Remember Jesus Christ

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel…” (2 Timothy 2:8).

This week as I was meditating on Paul’s declaration of Jesus as the gospel, I received the following quotation from John Stott.  Without a doubt, the gospel is a story of love.

May the gospel shape our lives and our churches.

Enjoy the words from Stott!

–Bob

“Jesus renounced the joys of heaven for the sorrows of earth, exchanging an eternal immunity to the approach of sin for painful contact with evil in this world.  He was born of a lowly Hebrew mother in a dirty stable in the insignificant village of Bethlehem.  He became a refugee baby in Egypt.  He was brought up in the obscure hamlet of Nazareth, and toiled at a carpenter’s bench to support his mother and the other children in their home.  In due time he became an itinerant preacher, with few possessions, small comforts and no home.  He made friends with simple fishermen and publicans.  He touched lepers and allowed harlots to touch him.  He gave himself away in a ministry of healing, helping, teaching and preaching.   He was misunderstood and misrepresented, and became the victim of men’s prejudices and vested interests.  He was despised and rejected by his own people, and deserted by his own friends.  He gave his back to be flogged, his face to be spat upon, his head to be crowned with thorns, his hands and feet to be nailed to a common Roman gallows.  And as the cruel spikes were driven home, he kept praying for his tormentors, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’   Such a man is altogether beyond our reach.  He succeeded just where we invariably fail.  He had complete self-mastery.  He never retaliated.  He never grew resentful or irritable.  He had such control of himself that, whatever men might think or say or do, he would deny himself and abandon himself to the will of God and the welfare of mankind.  ‘I seek not my own will’, he said, and ‘I do not seek my own glory’.  As Paul wrote, ‘For Christ did not please himself.’ This utter disregard of self in the service of God and man is what the Bible calls love.”

–From “Basic Christianity”  by John Stott (rev. edn. London: IVP, 1971), p. 44.

The Core Gospel

As you read the Acts of Apostles (the fifth book in the New Testament of the Bible) you get a clear picture of what was the heart of the earliest Christian preaching — the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

This same gospel message is the heart of Christian belief today.

This message of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness is what should shape Chistian thought and behavior.

Check out the core message in the earliest Christian sermons.

Acts 2:23-24
“This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

Acts 3:15
“You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.”

Acts 4:8-10
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.'”

Acts 5:29-32
“Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.'”

Acts 7:51-53
“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him– you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”

Acts 10:39-40
“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.”

Acts 13:28-31
“Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.”

Acts 17:29-31
“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone–an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

A Strong Grip

“But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17).

The stability of the church in Thessalonica was important to Paul. In his first letter to them Paul expressed thankful relief that they were “standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:8). In his second letter to them he expressed concern that they not become “easily unsettled” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). And here Paul tells them to “stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you. . .”
(2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Why all the emphasis on stability? Paul knew the church was going to face some difficult times. Facing persecution would provide a great challenge to their Christian faith. Was their faith in Christ strong enough to withstand the opposition they would face? False teachers would lure them away from a Jesus-centered community. Was their commitment to Jesus deep enough to overcome the bait of false teaching? Worldliness would distract them from their top priorities. Was their faith in things unseen authentic enough to ground them in what was most important?

Hard times were coming. Their faith would be under fire. Stability was essential if the church was to survive. Paul reminds them of some great truths about God and their relationship with Him so that they may the stability they need to face whatever was coming their way in the days ahead. We could use the same refresher of the teachings.

God saved you. When hard times come, remember God has rescued you before and is perfectly capable of doing it again. Your salvation is rooted in God’s call. God initiated a relationship with you. God saved you — you did not save yourself. Don’t get anxious. Stand firm on God’s call.

God’s Holy Spirit transforms you. No, you are not yet the finished product, but don’t let that discourage you. God is not finished with you yet. God will not abandon you in the process of transformation. The Holy Spirit of God is working right now to make over your heart and mind into something possessed of God. When false teachers entice, remember salvation depends on the Holy Spirit’s work. Don’t grow restless. Stand firm on the Spirit’s transformation.

God’s Son shares glory with you. There is nothing for believers to fear in the return of Jesus. The second coming will be a glorious time when Jesus is revealed and shares His glory with us. When the world’s siren song is heard, remember God has called you to something far better than this place. Don’t be afraid. Stand firm on Jesus’ sharing glory.
So you need a stabilizer — something to hold onto? Are you facing persecution? False teaching? Worldliness? Or maybe the big challenge you are wrestling with is just plain old apathy. Well, here is something on which you can get a strong grip – God. Father, Spirit, and Son. God called you, the Spirit is transforming you, and the Son will share His glory with you. Hold onto that!

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

The Throne

“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-7).

Who is this “man of lawlessness?” Some suggest he is a false prophet. Others think he is a emperor or some other political ruler. Still others are convinced Paul is talking about a future head-of-church. There are those in each of these camps who are not shy about naming specific names as candidates for the infamous one.

There are those who are obsessed with nailing down his explicit identity, as if their salvation depended on it. Others are concerned not so much with naming the suspect but just love a good discussion, or more accurately, argument about hypothetical situations and mysterious identities.

In all of our talk about the man of lawlessness, let’s not miss the point. Paul wants the Christians at Thessalonica to look forward to the return of the Lord. He doesn’t want them being unsettled, alarmed, or deceived by those who claim to have had a word from the Lord telling them that it’s already over and they have missed out. In 1 Thessalonians Paul consoles a church that is so eager for the Lord’s immediate return they are discouraged by the wait. In 2 Thessalonians Paul has to address the false notion that Jesus has already come.

The death, burial, resurrection, and return of Jesus are central to the Christian faith. Paul warns the church to be alert. They must not allow themselves to be unsettled or fooled by those who would take away the gospel and thereby take away their hope. Christian faith is anchored in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Be patient! Be hopeful! Be ready!

Jesus is coming again, but first, the man of lawlessness will be revealed. He will be exposed at the proper time, when he is no longer being held back. Who is he? Maybe the better questions are: what is he like and what does he do? To answer we need to look closely at words like “lawlessness,” “doomed,” and “rebellion.” We should consider his opposition to the worship of anything except himself. He wants to be exalted, the center of attention. He wants to be on the throne and will oppose anything that gets in his way.

Whoever this “man of lawlessness” may be, we do not need to become so preoccupied with naming him that we miss the intended teaching of the passage – don’t lose your foundation, Jesus is coming! And maybe the best way for us to prepare for His coming is to consider whether anyone would ever nominate any of us as candidates for “man of lawlessness.” Are we fairly described as lawless rebels? Are we seen as contrarians, always looking for something or someone to oppose? Are we comfortable as long as we are the center of attention but insecure when the spotlight shines on another?

The throne belongs to God. If we are to be ready for Jesus to come, we better climb down from the throne, worship God and God alone, and encourage rather than oppose others as they worship Him.

Easily Unsettled

“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

Jesus is coming and when He does, His people will be gathered to meet Him. God wants His people to be encouraged and comforted by this basic Christian teaching.

God does not want us to be a fearful, troubled people. And what better to settle us down than to let our minds rest on the end-times scene of the sky cracking open, Jesus being revealed, and our being gathered to Him.

This coming of and gathering by Jesus brings peace of mind to hearts troubled by illness, grief, poverty, spiritual struggles, and personality clashes. Whatever trials we may be going through, we can rest on God’s promise of Jesus’ return. What a blessing to be a sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd — green pastures. quiet waters, and the assuring presence of the shepherd’s rod and staff.

Yet sometimes the peaceful flock is excited, shaken, even troubled by people claiming to have a message from God.

A rumor here.

A report there.

You begin to feel the wool standing on the back of your neck as you grow alarmed at the claims you are hearing.

“Listen to this.”

“Read that.”

“You have missed out on what God is doing.”

“This is not my opinion, I have a word from God.”

While it’s hard to believe there are people who would do this to a peaceful flock at Thessalonica – upset their tranquility by trying to convince them they were going to miss out on the joy of Jesus coming and gathering His people — it’s even harder to believe they justify their actions by claiming authority from God.

The apostle Paul calms the flock with words of reassurance. He asks them to slow down and not jump to conclusions. Not every vision, prophecy, or “breathless report” (MSG) is to be accepted. Simply put, some people who loudly and boldly claim to have a message from God, in reality, do not.

Jesus is coming and when He does, His people will be gathered to meet Him.

Settle on this promise.

The Pearl and the Pigsty

In today’s email came this quote from John Stott.
I just had to share it.
Enjoy!

“After God gave the promise to Abraham, he gave the law to Moses. Why? Simply because he had to make things worse before he could make them better. The law exposed sin, provoked sin, condemned sin. The purpose of the law was, as it were, to lift the lid off man’s respectability and disclose what he is really like underneath — sinful, rebellious, guilty, under the judgment of God, and helpless to save himself.

And the law must still be allowed to do its God-given duty today. One of the great faults of the contemporary church is the tendency to soft-pedal sin and judgment. Like false prophets we ‘heal the wound of God’s people lightly’ (Je. 6:14; 8:11). This is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it: ‘It is only when one submits to the law that one can speak of grace … I don’t think it is Christian to want to get to the New Testament too soon and too directly.'(1) We must never bypass the law and come straight to the gospel. To do so it to contradict the plan of God in biblical history.

Is this not why the gospel is unappreciated today? Some ignore it, others ridicule it. So in our modern evangelism we cast our pearls (the costliest pearl being the gospel) before swine. People cannot see the beauty of the pearl, because they have no conception of the filth of the pigsty. No man has ever appreciated the gospel until the law has first revealed him to himself. It is only against the inky blackness of the night sky that the stars begin to appear, and it is only against the dark background of sin that the gospel shines forth.

Not until the law has bruised and smitten us will we admit our need of the gospel to bind up our wounds. Not until the law has arrested and imprisoned us will we pine for Christ to set us free. Not until the law has condemned and killed us will we call upon Christ for justification and life. Not until the law has driven us to despair of ourselves will we ever believe in Jesus. Not until the law has humbled us even to hell will we turn to the gospel to raise us to heaven.

(1) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Letters and Papers from Prison” (Fontana, 1959), p. 50.

–From John Stott, “The Message of Galatians” (The Bible Speaks Today series: London and Downers Grove: IVP, 1968), p. 93.

A Hostile Will

Today I received by e-mail this quote from the writings of John Stott. It’ s just too good to keep to myself. Enjoy.

“Ostensibly Jerusalem rejected Christ on theological grounds, and outwardly the Pharisees condemned Jesus for blasphemy. But beneath these intellectual and doctrinal objections was a hostile will. Jesus had exposed their hypocrisy and unmasked their sins. Their pride was wounded. They felt humiliated. They hated him for his holiness. They were jealous of his influence on the common people. These things were at the root of their repudiation of Christ. But it was more respectable to find fault with his theology than to admit their moral embarrassment. Their doubts were a cloak for their sins. It has often been so. I do not say it is always so, because of course many people have genuine theological problems. But frequently a man’s deepest need is not intellectual but moral, and his supposed inability to believe is really an unwillingness to obey.”
–John Stott, from “Authentic Christianity”, p. 179

Build Up One another

“Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).

The second-coming of Jesus was important to the church at Thessalonica. Even so, Paul did not provide them a timetable as to when it would all begin to unfold. In fact, he suggests that while they may have been ignorant about some doctrinal matters, they were well-aware that the specific schedule for the end times was revealed on a need-to-know basis and they didn’t need-to-know.

Jesus’ return would be as unexpected as a thief’s arrival but as inevitable as the onset of labor. Jesus is coming – count on it! But don’t concern yourself with when the return will take place. Instead, be ready now and always.

The timing of Jesus’ return might be a well-guarded secret, but that should not keep us from being prepared. We Christians need to steadily live our lives in a manner consistent with our commitment to Jesus: living in light as opposed to darkness, being alert and self-controlled rather than unprepared, undisciplined, and drunk.

Since we are God’s people, our lives ought to be characterized by faith, hope, and love. We need to remember the most basic of doctrines: Jesus died for us. Because we know Jesus died for us we have a new identity as God’s children, “sons of the day.” Jesus died for us so that we would not have to endure the wrath of God. Jesus died for us so that we could live with Him forever. That promise of being with Him in the end is good no matter if you are dead or alive when He comes again.

The church needs to be a people like no other who encourage each other and build up one another. When we see a brother drifting off, losing his alertness, we need to speak a word of encouragement. “Wake up, you belong to the day!” When we see a sister living carelessly without self-control we need to build her up. “Jesus died so we would be prepared for His return!”

The timing of second-coming will be a surprise. But don’t be unprepared.

From Ignorant to Encouraged

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NIV).

Our faith needs to be informed and that information applied to our life situation. Sometimes we suffer needlessly because either we just don’t know facts we need to know or we have the facts but do not apply them to what we are going through. Such was the case with the Thessalonians. They were Christians, but when they experienced the death of a loved one, they grieved just like the rest of people of do not know God.

Paul did not want them to remain uninformed, so he reminded them of some basic Christian doctrine:

  • Jesus died and rose again
  • Jesus is coming back
  • Jesus will gather Christians both dead and alive
  • Jesus will meet his people in the air
  • Jesus will be there with us forever

The teaching of Jesus Christ changes everything. Yes, He died, but now He is alive. He is coming back for all His people whether dead or alive. The trumpet will blow, graves will crack open, and Christians will rise to meet the Lord in the air where we will remain with Him forever. Those who die before you will not be forgotten by God. Sometime we get caught up in the speculative sensationalism of end-time theories and miss the most important point of the second coming – we will be with the Lord!

The teaching of Jesus Christ changes the way Christians view death, whether our own or that of a loved one. Sure, we may still grieve at the prospect of our own death but not without hope of what is to come. Yes, we may weep at the graveside of a loved one, but not without hope that our brother or sister will be with the Lord forever.

And so we need to encourage each other with these words. We cannot let our fellow Christians remain ignorant of the basic doctrine of Christ and fear death in the same way as those outside of Jesus. Encourage them. Tell them the teaching of Jesus Christ changes everything.

The Trust

“On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4).

As I reflect on the text of 1 Thessalonians this morning, a simple phrase jumps off the page at me – “entrusted with the gospel.”

No doubt Paul is writing as an apostle in this passage. But the application, as I read this text, is meant to be broader than an apostolic trust (see also a broader use in 2 Timothy 2:2). Paul is writing about ministry. He is writing about his ministry team with Silas and Timothy – “we.” Paul, Silas, and Timothy were entrusted with the gospel. God gave them the message in a trust.

This ministry team was assigned stewardship of the trust, like a homeowner would entrust his household property to a steward. They serve as trustees, guardians, keepers, or custodians.

Paul frequently uses the language of stewardship/trust to describe both the privilege and responsibility of his ministry.

  • “On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews” (Galatians 2:7).
  • “. . . that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me” (1 Timothy 1:11).
  • “. . . and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior” (Titus 1:3).
  • “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).
  • “If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me” (1 Corinthians 9:17).
  • “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).

This trust concept profoundly impacts me as a preaching minister. God tests hearts. God entrusts with the gospel. And so it follows that I answer to God. When I speak, I must speak as a man of God. My ministry must be God-centered.

God’s approval must be my driving purpose. Viewing my ministry as a sacred trust of the gospel colors my entire outlook and determines my day to day activities.

God help those who preach and teach be faithful to the trust.