Sunday, May 20, 2018

The confirmation of the gospel, Mark 16:9-20

It has been our policy to preach through the Bible verse by verse, chapter by chapter, for many, many years now, even long before we officially became The Beach Fellowship.  I started preaching through the New Testament way back in the day when we were Christian Surfers meeting at Salt Pond.  And so today is a special day, because today is the day when I finish preaching through the entire New Testament.  I haven’t figured out exactly how many years it has taken me, but it’s about 15 or 16 years.  Along the way we also preached through Genesis, the Psalms, most of 1 and 2 Samuel, Daniel, and a few of the minor prophets.  We have preached through Ephesians twice now, and starting next week, we will begin a second tour through the book of Hebrews on Sunday mornings.  

So it is amazing, really, that God has given me the opportunity to preach through the New Testament, and that I stand here today after 16 years, still doing what we started out doing all those years ago.  However, let me say in clarification that preaching through the Bible is not just some academic exercise that helps us to feel superior to other churches which don’t study the Bible.  We preach the Bible because we believe it is the inspired Word of God, which is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, and that it’s doctrines equips the church with everything necessary for life and godliness.  

Mark began this book by calling it a gospel, in ch.1 vs 1.  He now concludes it, in chapter 16, with the Lord Jesus sending His disciples out to preach this very gospel in vs 15.  And we stand before you today preaching this same gospel, as evidence of the power of the gospel, and the eternal purpose of the gospel. 

The gospel simply means the good news of Jesus Christ.  That Jesus was God, revealed in the flesh, who came to bear our sins, to be our substitute, that He was crucified, buried and rose again, and now lives to make intercession for us, and to be with us in HIs Spirit, until He returns even as He was taken up, to claim His church as His bride.  That is the gospel, and those who have believed it, and accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord, have been born again to a new life in Him.

There is a move today in Christianity that no longer really preaches the gospel. They may sound like they still espouse faith in God, but they are teaching a new gospel, which Paul says is not really the gospel at all.  They eliminate all the thorny doctrines like sin and hell and judgment, and just talk about love, which has been reduced to some kind of sentimental euphemism for embracing diversity.  I read recently about a new kind of Christianity that is becoming popular in Colorado, and the traditional church has been replaced by coffee shops and craft beer infused get togethers to talk about social issues.  That’s not the gospel.  

The royal wedding this weekend was yet another example of the popularity of the social gospel.  The Episcopal priest speaking at the wedding was given kudos by the left leaning media for his embracing, socially unifying message of love, which quoted from all sorts of liberal sources, but avoided the true message of the gospel.  Listen, love means that God sent Jesus to be tortured and beaten and nailed to a cross to pay the penalty for your sins and mine.  In spite of what the bishop said that we need to love ourselves, the first and foremost commandment is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul,  mind and strength.  And the only way we can know how to do that, is if we preach His word faithfully, and obey His word.  Jesus said if you love Me, you will keep My commandments.  We will keep His word.

Now last week we looked at the first eight verses of chapter 16 concerning the resurrection.  And some of you might notice in your Bible version that the remainder of the chapter is set apart in some way, and there may be notes which say that the following verses are not found in the oldest known manuscripts.  Many Biblical scholars have debated for centuries as to whether or not these verses were actually penned by Mark, or were appended at a later date by various editors.  

I am not a Biblical scholar, nor a Greek language expert.  And there are men on both sides of the aisle that I look up to who take opposing views concerning these last eight verses.  However, I feel a certain reluctance to discount a passage of scripture on the basis of most modern criticisms.  I would tend to think that though there may be problems with this text from certain perspectives such as style or terms used, or older copies versus less older copies, yet I would tend to believe that God has intended these verses to be included in Mark as accurate and reliable.  

It is true that the oldest copies of the Greek manuscripts do not contain these twelve verses, but it is also true that the overwhelming majority of the Greek manuscripts that we have today do contain these verses. And it is also true that two of the earliest church fathers, writing from the beginning of the second century, quote from this passage. So it is clear that, from the very beginning, the church has accepted these twelve verses as authentic, even though there is some dispute today that they may not have come from the hand of Mark.

My personal opinion is that it’s likely that Mark’s original letter continued after verse 8.  Ending at vs8 would be an odd way to end a book, and it’s at odds with the way the other gospel writers ended their books.  But probably something happened to the end of the original manuscript, and the early church fathers wrote a summary of what Mark had written as a way to finish off the book.  It’s also a good possibility that these last 8 verses are original to Mark, but there were other verses that were interspersed in this passage which were lost for some reason or another.  And so what we have sounds a bit disjointed, and seems different stylistically, but it may be due to the fact that some connecting verses were lost. 

Irregardless, many very early Christian writers refer to this passage in their writings, such as Papias, AD100, Justin Martyr, AD 151, Irenaus, AD 180, Hippolytus, AD 190, Vincentius and Augustine also wrote concerning this passage in the around AD 200-250. This shows that the early Christians knew about this passage in the Gospel of Mark and accepted it as genuine.

So we are going to accept it as genuine, as something that the early church accepted as the gospel, and now let’s move on and look at what it says.  There are three divisions of this passage; the first verses, 9-14, deal with the basis of apostolic belief; verses 15 and 16 deal with the commission of apostolic preaching; and the final verses 16-20, deal with the confirmation of the apostolic witness.

Let’s look first at the basis of apostolic belief. In vs 11, Mark emphasizes that initially the apostles, when told of Mary Magdalene’s experience, did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.  You will remember at the beginning of the chapter how the women had come to the tomb early in the morning, at the first light of dawn, and found the stone rolled away and saw the angel. The angel told them that Jesus was not there, but He had risen.  But they did not see Jesus then. 

According to John's gospel, Mary Magdalene had gone ahead of the others and, seeing the empty tomb, she ran to tell Peter and John immediately. Evidently she did not hear the angel's explanation. Peter and John both ran to the tomb. Peter went inside and saw the grave clothes lying there still wrapped as though they were around a body, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head was folded and placed aside. This convinced Peter and John that indeed Jesus was risen, but they still had not seen him.

Mary Magdalene returned more slowly to the tomb and as she stood weeping in the garden she saw what she thought was the gardener, she asked him where they had laid the body of Jesus. Jesus spoke her name and she then recognized Jesus. This was the first appearance of the risen Lord to a disciple. He came first to Mary Magdalene. She ran and told the other disciples. But Mark tells us that when Mary told them that Jesus was alive and that she had actually seen him, they did not believe it.

In vs12, Jesus appears to two other disciples on the road to Emmaus. “After that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country.” Notice that Jesus appeared to them in a different form.  He disguised Himself to them in some way.  Luke 24 tells that as they walked along with Him discussing the things that had recently happened concerning His crucifixion and resurrection,  He began with Moses and the prophets and showed them from the scriptures all the things that referred to Messiah. Later as they sat at table with him and saw his hands as he broke bread, they recognized their crucified Lord. Then He disappeared.

These two disciples came back to Jerusalem immediately and told the eleven what they had seen, but, in Verse 14, Mark says the eleven did not believe them. “Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”

It’s interesting that the disciples are having such a hard time believing that Jesus had risen from the dead.  They don’t really even want to believe other eyewitnesses.  And yet that is exactly what their own ministry would be founded on.  They were eyewitnesses to HIs majesty, to His miracles, and they would be eyewitnesses to His resurrection and ascension, and so it would be incumbent upon the hearers of the gospel to believe their eyewitness testimony.  Yet they themselves were slow to believe. 

Jesus himself expected the eleven to believe before they saw him. He wanted and expected them to believe the reports of the eyewitnesses who had seen him. They were trustworthy persons and were reporting what they themselves had actually experienced, and that should have been enough to convince these disciples that Jesus was risen from the dead. So concerned is Jesus about this that He rebukes them. Even as He did in the days of His ministry, so now, He, as their living, risen Lord, rebukes them for their unbelief. He takes them to task because they refused to believe those who had seen Him. You can see the importance Jesus attributes to this matter of believing eyewitnesses.

Because that is what one of the pillars our faith is to be founded upon; the testimony of credible witnesses. Paul wrote later that 500 people saw the risen Jesus at one time.  We have reliable testimony. The apostles were reliable witnesses, and we are required to believe their testimony.  When we have adequate, trustworthy witnesses who report to us what they have seen, we are expected to respond with belief. These men saw the risen Lord. They were granted a privilege that we are not granted; but nevertheless, our faith can rest upon solid foundation. Even though we have not seen him, we believe because of the eyewitness accounts recorded in the word. And as Jesus would tell doubting Thomas later who persisted in disbelief, those who do not see and believe will receive a greater blessing.  John 20:29 “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

Next, let’s look at the apostolic commission starting in vs15. And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”  Notice that there are two  main points in the  command which Jesus gives here.  “Go” and “preach.”   Just as the Savior seeks and saves those that are lost, so are we to seek the lost.  To go into the highways and byways and invite the lost into the kingdom of God. To go into our neighborhoods, our communities and preach the gospel.  To go to the ends of the earth and preach the gospel.  Not all of us are called to be pastors, or missionaries, or as in this case, apostles, but we are called to be ambassadors to a lost world, to tell them the good news of Jesus Christ.  Preaching is proclaiming the good news, the news of Christ’s life and death and resurrection through which believing we are saved, converted, changed, and we receive eternal life.

The good news is that the power of evil in your life and mine can be broken! Sin no longer controls us and ruins and robs us of life. The bondage of sin is broken by the power of the resurrection of Jesus. The living Lord Himself lives within us and imparts to our life the power of Christ. This is the good news, and this is the gospel we are to preach. That is what Scripture calls being saved. That is why Jesus said, "He who believes  and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

Notice the order there.  Belief comes first, baptism follows.  Believing is the means of justification, we are justified by faith, which is believing, trusting in the Lord to save.  Then baptism is the evidence of salvation, being obedient to what the Lord says. What Jesus means is that belief ought to be real, and the reality of that inward belief is demonstrated by the outward action of baptism. Only that belief that changes us and converts us is real saving faith, and the way that we can demonstrate it is by being baptized.  In other words, belief is action, not just an intellectual exercise.  It changes your life, and as Jesus was raised to life, so we die to sin and are raised to new life in Him which results in righteousness. That is what baptism symbolizes, new life after dying to sin.

Maybe some of you here today may have never liked the word saved.  But what it means is that we are hopeless and helpless, drowning in our sins and the condemnation of that sin, and the good news is that Jesus Christ has come to rescue us, save us.   The late RC Sproul said, “God doesn’t just throw a life preserver to a drowning person.  He goes to the bottom of the sea, and pulls a corpse from the bottom, takes him up on the bank, breathes into him the breath of life and makes him alive.”  Being saved is being delivered from death, but also being changed from a life held captive to sin, to a new life through the power of Christ in us.

Knowing the unbelief that would face these apostles as they testified to the gospel, the Lord now goes on to give them certain signs which will accompany and encourage them in preaching the gospel. This climate of unbelief is the setting in which Jesus promises these signs in verse 17, "And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; If they pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." 

Now of all the verses in this passage that are problematic, from my perspective these are the most problematic.  And I think it really comes from a popular misunderstanding that what Jesus is saying is that all future believers will experience these signs.  But I think that the context of the passage indicates that Jesus is saying the apostles will exhibit these signs, as a testimony to their witness.  These signs were testimony to the authenticity of the apostles’ message.  God would confirm their word by signs and wonders.  And Paul speaks of that in Second Corinthians 12:12: "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you in all patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.”  Hebrews says the same thing; Heb. 2:3-4 “how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”

These, then, are the signs of an apostle. They were authenticating signs to accompany those who first went out with the gospel into an unbelieving and hostile world. Consequently, I believe that these apostolic sign gifts expired with the apostles.  The word of God which they have spoken has all the authentication that it needs.  It has stood the test of time.  It has stood the test of thousands of critics through the centuries.  But even more importantly, it has changed millions of lives.  It has proven to be powerful to save millions and millions of people through the centuries.  And furthermore, scripture authenticates scripture.  The scriptures authenticate themselves as you study it and read it.  You find it proves itself over and over.  There is no more need for signs and wonders to authenticate new revelation.  The revelation is complete, and it is in our hands as the Holy Scriptures, the word of God, which was given to us through the agency of the apostles.

So what were these signs?  Well, they would cast out demons.  We see evidence in the scripture that the apostles did this before the ascension of Christ, as well as after Pentecost. They will speak with new tongues.  This was a sign that was fulfilled at Pentecost as everyone heard the gospel in their own language.  And it continued for a time as the gospel reached the Gentiles.  Peter, preaching at Pentecost, says that the new tongues were a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28,  "It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions.”  Peter says in Acts 2:15-16  "For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day;  but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel.”  So that was fulfilled at Pentecost.  It’s not something that is prophesied for the end of the age as is often taught.  It was a sign of an apostle.

Furthermore, the disciples would have power to survive physical attacks upon their lives. Bitten by a poisonous serpent, they would not die. If they accidentally drank poison, they would not die. They would have power to survive, that the gospel might go out. This would be one of the authenticating signs given to them.  You remember that Paul endured a snake bite when shipwrecked on an island, and he did not die.  And consequently, he was able to share the gospel with the people there. He survived stoning, and also he survived being thrown to the lions. Peter was released from prison.  So God was able to providentially protect the apostles until their mission was finished here on earth.

The fourth sign is power to heal, to lay hands upon the sick, and they will recover.  Acts records many examples of the apostles being able to heal the sick and even raise the dead.  Again, this was to authenticate their message as being from God.

So God gave these authenticating signs to the apostles as confirmation of the word that they were preaching.  And the last paragraph tells us that after the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven, the apostles confirmed the power of the gospel by going throughout the world preaching the gospel and God working through them in establishing not only the scriptures, but the universal church.  As Ephesians 2:19 says,  “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household,  having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord,  in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” 

So Mark closes this gospel of his with the Lord ascending into heaven, living as Lord in the midst of his church, directing its events, planning its strategy, carrying it unto the farthest reaches of the world. And the apostles, scattered throughout the known world of that day, preached this good news, their witness being confirmed by these great signs. They thus laid the foundation of the great building that Paul calls the church, the body of Christ, that has grown through all the centuries since. 

Listen, the gospel has been preached to you today, just as it was 2000 years ago.  As Isaiah the prophet spoke: “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?” You can receive the good news, believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ, and be saved, receive new life, abundant life.  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is able to remake you, and make you into a child of God, if you will just repent of your sins and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  I trust that you will trust Him today, and call upon Him to save you.  The Lord is mighty to save all who come to Him in faith. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The gospel of the resurrection, Mark 16:1-8

Today we are looking at the last chapter of Mark, particularly the section of scripture in which he records the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  The chapter begins early Sunday morning.  We ended our message last Sunday speaking of the burial that happened after the crucifixion which was on Friday afternoon.  You will remember that Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus were in a hurry to bury Jesus’s body because the Sabbath was quickly approaching.  The Sabbath was counted by the Jews from sundown on Friday, to sundown on Saturday.  We count our days from midnight to midnight.  But without clocks, it was more feasible to count the day as ended at sundown and a new day continuing until sundown the next day.  

During that time, on the Sabbath, Jesus’s body was in the tomb.  If you were here last week, then you may remember that I attempted to describe what may have transpired while Jesus’s body was in the tomb.  1Peter 3:18 tells us “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;  in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison.”  

Now I am not going to preach that message again.  Once was painful enough, I suppose.  I told my wife later that I thought last week’s message was probably the worst message I ever preached. And I said, “What did you think?” Hoping she might reassure me.  But she said, “Oh, I’m not sure, there have been so many!”  

The point though is that during this dark interval between the cross and the resurrection, though His body was in the tomb, yet Jesus was alive in the Spirit, and as the Apostle’s Creed declares, in His Spirit He descended into Hades.  In some mysterious way, in every respect, Jesus paid in full for our sins through His death.   Someone has well said, that the death of Jesus on the cross was the payment, but the resurrection was the receipt, showing that the payment was perfect in the sight of God the Father.  The fact that Jesus was resurrected is proof that God considered the sacrifice of Jesus as fully acceptable and perfectly fulfilled for our justification.

Now I want to briefly make a few notes on the record of Christ’s resurrection as recorded by Mark.  I don’t feel the need to try to fill in all the blanks in Mark’s account from the other gospels.  I think it’s sufficient to note certain points that he wanted to make concerning the record of the resurrection.  Then I would like to show the relevance of the resurrection.  What does it mean for us?  It must be more than just a historical record.  And I believe that the relevance of the resurrection is central and crucial to  biblical Christianity.  Without it, there is no good news.  

The resurrection is the cornerstone of gospel promise. It is the primary theme of worship and praise because the resurrection is the source of eternal life for believers; because He lives, we live also. Without the resurrection, the cross, the death of Christ, would be meaningless. Without the resurrection, the cross would be powerless. If Christ is not raised, according to 1 Cor.14, then your faith is in vain, the gospel is worthless and you are still in your sins...if Christ is not raised.  So we need to understand the resurrection’s relevance.

And then, finally, I want to show our response to the resurrection.  It’s not enough to simply believe or accept it in some superficial, historical way, but it demands a response.  And that response involves an invitation and a proclamation.

So let’s begin first with the record of the resurrection.  Mark’s account is the briefest of all the gospels.  He begins with the same people he left off with at the end of chapter 15 on Friday evening.  With the women who witnessed the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ.  These women were those who had followed Him from Galilee.  They had ministered to Him during His travels and ministry, perhaps with financial support, and caring for His needs during His preaching.  They supported Him.  And though all had forsaken Him, these women were faithful through the crucifixion, the burial, and now the first at the tomb early Sunday morning.

There is a principle that is taught in 2 Samuel during the time of David’s wars.  Some of the men stayed behind with the baggage while the others went on to fight the battle.  And after the victory, some mean spirited men wanted to keep the spoils from being shared with the ones who stayed behind.  But David wisely made a tradition, established a principle, which said that the ones who stayed behind with the baggage should share as fully in the spoils as those who fought on the front lines.  And that principle remains  true for these women, who were in the background, serving the Lord, and who gave a great service to the Lord, even though it was unheralded.  So much of the important work of the Kingdom is done by people who are out of the limelight, who support the ministry in the background.  But in the consummation of the Kingdom, they will receive the same reward as those who were on the forefront of the battles.  

The next item of note is that it was early on Sunday morning, what was called the first day of the week. You know, this message would seem to be better preached on Easter, when we formally celebrate the resurrection.  But we also celebrate the resurrection every Sunday.  We meet on Sunday because Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week.  Sunday became known as the Lord’s Day.  And since the earliest days of the church, Christians met on the Lord’s Day in worship.  The Sabbath was the day of rest which God instituted for man during the Old Testament times looking forward to the rest from our labor that we would have in Jesus, but with the resurrection of Jesus Christ that was changed to the first day of the week, in celebration of the new life we have in  Jesus Christ.  We are no longer under the law of the Sabbath, as Paul said in Colossians 2:16, “no one is to act as your judge in regards to a Sabbath day.” So the fact that it was early on Sunday morning is important to our theology.

There is another item in the record which bears pointing out, and that is the extremely large stone that the women were aware was blocking their access to Jesus body.  It was beyond their ability to move.  And so, to a certain extent, they went to the tomb in faith that somehow they would be able to access the body.  They probably were unaware that Pilate had commissioned a detachment of soldiers to guard the tomb, and that they had put a seal on it, so that it could not be opened.  But the other gospel’s tell us that God had sent an earthquake and an angel to roll away the stone, so that the soldiers ran away afraid.  

The point that needs to be made, is that Jesus did not need the stone rolled away in order to be able to get out of the tomb.  In John 20, we see Jesus in His risen body walking into a locked and closed up room to visit the disciples.  In His risen body doors and walls did not hinder Him.  So He had  already left the tomb before the stone was rolled away. The angel rolled the stone away so that the disciples could enter and witness that He wasn’t there.

But in that early morning darkness, the thought of the great stone across the door to the tomb must have been a great deterrent to the women’s desire to tend to body of Jesus. They could have given up before they ever even started out.  And what a loss they would have if they had not ventured out in faith, in spite of the perceived obstacles. 

There are a lot of perceived  impediments even today in coming to Christ.  There are all sorts of obstacles that we think hinder us from coming to faith in Christ.  But the lesson here is that we come in faith, in spite of the darkness, in spite of our lack of understanding, but believing that God can remove those obstacles, that He can move those mountains that seem to be impeding us, and when we come in the little faith we have, we will find that God has already provided a way, and our little faith will give way to a greater faith. Psalm 36:9, “In thy light we see light.”  As we walk in faith in the light we have been given, God grants greater light for the path ahead.

Notice also when they entered the tomb they saw an angel sitting at the right side of the tomb.  Mark describes him as a young man in a white robe.  The other gospels tell us it was an angel.  I think Mark is also obviously describing an angel, but in appearance he resembles a young man, though in a glorified state.  The women are amazed, frightened.  Angels are a messenger of God.  That is what the word means, messenger. Hebrews 1:14 tells us concerning angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation? And God wants these women to know what has transpired, not to speculate, not to wonder what happened to Jesus.  But to know, by the word of God, that Jesus of Nazareth was no longer in the tomb, but He had risen from the grave, and would go before them to meet them in Galilee. 

So the angel declared that Jesus was risen.  And that they would meet Him in Galilee.  Some of them would in fact see Him later that very day.  But the point is, that the death of Jesus was not the sad end of a tragic tale of a good man.  The resurrection offered hope of a new life, a new relationship with Jesus who lived, to whom death had no power, and because He lived, we might live.  Because He was resurrected, we too have the hope of resurrection.

You know, in a court of law, there is no greater evidence that can be given than that of eyewitness testimony.  A person can be sentenced to death on the basis of two eyewitnesses testimony.  The fact of Jesus’s resurrection is something Paul said was attested to by more than 500 eyewitnesses.  So the credibility of the record of the resurrection stands as a historical fact.  There are many other details of the events surrounding the resurrection that we could review.  Some of those will be discussed next week as we look at the remaining 8 verses.  But for now I would like to leave the record, and move on to the second point, which is the relevance of the resurrection.  What is the meaning of the resurrection, and what significance does it have for me?

First, the resurrection means that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God.  We read in Romans 1:4, (Jesus) “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  If Jesus was not resurrected, then He was just a man with delusions of glory.  But because He was resurrected, and ascended bodily into heaven, it is evidence that He was who He claimed to be, the Son of God.  And only because He was the Son of God, was His sacrifice acceptable. Because Jesus bore all our sins in His death and because His sin-bearing satisfied God, God gave to us all His righteousness. Justification is God crediting the righteousness of Christ to us, imputing the righteousness of Christ to our account. Because God raised Him from the dead, God was affirming the completeness of His sacrifice for sinners.

Secondly, the resurrection means that we have assurance of our own resurrection: 1Thess. 4:14 says, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” That means that those who are asleep in Jesus, that have died in faith, will be raised from the dead, raised from Paradise to glorification with Christ.  We will be given new bodies, to live in a new heaven and new earth, forever with the Lord. That’s the hope of the resurrection. Because He lives, we live.

Next,  the resurrection teaches us that God has an eternal plan for our lives. The resurrection means that death no longer has any power over us.  Jesus said, “he who believes in Me will never die.”  This life is but a foretaste of what is in store for those who are in Christ.  In the life to come, we will judge angels, we will rule and reign with Christ.  There may be worlds upon worlds out there in the cosmos that God will give to us to reign over.  I don’t know.  Paul said “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard.”  We can’t imagine the life that God has prepared for those who love Him.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul relates our bodies to a seed, which as it dies is put into the ground, and comes up in the resurrection as a new body.  1Cor. 15:42-44 “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body;  it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” Vs. 53 “For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.” 

Fifth, the resurrection means that Jesus has a continuing ministry: Hebrews 7:25 says, “He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them.”  We have a great high priest, positioned at the right hand of God, who ever lives to make intercession for us.  We have an advocate in the heavens, a mediator between God and man.  He who gave His life for us, how will He not freely give us all good things that we need?  That’s the continuing ministry of Jesus Christ who ever lives. 

6, The resurrection means that Christianity and our God are unique and completely different than other world religions.  There is no other religion which claims that their God became man, who died for their sins and rose from the dead, so that He ever lives to help them and minister eternal life to them.  

7, The resurrection proves that though the world considered Jesus as a common criminal, worthy of death, God considered Jesus as the righteous substitute who took our sins upon Himself, to bear the penalty of our sin.  As I said earlier, the death of Jesus on the cross was the payment, but the resurrection was the receipt, showing that the payment was perfect and complete in the sight of God the Father.

Now let’s consider the last point I want to make in this sermon, and that is the response to the resurrection.  It is not enough to hear the facts of the resurrection, to learn the doctrines of the resurrection, but it is also necessary to respond to the resurrection.  It is the climatic conclusion to the gospel which demands a response from all who hear it.  And so we see in the passage two aspects to the response, first an invitation, and then a proclamation on the part of those who have accepted the invitation.  

First, let’s consider the invitation.  As spoken through the angel, the women received a message from Jesus they had to deliver. He says, “Go and tell the disciples…” We might think of this message as an invitation, because through this message the disciples were invited to meet with Jesus.  The angel says in vs7 "But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'"

This illustrates that the invitations of Jesus are invitations based on grace. The disciples had completely failed Jesus. He had every right to be done with them, but in grace He extended this kind invitation to them.  None of us have an invitation from God based on our own worthiness, but on HIs worthiness.  He is worthy of our devotion because He is faithful to love us to the end, to love us even when we desert Him, and to call us back to fellowship with Him.  God wants complete fellowship with us.  That is why we were created.  The fall broke that fellowship.  The resurrection restores that life with God that we were designed to have.  But it is in the form of an invitation to come to Him, to believe in Him and trust Him with our very lives.

This invitation illustrates for us that the promises of Jesus are always fulfilled on His part. He said that He would meet them in Galilee and according to John 21:1 He did just that.  And the Lord has given us many gracious promises as well. He says if we believe in Him, then one day we will see Him in glory, and having seen Him as He is, we will be like Him.  Jesus not only prophesied concerning His own death, but He also promised His resurrection.  “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  He fulfilled His promise, so that we might be certain that He will fulfill HIs promises to us.

Jesus’s invitation shows us that Jesus want’s to reveal Himself more fully to us.  The angel said, “He is going before you into Galilee, there you shall see Him.”  The main objective was to see Him, for Jesus to reveal Himself to His people.  And the main goal of our faith is that one day we will see Him face to face.  And as a result of that great experience of seeing our Lord in all of His glory, we will be changed to be like Him.  I can’t imagine what that will look like.  But we know that He keeps His promises.  As we were made in His image, in HIs likeness in the first creation, then how much more so will we be like Him in the new creation, when He makes all things new.

When Jesus invites us He always remembers His promises. “As He said to you,” the angel added to the invitation. What Jesus says, He will do, and He can never fail in any promise.  I would ask you today, have you ever accepted Jesus invitation?  He has promised life, forgiveness, peace, joy, eternal life to those who believe in Him.  But if you never accept the invitation, if you never act on it, then you will remain dead in your sins. Jesus has extended to you a personal invitation, to be saved, to be forgiven, to receive eternal life, based on repentance from sin, and faith in Him.  Have you responded?  

Then for those who have responded in faith, there is one more aspect to that response, and that is to go and tell, to proclaim the good news. Until He returns that is our job one, to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.  People are perishing all over the world, without hope, and Jesus provides the antidote.  But He wants us to be the ones to administer it.  

Mark says “and they said nothing to anyone:” This does not mean that they made no report of the resurrection because we know plainly from the other gospel accounts that they did (Mark 16:11 and Luke 24:9). What he probably means is that as they left the scene of the empty tomb, they did not immediately do what they were told because of the fear and trembling that they felt.  Maybe it means that they did not go home and tell their families or neighbors at first, because of the amazement that overwhelmed them.  But we know eventually that they did tell the disciples.  And gradually word spread about the resurrection of Jesus, so that as Paul reported, at one point more than 500 people gathered to see the risen Savior. 

We too have been given a mandate to go and tell.  But I’m afraid we too are often amazed and fearful and trembling.  The sad thing is, that we aren’t afraid because we have seen an angel, we aren’t trembling because we have witnessed the power of God in resurrection.  But we are afraid because of men, and what they might say about us, or think about us.  

I pray that we might be more like David, who said in Psalm 56:11, “In God I have put my trust, I will not be afraid, what can man do to me?”  If we really believe in the power of the resurrection, then we have no reason to fear man.  If we really trust in the power of God to raise men from the dead, then we have no reason to be afraid.  We can be bold because we know the truth that leads to salvation.  We have the antidote that a dying world is in dire need of.  I pray that we will not keep to ourselves what God has done for the benefit of the world.  Let’s go forth with joy and confidence that we have the good news of salvation, and may the God who raised Jesus with power from the grave go before us.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The burial of the gospel, Mark 15:40-47

Death is something that is inevitable, it comes to us all.  And yet I suppose, for something that is so universally common, considering it on a personal level is studiously  avoided.  At the risk of sounding overly morbid, the reality is that all of us are dying.  When we are young, death seemed like such a distant, otherworldly concept, that scarcely concerned us.  We live like we will live forever.  But as we get older, as we see more and more of death, and as we see considerably more of the sands of time in the bottom of the glass than is left in the top, the reality of death becomes something which seems more inevitable.

Still, I think most people try to avoid thinking of death right up to the bitter end.  There is no other reason that explains why people live the way they do.  Right up to their last breath, it seems many people continue in their amusements and enterprises as if they will live forever.  

Funerals are a mechanism which can cause people to stop and think about death and dying.  However, I think there is even a tendency today to do away with funerals because people don’t want to think about it.  A big trend today is to cremate someone and then at a more convenient time have something often called a celebration of life.  

But I would suggest that death is something we need to think about, and even embrace, to a certain extent.  I suggest that the scripture talks a great deal about death and burial because it is a vital part of the sequence of life.  It is a vital part of our existence, and it’s a vital part of our salvation.  For this reason I believe we are given details of the burial of Jesus Christ.  In fact, I think that God deliberately planned for the burial of Jesus Christ, that He might teach us certain important principles.  There could have been other ways in which Jesus could have died, and satisfied the wrath of God, but not have included a burial.  But the burial of Jesus Christ is an essential link in our salvation, which God orchestrated down to the smallest detail. 

As we look then at the death and burial of Jesus Christ, we need to understand the necessity of His death.  As I said a moment ago, in reality all of us are dying.  Ephesians 2:5 and Colossians 2:13 says that we were dead in our trespasses and sins.  This deadness that we are born with we inherited from Adam.  1Corinthians 15:22  “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”  The curse of death began at the fall, and it came upon all of creation.

Adam and Eve sinned, and as a result, they incurred the curse of death.  Now you will remember that even as God pronounce the curse, He also promised there would come One from the woman who would break that curse.  Genesis 3:15 “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

Satan bruised Christ on His heel, by nailing Him to the cross.  But through the death of Christ, God crushed Satan’s head, by doing away with the sting of death.  1 Cor. 15:54, says, It is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This victory over death was accomplished in the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In life He was innocent, He was the spotless, righteous Lamb of God.  In His death He took the punishment for sin that was meant for us by offering Himself as our substitute.  And in His burial He fulfilled the penalty for sin that was due to all men.  “For the wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23 

Isaiah 53:8 says in the NIV, “By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.”

Now I want us to consider more fully the theological implications of His burial, but let’s do so as we look at the details that Mark gives us here in this passage.  Note first of all that in vs 40 and 41 we see these women who were His followers from Galilee, who Mark says used to minister to Him. It’s interesting that these women, who themselves were far from home,  who were in Jerusalem with the Lord, and though all of His disciples had deserted Him, yet they stuck with Him.  These women were witnesses of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We see them here at the cross, then at the end of this passage in vs47 we see them watching to see where Joseph buries Jesus, and then in the next chapter, we see them as the first to visit the empty tomb, and the first to tell the other disciples that He had risen. Their  faithfulness and testimony was critical to the faith of His followers.  God gave them the opportunity to witness everything concerning His death, burial and resurrection firsthand.  And I believe that was because of their faithfulness.  They continued, when everyone else had deserted Him.

And I think that there is a possible lesson in that for us here today.  God rewards faithfulness in the little things by giving you greater faith to do larger things.  And we could also say that God confirms your faith when you are faithful in little things.  Being stedfast, persevering even in the face of persecution is promised a great reward.  Jesus promises a reward to the church of Philadelphia because of their faithfulness. Rev. 3:8 “I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”  As Jesus was faithful unto death, so we are called to be faithful even unto death.

The second person that we see here is Joseph of Arimethea.  Mark tells us that he was a prominent member of the council.  That means he was a member of the Sanhedrin, perhaps a leader.  This is the very institution that arrested Jesus and put Him on trial and condemned Him to death.  Luke tells us though that he did not consent to their plan.  Either he wasn’t at the trial, or he abstained from the proceedings. Mark goes on to tell us that he was looking for the Kingdom of God.  That means that he was looking for the Messiah.  And the indication is that he recognized Jesus as the Messiah. In fact, in John’s gospel, he describes Joseph as a secret disciple.  And the other gospel writers also tell us that Joseph was a rich man. 

So this secret disciple, knowing that the Sabbath is quickly approaching, wants to ask for Jesus’s body so that he might give Him a proper burial.  In fact, he gives Him a burial fit for a king.  He puts Jesus’s body in his own tomb, in which no man had laid.  This was a very expensive tomb.  It’s big enough for people to stand inside, it’s big enough for angels to sit down inside of, and Mark tells us in the next chapter that it had a very large stone rolled across the opening.  This was a burial vault fit for a king.  And I think that is indicative of Joseph’s faith, in that Mark says he was looking forward to the kingdom of God.  I think that is an indication that he was looking forward to Christ reigning in His kingdom.  

I think we see the same idea conveyed in the answer of the thief on the cross to Jesus.  He said in Luke 23:42 "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”  Jesus is dying on the cross, and the thief is confessing the faith that Jesus will come back in His kingdom.  That’s pretty incredible faith when you think of it.  He believed in the resurrection of Jesus, that He would come back as the King of His kingdom.

And perhaps Mark indicates that Joseph believes that as well.  Because if he believed that Jesus was the Messiah, as is indicated by the gospel writers, then he would have also believed the prophecies concerning the eternal reign of the Messiah.  He may not have understood the timing, but I think he believed the promises.  Something perhaps in the manner in which Jesus died, made him move from fearful faith to being willing to take up his cross and follow Jesus.

That’s evident because Mark says that Joseph gathered up his courage and went to ask Pilate for Jesus’s body.  Like the centurion who also saw the manner in which Jesus died, he decided that surely this was the Son of God, and so whatever gain he had as a member of the Sanhedrin, whatever gain he had because of riches, he counted but loss, for the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ as His Messiah and Lord. 

Undoubtedly, this public confession of being a disciple of Jesus Christ would have resulted in his being excommunicated from the Sanhedrin.  Quite possibly, it also would have meant that he would be barred from attending the synagogue.  So for Joseph to publicly proclaim Jesus in this fashion would have meant his social, political and eventual financial ruin.   

The same can be said about another secret disciple, and that is Nicodemus.  You will remember Nicodemus who came to see Jesus at night in John 3.  Jesus called him the teacher of Israel, indicating he was an important rabbi.  John tells us that Nicodemus accompanied Joseph in burying Jesus, and he brought a great wealth of myrrh and spices to anoint His body for burial.  So ironically, we see the women and the fearful, secret disciples becoming bold at His death, while the ones who were closest to Him had abandoned Him.

At crucifixions, it was a common practice for the soldiers to either leave the criminal’s bodies to rot on the cross, to be eaten by birds, or to dump them on the nearby garbage heap which was called Gehena.  It was a place of continual burning garbage outside the town, which the Lord alluded to in a sermon about hell.  But the law of the Jews required that the bodies of one hung from a tree be taken down before dark, and the fact that it was also the evening before a high Sabbath, meaning during the Passover, they wanted the bodies taken down.  Joseph, was the only friend that was willing and able to see to it that Jesus was buried.  

And as we will see, it served God’s purposes that Jesus be buried.  There are a lot of questions that could be raised concerning the death and burial of Jesus Christ.  For instance, why did God choose to crucify Jesus?  Why not some other death?  Why did God choose to torture Jesus on a cross as opposed to a more normal death?  Why did God choose to bury Jesus for three days?  And there are even more questions that could be asked.  

Well, concerning the method of death, ie, crucifixion, it satisfied the wrath of God towards sin.  Hebrews 2:10 “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.”  Isaiah 53:10 says,  “But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.” 

God’s judgment against sin, His wrath against sin, is measured by the affront of sin to a Holy and Righteous God.  As I said last week, We have too small a view of sin, and too mild a view of God’s wrath against sin.  When we understand the enormity of our sin, then we can understand God’s wrath against sin. Crucifixion was the Roman government’s harshest punishment for the vilest offenders.  And so God satisfied the law by crucifying Christ.

The second question is why the burial of Jesus?  Why not raise Him up immediately upon death? Why was He buried and in the grave for three days?  Well, again let’s look at Hebrews chapter 2, this time in vs9, “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”

First of all, His burial attested to  the certainty of His death.  He was attested to by Joseph to Pilate.  Pilate couldn’t believe that He was already dead, and so he sent for the centurion.  The centurion attested to His death.  We have already seen that the Jews attested to His death, and also that the women from Galilee witnessed His death and burial.  So God made sure that He was dead, and that everyone knew that He was dead. Pilate then gives the body to Joseph.  And when he does so, Mark records that he uses the Greek word, ptōma, which means a corpse. 

What the author of Hebrews tells us though is that Jesus tasted death for everyone.  Now that gets to the theological underpinnings of the burial.  Hebrews again, this time in chapter 9, tells us that Christ was manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and then in vs27 “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,  so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”  

What that means is that we are appointed to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ died on our behalf, so that we might escape judgment, having been justified by faith in what He accomplished for us.

And what did He accomplish for us through His death and burial?  One thing we know for sure, He satisfied the wrath of God in fulfilling the complete punishment for sin, but also He was considered righteous before God, and thus God delivered Him up from death through the resurrection.

In the Apostle’s Creed, which some of you might be more familiar with than others, there is the following statement. It is not scripture, nor inspired, but it is a synopsis of the doctrine of the apostles as recorded in about the third century.  It is an early Christian statement of faith.  And in it, we read, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

Now notice that phrase concerning the burial of Jesus Christ, “Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead…” That raises an important point.  Jesus’s body was buried, the corpse was buried, but His Spirit was not dead, and neither was it in the tomb.  The Apostle’s Creed said He descended into hell.  Now a lot of people are offended by that, or don’t know what to make of it.  

Let me try to explain.  Remember when Jesus was on the cross, He cried out with a loud voice, “it is finished!” and then Luke 23:46 says, And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, "Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT." Having said this, He breathed His last. 

Now “into your hands” simply means into your care, and then notice that Jesus commends His Spirit to pass out of His body, signaling death to His body. He had the power to lay down His life, and He entrusts His Spirit to the care of the Father.

Now remember also that just previous to this, He told the thief on the cross who confessed faith in Him, in Luke 23:43 And Jesus said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." 

Jesus Himself described Paradise by using the familiar phrase “Abraham’s bosom,” in telling the story of the rich man and Lazarus, and Lazarus was being comforted in Abraham’s bosom, while the rich man was being tormented in flames.  And Abraham said to the rich man, that between them was a great gulf which no man could cross.  Jesus was giving a picture of Hades, called Sheol in the Old Testament, which the Jews understood to mean was in the center of the earth, with an upper and lower chamber, and in between a great chasm which separated the two, being Paradise and Hell.

Now the Apostle’s Creed gets it’s phrase, descended into hell, from 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;  in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.”

Now I could preach a message or two on these verses and we don’t have the time this morning, so suffice it to emphasize that Peter says, “having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;  in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison…”  What he is saying is that though Jesus’s flesh was in the tomb, His Spirit was alive and went to what he calls prison, particularly of those who had died during the days of Noah. Now there could be a lot said concerning what and who Jesus preached to in Hell.  But that is not our point this morning.  However, Jesus clearly was not in the tomb.

But also note vs 22, where Peter says that He is at the right hand of God having “gone into heaven, AFTER angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.”  So sometime between the crucifixion and the ascension, the angelic powers and authorities, which is how Paul refers to demonic powers in Ephesians 2, are subjected to Him.

Paul also refers to this ascension and descension in Eph. 4:8-10 “Therefore it says, "WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN."  (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?  He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) Paul says that Jesus descended into the lower parts of the earth, ie, Hades.

Now I confess that we can’t know all of what happened to Jesus during those three days in the grave.  But I do know that Jesus fulfilled all penalty and punishment for sin, and He fulfilled all righteousness so that according to Psalm 16:10 “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.”  God punished Jesus unto the full extent of the law, even unto Hades, having been made sin for us, but God also raised Jesus because He was innocent of any sin, being righteous in all things and having fulfilled perfectly the punishment for sin.

Going back to Isaiah 53 again, looking at vs 9 “His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.  But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.”

Most commentators believe that vs 9 is speaking of Joseph of Arimethea’s grave, in the phrase, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death.”  And I will agree that on the surface it may fulfill that prophecy.  But is it also possible that in speaking of the grave, Isaiah is speaking of Sheol?  His grave was assigned with wicked men, having been made sin for us, but with a rich man in His death, could that not be a reference to Paradise?  When the poor man Lazarus died, He was taken to Paradise, whereas the rich man was consigned to torment.  

I think that theory has some credence because Isaiah says it was because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth,  meaning because He was righteous, He was with a rich man in His death, He was in Paradise, even though He was assigned the penalty for the sins of the world.  But that there is a possibility that Christ did suffer punishment in hell for the sins of the world could be construed from the phrase that says, “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.”

Well, we must leave this for now.  But I want to impress on you one more aspect of the burial of Jesus Christ that is for our application.  The burial of Jesus Christ speaks to the mortification of the flesh.  Putting to death the flesh.  Paul says in Romans that our baptism is a picture of dying to the flesh. Romans 6:4 “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Christ died for sin, so that we might die to sin.  Christ overcame sin through death, so that we might have life through His righteousness.  We now walk in the Spirit, by putting to death the passions of the flesh.

The flesh and the Spirit are diametrically opposed to one another.  Repentance is recognizing the need for dying to the flesh, so that we might live in the Spirit.  That’s what it means to be conformed to the death of Christ.  I said earlier that Joseph was an esteemed member of the Sanhedrin, a rich man, a man of social standing in the community.  Yet those things which were of great fleshly value to him, he counted as loss for the sake of knowing Jesus as Lord.  

The apostle Paul was also once greatly esteemed by the Sanhedrin.  And yet he came to know the surpassing value of counting such things as dead, that he might have life in Christ.  He said in Phil. 3:7-11 “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,  that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;  in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

May we have the same attitude as Paul, and be conformed to the image of His death, that we might walk in newness of life in the Spirit.  And that life we have in Christ is everlasting life, because as He lives, so we will live.  Jesus said in John 11:25-26 "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,  and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"