You Won’t Believe Who Jesus Sought Fresh Out of the Grave

Take a fresh look at Matthew 28:1-10, printed here in the New Living Translation.

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.

2 Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. 3 His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

5 Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. 7 And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”

8 The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. 9 And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

I’ll write more about the fact that a dead man came out of the grave a little later … closer to Easter next week, Lord willing. I certainly don’t want you to miss THAT little tidbit of good news ;-)

However, I was struck in particular by two things I’d not noticed before.

  1. Jesus first appears to women.
  2. After doing so, Jesus heads to Galilee.

Jesus could not have picked two more despised or ostracized group of people to appear to first. The accepted cultural values of Jesus’ day pushed women to the outskirts of influence, and the Galileans were little more than peasant country bumpkins that most wished would simply “go away.”

And yet here, at the single most important event in all the universe, the risen Jesus shows Himself to women and Galileans.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus did a lot to demonstrate His rejection of accepted cultural norms, and He frequently taught in ways that irked religious and political leaders. But for Him to use His resurrection to drive that statement home is truly astounding.

So astounding that it calls for action on our part. Likewise, we who have been raised from the dead with Christ must go … go broadly and urgently … and share the gospel, starting with those our world despises and rejects.

If we believe the gospel, we reject the world’s work to divide people between the “in” and the “out” or the “haves” and “have-nots.” We reject the efforts of religious leaders to divide people between the “good” and the “bad.” Instead, our ministries must reflect the ministry … and apparently the resurrection … of Jesus: one that breeches social norms in favor of gospel grace.

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In Context: A New Blog for a New Direction

Several years ago, while pastoring in the midlands of South Carolina, I was inspired to start a blog.

The impetus was an article written by another SBC pastor in the state who apparently felt the Southern Baptist Faith and Message was not enough to theologically unite Baptists. He wouldn’t post my response in his comment field, so, I started a blog with my response.

The bulk of my writing from that point focused on church-related issues in the deep south … hence the name: Southern Fried Faith. Later, a book would come out with that same title.

Since my book’s publication, I’ve had a declining interest in writing about how southern culture impacts local churches. This is in part due to the fact that it’s not an exhaustive topic, but also due to my new role outside of the pastorate.

So where do my interests lie? More often than not, I find a desire to write about the text … to communicate the meaning of a given text for the purpose of understanding and application. That is, to help my readers understand the Bible in its context so they can live it out in theirs.

So, while we will never say “goodbye” to the book Southern Fried Faith (at least not until Amazon goes bankrupt), we will be saying “goodbye” to the blog and the domain.

In its place, I’ll be writing periodically about specific texts and topics in the Bible, attempting to highlight the historical, cultural, and literary context in a way that helps us live it out in our context.

The Bible can never mean what it never meant.

A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.

And it’s to that end that I’ll focus my writing for some time, Lord willing.

So, update your bookmarks, folks: “In Context” is now live at  robtims.com.

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Praying Past our Desired Outcomes

This post will wreck your prayer life and likely expose a few gaps in your theology of suffering. I came across it and posted it last year some time but it bears repeating.

From Nancy Guthrie’s Blog:

I’ve got to ask, why do we seem to make it our goal to get as many people as possible praying toward our predetermined positive outcome? Is it that we think God is resistant to doing what is good and right but can be pressured by a large number of people to relent and deliver? Do we think that the more people we recruit to pray for the same thing will prove our sincerity or improve our odds?

Praying for a Miracle?

I suppose I really began to think about these things during the season in which we were caring for our daughter, Hope, who was born with a fatal genetic disorder. I remember getting a call from the secretary at our church. “We’ve put you on the prayer list,” she said, “and we’re asking people to pray that God will do a miracle and heal Hope.” Honestly it was a little awkward to tell her that while that was fine, it wasn’t the way we were praying. Our reluctance to pray in this way had nothing to do with whether or not we thought God is powerful enough to do that kind of miracle. This is the God who spoke the world into being. No question he could do it.

So how were praying for Hope? I wish I could tell you that I was a great woman of prayer in those difficult days. Truth is, I wasn’t. I was really grateful that so many people were praying for us, no matter what they were praying, because I didn’t have many words, mostly just groans and tears. I was grateful to know that the Holy Spirit was interceding for us with “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:36). When I was able to sputter out a prayer, it was shaped most profoundly by something a friend said to me on the phone a couple of days after Hope was born. She said that I could be confident that God would accomplish the purpose he had for Hope’s life in the number of days that he gave to her. So in my prayers I began to welcome him to accomplish that purpose. I prayed that my own sin and selfishness and small agendas would not hinder his purpose. I prayed that that his purpose for Hope’s life would be enough for me, even a joy to me.

Not Meaningless or Random

If we really believe that God is purposeful in suffering, that our suffering is not meaningless or random, shouldn’t that affect how we pray about the suffering in our lives and in the lives of others? As it is, we pretty much only know how to pray for suffering to be removed—for there to be healing, relief, restoration. Praying for anything less seems less than compassionate. But shouldn’t the purposes for suffering we find in Scripture guide our prayers more than our predetermined positive outcomes? We could make a very long list of purposes for which God intends to use suffering according to the Scripture. But here are just a few:

What would happen if we allowed Scripture to provide the outcomes we prayed toward? What if we expanded our prayers from praying solely for healing and deliverance and success to praying that God would use the suffering and disappointment and dead ends in our lives to accomplish the purposes he has set forth in Scripture? Scripture provides us with a vocabulary for expanding our prayers for hurting people far beyond our predetermined positive outcomes. Instead of praying only for relief, we begin to pray that the glory of God’s character would be on display in our lives and the lives of those for whom we are praying. We pray for the joy of discovering that the faith we have given lip service to over a lifetime is the real deal. We ask God to use the difficulty to make us less self-reliant and more God-reliant. Rather than only begging him to remove the suffering in our loved ones’ lives, we ask him to make them spiritually fruitful in the midst of suffering he chooses not to remove.

What Is Prayer?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism for Young Children asks the question, what is prayer? The answer: “Prayer is asking God for things which he has promised to give.” Are we praying for things God has promised to give—like his presence with us, his Word guiding us, his power working in us, his purpose accomplished through us? Or are we limited to praying only for what he has not promised to give—complete physical healing and wholeness in the here and now?

To go deeper than praying only for deliverance means that we approach prayer not as a tool to manipulate God to get what we want, but as a way to submit to what he wants. Through prayer we draw close to him in our need. We tell him that we will not insist on our predetermined positive outcome but want to welcome him to have his way, accomplish his purpose.

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Is it Inconsistent?

Isn’t it inconsistent to say: You are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1); now awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead (Ephesians 5:14)?

The answer is yes, it is inconsistent—unless you believe the Word of God has life-giving power. If the Word of God carries the power of God, then it is not inconsistent to say, “Lazarus, you are dead; now come forth from the tomb!” If the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to create out of things that are not things that are (1 Corinthians 1:28), then it is not inconsistent to say to the darkness, “Let there be light!” (2 Corinthians 4:6). If the Word of God is anointed with the power of God, it is not inconsistent to say to the lame, “Walk!” and to the blind, “See!” and to the deaf, “Hear the word of the Lord!”

The apparent inconsistency between the spiritual deadness that is in the world and the demand for spiritual life that is in the gospel is not solved by saying, “The deadness is not really deadness.” The apparent inconsistency is solved by saying, “He who is in the word is greater than he who is in the world.” “The word of God is living and active!” (Hebrews 4:12). It creates what it demands in the lives of God’s sheep: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

If the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to cause new birth in those who hear the gospel, then it is not inconsistent to preach the gospel to people who are spiritually dead in the hope that the Word of God will give them spiritual life. It is not inconsistent for Jesus to say, “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him,” and then to say, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden,”—if the command contains the very power by which the Father draws.

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Pleasure in Self-Denial

Several years ago, while traveling from South Carolina to southwest Florida to visit relatives, my family and I stopped to see friends who were at Disney World for the week. We arrived at a Disney Resort hotel early one afternoon at the end of their vacation. We parked for free. We swam at their resort for free. We had h’orderves for free. Our friends had so many Disney dining credits left at the end of their vacation, we had dinner at no charge. We were having such an amazing time that at one point one of the adults joked, “I could totally get used to being independently wealthy.”

That spur-of-the-moment statement illustrates our tendency to equate or find happiness with consumption. The cycle usually goes something like this:

  1. We feel unhappy or unsatisfied.
  2. We become convinced that something or someone we don’t yet have will make us happy.
  3. We acquire or consume that thing.
  4. We are temporarily happy.
  5. We are unhappy or unsatisfied.

And so it goes.

We become happy by never denying ourselves anything that we think can make us happy. 

This philosophy serves us well sometimes. For example, workaholics FINALLY take a vacation when they see what they really need to be happy is a sabbath, not more work.

But taken to its logical conclusion, this philosophy leads us astray.

For example, consider the member of the church at Corinth who determined that the best way for him to be happy was to enter into a sexual relationship with his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5). This was a sin so heinous that, according to Paul, not even the pagans accepted it.

But the man was unrepentant. He was, after all, happy. And if God loved him, surely He wanted him to be “happy” … surely God wouldn’t deny him what he believed was making him happy?

And the Corinthian church was no better. They tolerated his sin. Perhaps even boasted of his membership. While they were more than willing to divide over celebrity members and spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 1 and 13), so much did they value “keeping the peace” that they just didn’t deal with this man’s sin. Surely God wouldn’t deny them happiness in the church if they believed ignoring this man’s sin would bring it to them?

Do you see the danger in thinking that happiness is found in getting whatever we think will make us happy?

So if that’s true … where is happiness found?

Happiness is found in obedience to God.

Sometimes we’re obedient when we consume something we already know will make us happy.

  • A date night with our spouse.
  • Time with the kids.
  • A true sabbath rest.
  • A new pair of shoes.
  • A healthier meal.

But sometimes we’re obedient when we deny ourselves something that we think will make us happy. In the case of the Corinthians, it was the pursuit of “peace” at the expense of truth, as well as in a sexual relationship that brought “happiness” but really just brought judgment.

Is our view of happiness so small that we can’t imagine God would want us to deny ourselves something in order to give us a greater pleasure we do not yet know?

Have already forgotten that an execution was the will of God for His Son, which led to a greater pleasure in the resurrection?

Have we forgotten that to follow His Son is the greatest pleasure found only in much self-denial?

Or will we learn from Paul and the Corinthians that true happiness is found in obedience, which often entails self-denial?

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A Christian Response to Tragedy

How do you respond when you hear of some grave and terrible tragedy that has taken place?

  • Like 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by Islamic terrorists.
  • Like a plane crash somewhere in the Indian Ocean without a trace.
  • Like a drunk driver hitting a family as they drove to church, killing their youngest child.

How do you react?

  • Do you shake your head in disbelief at the evil in this world?
  • Do you silently reflect on God’s sovereignty?
  • Do you pray for those directly involved in the calamity?

If you are like me, you might do all of these things at any given moment in response to some tragedy. But like me, you might find Jesus’ response to a similar question in Luke 13 confounding.

At that time, some people came and reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And He responded to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all Galileans because they suffered these things? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well! Or those 18 that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed—do you think they were more sinful than all the people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well!”

In this chapter, we learn that very recently Pilate had murdered a few Galileans in the Jewish temple … truly a heinous and evil crime. Someone preumably asked Jesus to comment on this event, and to some, his response may have been more shocking than the crime itself.

  • He didn’t denounce Pilate.
  • He didn’t comment on the lives of those who were killed.

Instead, He encouraged those asking to look within: “Unless you repent, you, too, will perish.”

At first, this seems like an odd or insensitive response.

But in reality, it’s a very compassionate response, for it humbles all of us as it forces us to remember that death in some form awaits us. Only repentance by grace through faith in Christ rescues us.

So shake your head in disbelief at the evil in the world.

Reflect on God’s sovereignty.

Pray for those involved in calamities.

But also heed Jesus’ warning.

Repent.

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Unity. Purity. Generosity. Three Reasons to Gather this Week

Your small group is comprised of people who have been set apart by God to be holy. He made them holy by means of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They are saints. They belong to God. And God has given them everything they need to fulfill His mission until Jesus returns. He will keep them strong in their battle against sin and a world that is increasingly hostile to the faith.

But your small group is full of people who forget these things. They stop telling themselves these things. They try to take matters into their own hands. They occasionally fall back in love with their old sinful habits. They succumb to the pressures of temptation and relinquish the progress they’ve made in their quest to change the world for Jesus.

It’s with these two realities in mind that you gather together on a regular basis as a group. They are saints who are also sinners; victors who often feel defeated. So what purposes can your group have given these realities that will not go away until Jesus comes back? First Corinthians gives us at least three purposes to keep in mind when you gather as a group.

1. Strive for unity.

“Now I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction” (1 Cor. 1:10). Few things can deflate an embattled, frustrated, and fatigued Christian like a small group that does not relationally mirror the unity they have in Christ. Conversely, few things can encourage brothers and sisters more than coming to a place where they know at the very least they have Jesus in common, and that clearly matters more than anything else in the room. Don’t waste your small group trying to unite around something other than Jesus.

2. Strive for purity.

Throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul confronted multiple kinds of sins devastating the church and its mission. Sexual immorality, a lack of discipline or accountability, lawsuits, arguments over peripheral things, a lack of concern for the welfare of members in need — all of these things and more wreaked havoc on the church, and they do the same in our groups. The corporate worship environment rarely allows for the kind of personal accountability Paul calls us to in this letter, but the small group environment exists for this kind of personal accountability. Don’t waste your small group pretending sin isn’t real. Strive for purity.

3. Strive for generosity.

Part of Paul’s ministry at the time he wrote this letter was to gather a monetary collection from many other churches for the church in Jerusalem. It’s a theme he carried over into his other letter to the Corinthians as well. Why? Because financial generosity is a powerful testimony to Jesus’ generosity: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Don’t waste your small group by pretending the needs of the world aren’t great. Strive for generosity.

Should your group strive for these things, you’ll be serving one another and the church at large well. And if you want to study these things further, head over to smallgroup.com and sign up for a free preview. You can quickly customize a series of studies on these topics and texts that is perfect for your group, so you know you won’t be wasting your time together as you strive for unity, purity, and generosity.


This article originally appeared at the LifeWay Groups Ministry site.

 

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