is one of the three reasons bad things happen to good people, how do we know when he is at work?  When bad things happen, how do we know when it is God’s training program or the work of Satan?  We will take up this question next time.