Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Murder of Jesus Chapters 1-4

This post is the beginning of a series in which friends and church members can read along with me through John MacArthur's book, The Murder of Jesus.


In human justice systems, the innocent are sometimes wrongly punished, while the wicked sometimes escape, or even prosper. The greatest example of justice gone awry would have to be the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus – the only truly innocent man who ever lived.

But Jesus’ death was only a great injustice in one sense. In another, it was a perfect execution of justice against sin by a righteous and holy God. In Jesus’ death, we see both justice and injustice, love and wrath, righteous judgment and abounding mercy.

Chapter One: The Plot to Kill Jesus

The Jewish people have often been blamed for the murder of Jesus. While the Jews cannot escape their partial culpability, there were many different people and factions that conspired together to bring about Jesus’ death. The cross was a Roman invention and method of execution, a sentence handed down by a Roman Governor. Judas, full of jealousy and greed, had decided to betray his rabbi. But the human factions and personalities were not the primary forces at work. The sovereign plan of God was to make Jesus the sacrificial payment for sin.

The timing of the crucifixion was also of great significance. Other attempts on Jesus’ life had been unsuccessful, because it was not yet Jesus’ time to die. His death ultimately occurred at Passover, when the sacrificial lambs were slain as atonement for sin. John 1:29 describes Christ as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Through the responsible factions and the timing involved, every detail of the plot to kill Jesus demonstrates the sovereignty of God.

Chapter Two: The Last Passover

At Passover, each Jewish family would have prepared one unblemished lamb for sacrifice. MacArthur says that Jesus and his disciples would have done this as well. But this final Passover meal that Jesus shared with His disciples was of great significance, because it was the last one sanctioned by God. This Passover would be the institution of a New Covenant.

When Jesus took the bread, saying, “this is my body,” he was not indicating that the bread and wine would literally become his body and blood. Rather, He was reminding his disciples that He was the “bread of life.” His sacrifice would be the provision for their eternal life. When Jesus took the cup, saying, “this is My blood,” he was teaching His disciples that His blood signified a New Covenant.

At the conclusion of the supper, Jesus prayed a beautiful prayer, recorded in John 17. In it, He prayed not only for his disciples who were present, but for the entire future church. He asked the Father for protection, sanctification, unity, and future glorification for all believers.
Chapter Three: A Warning Against Over-Confidence

When the disciples heard Jesus say that they would deny him, they couldn’t bear the news. They all pledged their loyalty, stating they would go to prison and even death with Jesus. MacArthur points out that they were trusting in their own strength and determination. Jesus prayed that their faith wouldn’t fail.

During the events of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, the disciples’ faith did falter, but they did not fall away. They went on to lead the early church successfully, as bold and fearless leaders. They didn’t shrink back from their own call to suffer – eventually facing persecution and even death. We see a great example of this change in the disciples at Pentecost, where their trust was fully in the Lord.

Chapter Four: The Agony in the Garden

We sometimes forget that while Jesus was fully divine, he was also fully human. MacArthur reminds us that this perfect arrangement of one person and two natures is critical for the One who is our Savior. He took on human form, was tempted as we are, suffered as we suffer, and yet remained sinless. He also had to be fully human in order to be a substitute for our atonement.

Jesus prayed that the Father would let “this cup” pass by. “The cup” was the wrath of God poured out against sin. Jesus knew that the pain of crucifixion would not be the only agony he would experience. Rather, the greatest pain in all of history would be the tearing apart of the perfect relationship of the Father and Son. Jesus ended his prayer with “Your will be done,” a beautiful reflection of his submission to the Father’s will.

In this determined obedience, Jesus would perfectly fulfill his part in God’s plan to bring eternal life to those who trust Him.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Perseverance, Part 3.

In the previous posts on perseverance, we learned that God guarantees our completion in Christ (Philippians 1:6), and that He, Himself, is the source of our eternal life (John 10:27-30). Now, we turn to Paul, in Romans, to see that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Romans 8:35-39

In Romans 8, Paul names about 17 potential threats that might separate us from the love of Christ. Buried in the middle of the list -in verse 37- is a wonderful, beautiful idea. It isn’t easily translated into English, which is why the ESV, KJV and NIV read “we are more than conquerors”, the HCSB reads “we are more than victorious,” while the NASB reads: “In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer.”

The Greek word here is ὑπερνικάω (hupernikao). In Greek, ὑπερ (hyper) can be used as part of a compound word, giving the meaning over, above, or beyond.
You are likely already familiar with the next part of the compound word, νικάω (nikao). It’s the verb form of the word Nike, the Greek goddess of strength, speed, and victory. Nikao means "to conquer" or "to subdue" - to be victorious.

When it comes to this list of insurmountable obstacles that threaten to separate us from the love of Christ, we aren't just victorious, we are over-victorious! That isn’t because of our strength- Paul says we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Our guarantee of victory is "Him who loved us." Christ is our overwhelming victory over anything that might attempt to separate us from Him.

What does this mean for us? To borrow a phrase, "the struggle is real!" The Christian life is filled with battles: hardships of all kinds on the outside, and unending battles with sin in our own hearts. The assurance we have from the Scripture is that the war is already won, even if we can't resolve how the battles we're fighting fit into that war. 

Perseverance, then, is ultimately an exercise in faith. It is continuing in the difficult battles, no matter how difficult, and no matter the cost. That is possible because our hope is secure in Christ's victory. Persevering doesn't mean we never fail! It means we never stop fighting our failure. To give up is to admit a defeat that could never be, to concede victory to an enemy who has already lost. Christ is worthy of so much more!

In conclusion, I want to address three possible scenarios that a lot of people find themselves in. I hope you'll find these applications of perseverance useful and encouraging:

1. You are a believer in Christ, struggling with sin, and just about to give up. You need to hear this: If you are in Christ, God has made you more than victorious. Don’t listen to the enemy, who will tell you it doesn’t matter if you obey or resist temptation or give up, because you’ll be forgiven anyway. We’re warned about that kind of thinking in the Scripture (Romans 6:1-2; 1 Timothy 5:20; Hebrews 10:26). So don’t give up!  If you fail, don’t excuse the failure- hate it! Abominate it! Run to God and confess it, and take steps to have victory the next time. Then "rinse and repeat," no matter how long it takes. Victory, when it comes, will be worth it! It will be for your assurance, and His glory.

2. You have made commitments to Christ, but you’re struggling. You aren’t sure if you are truly converted or not. Perhaps you were certain at one time. Now, in defeat, you can no longer tell the difference between "saved and struggling," and "lost without hope." You need to hear this: there is hope for you! The first step is confession: to admit where you are, and to get help. Keeping your struggle a secret is not going to help! On your own, the enemy is going to beat you like a rag-doll. A healthy local church can offer help, accountability, and wise counsel. Trust the Lord to do a powerful work in your life, and let other, spiritually mature believers walk with you in the struggle.

3. Finally, you may have no idea what I'm talking about. If you have never responded to the gospel by placing your trust in Christ and repenting of your sin, you need to hear this: Today is the day of salvation. You can experience the hope, joy, and promises of assurance that I've been writing about... But you must obey. You must come to Christ on His terms, the terms of the Gospel. Trust in Christ today and repent of your sin - it will be the beginning of a whole new life for you. And I'd love to tell you all about it. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Perseverance, Part 2.

In our first installment on perseverance, we learned that our confidence is based not on our own faithfulness, but God's. Paul assures his readers, in Philippians 1:6, that God is the one who guarantees the completion of the work begun in us:
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” - Philippians 1:6
A second reason for our perseverance is the knowledge that God is the source of our eternal life. Consider Jesus' words from the Gospel of John:
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.” - John 10:27-30
This passage alerts us to a very real, ever-present spiritual danger. There is an enemy, working through several adversaries, that is intent on snatching believers from their eternal security. Is it the devil? Certainly. Is it the world with all its allurements? Of course. False teachers? Yes, surely. The flesh and its corrupted desires? Definitely. We don’t have to look very far in the scriptures -just up the page to John 10:10, in fact- to see the troubling dichotomy of our spiritual reality: Jesus has come to give life, the thief has come to steal, kill, and destroy.

With that in mind, see that power of the promise Jesus gives to believers in this passage! Our spiritual safety, our assurance, is firmly established in our relationship with Christ and God. Jesus says, “I give them eternal life.” Not, I will give. I give, now. The Greek is present/active/indicative. Eternal life, is not something that we will one day have. It is something that is given to us now. If you have repented of your sin and placed your faith in Christ, it is already given to you.

This idea of eternal life being given in the present is consistent in John's Gospel. 
“Whoever believes in the Son haseternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” - John 3:36
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” - John 5:24

If eternal life is given in the present, it is no wonder that Jesus is also able promise: "no one can snatch them out of my hand." And if that were not enough, He goes on: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all.” The Supreme Power of all the universe and beyond has given the believer to Jesus. There are dangers, there are threats. But the danger is not greater than the one who saved you. So when you are struggling, cling to John 3:36 and 5:24 and 10:27-30... unless the trouble or doubt you face is bigger than God -and believe me, it isn't- you're hope is secure in Him. 

So, Philippians 1:6 tied our salvation to God’s character: He always finishes what He starts. In John 10, Jesus ties our salvation to God’s nature: He is supreme, and nothing is greater than Him. And it is He who has given us to the Son, with His omnipotent hand is wrapped around us.

Next time, we will consider how our security is ensured by the Love of God. Until then, keep persevering! May the Lord bless you and use you for His glory.