“If you could go back in time to observe just one historical event, what would it be?”

This is one of the ice-breaker questions we use in our small groups; and over the years some interesting answers have surfaced.  Some were more “American” in nature:  “the signing of the Declaration of Independence” … “the Battle at Gettysburg.”  Others were more personal in nature:  “the day my mother and father met.”  And, of course, many were Biblical in nature:  “creation” … “the parting of the Red Sea” … “the Crucifixion and Resurrection” (being the most common answer).

Certainly, all of those events would be fascinating to witness.  Still, another event I would add to that list would be to observe the life of Jesus when He was growing up.  It would be interesting to watch how His parents related to their perfect Child … and how His younger “half siblings” responded to their perfect Brother.  (“Why doesn’t Jesus ever get in trouble!”)  Did He play games with others His age; or was most of His free time spent reading the Scriptures in Nazareth’s synagogue?  Perhaps most of His life – both at home and around town – was lived in the background, not calling attention to Himself.

Jesus, of course, did not start out as a fully developed adult male.  We are told that the Son of God was clothed in humanity as a developing Fetus in Mary’s uterus (Luke 1:31).  We also read that as He matured from childhood to adulthood, He “kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).  That is, Jesus went through all the mental and physical stages of human development … and He did so without sinning.

These stages of human development suggest the possibility that there was a time – during His infancy and early childhood – that a very young Jesus was not aware that He was Israel’s long-awaited Messiah.  (It is unlikely that the mind of the newborn King, lying in Bethlehem’s manger, had developed to that point.)  But certainly, by the age of 12 He knew (Luke 2:42-49).  Had Joseph and Mary told Him?  Or did they wait for “an angel of the Lord” or the Spirit of God Himself to do so?  And was this revelation gradual or in a moment of time?  We do not know.  But by whatever means His Divine status and calling were revealed to Him, can you imagine what that must have been like … to come to the realization that all the Messianic prophecies referred to Himself!

And what was it like for this young Teenager to attend synagogue every Sabbath, listening to the rabbi read passages foretelling of His coming Crucifixion and eventual reign over the nations, knowing (secretly) that He was that promised One!  What was it like for Him to use a hammer and nails six days a week, week after week, year after year, knowing such passages as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53?  (We should not let that fact escape our notice.  Every day of His life, while working in Joseph’s carpentry shop, our Savior was reminded of what lay ahead for Him.  And yet, He remained faithful to the will of God His Father.)

Luke chapter 20 also adds to our understanding of Jesus’ younger life.  From this chapter we can see that, while growing up, He spent hours upon hours immersing Himself in the Scriptures.  Perhaps He went to the synagogue each day to read from the scrolls.  Perhaps he spent a lot of time with the rabbi, asking him questions, listening to him teach.  That is what we find Him doing in Jerusalem when He was twelve years old (Luke 2:46).  Jesus invested 30+ years of His life cultivating His mind in knowledge and wisdom.  And He used the Jewish Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) to do so.

When His public ministry finally began, Jesus would draw from that insight and understanding considerably.  After years of saturating His mind with Truth, He was ready to explain God’s Word to those who were hungry to receive It … and to reprove those who were just as determined to reject It.  In His teaching Jesus was able to use reason, cite current events, create illustrations (parables) and quote from rabbinic commentaries.  But the vast majority of His instruction included quotes from the inspired Scriptures.

Chief priests, scribes and elders:  “We do not accept Your authority or Your teachings.  Why should we?  From Whom did You receive Your message?” (20:1-19)

  • His final answer came in the form of a parable (using a vineyard), followed by a prophetic passage:  “Because I am the Son of the Father, I was sent with His authority.  And I have come to claim My Kingdom.  But you have already shown that you will not submit to My authority, just as it is written:  ‘The Stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief Cornerstone.’ ” (Psalm 118:22)

Sadducees:  “We intend to discredit the integrity of Your teaching; and we will do so using the doctrine of the resurrection.  There is no such thing (as You say there is).”  (20:27-40)

  • “It is you Sadducees who are mistaken.  Did not Yahweh say to Moses, ‘I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’?  (Exodus 3:6)  He did not say ‘I WAS their God’ but ‘I STILL AM their God.’  Contrary to what you teach, there is life after death.  You do not know the Scriptures (the exchange at the burning bush), nor do you understand the power of God (to raise the dead).”

(Did you notice that the Master Teacher used the mere tense of a verb to prove the resurrection!)

Jesus then goes on the offensive.  Through the vineyard parable, He had claimed to be the Messiah.  Now He takes that assertion a major step forward:  He states that He, the Messiah, is God Himself … fully Man and fully God.  And once again, He uses the Scriptures to do so.

  • First, He quotes Psalm 110:1:  “The LORD says to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.’ ”  Then Jesus does to His antagonists what they tried to do to Him … He silences them:  “How can the Messiah be both David’s Son and his Lord at the same time?”  (20:41-44)

By quoting just a few verses to answer His critics, Jesus claims to be both Israel’s Messiah and Israel’s God … the one true God … “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” … the “I AM” of the burning bush … Yahweh.

Without question, Jesus had an incredible mind!  But He had more than that. According to Luke 20 (and, indeed, throughout the four Gospels), Jesus had an extraordinary command of the Scriptures.  This suggests that, before His public ministry began, Jesus poured over the scrolls in Nazareth’s synagogue, probably from the time He first learned to read.

  • So, how can our lives reflect more accurately, more fully, more consistently the Living Word of God?  By investing time in the written Word of God.
  • And how can we have an eternal impact in the lives around us?  By saturating our minds with the Scriptures.
  • And how can our lives become more stable … more composed … more content … more joyful … more at rest?  Through a daily reading of the Bible.

Not books about the Bible but the Bible itself.  Most surely, we need to consult the counsel of godly men and women who, themselves, have been instructed over the centuries by the Spirit of God through the Word of God.  But if we are so busy that we have time for only one read, then let us lay aside our devotionals and our small group Bible study workbooks and our commentaries and our online sermons and our blogs (including the ones on this site); and let our first and foremost read be the God-breathed, life-changing Word of God.

To do so is to make a daily investment in eternity itself.

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Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Between my graduation from seminary and my first ministry, I was a security guard for an older Jewish woman.  “Sarah” had a kind heart … encased in a hard shell. She was about 70 years old and divorced.  But while married, she and her husband made millions by investing in an optical company.

Their residence was located in affluent “North Dallas.”  Never before (or since) have I seen such opulence:  over 28,000 square feet (at that time estimated to be the largest house in Dallas, Texas, and possibly the state):  nine bedrooms and 17 bathrooms … three kitchens … three dining rooms … two dens … a barbershop … a sauna … an exercise room … a massage room … an office suite … countless closets … (and 27 television sets).  There was a heated indoor swimming pool and another one outside.  And on the walls throughout the house hung pictures of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Frank Sinatra and other celebrities of the 1960’s and 70’s, all taken there in that house.  Ross Perot was their neighbor.  (He only had one swimming pool.)  When the owner showed me her cedar-lined closet in which were hanging her many mink coats, I just stood there and gawked.  Sensing that I could not fathom her wealth, she tried to help me out.  “Martin, don’t you understand?  We were multi-millionaires!”  (That did not help me out.)

To this day I sometimes think about this dear – but calloused – woman; and when I do, I see her house in my mind’s eye.  But not its warm luxuries.  No, there was something cold about that house.  Its rooms were full, but its “soul” was vacant.  You could feel it.  It was an emptiness that overshadowed its extravagance.

That same vacancy could be seen in Sarah’s eyes.  There was a blank stare in those eyes … a drained look that mirrored a drained soul.  Perhaps that same empty gaze was in the eyes of Zaccheus … that is, until he heard that Jesus was about to pass by.


It may be that when some of us hear the name Zaccheus, we think of that little song children sing, “Zaccheus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.  He climbed up in the sycamore tree; the Lord he wanted to see.”  But we should be careful not to miss the outcome of his encounter with the One “he wanted to see,” for it describes the moment an empty soul was gloriously filled to the brim … and then overflowed.

And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich.  Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature.  So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way.  When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”  And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly.  When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”  Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”  And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:2-10)

The account of this meeting between Jesus and Zaccheus is positioned in a most interesting place in Luke’s Gospel:  chapter 19.  To accomplish his Holy Spirit-directed purpose, the author inserted it immediately after the Lord’s encounter with a “rich young ruler” in Luke, chapter 18.  These two chapters present back-to-back accounts of two men who were seeking an audience with the Savior.  This was no haphazard decision on Luke’s part, for they offer an interesting contrast between one whose soul was prepared for salvation and another whose soul was not.

How Zaccheus and the Rich Young Ruler Were Different

  • Although both sensed that something was “lacking” in his life, only one felt the utter poverty of his soul.

The one described as “a ruler” was likely a leader in one of the nearby synagogues.  If so, he would have been known for observing – to the letter – the Law of Moses.  In fact that is how he described himself:  “Teacher, all these (commandments) I have kept from my youth up ….”  This ruler had great confidence in his own righteousness.  He was rich in spirit.

On the other hand Zaccheus, because he was a tax collector, was considered by the crowd to be “a sinner,” worthy of contempt.  And apparently, that is how he saw himself.  This tax collector had no confidence in his own righteousness.  He was poor in spirit.

  • Although both believed that Jesus was somehow able to provide what he lacked, only one believed that Jesus Himself was the missing “Piece.”

The young ruler believed that Jesus could point him to that “one good thing” he was not doing.  Once he started doing it, then he would inherit eternal life.

Zaccheus, however, believed that Jesus Himself was the Solution to his emptiness.  For him, the answer was not in a law but in a Person.

  • Although both were “rich,” only one no longer depended on his wealth to satisfy his soul.

As it turned out, the ruler’s soul was just as satisfied with his riches as it was with his righteousness.  When he was challenged to give it all away, that was too much to ask.  Forfeiting his wealth was not the one “good thing” he was willing to do.

Zaccheus, on the other hand, was more than willing to release his wealth.  His bankrupt soul had already done so.  When Jesus expressed an interest in spending time with him, that’s all it took.  He gladly made restitution with those he had robbed in gratitude for the abundant life he had just received from Jesus.  And he was not even told to do so.

  • Although both longed for life to be more than it was, only one trusted in Jesus to satisfy his soul. Whereas the rich ruler “went away grieved” (Matthew 19:21-22; Mark 10:21-22; Luke 18:22-23), we are told that Zaccheus “received Him gladly.” (Luke 19:5-6)

To the rich, young ruler, Jesus was a law-giving teacher whose yoke was exceedingly heavy.

To the tax-collector, Jesus was a grace-giving Savior whose burden was exceedingly light.

The Eternal Results of Their Choices

For the rich young ruler, eternal ruin.

For Zaccheus, eternal glory.

For Sarah.  A few years ago, on one of my last visits to Dallas, I drove by to see the mansion in which I had once lived.  To my surprise, it had been bulldozed to the ground.  There was nothing there but an empty lot.  The empty house was gone … and so was the empty soul that once roamed its halls.

Sarah is now in eternity.  She died in 1998.  But as I sit here and think of her, I do not know where she lives.  (The Lord knows.)  What I do know is this:  the very thing most of us bend over backwards to have more of had not satisfied her soul any more than it had Zaccheus’.

Beloved friends, to what are you clinging to satisfy your soul?

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A certain ruler … began asking Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”  He said to Him, “Which ones?”  And Jesus said … “Do not commit murder; Do not commit adultery; Do not steal; Do not bear false witness; Do not defraud; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  And the young man said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth up; what am I still lacking?”  And when Jesus heard this, He … said to him, “One thing you still lack; if you wish to be complete, go and sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  (Luke 18:18-30)  (See also Matthew 19:16-20:16 & Mark 10:17-31)

When I was in seminary, I took an evangelism class.  One day we considered this conversation between Jesus and a man we have come to call “the rich, young ruler.”  We read that when he asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded, “Keep the commandments.”

Does that answer startle you?  I remember the professor saying to us (with a smile), “If I had asked you this question on a test and you had given me that answer, you would have failed the course.”

What’s going on here?  Haven’t we been taught to answer the question, “What must I do to be saved?” with “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved”?  But that’s not what Jesus said.  In fact, the words “mercy” and “grace” and “faith” and “believe” and “not of works” were not even mentioned.  Instead, Jesus gave a legalistic answer, a “righteousness-is-earned-by-good-works” reply.  Why did He do that?  Surely, He knew that this young man could not live up to God’s standard of perfection.

Yes, Jesus knew that … but this young man did not.  To him eternal life was something worked for, a wage that was earned by doing “good things.”  Believing he could save himself, he had no need for Jesus to do so, and the Savior knew it.  He knew this man’s soul was not ready to plead for God’s mercy.  Only the “poor in spirit” are ready to do that.  This man, however, was too rich for that.  (Not rich in stocks and bonds.  Wealthy people can be saved.  The tax collector Zaccheus was saved; and “he was rich.”)  No, this man was “rich in spirit” … wealthy in the righteousness of his religion.  “All these (commandments) I have kept from my youth up.”

It is ironic.  This man’s high view of his own morality was preventing his salvation.  And so, as an act of love, Jesus seeks to lower that estimation of himself by knocking out from under him the props of his self-righteousness.  He wants this young man to know that he cannot reach his goal of eternal life through moral perfection.  So, He unveils his moral failures.

“One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

And then we read one of the saddest statements in all of Scripture:  “But when the young man heard this statement, his face fell, and he became very sad and went away grieved; for he was one who was extremely rich and owned much property.”  In telling him to do this, Jesus meant to expose his idolatrous heart, a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments:  “You shall have no gods before Me.”

Jesus did not handle this situation the way most of us are taught.  He did not rush into “the Good News” of His death and resurrection.  No, Jesus confronts him with some bucket-of-cold-water-in-the-face “Bad News”:  “You are not as righteous as you think you are.”

Undoubtedly, the tone of the Lord’s voice and the countenance on His face reflected His love for this young man.  Yet, even the Savior’s love does not lower the demands of Yahweh’s Law.  We should not miss that.  Though God loves the world, the sins of the world must still be dealt with.

Every time Jesus addressed the self-righteous (usually they were religious leaders), His words were never intended to relieve a soul distressed over sin.  Why should they?  A self-righteous soul is not distressed over sin … but it should be.  His words to those “rich in spirit” were never meant to comfort a soul riddled with guilt.  Why should they?   There is no sense of guilt within a soul that is rich in righteousness.  No, these words of Jesus were intended to

lovingly break a soul satisfied with itself

This young man is not alone.  Many today are just like him.  On Sunday morning some of them are sitting in church pews while others are sitting in coffee shops.  Nevertheless, whether religious or not, they all share the same belief of this rich young ruler:  “My decency satisfies God.  It is my ticket to heaven.”  Noticeably absent from their souls is a felt-need for the mercy of God.

In our evangelistic efforts perhaps the Church is rushing too quickly to give this kind of person the solution to his sin problem before he senses he even has a problem.  But until he is convinced that he is a moral criminal on God’s death row, he will have no need for God’s pardon.  Clinging to his works, he has no need to cling to “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.”

We should take note of that.  God’s mercy means nothing to a person who is not first convinced of God’s justice.  Believing in himself, he has no need to believe in the Savior.  To offer the grace of God to the self-righteous is like handing a parachute to one who thinks he is standing on the ground.

Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.

Naked, come to Thee for dress; helpless, look to Thee for grace.

Vile, I to the fountain fly.  Wash me, Savior, or I die.

Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.

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And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.”     (Luke 17:6)

Have you ever prayed for something … ferventlyfor a long time … and asked others to pray with you, those you knew to be “prayer warriors” … and God said, “No”?  Have you ever tried to go through a door you were trying to pray your way through … and God shut it?

I have.  Claiming verses like Luke 17:6, I told myself, “Nothing is impossible for God.”  So I said to my “mulberry tree,” “Be uprooted and be planted in the sea.”  But it did not move an inch.  The One Who so easily could have said “Yes, I will move this tree” … the all-powerful One Who made heaven and earth … He said, “No, I will not move this tree.”

He did not say, “No, not yet.”  He said, “No, not ever.”  And when He did, it felt like “NO!”  For two long years I asked almighty God to do something; and when His answer came, it did not feel like a door being gently closed in front of me.  No, it felt more like a slam-lock.  He slam-locked the door I was trying to go through; and it smashed my nose and crushed my toes.  His answer hurt; and what made matters worse was that I did not see it coming.  I was fully expecting a “Yes”! … but that’s not what I got.  And while others counseled me as to what my Plan B should be, I was still reeling, trying to figure out why my Plan A had not worked out.

At first, I was stunned … then angry … then embittered … then disillusioned toward the One Who – in love – sent His Son to die for me.  I was only two years old in the Lord, and I had no idea what was going on.  My heavenly Father (seemed to have) let me down.  He (seemed to have) reneged on His promise.  After all, my faith was at least the size of a mustard seed.  And if not mine, certainly all those prayer warriors’ faith was.  I felt abandoned and confused.  All my other friends … well, their lives seemed to be progressing quite nicely, the way they wanted them to.  But my life?  It was going nowhere.  On one occasion, when others around me were praying, I did not even bow my head.  What good was that going to do!

It took me two full years to recover from that “No.”  It took even longer for me to understand why a believer, having the faith the size of “a mustard seed,” can say to a “mulberry tree,” “Be uprooted and be planted in the sea” … but nothing happens.  I had been taught (correctly) that even a small amount of faith in a great God can move mountains.  And that is what I had … a small amount of faith in a great God.  Why then was my request withheld from me?  What was I missing?

What I was missing was the context in which this promise is found.  Luke 17:6 is found in the context of a series of commands … commands impossible to obey apart from the power of God.

Be on your guard!  If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”  (Luke 17:3-4)

These particular commands (to respond rightly to a brother’s sins) are – as all of God’s commands are – impossible to perform in our own strength.  It takes a miracle to obey the moral will of God; and He wants us to know that.  Most certainly, the disciples did.  That is why their immediate response to verses 3 and 4 was verse 5:  “Increase our faith!”  They knew that God’s expectation of them was beyond their reach.  The bar was too high.  To obey the Lord demanded a power they did not have.  The fact is

Only God has the power to obey God

… which brings us back to the promise of Luke 17:6:

“Even if you have only a small amount of faith, if you pray for what you need to obey God’s will, your prayers will be granted.  You can expect Him to say ‘Yes’ to your request … guaranteed.”

Most certainly, what I was asking for … fervently … for two years … with the help of others … was not inappropriate.  I was not praying for something immoral.  As directed by the Scriptures, I was “letting my requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

But my request had nothing to do with what my life needed to be conformed to the image of God’s Son to the glory of the Father.  Truly, God has the power to give His children anything they want.  But He also has the love and wisdom to give only what is best for them.  And what is best for them – and for Him – is, first and foremost, our obedience to His will.

That is why prayer for the wisdom and motivation and power to do His will is the request God promises to say “Yes” to.  It is the “mulberry tree” He promises to move.

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.  (1st John 5:14-15)

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It Is Called “Good Friday” for a Good Reason

(In memory of Mary Neil Puryear Wise)

According to the Bible, the moment a person dies he becomes an instant theologian. Whether an atheist or a Buddhist … whether a Muslim or a Christian … whether a good person or a bad person or somewhere in between, when one “steps through an unseen veil” into eternity, he sees the one true God of glory (2nd Corinthians 5:8; Luke 16:22-23).  And as his mind adjusts to his new surroundings – be it Paradise or Hades – his perspective changes considerably.  The things of this world quickly fade as his eternal home comes sharply into focus.

On Sunday evening, January 20th of this year, the soul of my mother, Mary Neil Puryear Wise, stepped through that veil.

If we could somehow summon her out of eternity to stand before us once again, I’m sure we would have many questions to ask her.  But there would be one thing – above all else – she would want us all to know … clearly and fully.  She would, of course, declare that the crucified Son of God really is alive!  (After all, she has now seen Him in all His fullness.)  And so, let us all say, “May the wondrous grace and power of almighty God be praised!”  But there is something else my mother knows, and she would not want us to miss it.

She would want us to know why God the Father had His Son executed to begin with.  She would want us to know why it was not the will of God for Jesus to live to the ripe age of 90 (as she did), die of natural causes (as she did) and then be raised from the dead (as she will be).  No, as important as the resurrection of Jesus Christ is, Mary Neil would want us to understand more than the purpose of an empty tomb. She would first want us to clearly understand the purpose of a blood-stained Cross.

  • She would want us to know that she … and every member of her family … and every friend she’s ever had … and, indeed, every person reading these words … have broken the moral laws of a holy God …
  • that, in doing so, we have committed capital crimes against our divine Judge …
  • and that our capital crimes deserve capital punishment.  (“The wages of sin is death,” Romans 3:23).
  • She would want us to know that this deadly problem cannot be solved by being a good person or by promising God that we will try harder to be a better person.  (If that were true, then Jesus Christ died for nothing, Galatians 2:21.)
  • Nor can this problem be solved by going to church … or by joining a church … or by being active in a church … or by following the religious rituals of a church.  (One does not become a Christian by acting like one, Ephesians 2:8-9.)
  • She would want us to know that there is only one way to satisfy the justice of the righteous One we have all offended by our moral crimes; and that one way is death
  • that someone must pay this debt of death …
  • and until someone does, you and I will remain on God’s death row, under His just condemnation …
  • which explains why the Father sent His Son to be impaled to a Roman cross.

We call that day of His death “Good Friday”; and we do so for a good reason, for it is the day when our debt of death was paid in full.  As a result of that Execution, each of us can now be pardoned from our deserved sentence of eternal death …

  • forgiven of all our sins:  past, present, and future …
  • cleansed – fully and forever – by the blood of the Savior …
  • clothed with the righteous robes of the King of kings …
  • and confident that, as with the triumphant Son of God, we, too, will be resurrected by the power of almighty God unto eternal life.

Yes, it is true:  Mary Neil Puryear Wise was a woman of dignity and honor … a loving wife and mother, a helpful friend and a responsible citizen.  But let there be no mistake.  If she could stand before us right now, if we could somehow summon her out of eternity and ask her, “What is the one thing you want us all to know?” she would direct our attention away from herself.  She would, instead, laser beam our focus on

“the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world”

The One Who, on that Good … that Excellent … that Magnificent Friday afternoon,

died for us … in our place … as our Substitute … so we wouldn’t have to.

The One Who was, on that Joyous … that Glorious … that Breathtaking Sunday morning,

raised from death to everlasting life … so that we could be, too.

A “Good Friday”!  What an understatement!  It is a Priceless Friday, promising a priceless Deliverance to all who turn away from their lawless deeds and cling, by faith, to the finished work of the resurrected Son of God!  No deed is good enough for anyone to earn it.  No sin is too great to exclude anyone from it.  His invitation is offered to us all:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”                 (Matthew 11:28)

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.  (Romans 5:8-9)

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Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.  And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table ….  Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.

In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.  And he cried out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.”  But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.”

And he said, “Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”  But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”  But he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!”  But he said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”  (Luke 16:19-25, 27-31)

This passage is not a parable.  It does not have the “markings” of a parable.  It does not use common, daily life (known to the audience) to teach eternal, spiritual realities (unknown to the audience).  Furthermore, proper names are used (Abraham and Lazarus), something absent from parables.  No, what Jesus is presenting here is an actual historical event, something that happened to two real people … who lived during a real period of time … in a real place.

What should immediately catch our attention is what is on this rich man’s mind after he dies … and what is not.  Did you notice?  Not one thought, not one word, is given to his investment portfolio.  For the first time in his life, the temporal had finally taken a back seat to the eternal.  Not once does this man bring up what had captured his heart while on earth.

Instead, the salvation of his five brothers is the one thing that consumes this man’s heart.

The most impassioned plea for the Gospel to go forth to others – recorded in all of Scripture – came from a man in Hades.

Dear friends, I really doubt that Cornelius Vanderbilt is wondering right now what happened to his wealth.  Or J. P. Morgan.  Or John D. Rockefeller.  Or Henry Ford.  Or Andrew Carnegie.  According to this passage, when these men lost consciousness on the day of their death, they awoke to find themselves in their eternal home.  Whether in Paradise or in Hades, these former billionaires are fully conscious of their present situation. What thoughts do you think filled their minds on the day they died?  And what do you think they are thinking about right now … and will be thinking about 10,000 years from now?

I’m not a betting man; but if I were, I’d bet a year’s salary that the status of their wealth hasn’t crossed their minds once.  Probably, the one thought that does fill their minds – and will forever fill their minds – is this:  “To what did I give my life?”  “For Whom did I live?”  Whether in eternal glory or in eternal torment, they’ve got a lot of time to think about that … and will be thinking about it long after their stocks and bonds have turned to dust and their mansions have collapsed into rubble.  No matter where these billionaires are, what they are focused on right now is this:  the eternal consequence of the lives they lived on earth.

So, to what are we giving our lives?  If to the Kingdom of the eternal One, immortal, invisible, the only true God, then we are in the company of the wise.  But if to anything less, then we are in the company of fools.

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“I tell you that … there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”  (Luke 15:7)

There is a lot we do not know about heaven’s angels.

The Bible gives us only a general picture of what they look like in the realm of glory (Daniel 8; Isaiah 6; Revelation 4, to name only a few references).

We are told they are older than the material universe (Job 38), perhaps only a little older … perhaps trillions of years older.  But their exact age, we do not know.

We are told that one of their purposes is “to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1).  But we do not know in what sense their service to the saints will continue throughout eternity, if, indeed, it does.

There is something else we do not know about the holy angels.  We do not know how many there are.

  • In Revelation 5:11 we have been told that, around the throne of God, “the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands.”  Generally-speaking, a myriad may be considered “an indefinitely large number.”  But technically, a myriad equals 10,000.
  • We should notice that, in this verse, the word “myriad” is plural … “myriads.”  That is, there are at the very least two myriads of angels.  If so, there are no fewer than 20,000 of these spirit beings.
  • But notice that this verse also describes their number as “myriads of myriads.”  Not “myriads and myriads” but “myriads of myriads” (that is, not 20,000 plus 20,000, but 20,000 times 20,000.)  If we multiply two myriads (20,000) times two myriads (20,000), there are no fewer than 400 million angels (the population of the United States is ~ 327 million)!
  • And just for good measure, the Apostle John adds to this number, “and thousands of thousands.”  But again, we do not know the exact number.  Only God knows.

Now picture, if you will, at least 400 million holy angels singing together – and shouting joyously together – at the time God was creating the material universe (Genesis 1).

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements, since you know?  Or who stretched the line on it?  On what were its bases sunk?  Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”  (Job 38:4-7)

Wouldn’t you like to have been there and heard that!

Now picture perhaps 400 million holy angels praising God at the announcement to the shepherds of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2).

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign for you:  you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  (Luke 2:8-14)

Wouldn’t you like to have been there and heard that!

Now picture in your mind’s eye at least 400 million holy angels, joining a great multitude of saints, all standing around heaven’s throne, worshipping God (Revelation 7).

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever.  Amen.”  (Revelation 7:9-12)

Can you imagine this!  An innumerable assembly of reborn Christ-followers, standing in the throne room of glory with at least 400,000,000 angels, all bowing before the Lamb of God in worship.  Many of you who are reading these words will be there!  We will witness this scene firsthand!  Every believer will be there because he trusted in the blood of Jesus, the Sin-bearer, to wash away his sins … sins he gladly turned away from to follow the Holy One.

It is interesting that angels are not the only ones in heaven that rejoice.  Jesus tells us a parable that reveals how God the Father responds when each and every sinner responds to His offer of pardon through the Cross of Christ His Son:

A man had two sons.  The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.”  So he divided his wealth between them.  And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.

But when he came to his senses … he got up and (returned) to his father.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him … And the father said to his slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again.  He was lost and has been found.”  And they began to celebrate.  (Luke 15:11-13, 17, 20, 22-24)

Is it possible to imagine this taking place:  the First Person of the Trinity rejoicing when even the worst of sinners repents and believes in His gracious provision of salvation, accomplished through His Son Jesus!  That is what takes place!

And there is something else that takes place.  At least 400,000,000 angels also rejoice at the salvation of each and every believer.

“I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  (Luke 15:10)

Did you know that?  If you are a reborn Christ-follower, did you know that this is what took place in the realms of glory at the moment of your salvation … the glad, joyful, ecstatic celebration of God the Father and His millions upon millions of angels as they observed your repentance from sin and faith in the Sin-bearer!

That makes the Super Bowl look like a funeral.

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Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “… Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”  (Luke 14:27)

The Lord does not make it easy for someone to be His disciple.  When He declared the high cost of following Him, He did so plainly; and He did not pull His punches.  He raised the bar far above what most churches today expect of their membership; and He will never lower that bar to turn the Christian life into something that is merely comfortable and fun.  To the contrary, He made several bold demands that would discourage the half-hearted from continuing:

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.  (Luke 14:26)

So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.  (Luke 14:33)

These requirements are not to those who are half-in and half-out but to those who are fully in.  He does not give His followers the right to retain certain privileges and make certain demands.  Far from making it easy for them to “sign up” on the dotted line, He calls upon each of us to make a careful assessment before declaring our willingness to follow:

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.”

Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  (Luke 14:28-32)

In counting the cost of discipleship, Jesus tells us to evaluate whether or not we “have enough” of something to fulfill our commitment.  But what exactly are we to have “enough” of?  What is it going to take to follow Jesus?  Because whatever it is, we can be sure that it is not man-made.

  • Motivated by the Holy Spirit, we are to have a strong resolve to be holy and pure … to obey the will of the Father, come what may.  (And in doing so, our joy is made full.)
  • Empowered by our faithful God, we are to have the spiritual grit of perseverance to remain true to Christ, even when every fiber of our being tells us to throw in the towel.  (And in doing so, our endurance is tempered.)
  • Fortified by the Word of God, we are to have an immovable steadfastness to face the relentless onslaughts of an evil that is coming at us from three different angles (the world, the flesh and Satan).  (And in doing so, our claim of Christ’s victory is vindicated.)
  • Strengthened by our trustworthy God, we are to have a tenacious faith to cling to Christ when our situation is painful and does not make any sense … and (especially) when times are joyful and prosperous.  (And in doing so, our confidence is made unshakeable.)

This is the “stuff” that makes up the “enough” Jesus demands of His disciples.  This is the weight – and joy – of the cross our Master expects His followers to carry.

But this is not the focus of many of today’s churches (at least the ones in North America and Western Europe).  The emphasis in our churches is something far inferior to Christ’s demands.  Instead of being willing to turn large crowds away by presenting the high-price of discipleship,

the push of today’s leadership is to attract large numbers of excitable crowds

with extravagant programs … and a flurry of activities … and performing (applause-receiving) bands and choirs … and plush, multi-million dollar complexes … and high-tech presentations.

As a result many believers today are left with the impression that their involvement in all of this “stuff” is what it’s all about … that this “I-want-to-feel-good-without-making-a-commitment” is what “following Christ” looks like.  But this is not what “following Christ” looks like.  A believing community whose one, all-consuming passion to be holy and faithful and submissive to the Father’s will has been largely replaced by a Church that expects to be entertained.  As a result, we have diluted the call to “carry our cross” with something superficial … something impotent … something one mile wide but one inch deep … something that is shiny and glossy and tinsel-like.

This is what today’s so-called “seekers” are looking for; and as a result, it is what much of today’s leadership is giving them.  But where can we find such a vision for the Church in the words of Christ or in the writings of the Apostles or in the historical record of the early church?  No, this emphasis is foreign to what Christ expects in a follower and in a local church.

What was – and is – His expectation is men and women who mean business with Him … who are dead serious about yielding their wills to the will of the Father, no matter what sacrifices and trials and persecutions and temptations and oppressions they encounter.  Theirs is an unquenchable hunger and thirst “to know (Christ) and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death in order (to) attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).  Those who commit themselves to this daily death-to-self will gladly lay aside the shallowness of today’s hoopla to savor the deep, deep joy of their Master, the One with Whom they are crucified and the One to Whom they cling.

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“Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’ ”  (Luke 13:35)

Have you ever talked to a Jew about the Lord Jesus Christ?  I have found them to be, by far, the easiest group of people to talk to about the Savior.  Of course, most of them do not believe that Jesus is their Messiah.  In fact, many of them are not religious at all.  Nevertheless, if you would like to have an interesting conversation, ask one of these blood-relatives of Abraham what it’s like to be one of “God’s chosen people.”  And then get ready to hear a surprising reply:

“You are Jewish?  That’s fantastic!  Your people have such a rich heritage!  And even better, you have a glorious future ahead of you!  What is it like to be one of God’s chosen people?”  (I have heard the following answer at least twice.)

“We wish He had chosen someone else.”

If you know anything about Jewish history, that answer will not surprise you.  The Satanic spirit behind anti-Semitism did not begin with Hitler’s death camps nor did it stop with his suicide.  It has been around since the days of Israel’s patriarchs:  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … and it will continue throughout the future Jewish holocaust initiated by the coming antichrist.  Nevertheless, this answer throws the door wide open for the Gospel.

“Your history is filled mostly with suffering, isn’t it?”  Do you know why?”  (Most Jews do not know how to answer this question.)

Luke chapter 13 tells us why:

  • Despite Jesus’ warning to Israel, “Unless you repent, you will all perish” (vss. 1-5) …
  • Despite God’s longsuffering patience, waiting for the nation to bear the expected fruit of righteousness (vss. 6-9) …
  • Despite Jesus’ use of miracles to validate His claim to be Israel’s Messiah (miracles that were discredited by their religious leaders) (vss. 10-17) …
  • Despite His exposure (through parables) of their religious leaders’ evil influence over the nation:  birds nesting in the trees / leaven spreading in the pecks of flour) (vss. 18-21) …
  • Despite Jesus’ warning that “many” in Israel would reject Him as the only way (“the narrow door”) to enter the kingdom of God, an alarming statement since they assumed that, as Abraham’s descendants, they would automatically be admitted (vss. 22-28) …
  • Despite His cutting prediction that many despised Gentiles (“from east and west and from north and south”) would – by faith – enter the Kingdom instead of Israel’s “many” (vss. 29-30) …
  • Despite His stated resolve to die for the nation of Israel and for the nations of the world because of His love for them (vss. 31-33) …

Despite all of this, Israel later demand that Jesus – their long-awaited Messiah – be executed, then placed the responsibility of that rejection squarely upon themselves and all their descendants.

And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!”  (Matt. 27:25)

As a result Jesus informed His beloved people that they would remain under God’s severe discipline until the day of His Return (the Second Coming of Christ).

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!  Behold, your house is left to you desolate.  And I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’ ”  (Luke 13:34-35)

This is why the last 2,000 years of Jewish history has been saturated with suffering.  It is not because they are God’s chosen people.  (They were not “made victims” of persecution because they are in a covenant-relationship with Yahweh.)

It is because of their unbelief, an unbelief that is without excuse.

May Gentile believers be warned!  Lest we allow conceit to fill our hearts and an anti-Semitic spirit to invade our church foyers, we ourselves should keep this sobering passage in mind:

But if some of the branches (unbelieving racial Israel) were broken off, and you (believing Gentiles), being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.

You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.  (Romans 11:17-21)

God is not yet finished with racial Israel (through whose veins flow the blood of their patriarchs).  They still have a glorious future in the plan of God (Romans 11:25-31).  We should, therefore, beware.  It is one thing to disagree with certain political decisions made by the Israeli Knesset (Parliament).  It is quite another thing to yield one’s will to the spirit of anti-Semitism.  To do so is to give one’s mind and heart over to the lordship of Satan.  God forbid that we Gentiles should join this evil angel in his attempts to thwart God’s plan for Israel, still His chosen people.

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“I (Jesus) say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will warn you whom to fear:  fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear Him!”  (Luke 12:4-5)

During the summer of 1972, a friend of mine was a cast member with the outdoor drama, “THE LOST COLONY.”   Because his performances were in the evening, his days were free to enjoy one of his favorite sports – surfing.  The area around Nags Head, North Carolina, was known for its good surfing and had become a popular spot.  The rest of this story is recorded in his own words:

“One day, while I was out in the surf with another cast member, something caught my attention just under the water’s surface.  Looking over my left shoulder, I noticed – not two feet from me – the dark form of a huge hammerhead shark.

I could clearly see the features of this grotesque shark … its hideous, protruding eyes staring right at me.  An indescribable feeling of panic and fear gripped me.  I realized that I was totally at the mercy of this aggressive type of shark and could be dead in seconds.

As my friend and I frantically paddled toward shore, I wondered with each stroke if the next one would be my last.  When I reached the beach, I was physically shaking all over.  I remember looking down and seeing my knee caps quivering.

After settling down a bit, I noticed two other surfers about a hundred yards down the beach, sitting with their boards by their sides.  Walking toward them, I wanted to warn them of what I had just seen.

‘Hey!  There’s a huge hammerhead shark out there!’

I was absolutely shocked at their response:

‘You mean he’s still out there?’

They knew the shark had been out there!  They had watched me paddle out into the surf; and yet, they had not bothered to warn me of the danger!

I could have been killed!”

Yet, they had not bothered to warn me of the danger!


Tell me.  What kind of person would do that … one who knows that you are in danger of losing your life but does not care enough to warn you?  What would you think of an individual who couldn’t care less if you live or die?

To remain silent when someone is in danger is the ultimate in hate language.  That fact carries over into our presentation of the Gospel.  We need to warn the lost that God is more than a God of grace.  He is also a God of justice.  When we address those whose eternal souls are in danger of eternal death, we need to tell them both sides of their situation, the good news of God’s pardon and the bad news of God’s condemnation:

  • “This is what you can expect to receive from God if you repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation (His pardon) …
  • … and this is what you can expect if you don’t (His execution of the death sentence you are under).”

“Now as for you, son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel; so you will hear a message from My mouth and give them warning from Me.

“When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand.”

“But if you, on your part, warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life.”

“As I live,” declares the Lord GOD, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live!  Turn back, turn back from your evil ways!  Why then will you die, O house of Israel?”  (Ezekiel 33:7-9, 11)

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