Monday, April 14, 2014

Resurrection Way- Roads Less Traveled #6

Well, we’ve finally made it to the end of our series, “Roads Less Traveled.” We began our journey on Zaccheus’ street (learning that no one is beyond saving) took a turn down Bartimaeus boulevard (which demonstrated that only Jesus can provide the life for which all humanity longs), followed Jesus on Main Street Jerusalem (discovering that true faith is loyal even under pressure), passed Gethsemane Circle (challenging our prayer lives to new heights), and witnessed a spectacle of death and suffering on Golgotha Boulevard (as Christ demonstrated the brokenness that He wants to see in His disciples for the world). Today we reach the destination we have been chasing after for these past six weeks—Resurrection Way. It took faith, prayer, and brokenness to get here, but we are finally here. However, as we look closely at Matt. 28:5-7, we observe that there still a little ways to go.

Many times, even seasoned believers can find themselves in some sort of stupor or state of discouragement that they cannot seem to shake. In these moments of self-pity and whining, I look to faithful friends to shake me from my deprivation and help point me in a more healthy and realistic direction. Many times in these humble moments, I realize that the cause of my fatigue is often failing to remember the promises of God and His presence in my life. My failure is a result of me forgetting to trust God at His Word. In a far more difficult scenario than I have ever run across, Jesus’ mother and friends had run into the same problem. Failing to remember what God had said left these women sad and grieving. However, God through one of His glowing messengers would soon shake them from their own spiritual stupor in the wake of the greatest miracle ever presented. The angel of the Lord provides supernatural encouragement and comfort to these morose matrons by means of four proclamations that I believe will also encourage us this Resurrection Sunday for these statements kill worry and annihilate fear in the lives of those who will head them.


At the outset of this passage, the angel confronts the most obvious problem that the women probably had at this point. Not only had they watched their King be slaughtered and buried in the ground, but now they could not even visit the body of their beloved Savior. All things points to disparity as their lack of faith seems to begin obtaining justification. Anyone brought to this point would suffer great alarm and questions. Not to mention, the presence of an angel whose appearance “was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow,” would not do much to help calm things down. However, against all natural impulses and urges, the angel boldly prohibits fear. “Do not be afraid!”(28:5). One might assume from this clear call that the angel believes there is no good reason for fearing at this point and yet, the situation as far as the women could observe was undeniably bleak. It is to this situation that the angels then references.

The angel knew full well why the women were upset and now stricken with overwhelming grief—Jesus had been crucified. That was the simple fact. No one could deny the horror that must have taken place before these women who loved Jesus and devoted themselves to Him throughout His ministry on earth. It was this teacher, this healer, this leader, this king, who had been brutally executed. Watching a crucifixion went way beyond even some of the most gory movies or video games many are familiar with today. It was a spectacle of blood, excruciating pain, and unbelievable carnage that would have been forever imprinted on the mind of any witness. Such an act coupled with a weak faith would have driven anyone to fear. This would have been especially true of those who followed the victim, prescribed to His teachings, and believed in His saving power. However, it is in the midst of this despondency that the angel proclaims “FEAR NOT!” waking these women from their discouragement, readying them to receive the remainder of his message.

I’m not sure what you thought you would hear when you came in the door. I’m not sure what pain or trouble or confusion you are going through today. I’m not sure how bad things have become or how bleak the horizon is on your life, but I am confident that what you are traveling through now could not have been any worse than what these women at Jesus’ grave had witnessed. FEAR NOT! Allow these two simple words to awaken you to the message of hope that will follow.

The angel could prohibit the fear of these women, in part, because he was glowing and really cool-looking, but also because he recognized what they had failed to realize. This leads him to his second proclamation.


After describing the passion these women had witnessed and the death that they had grieved, the angel calls their attention to the empty grave, stating the arrestingly obvious detail that Jesus was no longer in His assigned burial plot. However, was this not also a cause for their concern? Was this not one of the contributing factors of their fear and discouragement? Didn’t the lack of Jesus’ body cause their alarm that fateful morning?

What these women had grown accustomed to following Jesus’ death, due to their lack of faith, was a bad case of assuming the worst. Lack of faith in a job can cause a manager to assume the worst when the boss calls for a private meeting. Lack of faith in a loved one’s health can cause a son or a daughter to panic when they get a call late at night. In the same way, the lack of faith in what Jesus said of Himself caused these women to assume the worst when His body went missing. Maybe the body was stolen, or secretly disposed of, etc. However, instead of the worst possible scenario, the most wonderful miracle took place.

Jesus had been resurrected in the proper sense of the word. He was the first to be brought back to life in an eternal sense. Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter had been resuscitated, but only Jesus had received His eternal and glorified body upon being brought back to life. The verbal sense of the words “has risen” suggests the completion of an activity. The resurrection validated the entirety of Jesus’ ministry, completed His redemptive ministry, and finished the work He had come to perform as Savior. Through His resurrection, Jesus defeated death, sin, and the world system. This act implies that those who belong to Him can necessarily conquer these elements as well. Death no longer has sting, Hell has been defeated, sin no longer is binding, Jesus had been risen! However, this should not have come as a surprise to anyone, especially the women standing speechless.

Jesus had indeed made no secret that He would die. Similarly, He dropped hints of hope that He would also be raised.

When did He say that?

Matt. 16:21-“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.”

 Matt. 17:23-“and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day, and they were deeply grieved.

Matt. 20:19-“and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up

Matt. 26:32-“But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee

Jesus time and time again desired to be taken at His Word. Ultimately, the fear and confusion of the women was constructed on weak faith—faith that believed the worst and forgot the best, faith that dwelt on the present situation and neglected to remember the hope they had for the future, faith that failed to take Jesus at His word and anticipate His resurrection.

 Unfortunately, observing these women is a lot like looking in the mirror. When God does something we are astonished or when things look bad around us we fear in large part because like these women we have failed to believe Jesus at His Word. He is mighty as demonstrated by His power over death; He is loving as witnessed in His death for humanity; He is Savior as alluded to in His life and ministry; and He IS ALIVE for the tomb is empty!!!!

When Jesus’ word was not enough for these women to believe ahead of time that Jesus would only remain in the tomb a few short days, the Angel aids their faith with a call to examine the evidence. He was not there! Truly, while all should take Jesus at His Word concerning His life and ministry, Jesus left the tomb with plenty of evidence behind in order to prove that this crucial event actually took place.

“There is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ.”-Brooke Foss Wescott. “No shred of evidence has yet been discovered in literary sources, epigraphy or archaeology that would disprove that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was actually empty on the morning of the 1st Easter.”-Dr. Paul L. Maier. “According to the law of legal evidence used in courts of law, there is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than for just about any other event in history.”-Dr. Simon Greenleaf, Harvard law professor.

The call of these women concerning the resurrection is the same call given to us. FEAR NOT! Why? Because we do not have to wonder where our Savior is. He is risen as He said and as can be proven without question! WONDER NOT! He has made good on what He said and proven to be the Savior He claimed of Himself. What now? What does one do with this knowledge.


The angel assumed that these women would, having learned of Jesus’ resurrection, leave that place and head elsewhere with this new information. He assumes swift movement in response to such information. No doubt these women would have had quite a spring in their step after leaving the gravesite.

The theme of “going” is carried on throughout the rest of the final chapter in Matthew. The angel speaks of the going of these women to the disciples here in verse 7. Jesus speaks of “going” to the brethren in verse 10, “Do not be afraid; go…”. Finally, in the last verses of Matthew, Jesus assumes that His disciples would “go” into all of the world, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,…” (28:19).

It would appear that the natural and assumed response to Jesus’ completed work of redemption involves movement, not complacency, intentionality, not laziness, action, not inaction.  

Throughout this series we have learned the value of true faith, persistent prayer, and real brokenness for the world. However, these don’t mean a thing if as a result we are not going into the world for Christ as He has commanded of us in light of His resurrection.

In their going, the angel desired that they would accompany their steps with a message, “Jesus has risen from the dead!”  This was the very best part of the “good news.” Such a message would have brought comfort to the disciples mourning the loss of their Savior. This message continues to spread and bring similar comfort to believers today.

Going accompanies proclamation in all of the cases we perused throughout the remainder of Matthew’s book. Here, the women are charged to go and tell the disciples. In verse 10, Jesus calls them to go and take word to the brethren. In verse 19, Jesus calls His disciples to go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all that I commanded you,…” In each of these cases, the scope grows larger and larger.

FEAR NOT! Why? God is not dead! WONDER NOT! He has made good on His word and there are plenty of reasons to believe Him. TARRY NOT! There is message that needs to be taken to the world and unfortunately the church is treating the greatest news of all like it is mundane.


In an effort to encourage these women further, the angel brings their attention to Jesus’ movement. Already, as they were encouraged to go and tell, Jesus was running ahead of them into Galilee where the disciples were. Suggesting that Jesus’ presence would precede their arrival would have brought much peace and excitement to these women as they made their way. This is the first time that Jesus’ present location is disclosed following the resurrection.

The angel then assures them that they will indeed look upon their Savior once again. Oh what a joy this would have been for Mary and her friends, who at the beginning of the day anticipated a corpse and now had learned that they would see their Savior and King alive and glorified!

Later in Matthew’s gospel Going and telling is shown to involve Jesus’ presence in much the same way. 28:10 says, “Go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see me.” Likewise, in the Great Commission, after calling them to Go and make disciples, Jesus comforts them with a promise of His presence.

Obedience to the call to go and proclaim assures God’s presence in one’s life in a special way. This is what the angel promises these women and what Jesus later promises to His disciples. In this way, neither had any cause for worry, He would be with them every step of the journey.  

The angel ends his proclamations with an appeal to his own authority. He, no doubt, was a glowing messenger from heaven charged by God himself to give this message and because of that, the women should take him at His word (although earlier we learned they had failed to extend Jesus that same courtesy). However, this time they had learned their lesson and would obey whole heartedly.

So What?

Fear Not! Wonder Not! Tarry Not! Worry Not! This is the promise of the resurrection—a life free of fear, that no longer has to wonder about God, that  is no longer stuck or immovable in sin, and is anxiety-free. I’m not sure about you, but that is the kind of life I would like to live. However, the tragic reality is that many live without this resurrection life and because they have not placed their faith in Jesus cannot cling to these proclamations for comfort. For those without Christ, the proclamations sound a lot different: “Fear everything because you are still of the world, keep wondering because you are still without any answers to the most difficult questions of life, tarry all you want because you are stuck in sin, and keep worrying things are very grim.” If you are living in fear, wonder, and worry, know that Jesus came, He died, and He rose, to save you from these.


However, if you are already a believer today, how well are you doing at the going and telling part of the Christian life? How great a gift we have been given through the cross! How great a Savior we have living within us because of His resurrection! What a message to proclaim and share with the whole world! If you and I want to experience God’s presence in a unique way today, you and I need to be obedient to go and tell of Him. If we really believe our God was killed and then raised from the dead the way the Bible reveals, what are we doing sitting around quietly twiddling our fingers? Many believers do a satisfactory job at the faith, prayer and maybe even the brokenness part of the Christian life. However, it does the world no good if we are not going and telling others.


Though the “Roads Less Traveled” are complete as far as this series is concerned, what road does the resurrection inspire you to take today? What street are you now compelled to take as you are about the business of going and telling others about Him? What boulevard have you neglected? Allow this resurrection message to thrust you into the roads less traveled in your life and in the life of this church as we take what we have learned to this neighborhood, city and world. No longer are we playing a man down. No longer are you and I working while wounded. No longer is failure an option. We have the resurrection power of God within us! The same power that raised Jesus from the dead! That alone is enough to do wonders we could never imagine. Be encouraged believer FEAR NOT! WONDER NOT! TARRY NOT! WORRY NOT! Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Golgotha Boulevard -Roads Less Traveled #5

In our travels in and around our city of Roanoke, there are those roads that you love to take and there are those roads that you avoid. Some provide beautiful scenic overlooks or are lined with gorgeous homes in safe and affluent neighborhoods like those streets that surround this church. Others are riddled with potholes, saturated with crime, and an eyesore. However, depending on where you are headed, sometimes these less glamorous boulevard are unavoidable.

Along our travels in the roads less taken thus far we have examined the results of true faith leading to restoration of life with Zaccheus and Bartimaues, the worthlessness of fickle believism with the triumphant entry and the preparatory value of prayer in Gethsemane. However, today as we narrow in on the destination that Jesus has been moving toward we are confronted with the most horrifying spectacle in all of Scripture--the dead end of Golgotha Boulevard—a road no one would choose to take unless forced. What redeemable principle can we possibly take away from Jesus’ crucifixion? What hope is there in the darkness of this most grim moment in all of history? Before we answer these questions, let us ask some of ourselves.

Faced with certain death, what would you say to God? Standing in excruciating pain what posture would you take? Interestingly enough, all of the answers to this question can be divided into two distinct categories that are represented by the two thieves on the crosses on either side of Christ. Their voices heard in the midst of their suffering are emblematic of the choices people make concerning God in light of their suffering today. Listen carefully to what you hear in between the gasps for air and vociferous cries of the spectators in Luke 23:39-43 on Golgotha Boulevard. As difficult as this road is to stomach, we will soon learn that this street is a necessary path for Christ to take in order to reach His destination. As gross and dark as this boulevard will prove to be, journeying through this text is necessary for our discipleship as we learn the invaluable role of brokenness for the Disciple.


Crucifixion was viewed by ancient writers as the cruelest and most barbaric of punishments. Recent historical and archaeological studies have helped bring a more realistic sense of crucifixion’s horrors. The bone fragments of a crucified individual were discovered in 1968 and revealed that his feet were each nailed laterally to the beam. In many cases, both the feet and wrists were nailed to the crossbeam the victim carried. This would have taken place after the victim was stripped of his clothes to increase the humiliation. After being nailed to the crossbeam, it would be raised high enough for the victim’s feet to clear the ground and then placed on a stake. Most guess that Jesus’ cross stood about 7 feet high. This method of execution was designed for one thing, a slow and tortuous death.  Death by crucifixion was a result of loss of blood, exposure, exhaustion, and suffocation, as the victim tried to lift himself to breathe. Sometimes, victims would linger for days in agony! After learning more about crucifixion, they can better appreciate the meaning of the word “excruciating,” which derives from the Latin excruciatus, “out of the cross.”

Though many tend to focus their attention on Jesus in the center of the Golgotha scene, it is important to remember that Jesus was one of three currently facing this unthinkable horror. Given the nature of their current predicament, it is no wonder that one of the thieves speaks up and in his rage says what he can in the midst of his ever-shallow breaths.

Though ill-advised in retrospect, one might understand how such a voice could be heard in the midst of such agony. The first thief’s voice illustrates one of choices everyone has in a situations like this-rage.  This is not a voice coming from a heart of brokenness, but a voice offered from a completely crushed heart and spirit bent against God.

In many ways this first thief represents a large sector of humanity. Those who in the face of suffering shake an angry fist at the God they  do not even believe in find a sympathizer in this man and might even be caught saying what he says here, “Are you no the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”

Although many uses of the word “save” allude to God’s work of salvation, given the context and the blasphemous nature of his remark, there is no way that this thief is making a legitimate plea for salvation. Instead, he is requesting rescue from their current predicament. In his limited view of Jesus, he sarcastically calls upon Him (in light of who he claims to be) to miraculously provide a means of escaping the death they all face.

In the last moments of life and in the midst of incredible pain, people will reach for anything to provide relief, even that which they blaspheme. However, instead of looking to Jesus in real hope of real salvation, this thief questions who Jesus claims to be and is sarcastic in his plea.

This hellacious cry echoes throughout the generations among those who fail to believe in Jesus Christ. Seeing no way of escape from their death or agony, instead of reaching out to Jesus in Faith for salvation, they question Him, His love, His sovereignty, and in their unbelief grasp only at straws.  Calvin says of this raging blasphemer, “this objection is directed against God Himself; just as wicked men, when they do not obtain what they wish, would willingly tear God from heaven. They ought indeed, to be tamed to humility by strokes; but this shows that the wicked heart, which no punishments can ben, is hard like iron.” The voice of rage says, “There is no God, look how much I’m hurting! If there was a God, why would he allow me this pain?”


As we continue down Golgotha boulevard, there is a second voice crying out--the voice of reason and brokenness. The second thief cannot put up with the insistent blaspheming of Jesus while on the cross. Instead of holding his tongue or saving his breaths for himself as he too reals in pain on a cross of his own, he openly rebukes the statements being made on the other side of the skull rock. 

In what this second criminal says, the reader is made aware of another way, the proper way, to view one’s own predicament before Christ. Though in the first man’s response to pain and agony we heard the voice of a raging blasphemer, here we he the surprising and yet unmistakable voice of reason coming out of brokenness before the Lord.

The first statement uttered by this second voice is a statement of rebuke. “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” In other words, the second thief asks the first, “Does not your present condemnation compel you to fear God?” In this statement, the second robber is hoping that the first recognizes that death is coming soon, and it is no time to be blaspheming an innocent man. Though their present predicament was desperate and difficult, it would not compare to what he would feel before God in the judgment seat. Though he was now feeling the results of being condemned by the Roman government, he would soon discover what it would feel like to be condemned by God Himself!

Though this rebuke was designed to put the fear of God into this man, there is no evidence that suggests it was successful. Instead, his hard heart hardened. This is no different than many in our world today. Instead of fearing God they abstain from Him, harden themselves, and fall into condemnation.  Any reasonable person would understand that they should most fear the God who can kill body and spirit.

Matt. 10:28-“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

The second thief understands that what they are experiencing is exactly what they “deserve.” He acknowledges here that the punishment which was common to all the three was “justly” inflicted on him and his companion, but not on Christ who had been dragged to the punishment of death, not by his own crime, but by the cruelty of enemies. He reasonably concludes, in light of his crime, that the punishment he is suffering at present is natural and expected, not something surprising or unjust. In fact, to not be punished in the manner he was currently experiencing would have been a gross injustice. Unlike his companion thief, who though God to be unjust and/or unreal, this man recognizes that the real injustice is being exercised on the man in the middle.

As alluded to earlier, this man might represent all who reasonably conclude that their present sufferings, agonies, and even anticipated death are a result of their own sinful choices, depravity, and extant wickedness that infects the entire fallen world. The difficulty they face in life and the hardships around them are understood by these as the product of sin in their lives, the lives of others, and in creation itself.  Therefore, what they are experiencing and will experience after death without Christ is not understood as unjust, but the proper penalty assigned to each of them. The only thing they can do in light of this is call upon the Lord because of their brokenness and desperation.

Calling upon the lord is exactly what is demonstrated by the second thief in this passage, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” In this phrase readers everywhere are given one of the most remarkable and striking examples of faith ever recorded! This thief, who not only had not been educated in the ways of Christ, had instead given himself up to a life of sin and endeavored to rid himself of any sense of right and wrong. However, here he suddenly rises higher than all the apostles and other disciples whom the Lord Himself had taken so much pains to instruct and adores Christ as King and calls to be invited to His kingdom! This he does while bleeding out and gasping for air on a cross! All credit for such a display of faith must go to the Holy Spirit, who, upon his understanding of his sin and necessary implications thereof, supplied the necessary faith to make this quantum leap to saving faith.

Those who in their brokenness understand their sin and the effects thereof are able to understand Jesus saving power for them by means of the Holy Spirit. In this we learn that those who place their faith in Jesus Christ are reaching a reasonable conclusion, Jesus is the only means of escaping the sting of death and have eternal life. The voice of reason says, “I am responsible for my actions, expect the consequences, and desperately need Jesus to save me.” Brokenness before Jesus demands the attention of God.


Do not forget that Jesus is suffering under the same excruciating pain these two thieves are experiencing. He too is hanging seven feet above Golgotha boulevard and He is the source of the third voice in the unique conversation taking place above the crowd of spectators. In His response to what has been said, it is significant to notice that Jesus only addresses the second thief and ignores the first. These same kinds of responses can be expected by those who call out to Him in faith and who curse His name today! Jesus Himself responds to brokenness. What Jesus expresses to the thief of faith is none other than the voice of redemption.

To the reasonable thief Jesus says, “truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” This promise reveals that Jesus, though presently humiliated before the onlookers, was still the same powerful Savior of the world who was capable to bring life out of death and fulfilling every facet of His office. This thief could expect life after death that very death with Jesus in Paradise.

 “Paradise” is a word meaning heaven. Death is not defeat for those who belong to Jesus Christ, it the beginning of life with God in a more profound way. This is what the second thief could expect following his last breath. In fact, anyone who turns to Jesus, even in the last moments of their life, is granted fellowship with Him for eternity thereafter.

Romans 10:13-“Woever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Jesus has always been about awarding faith with grace. Here, he awards the faith of a thief at his execution with the grace of eternal life with Him in heaven. This same grace is available today to all who call upon Him, expecting to hear the voice of redemption. The voice of redemption says, “This world and its sufferings is not all that there is. Call upon me and know eternal life.”

Jesus is able to offer grace for the thief and the remainder of the world because of His own brokenness. Jesus heart broke so much for the dying world destined for hell that He decided to enter into its situation as a man, live as anyone else, and die a horrific death. Motivated by this brokenness and love, Jesus provided my salvation and gave me life and he offers it to you as well.

So What?

The sights and sounds surrounding Golgotha Boulevard draw attention to something that is far removed from many in this room today. This scene of horror and pain calls to mind the horror and pain experienced by all in this world. 13 students were stabbed while attending school the other day. The worst Ebola breakout in years is happening now in Africa. 80% of American citizens do not trust their government. 33 people died in the recent mudslide in Everett Washington. This past December a Memphis pastor was arrested for sexually abusing a 16-year-old family member. What makes this heartbreaking story even more repugnant is that church and family members had been informed about the abuse two years earlier, but failed to report the crime to the police. Instead, they decided that the best response was to simply pray for the offender and hope for the best. Why do I conjure up all of these images?--THERE IS NO BROKENNESS IN THE CHURCH!!! People in the church do not want to go down those roads and deal with things in a way that will involve their time or personally affect them in the least. For the most part we are not willing to invest in the mess of this world, dig down, and make any real difference in the lives around us! I’m hoping that our hearts might break again for the world around us.

Like these three, we are on our way to death and so is the world, living in the midst of sin and injustice, feeling the very real effects of sin along the way. In light of this, there are two choices. To those who speak of God in rage, who do not believe in God or can’t for the life of them believe that anyone would believe in a good God while there is so much pain and suffering, I say this, consider that Jesus’ own heart breaks for the world’s situation. His heart breaks so much that he was willing to travel on Golgotha Boulevard and experience the most horrific death imaginable to redeem you out of this mess and into eternal life. He died in the worst possible way and did not deserve any bit of it! We suffer because we are sinful. He suffered though He sinned not! To those who have been broken before Christ and in response have reached the reasonable conclusion that only He can give hope in the darkness, I hope and pray that your heart might again break for the world around you. If our hearts do not break for the world around us we will not reach the people that need to know Jesus Christ. If we fail to travel down the road of brokenness and like Christ, incarnate ourselves in the mess, this city will not receive the revival it desperately needs. Faith and prayer are well-lit and well paved avenues, but the dark and dangerous boulevard of brokenness is no less important in our journey as disciples.  We all look forward to resurrection Sunday; however, there would be no resurrection to life without brokenness.  Don't avoid the road of brokenness and choose only to travel on easy street. Like Christ, incarnate yourself in the mess of the world, let it bother you enough to love, move, and act on its behalf, so that many might know God.