The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10 ESV

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Following God's Leading - Joshua 21:43-45; 23:14-15

(I gave this message most recently at First Christian Church of Wilton Manors on July 9, 2017)

James Chalmers was born in Scotland in August 1841. At the age of 24, he married Jane Hercus, two days later was ordained, and in less than three months set sail with his wife for Sydney Australia. Sixteen months later they arrived at their ultimate destination the island of Rarotonga in the South Pacific Cook Islands. Ten years later, Chalmers and his wife moved to the island of New Guinea.

Of the south Pacific islands John Starke has written, "...the indigenous population lived in primitive conditions, immersed in cannibalism, licentiousness, infanticide, and constant warfare. " But these were Chalmers words regarding his desire to proclaim the gospel to such people in New Guinea, "The nearer I get to Christ and His cross, the more do I long for direct contact with the heathen."

Glen Royer writes, "Whatever made savage life loathsome and fearful to the ordinary man made it attractive to him." After the death of his wife Jane in 1879, just two years after moving to New Guinea, Chalmers wrote "Oh, to dwell at His cross and to abound in blessed sympathy with His great work! I want the heathen for Christ." He continues, "I cannot rest and so many thousands of savages without a knowledge of Christ near us."

James Chalmers, remarried nine years later in 1888 only to have his second wife die two years later on the mission field. Biographer Eugene Harrison, writes of Chalmer's final days as he made an effort to reach a particularly fierce and unapproachable group of natives for Christ.

"In April, 1901, Chalmers set out to visit the district around Cape Blackwood, on the eastern side of the Fly River delta. He knew this area was inhabited by a particularly ferocious tribe of savages who were both skull hunters and cannibals. He was accompanied by Rev. Oliver Tomkins, a promising young colleague recently arrived from England. At a place called Risk Point on the island of Goaribari a swarm of natives, with all sorts of weapons, came in canoes and took forcible possession of the mission vessel as it lay anchored off shore. Tamate [Chalmers] decided to go ashore, but, anticipating trouble, urged Mr. Tomkins to remain aboard the vessel. Mr. Tomkins, however, insisted on sharing whatever dangers might await his beloved leader, so the two went ashore together to the village of Dopina. Those on board the vessel never saw them again. This was on April 8, 1901. A few days later the Christian world was stunned by a cablegram stating that James Chalmers and his young colleague had been killed and eaten by the Fly River cannibals.

As was ascertained later, when Chalmers, Tomkins and several boys from the mission school got ashore, they were invited into the dubu of the village to have something to eat. As soon as they entered, the signal was given for a general massacre. The two missionaries were hit on the head from behind with stone clubs and fell senseless to the floor. Their heads were immediately cut off, then their followers were similarly killed and beheaded. The heads were distributed as trophies among the murderers, while the bodies were handed over to the women to cook. The flesh was mixed with sago and was eaten the same day by the wildly exulting cannibals."

Remember Chalmers words, "The nearer I get to Christ and His cross, the more do I long for direct contact with the heathen." "Oh, to dwell at His cross and to abound in blessed sympathy with His great work! I want the heathen for Christ!"

What led a Scotsman to leave the comforts of his homeland to a life of great danger and hardship and devote over thirty years of his life to reach cannibals for Christ in one of the most primitive places on the planet?

I want to speak to you this morning about "Following  God's Leading" by sharing with you from the experience of Israel as recorded in the latter chapters of the book of Joshua. I want to go to the end of an era in Israel's history. And as we look back into this period of Israel's history we will see timeless truth regarding God's call of Israel and their response, truth relevant to your life and mine, truth relevant to how we respond to God's leading in our lives, individually, as families and as a church.

In Deuteronomy thirty-one Joshua succeeded Moses as Israel's leader. In Joshua chapter one God gives Joshua his marching orders. The spies are sent out in chapter two. In chapter three, Joshua calls the people to consecrate themselves then leads the nation across the Jordan River into the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the desert because of unbelief. The miraculous fall of Jericho is recorded in chapter six. Chapter ten records Israel's defeat of the Amorites and the southern cities, followed by the northern kings in chapter eleven.

Then in chapters twelve through nineteen we are told of the division of the conquered land among the tribes of Israel and the establishment of cities of refuge in chapter twenty. In the closing verses of chapter twenty-one, verses forty-three through forty-five, we have a summary statement of this era in Israel's history as they began to take possession of the land under the leadership of Joshua. A land promised to their forefathers hundreds of years before.

From this summary statement I want us to see three principles as Israel fulfilled God's calling as they took possession of a land He had promised them. Looking at this summary we see three principles of how God leads us into experiencing His will and purpose for our lives. Principles that are relevant to our lives as we follow His leading.

Perhaps this morning, you are facing an uncertain future. You have questions as to what God is calling you to do or how to respond to what He has called you to do. I don't know the challenges facing most of you this morning, facing you personally, in your family, or as a church. But let's trust God for a word to our hearts this morning.

Read with me this brief summary statement found in Joshua 21:43-45, "Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass." (ESV)

I want to give you three principles this morning of how God leads his people. Notice first of all that, God always has a plan. Verse 43 speaks of this plan. "Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there."

 It was years earlier that God had revealed this plan to Abram, Genesis 12:1-2,3b,  "Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'”

You see, this summary statement in Joshua chapter twenty-one, is merely a small part of a much greater plan that God had begun to reveal to Abraham and others that followed. It was a plan that went far beyond God promising a chosen people a piece of real estate. It was a plan that the Apostle Paul said was conceived in the heart of God even before creation. It was a plan through which the whole world would be blessed.

And the first principle I want you to notice this morning is this: When it comes to God's calling or leading in our lives, - God always has a plan. Here is why this truth is so important. The plan defines what God wants to do. The plan always has God at its center. The plan always outlines what God has in mind. The emphasis is on what God want to do. That is what should concern us. Abraham did not have to come up with a plan. God had devised the plan.

I don't know what you are facing this morning. Perhaps unemployment, a foreclosure, an illness, challenges at work, in your business, in your marriage, with your children. You might need direction. Perhaps you are at a crossroads in your life. Whether the challenge is personal in nature, a family matter, a church matter, you might not be clear about what God's plan is. You might know all of the details or what the future holds.

But this one thing is certain. God has a plan! And God's plan defines what He wants to do for you and through you. That should encourage us this morning. No matter how much confusion there might be; no matter how many questions remain unanswered; no matter how uncertain things might seem. God has a plan!

Secondly notice, God's promises always accompany His Plan. Notice the first half of verse 43, "Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers." Do you see the promise? You probably already noticed that when you look at this summary statement you cannot separate the plan from the promise. I have separated it so that we might understand more clearly the different principles at work here. But the plan and the promise are inseparable. God's plan for Abraham and Israel was inseparable from His promise to Abraham and Israel. You see, the success of the plan depended on God. In fact the promise was the plan. Verse 43, "And the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers." (ESV)

When God gave Abram the plan it was inseparable from the promise. So inseparable was the plan from the promise that God made a covenant with Abram, Genesis  15:18, "On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, 'To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates....'"

A covenant is an agreement between to parties. This was an agreement that God had initiated and God upheld. And if you look carefully into this summary statement it is evident that what was accomplished when Israel took possession of the land up to this point was something God had done. Verse 43, "Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers." and verse 44, "...the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands." (ESV)

Friends, this is a picture of God's grace at work through the promises of God. Joshua understood this truth.  In his farewell address to the leaders of Israel in chapter 23:3, he said,  " have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you."

As Joshua looked to the future, to the land promised but not yet conquered he said, verse five, "The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you." (ESV) Are you getting the picture? You see God's plan always depends on God's power. 

May I suggest to you this morning, if your plan doesn’t depend on God could it be that it is not God's plan? Listen, this morning you might not be able to spell out God's plan. You might not even see all of the pieces in front of you no less see how they fit together, but He has a plan. And as you walk before God in obedient faith He will disclose the plan and remember, no matter what the plan is, God never leaves us to our own resources. God's promises always accompany His plan. This is both Old and New Testament theology. Peter put it this way, 2 Peter 1:3-4 "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (NIV)

Friends that's the gospel! If this morning you stand apart from God in your sins, this is God's invitation to you. God has made provision for the forgiveness of your sins. He wants to reconcile you to Himself. When you acknowledge your sin and repent of your sin and trust in Jesus' death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sin, God will regenerate you by the power of His Holy Spirit. He will give you a new heart. He will deliver you from the penalty and power of sin in your lives. He will justify you, declaring you righteous in His sight because your sin has been put to Christ's account and you stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Friends that's a plan embedded with a promise, if there ever was one.

So I pause right here to ask, Have you been born again? Jesus told Nicodemus, the religious teacher of his day, "You must be born again." If God is speaking to you this morning of your need for His forgiveness right now call upon Him for salvation. God by his very nature, will not call us to a plan, will not lead us on a mission, that depends on our own resources, because, God's promises connect us to His power, for salvation or any other need. But there is another principle at work here. As we follow God's leading, notice thirdly that, God's plan calls for obedient faith.

Now we certainly recognize that God acts unilaterally. In other words, God does act alone. He can accomplish anything he wants without the cooperation of anyone. He acted alone in creation. He acted alone in redemption. He continues to act alone in His sovereign rule over the affairs of man. He alone sustains the universe in all of its complexity and glory. He will act alone in bringing the world to an end. He will act alone as He ushers in the new heaven and earth. He will act alone in judgment of sin and death. But God also chooses to work in and through his people. Back to Joshua 21:43. We  noted how the first half of the verse speaks of God's part. But notice the second half of verse 43, "And they took possession of it, [the land] and they settled there." Israel did not play a passive role in taking possession of the land that God had promised them. They were the ones who had to cross the Jordan River while God held the waters back. They were the ones that had to march around the city of Jericho and at the designated time blow the trumpets and shout as God brought down the walls. They had to attack the cities. They had to pursue the enemy. In other words they had to respond in obedience to the plan of God by faith in the promises of God.

Remember, God always has a plan and His promises are embedded in His plan. But we must respond in obedient faith to the plan. All through the book of Joshua, and the other accounts of Israel's walk with God this issue of participating with God stands center stage. In all candor they failed more than they succeeded at this point. The history of Israel is full of repeated unbelief and disobedience. Cycles of rebellion followed by God's judgment followed by their repentance and God's mercy and restoration.

Here is the important issue for us. When it comes to following God's leading, our participation is part of the plan. Before Joshua passed off the scene, he gathered Israel together to renew their covenant with the Lord. He was 110 years old. Had God been faithful to Joshua and Israel?

This is what God had said to Joshua after the death of Moses, Joshua 1:1-2, "You and all these people get ready to cross the Jordan River and enter the land I am about to give to them -- to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot as I promised Moses." And verse 45 of the summary statement, "Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass." (ESV)

But now as Joshua's life came to an end, he understood the reality of things. There was land yet to be conquered. There was still work to be done for the Lord. And he knew that they could not rely on yesterday's commitment to accomplish today's mission. Joshua 24:14-15, “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (ESV) Joshua called his people to a place of decision. And at the core of the matter was a call to obedient service. Notice he led by example verse 15, "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

When we talk of following God's leading, walking in God's will, it starts with an acknowledgment that God has a plan. It means believing that in that plan you will find a promise. In other words, God's plan depends on God's power. But all that will pass you by unless you step forward in faith and obedience as a participant in God's plan. You see, consecration prepares us for participation in God's plan. God will never accept a divided allegiance. In Joshua 24:23 Joshua exhorted the people, “...throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (NIV) That is still the pattern we follow today. There will always be idols competing for our attention and allegiance. Our idols might be called by a different name than in Joshua's day. But whatever stands between our allegiance to God, whatever stands between the surrender of our hearts to God and his plan,  must be abandoned.

As we close, let me return to the missionary James Chalmers martyred in New Guinea. F.W. Boreham writes of Chalmer's legacy, He established " hundred and thirty mission New Guinea..." Dr. Lawes writes, 'On the first Sabbath in every month not less than three thousand men and women gather devotedly around the table of the Lord...Many of them were known to Chalmers as savages in feathers and war paint. Now, clothed and in their right mind, the wild, savage look all gone, they form part of the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ and are members of His Church. Many of the pastors who preside at the Lord's Table bear on their breasts the tattoo marks that indicate that their spears had been imbrued with human blood. Now sixty-four of them, thanks to Mr. Chalmers' influence, are teachers, preachers and missionaries."

How do you explain that legacy? It all goes back to two decisions James Chalmers made years before. He was converted at the age of eighteen at a revival in Inveraray. One night, he and some of his young friends went to a revival meeting intending to disrupt the service. But God had other plans. The text of the evangelist that night was, Revelation 22:17, "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let the one who hears say, 'Come!' Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life." As Eugene Harrison writes, "The words glowed with fire and burned deep into James' soul. He went home that night overwhelmed with a conviction of sin and a vision of the loveliness of Christ."

Days later, Pastor Meikle, a Presbyterian minister, led him to faith in Christ. Chalmers writes of his conversion, "I felt that this salvation was for me. I felt that God was speaking to me in His Word and I believed unto salvation." But interestingly enough he had made a another decision that dramatically impacted his life three years before he became a Christian. After attending a Sunday School class the same pastor Meikle who led him to Christ spoke to the class in the chapel. Listen to Chalmer's own words,

"I was sitting at the head of the seat, and can even now see Mr. Meikle taking from his breast-pocket a copy of the United Presbyterian Record and hear him say that he was going to read an interesting letter to us from a missionary in Fiji. The letter was read. It spoke of cannibalism, and of the power of the Gospel, and at the close of the reading, looking over his spectacles, and with wet eyes, he said, 'I wonder if there is a boy here this afternoon who will yet become a missionary, and by and by bring the Gospel to cannibals?' And the response of my heart was, 'Yes, God helping me, I will.'"

He continues, "So impressed was I that I spoke to no one, but went right away towards home. The impression became greater the farther I went, until I got to the bridge over the Aray above the mill, and near the Black Bull. There I went over the wall attached to the bridge, and kneeling down prayed God to accept me, and to make me a missionary to the heathen."

Biographer Eugene Harrison connects the two decisions, pointing out that the desire to become a missionary to the heathen, "— now that he had been born again — came back to him with tremendous force, especially after conversations with Dr. Turner, a veteran missionary from Samoa." You see, God had a plan for James Chalmer's life. It is clearly woven into the tapestry of his experience with God. And in that plan there were the promises of God that allowed a man to live for over thirty years in one of the most primitive environments in the world, losing two wives and his own life all because he was willing to follow God's leading in obedient faith. First, his life was transformed by his conversion to Christ. He then yielded in obedient faith to God's call upon his life to be a missionary to the cannibals of the South Pacific. Joshua's challenge to Israel is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve." 

So I ask you, have you been born again?  If not, today can be your day of salvation. If you are in Christ this morning, are you following God's leading, walking in obedient faith in the power of His promises? As in the day of Joshua and the day of James Chalmers the time to respond is when God speaks to our hearts.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Resurrection Life - 1 Corinthians 15:1-27

(I preached this sermon Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017 at Christ Center Alliance  Church (Chinese) in Miami Florida)

Breakpoint Radio Co-host John Stonestreet wrote an article entitled, "Questioning Jesus' Existence." He writes, "When you're CNN, you publish annual articles suggesting Jesus never existed. It's what you do" He continues, "Every year around March and December, this and other news outlets exhume the long-dead thesis that the New Testament is based on a mythological figure, not a Man who really lived, died, and rose from the grave two thousand years ago."

He goes on to report that in March of this year CNN republished an article by John Blake entitled, "Decoding Jesus: Separating Man from Myth." Blake writes, "On Easter Sunday millions of Christians worldwide mark the resurrection of Jesus. Though Christians clash on many issues, almost all agree that he existed." He continues, "But there's another view of Jesus that's been emerging, one that strikes at the heart of the Easter story. A number of authors and scholars say Jesus never existed."

In December of 2014 The Washington Post published an article by Raphael Lataster entitled, "Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just does not add up" He concludes his article, writing,  "In sum, there are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus' historical existence--if not think it outright improbable."

I could go on and on citing others who attack the credibility of the Biblical account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. And perhaps there is nothing that gains the attention of the skeptics more frequently than the New Testament claim that Jesus Christ died, was buried in a tomb and three days later rose from the dead.

The Apostle Paul faced a similar controversy. As we read in I Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church was compelled to address those who denied the resurrection of the dead and the implication of that denial with regard to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As we look at this text this morning, note with me first of all, the evidence for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In verse one and two, Paul reminds the church in Corinth of the gospel he had previously preached to them. He writes, "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain."

He continues in verses 3 - 5 writing, "For I delivered to you as of first importance..." Did you get that? "...of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried,
that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve."  (ESV)

Paul then continues to identify others, including himself, who had seen or encountered the risen and living Christ.  Verses 6 - 9,  "Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (ESV)

Elsewhere other Biblical writers emphasized the authenticity of Jesus' resurrection. The physician Luke in Acts 1:3 says that Jesus, "...presented himself alive to them", that is the apostles, "...after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God." (ESV)         

Dr. Clark Pinnock, one of my theology professors in seminary, commenting on this verse writes,

"The certainty of the apostles was founded on their experiences in the factual realm. To them Jesus showed himself alive by 'many infallible proofs' (Acts 1:3). The term Luke uses is tekmerion, which indicates a demonstrable proof.
The disciples came to their Easter faith through inescapable evidence available to us through their written testimony."

He continues, "It is important for us, in an age that calls for evidence to sustain the Christian claim, to answer the call with appropriate historical considerations. For the resurrection stands within the realm of historical factuality, and constitutes the excellent motivation for a person to trust Christ as Savior."

Despite the claims and protests of the skeptics, the Scriptures place an emphasis on the historicity of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is this truth that we stand on when we proclaim the gospel to a world in need of a Savior!

Our faith is not based on fiction nor tradition. It is not based on theory, nor the conjecture, speculation, opinions or other notions conceived in the mind or heart of men. It is grounded in historical fact and authenticated by the testimony of eyewitnesses. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, lived on this earth, died for our sins, was buried in a tomb and rose from the dead three days later.

As Alexander MaClaren writes of this passage,

"Now the first thing that strikes me here is that, whatever else the system unfolded in the New Testament is, it is to begin with a simple record of historical fact."  He continues, "It becomes a philosophy, it becomes a religious system; it is a revelation of God; it is an unveiling of man; it is a body of ethical precepts. It is morals and philosophy all in one; but it is first of all a story of something that took place in the world."

Jesus Christ was not the figment of someone's imagination. He was not the product of someone's dream world or ecstatic vision. He was God incarnate, who lived in our space and time dimension over two thousand years ago in the land of Palestine.  

As the Apostle John testified, the Word "..became flesh and dwelt among us" John 1:14  And in his first letter, writing of Jesus Christ he said, (SLIDE) "... which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life--the life was made manifest, [public] and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us--" 1 John 1:1-2  (ESV)

And the Apostle Paul goes out of his way to emphasize the authenticity of the historical facts that shape the gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

And of course, this was consistent with Jesus' own words. On several occasions He spoke to His disciples of His impending death and resurrection. His death did not catch him by surprise. He knew His assignment from the beginning, telling his disciples on one occasion, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:45 (ESV)

And Luke records these words of Jesus, in his gospel, chapter 9, verse 22, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." (ESV)

So first of all we have the historical evidence that Jesus Christ did live, die and was raised from the dead. Note secondly, the centrality of the resurrection to the gospel message.

Having made a compelling case for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Paul continues by drawing very important deductions or inferences with regard to our faith.  verses, 12-13,

"Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised." (ESV)

He argues that if there is no resurrection, Christ could not have been raised from the dead. He then he draws this logical and faith shattering conclusion. Follow carefully the logic of his reasoning in verses 14 - 19,

"And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is vain." He continues verse 15,
"We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are nor raised."

Then he makes this deduction, verses 16 - 19, "For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." (ESV)

Friends, our faith as followers of Jesus Christ rests on the testimony of those who over two thousand years ago witnessed a Savior who lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary death for our sin, and by the shedding of his blood on that cross of shame paid the penalty of our sin, broke the power of sin, and then conquered death when He was resurrected from the grave three days later. But all of that would have been to no avail, writes Paul, if there is no resurrection and if Jesus Christ had not been raised from the dead.

Back in April of 1990, the cover of the news magazine, U.S. News and World Report was entitled, "The Last Days of Jesus" In his concluding section on the resurrection of Jesus Christ Jeffrey Sheler wrote,

"It is Christianity's most irreducible tenet: On the third day, Jesus arose from the dead." He continues, "From the very beginning Christians have proclaimed the bodily resurrection as a validation of all that Jesus taught and all that they believe.  It is the foundation upon which all else rests."

G. Campbell Morgan writes, "If Christ hath not been raised then the Cross of Calvary was nothing more than the tragic ending of a mistaken, if noble life. All the values of evangelical Christianity are dependent on interpretations of the person and mission of Jesus resulting from acceptation of the central fact of His resurrection."

Deny the cross and you have no Savior. Deny the resurrection and you have a dead man who claimed to be a savior.

We have noted the historicity of the resurrection and what follows logically, the centrality of the resurrection to the gospel message and our faith. Notice thirdly that the resurrection of Jesus Christ provides the only hope of eternal life for those who believe. Verses 20 - 23 of our text. "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each to his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ." (ESV)

There are two relationships described here. One comes by physical birth; one comes by spiritual birth. All of us by human birth are related to Adam the first man. And by virtue of that relationship share in a common end, death, both physically and spiritually.

Adam was created a perfect human being. Morally, he was without sin. Physically he was without a flaw. Socially, once he awoke with Eve at his side, he was complete and content. In fact he had a perfect marriage.  

Spiritually he walked in fellowship and harmony with God. He lived in a perfect environment, free of disease and conflict or evil of any kind. But he chose to step beyond the limits God had placed upon him. And his rebellion and disobedience brought spiritual and physical death to his experience. And to ours for we share in the result of his rebellion. Verses 21 and 22, " a man came death...""For as in Adam all die..." Our sinful nature is evidence of our relationship with Adam.

But Paul speaks of another relationship, again verse 22, " Christ shall all be made alive." We did not enter into our relationship with Adam by choice. We entered into it by virtue of our physical birth. But the relationship Paul speaks of,
whereby we enter into life, is established by faith in a risen Savior.

Remember Paul's words in verse 1 and 2, "...I would remind you... of the gospel I preached to you, which you received... and by which you are being saved..." Then in verse three he goes on to declare, "...that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day..."
As sinners, we all must pay the penalty for our sin. "In Adam all die..." But Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sin on the cross of Calvary and was raised from the dead.

Before Christopher Columbus ventured west and discovered the new world, Spanish coins had the stamped outline of the Strait of Gibraltar imprinted on them. Under that imprint were the words, "No more beyond." The Strait of Gibraltar lies at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea, the western end of the known world at that time. After his return and the discovery of the new world to the west, the wording was changed to read "More beyond."

Jesus Christ went through the narrow gate of death on our behalf. Many thought he would never return. But He did. He paid the penalty for our sin. He broke the power of sin. He triumphed over death in His resurrection from the grave.
Therefore He can guarantee the same for those who put their trust in Him. There is life beyond the grave!

Verses 24-27a "Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For God put all things in subjection under his feet."

And later in this chapter, Paul writes these words of triumph, verses 54b-57, "'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." (ESV)

Remember verse 23, "Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ."? The question I ask this morning is, 'Do you belong to Christ?" If you know Jesus Christ this morning, take comfort in these words. But, if you are here this morning, and have never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, I urge you to respond to the evidence you have heard this morning from the Word of God. The evidence points to but one conclusion: Jesus Christ is alive! And if He is alive, it would be foolish to ignore His claim on your life.

We are told that the upper peninsula of Michigan used to be an almost unbroken wilderness. Back then two men set out on foot to go to a new mining camp. After traveling quite a distance a snowstorm obliterated their path. A little later they were surprised to notice they were not alone. They saw the footprints of at least two other men. This reassured them that they were on the right path and they hurried on. Suddenly, an Indian appeared, pointed to the tracks in the snow, and in broken English said, "White man lost --go round and round." You see, the two men had been treading on what is called "the death track" walking round and round and round in a life threatening blizzard, but going nowhere.

Are you on the death track this morning? Or is your ultimate victory over death secure in Christ in whom you have placed your trust for the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life. His resurrection from the grave is the only thing that guarantees that hope. He alone can offer you resurrection life.

© James P McGarvey, All Rights Reserved

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Created in the Image of God - Genesis 1:26-28; 2:7; Romans 1:18-25

(I gave this message on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday at Pines Baptist Church in Pembroke Pines, January 22, 2017. You can listen to this message online HERE under the title "The Value of Life" and view the PowerPoint slides Here.)

Let me say at the outset of this message that I am aware that in any audience I speak to, there will be those whose lives have been touched by abortion in some way. Therefore I know that dealing with this subject could be difficult, even painful for some here this morning.

However, as followers of Jesus Christ, we must be willing to address this subject from the authority of Scripture. But, we do so in the context of two very important Biblical truths. Perhaps you remember this illustration I shared with you four years ago. There are two things a train must have to safely reach its destination. Two tracks, two tracks running parallel to each other all the way to its destination. A train will go nowhere without riding on both tracks, at the same time, all the way to the end of the rail line. In the same way, we must communicate what God says about abortion in the context of God's grace and God's truth.

You see, theologically grace and truth always go together. In fact, they are theologically inseparable. They are like the two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other.

And here's why this is important. As I've shared with you before, Pastor Randy Alcorn has written, "Grace without truth deceives people. Truth without grace, crushes people." You see, we will never understand God's grace apart from God's truth. But God's truth will always lead us to God's grace.

So as we begin this morning let me impress this upon you. If your life has been touched by an abortion, while you cannot escape the truth about abortion nor some of its consequences, please know that there is forgiveness, there is healing and restoration in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a way to resolve the guilt, shame and hurt that abortion will bring to the human experience. And I want you to know that you are in the right place to hear that Good News. If your life has been touched by abortion in any way, you are in a safe place in this church.

Today, January 22, 2017 should be a day of national mourning, for it is the 44th anniversary of two landmark decisions of the United States Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. These two rulings of the court legalized the deliberate, premeditated killing of unborn children at anytime during all nine months of pregnancy right up to the moment of natural child birth for virtually any reason. In other words, the Supreme Court gave women the right to "choose" whether to keep or kill their unborn child. Therefore a "women's right to choose" or "reproductive rights" have become the code words used by the proponents of abortion to frame the debate, while those who deny the validity of the Court's decision and advocate for the life of the unborn, are referred to as "prolife."

Is God pro-life? That is the question that should concern those on either side of the abortion debate. The answer to that question depends on who you ask.

On the website "" which describes itself as, "Fighting Immorality In Religion" you will find an article entitled "God is not Pro-Life" subtitled, "The Biblical God is NOT pro-life, he advocates child murder, infanticide, child abuse and abortion." That conclusion, I might add, comes from very questionable hermeneutics and interpretation of Scripture, leading to an entirely false characterization of the God revealed in the Bible.  

Planned Parenthood is the nation's largest abortion provider, taking the lives of 915 children every day, over 300,000 per year. Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington and the Religious Coalition For Reproductive Choice, sponsored an event to "bless" Planned Parenthood's newest clinic in Washington D.C. The event was organized by a husband-wife pastoral team from a local Baptist church.

It is reported that before the opening ceremony the religious leaders met in a prayer circle, and were called upon by one of the leaders to "make it [the clinic] whole and holy." Pastor Stephen Broden reports, that these religious leaders of several different faiths "...blessed Planned Parenthood and called it a 'sacred work.'" (Black Community News, 01-19-17)

About ten years ago, Reverend Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, President of the Episcopal Divinity School in New England, in a sermon given in Birmingham Alabama said, “When a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to safe, affordable abortion – there is not a tragedy in sight – only blessing.”

You see, there are professing Christians who justify a mother's right to abort her child. Abortion is now legal because the Supreme Court has ruled that a preborn baby is not a person, and therefore lies outside of the protection of the U. S. Constitution. The Court was willing to set aside the opinion of our Founding fathers who wrote in the Declaration of Independence "...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The authors of the Declaration evidently looked to the Scriptures in determining the value of human life. And so must we, acknowledging both the Biblical creation account of man, and in particular the declaration that man was created in the image of God. It is the failure to acknowledge this truth that has allowed the government and our courts to sanctioned the killing of 60 million unborn children since 1973 and perhaps has even contributed to the church remaining largely silent and ambivalent to the plight of the most innocent and defenseless among us, our unborn children.
What value does God place on human life? To answer that question, we must first answer another question. "Who is man?" So today we focus on Biblical truth that man was created in the Image of God.

The Christian response to abortion depends on knowing who man is. If we fail to understand this we will never be able to determine what value to place upon the life of the unborn. Understanding that man was created in the image and likeness of God is at the very core of why we hold to the sanctity of human life in or out of the womb.

The very fist incident of "shedding innocent blood", which is the most accurate Biblical terminology for abortion, took place very early in human history, when Eve's firstborn son, Cain, took the life of his own brother Abel. The first human being ever born on earth murdered the first sibling ever born on earth, his younger brother!

When God confronted Cain, He asked, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground." (Genesis 4:10 ESV) You see, the shed blood of Abel had a voice, the Scriptures says that cried out to God. What is the significance of innocent blood crying out to God?

As I shared with you two years ago, it is God's way of expressing both his displeasure with the shedding of innocent blood and implies that He is bound to respond to the taking of innocent human life in a manner consistent with the value He has placed upon human life having created man in His image and likeness.

This is stated just a few chapters later. In the opening verses of Genesis chapter nine, we have God giving Noah instructions as civilization makes a new beginning after the flood. Notice verses five and six, "And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of a man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:5-6 ESV)

Notice that God formally announces His demand for an accounting for the shedding of innocent blood. If a man takes another man's life, God said, "I will require a reckoning." In other words, God saw the need to restrain evil behavior therefore he makes provision for the protector of human life through capital punishment.

Notice the reason God demands justice for the shedding of innocent blood. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image." Back to Genesis one. The protection of innocent human life all stems from the fact, that human life bears the image of its Creator, and when we unjustly extinguish that life, it constitutes a  personal affront to a Holy and Righteous God.

At this point it is well to remember as I shared with you three years ago, there are ultimately only two prevailing world views from which we determine what value we place on human life. The Biblical worldview is rooted in the creation account, 

"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."

Genesis 1:26-27 (ESV) "...then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2.7 (ESV)

Fast forward to the apostle Paul who makes creation foundational to a Biblical worldview. In Romans chapter one, he describes the process whereby man has suppressed the truth that God graciously reveals to him through his conscience the created world.  Verse eighteen,

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth."

What truth does man suppress? "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20 ESV)

God has revealed Himself to man through his creation, natural revelation. As Griffith Thomas has written, "There is thus no valid reason for ignorance of God, for that which is a matter of knowledge concerning God has been manifested in them by conscience and through nature." (St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, pg. 68) Paul continues,

"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.  Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves (Romans 1:21-24 ESV)

Then Paul identifies the source of the two competing worldviews, in verse twenty-five, "...they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen." (Romans 1:25 ESV)

Having suppressed the truth about God revealed to them in their conscience and in God's creation, man turns to idolatry, and inevitably the worship of self. There are ultimately only two worldviews. One denies there is a Creator and worships the creation. The other acknowledges the Creator and worships the Creator.

You see, modern evolutionary theory, that governs the thinking of 21st century America, denies the existence of the Creator and therefore postulates that man was the product of a meaningless, random evolutionary process over billions of years, the result of a cosmic accident. And this is the inevitable result. Man is seen as just another animal who has risen to the top of the evolutionary chain having succeeded in the survival of the fittest. Having denied the existence of his Creator man is therefore believed to be the product of mere chance, time and matter with no inherent intrinsic value by virtue of his origin.

He is therefore accountable to no one but himself. In essence, the result is the self-deification of man. Having denied the existence of God, man becomes his own god and answers to no one but himself. Dr. Francis Schaeffer, defined this worldview over thirty years ago in his book, A Christian Manifesto writing,

"The term humanism...means Man beginning from himself, with no knowledge except what he himself can discover and no standard outside of himself. In this view Man is the measure of all things, as the Enlightenment expressed it." (page 24)

And this worldview, rooted in secular humanism and moral relativism, brings a devastating consequence with regard to the value it places on human life in or out of the womb, at the beginning of life or at the end. Dr. Schaeffer explains,

"Those who hold the material-energy, chance concept of reality...not only do not know the truth of the final reality, God, they do not know who Man is...They have reduced Man to even less than his natural finiteness by seeing him only as a complex arrangement of molecules, made complex by blind chance. Instead of seeing him as something great who is significant even in his sinning, they see Man in his essence only as an intrinsically competitive animal, that has no other basic operating principle than natural selection brought about by the strongest, the fittest, ending on top. And they see Man as acting in this way both individually and collectively as society." (Christian Manifesto, pages 25-26)

This worldview explains how seven men on the Supreme Court could deny the intrinsic value of preborn human life for political or other self-serving reasons disregarding the transcendent truth acknowledged by the Founding Fathers when they declared, that every person has an  unalienable right to life given to them not by the Supreme Court, not by Congress, not the Federal government, not the State of Florida, but by their Creator! This worldview has had enormous impact on our culture and society with regard to abortion.

Pastor John Ensor in his book Innocent Blood writes,

"The times and the context determine what must be emphasized in the gospel. Our times are marked by the blood guilt of abortion. It is the hallmark of our relativism and subjectivism. We define our own truth. We define our own morality. We define our own sexuality. We re-define personhood, marriage and God himself in order to make things match up to our personal liking. Abortion is central to this worldview. It is the practical glue that holds it together. You cannot 'have sex' like you 'have a hamburger' without some means of washing away the immediate consequences. Self-centered men especially covet legal abortion. Self-centered women see it as the very touchstone of their freedom and dignity. We even redefine the truth about abortion itself when the stark reality is that it is child-killing. It is child-sacrifice--we kill one thing in order to get or keep something we want more. By sticking exclusively to the medical term 'abortion' we sanitize these uncooperative facts to meet our needs and to keep guilt at bay."

But, the Scriptures not only identify God as the creator of humanity but insist man is created in God's image and likeness. That cannot be said about anything else He created! That in itself sets mankind apart from the rest of the created world. As Mike Leake as written,

"...the triune God created man in His image, and after His likeness. We are the only part of creation that has His stamp on us. Animals, birds, livestock and all the creatures that crawl upon the ground are not made in His image. No trees, mountains, stars, or oceans are made after His likeness. In a world without sin humanity accurately reflected the beauty of God." (Sermon: Created in God's Image - Genesis- Colossians)

And after creating Adam and Eve, in his image and likeness God then gave them dominion over the rest of creation,

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" (Genesis 1:27-28 ESV)

Theologian Louis Berkhof, man " distinguished from all other creatures and stands supreme as the head and crown of the entire creation." (Systematic Theology - L Berkhof, III. Man as the Image of God" page 205)

Adam and Eve were to act as God's vice-regents over the created world because they were made in the image of the God who created that world. T. Desmond Alexander writes,

"Traditionally the image has been seen as the capacities that set man apart from the other animals--ways in which humans resemble God, such as in the characteristics of reason, morality, language, a capacity for relationships governed by love and commitment, and creativity in all forms of art. All these insights can be put together by observing that the resemblances (man is like God in a series of ways) allow mankind to represent God in ruling, and to establish worthy relationships with God, with one another, and with the rest of the creation." (ESV Study Bible - Genesis, page 51 - T. Desmond Alexander)

As we explore more closely what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God, it is helpful to note as Berkhof points out, the words "image" and "likeness" are used synonymously. In other words, they're interchangeable. (Systematic Theology - L Berkhof III. Man as the Image of God" page 203)

Gordon Clark points out that while the image consists of things like rationality and righteousness, knowledge or holiness, he cautions us against dividing the single or "unitary image" as he calls it, into parts, pointing out that "the image is man." (Baker's Dictionary of Christian Ethics, pg. 312 "Image of God" - Gordon H. Clark)

That being said, it is helpful to identify more closely some of the various capacities or characteristics or resemblances that are included when we refer to concept of man in the image of God. Along that line, pediatrician, Dr. John Rendle-Short, M.D. in his book, Man: The Image of God refers to some of the attributes that God shares with man. Intelligence or rationality. Man can think. He can reason. He can understand. Not only is he a rational being, he can think in the abstract. For example, he can compute complex mathematical, chemical and engineering formulas.

You realize that man could not know God if he lacked the capacity to think and reason and understand and process truth and knowledge. Paul wrote,

"...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justifies, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." (Romans 10:9-10 ESV)

Griffith Thomas explains, "The term 'heart' in Scripture always means the centre of the moral being, and invariably includes the three elements of intellect, feeling, and will. We never find in the Bible that contrast between 'head' and 'heart,' between 'intellect' and 'emotion' ...Trust always includes the intellect and the confidence of the heart. Saving faith dominates the entire being, mind, feelings, and will, and as a consequence, this faith will express itself in confession." (St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, page 278)

It's for a good reason that Ravi Zacharias who is both a Christian apologist and evangelist, has a radio broadcast called "Let My People Think." The truth of the Gospel is processed through the mind. It is through the mind and intellect of man that a person can respond to the claims of the gospel, understanding that his sin separates him from a Holy God. And as the Holy Spirit draws him to Himself and opens his eyes to acknowledge that Jesus Christ, God's Son died a substitutionary death on the cross, paying the penalty for his sin, he then can call upon the Lord in repentance and faith and believe unto salvation.

Gordon Clark, "Reason makes possible both sin and fellowship with God. Sin has caused a malfunctioning of man's mind, but redemption will renew men in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, so that in heaven we shall no longer make mistakes even in arithmetic." (Baker's Dictionary of Christian Ethics, page 313 "Image of God" - Gordon H. Clark)

You cannot live the Christian life without rational thought and reason. Paul admonishes us to " transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God what is good acceptable and perfect."  (Romans 12:3 ESV)

Closely related to man's intelligence is his capacity for language. Humans can communicate because they are rational beings. My dog Maggie can bark, whine, and growl, but I have yet to hear her utter a single word, no less a complete sentence. We communicate with each other and have been created with the ability to communicate with God.

Consider the world God has created. We marvel at the complexity of the human body. We cannot comprehend the vast universe God set in motion at creation and continues to sustain moment by moment, day after day, year after year. The sun rises in the morning and sets at dusk with exact precision. The sun gives life and the rains sustain our crops. In a similar way, man resembles God in his creativity.  Man's intelligence allows him to create sophisticated products, sending a man to the moon and back, and speak instantly around the world on a cell phone or the internet. The marvels of modern medicine...I could go on and on. Man possesses creative abilities because he is created in God's image and likeness.

When I lived in Japan as a boy, I had a dog named Frisky. He was an outdoor dog as were all dogs in Japan. I did not wake up one morning and find that Frisky had built himself a dog house! No, I built the dog house!

Man shares God's capacity to love. Imperfect as man is, he is a social creature living in relationships. He can live in fellowship and community with others. He has the ability to love and be loved; to care and nurture his young; to live in committed life long relationships not only with a spouse but with His Creator through faith in Jesus Christ. This is because He is created in the image of his God!

Man shares a moral likeness to God. He has a moral conscience, the ability to tell right from wrong. A H. Strong writes, " Since holiness is the fundamental attribute of God, this must of necessity be the chief attribute of his image in the moral beings who he creates." (Systematic Theology, Augustus H. Strong, pages 516-517 I Essentials of Man's Original State.)

 This holiness allowed Adam and Eve lived in perfect fellowship with God before the Fall and though marred by sin after the Fall has remained a part of the image of God in man. Again Dr.  Berkhof, " has a rational and moral nature, which he did not lose by sin and which he could not lose without ceasing to be man. This part of the image of God has indeed been vitiated [spoiled] by sin, but still remains in man even after his fall into sin." (Systematic Theology page 204)

Man created in the image of God has freedom, freedom to make choices. As Gordon Clark points out, though sin has caused the image to "malfunction" it has not eradicated it so it can be restored. And the Good news is that the Gospel provides a remedy for the image marred by sin. To the Romans Paul writes, "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." (Romans 8:29 ESV)

Paul reminds the believer that he has, "...put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator." (Colossians 3:10 ESV) And since man is an eternal being unlike the rest of the animal world, he will live forever. Those who believe in Christ will one day live in perfect fellowship with God for eternity. While those who choose to reject Christ and go their own way an eternity separated from God.

"What value does God place on human life?" was the question we began with. Against the backdrop of what we have seen this morning perhaps, one the Bible's most quoted verses helps to answer that question. "For God so loved the world" (human beings created in his image) "that he gave his only Son," (to die a substitutionary death on the cross) "that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."  (John 3:16 ESV)

A few chapters later Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13 ESV) The death of Jesus Christ is the solution to the sin of abortion. And the love Christ demonstrated by his atoning death on the cross to save us from our sin is the love we are to demonstrate in rescuing the unborn sentenced to death. Abortion ends the life of an unborn human being made in the image and likeness of God.

12,095 unborn children lost their lives to abortion in Broward County in 2016. Again Pastor John Ensor, "The day we stop nurturing respect for human life is the day we begin diminishing the value of human life. The day we stop reminding ourselves of the preeminent value of human life is the day we begin submitting to the priorities of this sinful world. Where we are not fighting for life, we are making peace with death. Where we are not pained by the death of the innocent, we are growing hard-hearted to the holy will of God. Feel the pain and prepare for the fight." (Innocent Blood, page 53)

May God help us.

© James P McGarvey All Rights Reserved