Opened Minds to the Scriptures (Luke 24:36-52)

Whenever there is a political scandal, you hear this question asked about the high-ranking official under investigation:  “What did he know, and when did he know it?”  Understanding the consecutive order of knowledge, decisions, and events is critical. It would be unfair to read the common knowledge results and guilt for some event back to the beginning of it, if the person at the outset had no knowledge or understanding of what was taking place. There is a progressive sequence.

We often look at the Scripture and at biblical characters and wonder how they could be so ignorant. In reference to the disciples – who are featured in our final Scripture devotional today – we are amazed at how little they understood of relatively straight-forward remarks by Christ before his death, burial, and resurrection. Of course, it is nearly impossible for us to drop into their sandals and context. We know the end of the story; but in the heat of the middle of it all, that Christ would conquer the grave and show up alive on the other side of a Roman cross was too much for them to imagine.

But there is even a larger dynamic at work. We read today that Christ opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  We have the divine presence of God living within us in the form of the Holy Spirit. Prior to the Day of Pentecost, this was but an occasional experience of those especially inhabited and empowered by God for special ministry and service. We undervalue this resource. I have often preached that as much as we look at the miraculous events of the Bible where God showed up in powerful and personal ways on (most often very widely separated) occasions, all of those Old Testament era saints would trade that in a heartbeat to have the resource we possess of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Our series has been on the work of Christ on the Cross, but among the benefits that follow is the coming of the Holy Spirit that marks the age of the Church. Among the works done by the third person of the Godhead is that of illumination – which means that the Holy Spirit provides a ministry of enlightenment to open our minds to understanding the Scriptures. But as with all works of the Spirit, we may cause hindrance to that enablement by thwarting it through complacency, or worse. If you have chosen to track with us through this series by following these devotionals and the resources Chris has also put on this page for the iGrow groups … then good for you! Thank you. And I encourage you to tell others to participate the next time the church makes this sort of resource available as a complementary tool.

The passage today says that the disciples were told that they were witnesses to the cross work. A witness is one who bears testimony. And though we today are not eyewitnesses of the cross, we still bear testimony of the benefits of the words and concepts we have studied and the way they have changed and impacted our lives. The next series that begins this coming Sunday is one where you will be challenged to be a Matthew – like one of the disciples – who was desirous that others meet the person who so impacted his entire life.

In conclusion, I hope that through this series your minds have been opened to the Scriptures in new ways. I trust that our delving into words that are admittedly big ones with lots of syllables and letters has made you not only more intellectually aware of what Christ has done on the cross, and not only emotionally and spiritually more profoundly grateful, but also more equipped to better proclaim the cross words of eternal life. That is my hope for you, as it has in fact been my desire for you over all these 19 years that God gave me to be his under-shepherd in this place.

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

The Ascension of Jesus

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.


How do YOU Respond to Jesus? (Luke 23:44-49)

Probably none of us have had an experience in our lives that quite matches the scene depicted in today’s readings. The events of this day were incredible – literally even earth-shaking. It is, after all, the account of the moment in time when Christ died – when he accomplished the “cross words” that we have highlighted in this series.

Beyond the cool little earth shake that we felt here on the east coast last year, I’ve never experienced an earthquake. From those who have, I gather that a major earthquake is quite a frightening experience. Coming out of seminary in 1982, I spoke as a candidate in a church in central California (Scott’s Valley to be exact), in a truly beautiful area abundant with redwoods, etc.  I said to my host family, “Having never experienced an earthquake, do you think you could conjure up a little shake for me while I’m here?”  The looks on their faces told me that I had just asked a very inappropriate question.

During that same season of life while living in Dallas, I remember one particular Spring day. April in Texas is simply a delightful season of the year – until a storm comes along. On this particular day, the sky became so dark around lunchtime that all the streetlights came on. The wind continued to crescendo into a total fury, rain and hail flew parallel to the ground, sirens began to sound, and there was no doubt that the basement of the seminary library was the place to go if one didn’t want to end up with Toto in Kansas. It was a tornado that blew just overhead without quite touching down. It was very impressive – something I’ll never ever forget.split rocks

Either of these stories may give us just a bit of a feel for the experience of those witnesses of Christ’s crucifixion. It was a day like no other. There were three hours of darkness; there was an earthquake; the temple veil ripped from top to bottom and exposed the most holy place. This veil was no little curtain or dainty drape. It was 30 feet wide, 60 feet high, and 3 inches thick with 72 woven plaits of 24 threads each! It took 300 priests to move it. If it was to rip on its own, the weight of it would cause it to tear from the bottom up. Rather, it was from the top down – signifying that God had opened the way to himself through the atonement of Christ … reconciliation had been accomplished!  This was quite a day.

But notice the varied reactions to the event. There were scoffers, particularly among the soldiers. Yet one of them – a centurion – was able to see beyond the events to grasp the undeniable hand of God directing the entire scene. The masses of the people were not sure what to think. Many were simply frightened by the whole experience. Those who had followed Christ were confused – their faith shaken along with convulsions of creation. And why should their faith have not been rattled to the core? There they stood, and in that moment they saw their belief in the Messiah plunge with his head dropping to his chest upon that Roman cross.

Which person would you be if you were standing there on Golgotha’s hill?  Well, you don’t have to answer that because you are standing where you are today some 2,000 years later. But you still do have to answer the question, “How do you respond to Jesus?”  We may put ourselves in the sandals of those witnesses in some fractional manner of imagination. But in reality, though we are not eyewitnesses to these events, we possess the written words of these and other witnesses who proclaim that Christ has risen and offers life to all who believe. We see the testimony of this reality as well in the changed lives of people who have met the Savior of the world. And our hearts tell us it is true – yearning from a God-shaped vacuum to know the filling only possible by the Lord Himself. We have the cross words; the atonement is paid; reconciliation with God is possible as we believe and trust in him. Do NOT delay to do just that if you never have before; and for those who know God through Christ, pause to give thanks today for this great gift.

(Note – along with the posted reading for today in Luke 23, I have also included a parallel passage from Matthew’s Gospel.)

Luke 23:44-49

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

From earlier in the passage:

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the Jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

Matthew 27:51-56

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph,and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

The Perfect Measurement (Colossians 1:15-23)

Over the years I have on many occasions bought cords of wood. Who knows if I got a legitimate cord or not? Some suppliers would advertise and deliver wood based upon an amount in a pick-up truck, but there are many varied sizes of truck beds. I was never really sure what I was getting, and I was never sure those guys knew really what they were selling me.

For serious commerce to be successful, there has to be a determined standard of measurement that is agreed upon.  In the early American colonies, measurements were highly diverse – even though drawn upon English origins. The colonies measured by the firkin, kilderkin, strike, hogshead, tierce, pipe, butt, and puncheon. Even when the same unit was used from colony to colony or locality to locality, it often was not assigned the same value. A bushel of oats in Connecticut weighed 28 pounds, but in New Jersey it weighed 32 pounds.

The federal government got involved with the fixation of standards for weights and measurements. Fixed object artifacts were made and sent to the states to objectify and enforce standardization. But it was still very imperfect. With the industrial age, a piston made in one location needed to be exactly right in order to work within cylinders somewhere else. Eventually a national laboratory was established to more accurately fixate exact measurements. And now, with the advance of physics, more precision is available. For example, the length of a meter is now officially established as the distance light will travel in a vacuum for 1/299,792,458th of a second as determined by iodine stabilized lasers. And physicists are still arguing about what constitutes a final measurement for volume and weight.

There is no such ambiguity when it comes to God’s perfect standard. He is perfect and holy, and the Scriptures say we must be also in order to be in eternal relationship with him. Throughout this series on the cross words we have talked about that lack of perfection (righteousness) as the problem we have … but as the problem that has been reconciled by the cross.

The reading today teaches about how Christ is the perfect Son of God. It reaches a pinnacle of definition in verse 19 where it says that God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. The Greek word for fullness is one that speaks of the sum totality of something. Jesus was the sum total of God – in human form. And in that form, through the cross, Christ changed everything. And in terms of those who trust in this work, that person is reconciled to God by having a change to a new perfect status. We are no longer enemies, and we have nothing against us that can be charged to us to separate us from the Lord’s love.

The Supremacy of the Son of God – Colossians 1:15-23

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

A Very Cool Assignment from God (2 Corinthians 5:11-21)

Every so often at my Rotary club, we have an ambassador from another country come as a guest speaker.  There are only a few categories of guest speakers that are afforded a standing applause welcome. Ambassadors are one of them. An ambassador is an important person. He stands in representation of the sovereign in his country, and represents all that his native kingdom values and promotes.

The Scriptures say that we are ambassadors for the King of Kings. I have always been so impressed with this concept and honored that God should so regard us in such a light as to give us this incredible title and responsibility.

The Apostle Paul understood that he was an ambassador… and not just when he was preaching in a synagogue or proclaiming Christ in the marketplace. Paul remembered his role even when he was in jail chained to a huge Roman guard. He knew his position of service was a 24/7 kind of thing…

EPH 6:19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Being vitally related to God changes our viewpoint of both ourselves and those around us.  In today’s passage, Paul is saying that the Christian has a new way of looking at people around him. It is not the same way people of the world look at each other. We see others with Kingdom glasses. We see them either as brothers and sisters in Christ, or we see them as enslaved by an alien kingdom – in need of our services as an ambassador of the Kingdom of Light.

So there is no reason for the Christian to be insecure. You are not just an engineer, a nurse, a teacher, a mom or dad… you are an ambassador for the Creator, the One who holds it all together, the great Storyteller. That sure beats anything your unsaved neighbor is able to say he or she has membership within. You represent the sovereign of the universe as an agent of reconciliation and peace.

How well do you serve in this assignment?  Ask God to make you aware and effective as His chosen representative – it is part of your role in The Story that God is writing, along with the adventure and journey of walking in relationship with Him.

2 Corinthians 5:11-21

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Human Marmadukes (Romans 5:1-11)

When I was a high school kid growing up in an evangelical church with a large youth group, there was a guy who often attended named Mort. To put it kindly and simply, Mort was rather “unusual.”  To put it not so kindly, he was totally goofy, socially inappropriate, and entirely annoying to have around. At a minimum, he was ADHD – before that was known as a malady and learning challenge. Every time you turned around, there he was – right up in your face with some ridiculously goofy idea about what we should be doing. He was a sort of human Marmaduke – the Great Dane of comic strip fame. (The Wikipedia description of the mom in house is “Dottie – the housewife of the family whose daily life would probably be a lot less of a hassle if she didn’t have Marmaduke around.” )

Our youth group tolerated Mort, not because he deserved it, but because most of us truly were pretty good Christian kids trying to figure out how to live life for God. We loved him “in the Lord,” because that was the only way it would work. But Mort made our sanctification a difficult process. And of course, over time, we all graduated and went in varied directions, though we’d gather occasionally again at church as college/young adults. Mort sort of disappeared, as he was not actually from a church family. After a few years, he showed up again, and he was entirely changed. His old self had been mortified (bad pun, I know); he was a changed person. I believe he went into the military, where they probably beat the goofiness out of him! But in any event, he was now socially appropriate and even fun to have around.

In our sinful condition, to God we are human Marmadukes – though completely without any cuteness factor. We are Morts – totally self-absorbed and frankly intolerable in our sinful state. But God didn’t leave to us to figure it out; he didn’t hope we’d connect to some organization that would beat the sin out of us; he didn’t even give us a multi-step program to fix ourselves. No, God gave us his most precious Son to pay the price of our sins and bring us reconciliation.

As was noted in the sermon yesterday, the word to think of with reconciliation is “change.”  God has not been changed, but we have. We are no longer enemies; we are at peace with God. And all of this is because God chose to love us at our worst – while we were yet sinners.

This understanding does away with any notion that mankind was a breed of cute little sinners – a boys will be boys sort of thing … along with any notion that God is a type of soft-hearted elderly grandfather figure who simply can’t stop himself from doting upon his cute little creatures. Nope! We were rebels who were in outright defiance against God … but in that condition, God chose to love us and name us in Christ as our debt was paid upon that Roman cross.

Romans 5:1-11

5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Puzzles Winner for the Cross Words Series

Congratulations to Joni Sgaggero who was the TSF Cross Words series puzzle solving champion (though a friend of mine who lives outside the area actually got them both correct previously).  The final puzzles were in the devotional on Monday April 15th, and you can see them HERE.

The first and more simple puzzle was solved with the words “cross words for life.”  Indeed, the words that we have been studying are words that give us eternal life with Christ.

The second and more difficult puzzle was the word “infralapsarianism.”  Never heard of that one, eh? Perhaps you’ve heard of its sister term, “supralapsarianism?”  We’ve looked at some big words during this series, and it has been fun to see people really grasping what these words mean, being blessed by the gracious work of God on our behalf, and being equipped to better communicate the Gospel.

These last two big words are theological terms that seek to understand the order of God’s decrees… when did God determine to save mankind – like, before or after man feel into sin? The arguments are exceedingly complicated, and are of course difficult in that we are attempting to understand the God who is above and outside of time … and to bring into the dimensions of our finite world an understanding of what he has done and is doing in salvation.

For winning the puzzles competition, Joni was awarded a brand new BMW M4 in church today … pictured here…



Truth Worth Fighting For (Galatians 2:11-21)

Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes that there is a time to speak and a time to remain silent. Circumstances determine which course is wisest. Even Jesus did not speak out on every occasion against everything he that knew was wrong. A modern-day maxim says that one should pick his battles wisely.

In today’s devotional reading, we encounter a historic situation where the Apostle Paul chose to pick a battle – with none other than Peter. Wow! Saints Peter and Paul in a dust-up! Readers of the Scripture seem to more often remember the occasion in the book of Acts where Paul had a serious conflict with another giant of the early church – Barnabas. And look – Barnabas shows up in this passage today. He is on Peter’s side of the equation and standing justly in the firing line also for the verbal tongue-lashing Paul lays on Cephas (Peter).

Antioch was a great church in the earliest days of the Gospel going worldwide. There were Jews and Gentiles and all sorts of diversely-gifted people. If you know the story of Acts, you know that Peter certainly understood that the message of Christ was not an exclusively Jewish truth. It was the good news of the final work of Christ that had benefit for all peoples, Jewish and Gentile. Peter openly associated with Gentiles in Antioch, that is, until a group from Jerusalem (“from James”) came to be with them. Among these were those who were of a “circumcision group” – meaning that they had not yet accepted the full message of the Gospel of grace abounding, and they were hence still of an opinion that the only way one could be right with God was to believe in Jesus AND still keep the Law.

The stiff, traditional, old-timer, “we’ve never done it that way before” group in the early church were the believers in the church in Jerusalem – very predominately Jewish. Apparently they also were quite intimidating. I imagine that Peter knew them well from the days of following Christ, the passion week, and the resurrection appearances and Day of Pentecost. Even Barnabas was caught up also with Peter in separating themselves off from fellowshipping and eating with the large Gentile elements in Antioch.

For Paul, this was an unacceptable situation that had to be confronted. It was a physical evidence of an insufficient understanding of the work of Christ and the very nature of the Gospel.  This segregation failed to see that the message of the cross was not merely the latest Jewish thing, it was a totally new work of God for all people. In Paul’s mind, what was at stake … and what needed to be clearly affirmed was the very issue of justification – that it was a work of grace and not at all a work of the Law.

Some of Paul’s arguments in this passage are difficult to understand, but the essence is that any combination of the Law with belief in Christ was a total mixing of oil and water.

I have always loved verse 20, having memorized it as a young boy. Paul says he is identified with Christ in his death, being so loved by the Lord that Christ is worthy of Paul’s whole life being dedicated to serving him in faith. And that application is in the category of what I often speak about as a “timeless truth.”

Paul Opposes Cephas – Galatians 2:11-21

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

The Story Behind the Story (Ephesians 2:1-10)

And the pastor began to speak to them in parables, saying: 

There was once an exceedingly wealthy man named John who owned a mansion house containing many rooms. For reasons none could understand, he cared about street thugs and young men who had completely lost their way in the world. One day he sought out a young boy named Billy and offered him a room to come and stay at his home, in order that Billy might put behind his world of crime and relational connections to the life of the street. At first Billy was skeptical, and even though there were frustrations with the street life, it was all he knew. He laughed at John, as did his gang of ruffians, but John continued to pursue him with the great opportunity for a total transformation.  And over time, a day came when Billy made the decision to walk out of the hood, and into the mansion. Billy was always thankful for what John had done for him, but over time, he began to remember the details a bit differently than the historical reality. The way his mind recalled them was that, out of all the guys in the hood, he was the smart one who found a good deal and was wise enough to make a choice to change his life. There was a subtle sense within him (not that he actually put words to it) that there was a little something unique about him that made John single him out.  He was pretty proud of his life transformation! Not many ever did such a thing! However, the reality was that, bottom line, Billy really had nothing much to do with his good fortune, it was all because of John that it ever happened at all.

We’ve been talking about some big words – cross words – in this series of sermons and devotionals. I’m going to give you some more today. I realize now that I used to think like Billy, but here is the day that changed. A college professor taught that there are three views about salvation: Pelagianism, Semipelagianism, and efficacious grace.

Pelagianism (named after a guy who lived in the late 300s) is a view that man is not really that badly tainted by sin and that he can work his way into a good position with God by following Christ’s moral example. This is truly works salvation, and I knew that was totally wrong.

Semipelagianism is a view that God sees that man is very sick because of sin, sorta throws down a rope from heaven, and man grabs hold of it if he is smart and ends up being saved from his perilous condition – spiritually rescued like a helicopter with a rope picking up someone off the roof of their house in the midst of a huge flood. I heard this, and at age 18 in college thought – “yep, that’s correct.” But the prof said that “no” it was not.

Efficacious grace is the view that man is total depraved – meaning that he is so lost because of his imputed sin from Adam that he is spiritually dead. A dead person cannot respond to anything. God brings life and salvation – opening the eyes and the mind to understand and respond to the Gospel – for apart from that grace and act of God, the lost soul would not and could not respond. Hence salvation is fully a work of God. It seems that we respond, and in time and space we do respond to the Gospel and are commanded to preach the Word as the vehicle through which God’s grace and truth is disseminated … but the real work of salvation is all of God.

That is what today’s passage is teaching. And when one understands God’s grace in this way, and when one sees what the Lord has done in raising us up and seating us in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus … Wow! It really is a gift. Take these thoughts with you this Sunday to the table of the Lord, and I dare you to stand there with those elements in your hand … with dry eyes.

Ephesians 2:1-10 – Made Alive in Christ

2:1  As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Hoping Against Hope (Romans 4:16-25)

OK… at the risk of leaving some people behind on this one, let’s start off by being a kid again in summer Vacation Bible School and sing together – “Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord.” The first verse in today’s devotional says that Abraham is the father of us all, and indeed he is the father of all those – Jew or Gentile – who have been saved by God’s grace through faith. Just as God is one who has brought to life that which was dead physically (Christ … and as we’ll see in a moment, something else!), God has brought to life all of us who were spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins.

Not only did the Christian classic song “Father Abraham” come from today’s devotional passage, so also did the English language idiom “to hope against hope.”  The meaning of this occasionally-used phrase is one of continuing to hope for something when the situation appears entirely bleak. For example, Redskins fans might say of the coming season, “We’re hoping against hope that the Skins will at long last win a Super Bowl.” So you see, this is an expression of hope rendered where there is no substantive reality to have such!  (Okay… you know I’m just kidding … I love them deep, deep, down somewhere in my soul … or should I say that I’m hoping against hope that I do?!).

If you want to keep score, there are two reasons why Abraham should have no hope, but only one reason as to why he should hope against hope.

The first reason for Abraham to feel hopeless was the mirror. When he looked into it, he had my common and similar reaction, “What’s a young man like you doing in a body like that?” He was almost 100 years old. And yes, people lived longer then, but, well, let’s just say that the procreation train had already departed the station!

But there was an even worse reason for Abraham to lack faith. If the mirror experience wasn’t bad enough, when he turned around, there stood Sarah! Oh boy. Yes, a babe in her younger years … but, that was a while ago. Now at age 90, when it says that her “womb was dead,” that is not metaphorical speech!

But, Abraham has ONE good reason to have faith:  He had a promise from God about being a father of many. And that promise was ultimately one from which he did not waver. He believed that the God who called things into being – like the created world – could bring life to the dead situation of their bodies; and since God had said it would happen, he believed it would indeed transpire. This faith in God’s promise was credited (imputed) to Abraham’s account as righteous – declaring him justified! It was not works, circumcision, or the Law that did it – it was faith.

You gotta love it when the Scriptures give you the application and don’t just leave you to figure it out on your own. And the passage says that this was not a one-time thing, but rather that it applies to all of us today.  Christ took our imputed sins, and being delivered over to death paid for them and was raised again. As we believe in this work – understanding these cross words – our faith credits Christ’s righteousness to our account, and we have justification. Whoohoo!

Romans 4:16-25

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.”  He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

It Just Feels Right to have to EARN IT! (Romans 4:1-15)

I used to say that a challenge in our culture for people accepting the Gospel message of God’s extravagant grace was the American work ethic that you’ve got to earn everything that you get. But now, with the rise of a substantial entitlement society, it is not like there is a commensurate rise in people taking hold of the freely offered Gospel. Probably the associated ideas of righteous living and yielding one’s life to a control outside of self are concepts equally difficult for both extremes!

Let me help you through this passage today, as it is not as difficult as it at first may appear. As with many Scriptures, it is helpful if you understand what came immediately before what you are reading. The final portion of chapter 3 (verses 21-31) says that in Christ there is a salvation from sin that is a righteousness (the thing we need) obtained through faith (the way it has actually always been). But Paul anticipates some objections that might be made by Jewish people in regard to valued elements from their revered history. They might ask, “Well what about stuff like good works, circumcision, and the Law – aren’t these things good for something? And aren’t they really important to something like SALVATION?  Hmm?”

So Paul begins to answer this anticipated objection by saying, “Let’s look at Abraham.” Hey, if there is anyone who should be OK with God by some means other than faith, surely it is this incredible guy. But Paul will shoot down their objections 1-2-3 … refuting that Abraham got any merit for salvation from (first) the doing of good works (verses 1-8), secondly circumcision (verses 9-12), and thirdly the Law (verses 13-15).

Paul blows up the idea of works by pointing to the moment of salvation for Abraham in Genesis 15 where the Scripture says that he believed God – not that he DID ANYTHING! – and that faith was what gave him righteous credit. And David is quoted as affirming the same principle.

Then, regarding circumcision – a subject I hate preaching about, but which was a big deal to the Jewish people – Paul points out that Abraham was credited (with imputed righteousness) BEFORE the rite of circumcision was given – like, 14 years before, to be exact. So that didn’t earn him any merit.

And finally, regarding the Law – again a big, big deal to the Jews. Well, it gets even sillier to believe that this contributes to salvation, because the Law would not be given to Moses until about 430 years after the time of Abraham’s faith. For example, that is a longer span of time than it has been to when the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth or the King James Bible was authorized! Beyond that, we have already written in this series that the Law brought condemnation, not grace.

Christ has done the work for us on the cross. Our part is to receive the gift in faith. This righteousness is imputed to our account, and we have justification – we are declared righteous. And we don’t earn it.

Romans 4:1-15 – Abraham Justified by Faith

4:1  What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.

8 Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”

9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.