Looking Forward to the Resurrection

Sometimes we form little habits that are no longer possible to continue because of circumstances.  While living in Toronto, each Sunday morning we would purchase almond croissants and coffee at a nearby bakery on Yonge Street.  They were scrumptious.  However, time came when we moved and left behind our little taste treats from paradise.   Almonds have mostly always been enjoyed even as far back as Moses day, when they were a source of food for the Hebrews.   You might be interested to learn that the almond tree has prophetic significance for Israel and for the Christian at Easter time as well.

When God designed the tabernacle, he instructed Moses to hammer out the golden lamp stand out of one piece of pure gold and to decorate its seven branches with almond buds and flowers. We know God does not waste words so the emblematic features on the candlestick were meant to symbolize something very special in the future.  To understand what that may be, the almond tree with its beauty and its blossoms heralds the return of spring.  In the land of Israel it is the first tree to bloom around January and the first to produce fruit around March. We are told that Christ is the first fruit (1 Co.15:23), the first to rise from the dead; thus the budding almond tree on the lamp stand becomes the eternal symbol of the Resurrection.   For some who read this you may find it interesting, but perhaps nothing more. However, for Christ followers it means that our bodies too are assured of being resurrected at His return.  But what about you who failed to follow Christ in this lifetime and rejected His salvation?   In the same chapter in Corinthians we told that after Christ returns for His people, comes the end and that He will put all His enemies under His feet (see vv. 24, 25).

Easter is a wonderful time of year reminding the Christian about his own future.  Yet, Easter also speaks to those who remain in their sins and have neglected the great salvation produced in Christ on the Cross. Theirs is a thin line between time and eternity.   The resurrection speaks to the meaning of life and gives you the opportunity to start over again.  Christ`s death on the cross cleansed us from sin and cleared the way to heaven for Believers and His resurrection assured us of it.

 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits, the, when he comes, those who belong to Him.  (1 Co.15:23)

 

The Way of The Cross

To seek freedom simply to pursue one’s own goals, without a commitment to others, without love or sense of duty to God is not worth pursuing.  The world does not have more to offer than God since everything belongs to God.  In this life if you profess to be a Christian and are in the habit of asking the question what is in it for me, to further feed lusts for comfort, success, happiness, and acceptance, and neglect who we are and how we should act and think as disciples of Christ, where our life revolves around the world mostly instead of God’s Son, then you stand to lose much more than you think, and your profession of faith is really in danger of being meaningless.     In the grand scheme of things, self-deception invites you to think wrongly that love for God and for this world are compatible.  Anyone who becomes party to this type of thinking should consider what Jesus says about divided loyalties. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.  (Matt. 6:24).

Real Christianity does not owe itself to many masters.  To say you can have a little of both betrays the true intent of the gospel. Christ teaches a gospel that is diametrically opposed to mix loyalties.  And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. (Mark 8:34).

A Christian should not adhere to any such notion of worldly devotion no matter how tempting it may seem to him.  Under the seduction of modernity, evangelicals have reengineered the church itself into a product that is marketed in order to secure “satisfied customers.” (David Wells).   Modernity teaches an approach to the gospel that is about feeling good about yourself and finding personal fulfillment. Not only do frontal attacks from secularism and atheism create difficulties for God’s people; but so is the destruction that comes from seduction and distortion of the faith through a man-centered gospel that seeks only to please its hearers. Contrary to this, the gospel calls us to suffering, shame, severe opposition and even martyrdom which is on-going mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere for the time being. Be certain of this —  the criteria for becoming a disciple of Christ is not a sort of moniker meant for the super-committed either. The claims of the gospel is neither exaggerated nor a higher calling but given by Jesus to highlight what it really means to follow Him; insomuch that a divided allegiance is fruitless and even dangerous to try and maintain personal honour, safety, comfort and acceptance in this life when it compromises the gospel, since they are at risks of losing their souls. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  (Mark 8:35, 36)

The way of the cross should be our only desire and that all else is not worth pursuing and separate ourselves from that which only serves to please ourselves and not bring glory to God.

To follow Jesus means to repudiate a self-centred life.  John Grasmick notes that “turning away from the idolatry of self-centeredness and every attempt to orient one’s life by the dictates of self-interest.”  It is the process of disowning ourselves from pass desires and self-satisfaction insofar as you become like a dead man to it.

To follow Jesus requires death to self.  It is not about some difficult person or putting up with a health ailment.  It is about giving up all hope and interest in the things of this world that is diametrically opposed to the gospel.  Self-fulfillment is never the quest but seen as a weight to be rid of.  Alexander Maclaren accurately notes that “Flagrant vice is not needed to kill the real life.  Clean, respectable selfishness does the work effectively.”

To follow Jesus means daily submission. The cross we are to bear is not done all at once. Following Jesus is a continuous event that occupies us every moment of our lives. The Gospel requires us to follow Christ as Lord at our confession and not some form of further dedication that comes later. Godet remarks “The chart of the true disciple directs him to renounce every path of his own choosing, that he may put his feet into the print of his leader’s footstep.”

Questions & Answers

Q: Does self-denial mean not having fun or enjoying life?

A: Not at all.  The by-product of following Christ is the joy of service and everlasting life.   The very fact that you can be affirmed by Jesus before the Father when He comes only adds to that joy.

Q: Is following Christ even possible in this age with all the distractions and enticements around us.

A: Jesus command to follow Him is in the present imperative indicating a continuous action.  Following Christ is a work in progress that involves saving faith from the outset when trust was placed in the Savior and Lord.  What is expected is total submission to Him from the beginning.

Q: Is saying no to the world and ourselves make the gospel unattractive to others?

A: The great tragety today is that many do not understand the true nature of the gospel.   Talk of a gospel that targets felt needs is all too common, and made to be culturally relevant, it seeks to find self-fullfilment and self-realization and has less to do with sound doctrine and true holiness.   The trajectory today is toward a modernizing of the gospel to make sure it finds appeal and approval among the masses but by doing so loses sight of the greatest need — spiritual power that comes from handling the truth with holy fear and utmost respect.    The question we should ask ourselves is: Do we want a gospel without the Holy Spirit empowering it?

 

Anyone who has considered becoming Christ’s disciple must be willing to follow Him at all cost.  What is more costly then what is lost when you choose to neglect so great a salvation that you are willing to pass up the joy of eternal life, and your own soul in the process.

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. (Jim Elliott).

 

A World of Temptation

Sometime ago, at a funeral an unusual performance took place after the eulogy.   The son of the decease sang a song by Louis Armstrong, a black American composer from the twenties.  He was famous for his gravelly voice and improvised trumpet playing.  One song made famous was “It is a wonderful world” and was played and sung as though “Satcho” himself was at the piano.  The song’s lyrics speaks mostly about the earth’s beauty and none would disagree that God did make a beautiful world.  But humanity and it’s rebellion against the Creator is not so wonderful.  The Gospel writer John speaks about sin’s effects and cautions against coming under its influence.  Some are not surprised to see that in John’s letter, John was present at the cross of Jesus,  that you could find recorded 41 times the word love in no fewer than 105 verses!  On one of those occasions we are told to love God, but in the same passage we are also cautioned not to love the world.

Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – (1 John 2:15 – 17)

We do know that the term “world” has to do with the humanistic system around us that is at odds with God.  This system of thought and actions may lead men into sinful ways.    Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! (Mat.18:7)

You cannot do any type of research into the Bible without hearing someone mentioning life principles.  These usually refer to concepts you can live by if you are a Believer. So here it is:   The Christian is to love humanity while resisting their attempts to cause you to think and act like them when it runs contradictory to the way God wants you to think and live. 

Christians are to love people who oppose the Lord even though these same people may hate the gospel and the way of life that we are called to.   Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed  (John 3:20).  We are told to love our fellow man:  for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law (Rom.13:8b).  The parable of the Good Samaritan makes it clear we are not to pick and choose who we are to love (Luke 10: 30-37).

While Christians are not to embrace a system of thought, priorities, and conditions which are antithetical to God’s moral standards and holy conduct, keep in mind that Satan is behind the world’s system and promotes the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16)

God tells His children to set their priorities according to His eternal value system. We are to “seek first” God’s kingdom and His righteousness.  (Matthew 6:33b).   Adversely — No one can serve two masters (Matt 6:24a), and be devoted to both.  

What then are these things that attract human lusts?  Consider that the world’s philosophy is a way of thinking about yourself and your surroundings.  This state of thinking or consciousness is often filtrated for us by means of television, radio, friends and social media.   For instance much is made about personal appearance these days and seems to attract a lot of media attention.  People can become obsess with the way they look in our culture.  God has crafted each of us (Jeremiah 1:5) and is exact in what He has made us out to be.  No man-made painting, sculpture, photograph, or sketch can approach or match the craftsmanship or beauty that comes from His Divine Hand.  Now God does place some value on appearance; if He did not, we would all look the same.  While we are to appreciate physical appearance, we have souls that cannot be replaced or destroyed.   Our hearts are capable of so many thoughts and feelings, reflections of the complexities of God that we should not fall into the trap of making our personal appearance a source of pride and envy. True radiance comes from within, and not the way by which the world appraises our humanness.  Outward appearances and popularity should not occupy our minds if all we seek is the admiration from others as so many do already. If the reason we seek the perfect weight, wear the best clothes, have facial treatments is to impress other people, then our physical appearance has become a matter of pride.   The extreme emphasis the world places on appearance has caused many to stumble along the way and lose sight of the importance of life.  As often is the case covetousness and idolatry seems to be at the center of our lusts and it seems to have an unquenchable thirst in our society.

Popularity was mentioned because it is very common for us to seek acceptance.  Yet, when we seek personal validation and self-worth from people around us, we are on the wrong path.  An inordinate focus on being accepted by others can become a form of idolatry where self becomes more important than anything else including Christ.   The craving for popularity is part of the “pride of life” mentioned in 1 John 2:16. It feels good to the ego to consider ourselves popular, and we tend to bask in that feeling.   Jesus is our model.  He did not let temporary popularity or for that matter obscurity influence or dissuade Him from His purpose.  Men’s opinion of you should not matter more than what God thinks of you.

In the last verse, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (vv.17).  The current anti-God lifestyle will pass away!  No lusts will endure or temptation survive, all opposition to the cross will cease.   “But,” John writes, “whoever does the will of God abides forever.” When God’s love fills us, our thoughts, words, and actions respond, and we do His Will.  WE WILL SPEND FOREVER WITH GOD.  That is the Christian’s motivation.  This truth should help the believer to follow Christ and deny himself from being drawing him into a world of temptation.  It should also lead the non-believer to question his direction in this life and turn from it and follow Christ.