Easter Meditations: The Glorious Message Announced and Spreading (Luke 24:1-12)

The Sabbath has been observed and now the women head to the tomb at early dawn with their spices at hand (v. 1).  The women are heading to the tomb to complete the burial – remember on Friday we noted that these people did not expect Jesus to rise again.  In their minds he was dead, and was going to stay dead.  So they come to the tomb to complete the burial process.

However, as they reach the tomb they make two discoveries (vv. 2-3).  First of all, they discover that the stone has been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb.  Secondly, as they enter the tomb they realise that the body is gone!  These discoveries obviously caused them some concern.  We read in verse 4 that they were ‘perplexed’ – this was not how it was supposed to be.  As the NEB puts it, they were ‘utterly at loss’.  But, in the middle of this being perplexed suddenly two men stood beside them in ‘dazzling apparel’ (v. 4).  This type of language is used of heavenly phenomena and so although Luke only ever calls them men, we can be certain that these two men are angels. toward hope

However, the really important section in these verses is the announcement by the angels, which begins in verse 5.  To begin they ask the simple question which presupposes the resurrection, but then they confirm it in verse 6 – ‘He is not here, but is risen!’  We should note that ‘risen’ in this text is passive, perhaps a better rendering of it would be ‘has been raised’, this is a work of God.  It is God who raised Jesus from the dead.  What is more amazing though is that the angels suggest that the women should not be surprised at this resurrection (vv. 6-7).  Jesus did indeed predict this, in Luke 9:22 he says ‘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’.  And so the women are reminded about this promise and told that this promise has been kept.

The announcement of this glorious message reminds us that God keeps his promises.  Jesus promised he would be raised on the third day – God kept that promise raising Jesus on the third day.  We must be encouraged that God keeps his promises.  While there are numerous promises that we could consider throughout Scripture allow me to pick just one promise:

‘Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven’ (1 Cor. 15:49)

Jesus resurrection is a forerunner to our resurrection.  We will be raised, and will bear the image of the man of heaven as Paul puts it.  Is that not a great promise?  And can we not have great assurance from this passage in Luke that God keeps his promises?  1 Corinthians 15 is a magnificent chapter which speaks of our resurrection, and our victory over death, which is ours only because of Easter and Jesus enduring of it for us!

We soon see that the women remember this prediction that the angels have drawn their attention to (v. 8)!  However, they do not just remember, they respond.  Verse 9 tells us that the women returned home from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven disciples and to all the rest.  The women are not content with just being encouraged by this glorious message, they must announce it and see it spread throughout all Jesus disciples.

However, the spreading of this glorious news appears to stumble at the apostles.  Isn’t it ironic that the first sceptics that Jesus faces are his very own disciples?  Luke tells us in verse 10 that these words seemed like ‘idle tales’, or as some other versions put it ‘nonsense’ to the disciples.  The word used is one which was used in medical settings for description of the delirious talk of sick people.  And so the impression is given that the disciples wrote off the testimony of these women.  In fact, this thought is underlined in that Luke states it this way, ‘their words seemed like idle tales, and they did not believe them’ (v. 11 NIV).

While it appears that no one believes them, one disciple feels the need to investigate.  That disciple is Peter, Luke tells us that Peter got up and ran to the tomb (v. 12).  He wasn’t going to waste any time arguing – he just wanted to see for himself!  And he does.  He reaches the tomb, peers in and sees the cloths lying on the ground – the body is gone, perhaps he really has been raised from the dead?  So, Peter goes home ‘marvelling’ at what had happened.  The force of the word is trying to understand.  Peter pondered is really the outcome…  And so in these last few verses we see that the glorious message has spread, from the angels, to the women, to the disciples.

And it has continued to spread.  We think of the reformation and men like Martin Luther trying to reform the church in the 1500s.  Then came the Puritans who took this glorious message to USA in the 1600s & 1700s.  Then we think of individuals like William Carey who took this glorious message to India.  Or David Livingstone who took this glorious message to Africa.  Or Hudson Taylor who took this glorious message to China.  Indeed I can even think of my very own Baptist Missions taking this glorious message to Peru.  But it doesn’t stop there, this message has continued to spread and will continue to spread.

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Easter Meditations: The Glorious Message at an End? (Luke 23:50-56)

As we join this narrative of Luke’s Gospel in 23:50 Jesus is dead!  This is not what was meant to happen.  Jesus was supposed to be the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the one that Israel had been longing for.  But now, he was dead…

Even though Jesus is dead we are introduced to a new character – Joseph of Arimathea – and from Luke’s description of him (vv. 50-51), and his actions concerning Jesus body (vv. 52-53), it appears that this man was a disciple.  Jesus is dead but a disciple is on the scene.  Joseph was a good and just man.  This language sparks memories of how Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna are all described in Luke 1 & 2.  And so, Jesus has pious figures involved in both his birth and death. sad-659422_960_720

Joseph then approaches Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus.  Note that this also confirms that Jesus was dead, as Pilate would not have allowed Joseph to take Jesus body if he was not dead.  This is also another sign of Joseph pious character as this action appears to be fulfilling the law found in Deuteronomy:

And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.  You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God has given you for an inheritance. (vv. 21:22-23)

So, this disciple, Joseph, has taken Jesus body – what does he do with it?  Well he buries it (v. 53).  It is imperative to note here that he is buried, his disciples (whether the eleven, or others) did not expect a resurrection!  This man was dead.   Nevertheless, Jesus was buried with honour – in an unused tomb.  This was unusual as tombs were very expensive and so were often reused.

Joseph is not the only one who wishes to bury Jesus, not expecting a resurrection.  We read of the women who were disciples, following keenly wanting to know where he was buried (vv. 55-56).  They were also faithful and pious, just like Joseph, obeying Old Testament law by observing the Sabbath.  And, once again, they did not expect a resurrection.  They had prepared spices and fragrant oils to anoint the body.

So, had this glorious message come to an end?  These disciples certainly seemed to think so…  They felt it was the end.  While we know this isn’t the end of the story, there is at least one lesson we can learn from this section of Scripture.

Luke has a desire to show how God’s plan, how God acts, in human history.  Here it is in action, God at work in human history.  God was working, and that work impacted real people, in real time, in a real place.  And so as we look around our world today, as we look at ourselves and our families, we see that God is working.  He is involved in this world; his plan is continuing to unfold in human history, impacting real people, in real places.  This throws up a question though – the problem is God does not always seem to work in a way we would expect.  Think of Joseph and the women, they were devastated at the fact they had to bury this dead Jesus.  This was not how they envisioned God’s plan being unfolded.  It is the same for us; we don’t always understand how God works!  Therefore, we must not only learn that God has a plan and is working it out, but that very often we don’t understand why it must be worked out in a particular fashion.

Can we resolve to do two things with this lesson?

First, can we resolve to endure those things we don’t understand – the family difficulties, financial pressures, obnoxious neighbours, death, rampant sin, damaged church etc.  God has a plan and is working it out, even if we don’t understand it.  Let us endure the difficulties that we face with the knowledge God is at work.

Second, can we resolve to open our eyes when we find ourselves experiencing things we don’t understand – looking beyond the superficial manifestation of these difficulties and see if we can comprehend a greater purpose in it all?

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 10 ~ Effectual Calling

Today we pick up again our series on Gospel Convergence concerning the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the Confession.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

To the Praise of His Glory

Often discussions concerning Effectual Calling create division, an interrogation of God’s goodness and ultimately bring into question the existence of free will (which we looked at a couple of weeks ago).  However, hopefully what will become apparent is that effectual calling is simply the other side of the coin from free will, and when understood correctly leads to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:14).

It’s All About God

The first thing to notice is effectual calling is all about God:

Those whom God predestined unto life, He is pleased in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ (pg. 59).

It is God who has chosen people to life, it is He who decides when to effectually call them, it is His means that bring them from sin and death to grace and salvation, and it is all done in Jesus, God’s only Son.  Furthermore, this effectual calling takes place because God enlightens minds (Eph. 1:18), changes hearts (Ezk. 36:26), renews wills (Rom. 12:1-2) and in great power draws us in an irresistible way to Jesus (Eph. 1:19).

1689 - FinalBut, none of this does violence or damage to the notion of free will.  The confession asserts that those who are effectually called ‘come most freely, being made willing by His grace’ (pg. 59).  We know this to be true, anecdotally, as we have heard many people testify that at one point they made a decision!  And yet on reflection they also see God’s hand in their circumstances which brought about that free choice.

This qualification must not cloud our judgement though, for it is truly all about God.  This effectual calling is from free and special grace alone, not because of anything we have done, or could do (Eph.2:8).  Nor is it even from God’s foreknowledge.  This is something God made happen; and something only God could make happen.  He took those who were dead, and with the same power with which he raised Christ worked in us to bring us to life (Eph. 2:5; 1:19-20).

What about the Infants?

At this point the Confession takes a very pastoral turn to address a particularly sensitive issue:

Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit; who worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth; so also are all elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word. (pg. 60)

However, I have two issues with this section.  First, I am uncomfortable with the designation ‘elect infants’ – is this in opposition to all infants?  Second, I have reservations concerning those who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.  If this is a reference to those with mental disabilities then the same question arises as concerning ‘elect infants’.  However, if this is a reference to those who do not have the opportunity to hear the Word I must disagree.

With regard to thinking these issues through, I have found John Piper particularly helpful.  I would argue that all infants who die in infancy are elect, and thus saved – listen to this for part of John Piper’s reasoning on this point.  With respect to hearing the Word, I believe that one must hear Jesus preached to believe and be saved (See Piper’s The Only Way to God).  That being said, mental disabilities must be catered for, and I would regard mentally disabled people in the same way I do infants in this respect.

That being said, we would not be wrong to conclude:

Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? (Gen. 18:25)

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!  ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?’ (Rom. 11:33-34)

The Necessity of Discernment

The verities stated above do not necessitate the abandonment of discernment, nor do the questions require a querying of the evident teachings of Scripture.  The Confession ends its chapter on effectual calling with a paragraph reminding that discernment is a necessity.

Others not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet not being effectually drawn by the Father, they neither will nor can truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men which receive not the Christian religion be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature and the law of that religion they do profess. (pg. 60-61)

The closing line of this paragraph perhaps answers an earlier objection.  But the significant thought conveyed through this statement is that some people may appear to be effectually called, responding in particular ways – but we must have our wits about us, because some of them are not.  This brings to mind the parable of the sower (Mt. 13:1-9, 18-23) and even Peter’s description of false teachers in the churches he was writing to (2 Peter 2: 1, 20-21).  Therefore, we must show discernment with regard to these truths.

To the Praise of His Glory

We end as we started, acknowledging that the Bible portrays the truth of effectual calling as a testimony to the praise of God’s glory.  This is most clearly displayed in the twelve verse sentence written by Paul in Ephesians 1:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Vv. 3-14)

 

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 9 ~ Free Will

Today we continue our series on Gospel Convergence; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

Shocked!1689 - Final

Imagine my shock and horror to find a chapter on ‘Free Will’ in a Reformed Baptist
Confession of Faith!  And yet the central thrust of the five simple statements made by the Confession cannot be denied.

Ability to Choose

The Confession asserts that God has given the will of man ‘natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil’ (pg. 57).  In other words mankind has the ability to choose – we have a free will in the sense that we can choose.  This is reinforced by the biblical witness.  Two major characters in the Old Testament, Moses and Joshua, exhort the people of Israel to choose:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live (Dt. 30:19)

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve (Josh. 24:15)

While some may argue with the claim that mankind was not by any necessity forced to choose good or evil, it must be remembered that God initially gave mankind free will in the Garden.

Not Incapable of Wrong Choices

‘[I]n his state of innocency’, the Confession states, man ‘had freedom and power to will and to do that which was good and well-pleasing to God, but was yet mutable so that he might fall from it’ (pg. 57).  Thus we have answered the objection above – there was no prior inclination to do good or evil.  There was the ability to choose either good or evil.  Importantly though, mankind was not incapable of making the wrong choice!

In defence of this the Confession notes the Preacher’s observation, in Ecclesiastes 7:29, ‘that God made man upright’ yet sadly mankind made the choice to eat the fruit (Gen. 3:6).

Incapable of Gospel Choices

The Fall, this eating of the fruit, had an irreparable impact on the will of mankind.  Since that first bite of the fruit we have been incapable of making gospel choices.  While this is a slightly complicated and convoluted point that the Confession makes, it is significant:

Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself or prepare himself thereunto. (pg. 57)

There is now a propensity in our choice-making; our free will is tainted.  As Paul argues ‘the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.’ (Rom. 8:7)  We cannot seek, nor do we choose salvation – we only seek, choose and will evil.

Ability to Choose: Part II

God’s grace is then expressed in this discussion on the will of man; for in his grace, rather than removing the freedom of choice, God reinstates it.  In the conversion of sinners to saints God ‘freeth [mankind] from his natural bondage under sin, and by His grace alone enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good’ (pg. 58).  The ability to choose is granted again because God has set us free (Jn. 8:36), transferring us from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of Jesus (Col. 1:13) and thus we have the ability to choose that which is right because God is at work in us to both will and work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).

We are not, however, out of the woods yet (so to speak).  We still live in a broken fallen world, indwelt by sin, and it is still within us.  Therefore, ‘by reason of [mankind’s] remaining corruptions, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but also doth will that which is evil.’ (pg. 58)

Incapable of Wrong Choices

The glory is that one day we will indeed be incapable of making wrong choices.  Much like Paul, we are certainly not perfect here, but one day we will be (Phil. 3:12).

The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone in the state of glory only. (pg. 58)

O how we must long for that day!