Saturday, April 23, 2011

Did a Man Rise from the Dead?

Before anything else the Gospel is news. It is a declaration about reality. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He was dead and buried. “On the third day he rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples and many others.” Christianity’s foundation is the factual account of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So here’s the thing: This historical claim is either true or it is not true. It either happened or it did not happen. If it really happened, the ramifications are astounding.

If the resurrection did not happen, Christianity is a sham. The Apostle Paul says as much: “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” (1Cor. 15:17-19).

Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Is there any way that you and I, 2000 years later, can know the answer to this question? I believe that we can. All of the available evidence points in that direction. Here is some of the evidence:

The Tomb of Jesus was empty on Easter morning- The Jewish and Roman authorities as well as the disciples of Jesus testified that this was true (Matthew 28:11-15). The tomb was empty and two explanations were put forth: the authorities said the disciples stole the body; the disciples of Jesus said that He had been resurrected. If the tomb were not empty, the Jewish leaders could have quickly produced the body of Jesus and proven that Jesus' followers were lying; yet they did not. This is the first clue: an empty tomb.

The Transformation of the Disciples- The disciples on Easter morning were a beaten and discouraged bunch—not expecting that Jesus would return to life (Luke 24:1-13). Their leader had been killed. They called the initial resurrection report of the women an “idle tale.” Even after Peter runs to the tomb, we are not told that he believed, but that he wondered or was amazed at what had taken place. But we also know that within 50 days these downcast and discouraged men would undergo a major transformation. The Book of Acts tells us how these same beaten skeptics began to confidently and boldly proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.

What happened? What best explains this radical change? Did the disciples make up a lie together? That doesn’t fit with what we know of these men and their own initial skepticism. Some have held that they had some kind of mass hallucination or group delusion—they so much wanted to believe that Jesus was alive. I think this explanation is harder to believe than a resurrection from the dead. These men were neither expecting, nor inclined, to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. The most reasonable explanation is that these men had a real encounter with the risen Jesus. In fact, several of these disciples died because of their testimony of the risen Christ. The apostle James was beheaded. Peter was crucified and Paul beheaded in Rome. Do men willingly give up their lives for something they know is a lie?

The Conversion of Paul- Saul of Tarsus was a powerful enemy of the early church, persecuting and even putting to death followers of Jesus. Yet this same man became Paul, the greatest missionary and theologian of Christianity. What happened? What explains this radical change? Paul’s explanation was that he had had an encounter with the risen Jesus Christ (Acts 26:12-23).

This is just some of the evidence (not all!) that Jesus did indeed rise bodily from the dead. How is the empty tomb, the change in the disciples, and the amazing conversion of Paul best explained? The most reasonable explanation is that Jesus has been resurrected. Jesus is alive!

I would invite you to examine the evidence for yourself. If Jesus did not rise on that first Easter morning, we Christians are a sad and deluded bunch. But if He did rise—if He did—then there is a mighty and gracious Savior for all who will trust in Him.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Brief Theology of All Things

1. God created all things.

I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens who spread out the earth by myself. (Isaiah 44:24)

2. All things are dependent on God for their existence—at the beginning and all the way along.

From Him and through Him . . . are all things. (Romans 11:36)

3. All things are God’s servants.

By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants. (Psalm 119:91)

4. God guides and directs all things according to the counsel of His will.

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. (Ephesians 1:11)

5. Because God can do all things and controls all things His will can never be frustrated.

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)

6. God created all things, upholds all things and infallibly guides all things to show forth His glory.

From Him, through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. (Romans 11:36)

Therefore, if we love God and delight to show His glory . . .

7. Because God did not refrain from giving us His most precious treasure—His Son—He will give us all things.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

8. God will give us all things we need in order to live a life of godliness and show forth His glory and excellence.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. (2 Peter 1:3)

9. This means that as God’s children all things in our lives are servants for our good and God’s glory.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:2)

10. Suffering and yes, even death, are servants for good for those who love Jesus.

For all things are yours, whether . . . life or death or the present or the future—all are yours. (1 Cor. 3:21-22)

Those who know and revel in these great truths of God’s glory and sovereignty in all things are the most unshakable of saints. There are so many set-backs, so many discouragements, so many failures and weaknesses in our lives. What keeps us from growing weary and getting disheartened* and giving up on God, ourselves and others? Because we know that “in all these things we are more than conquerors” through Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37). Nothing comes to us—nothing—as Christ’s followers that God did not bring about, direct and design to draw us closer to Him that we might gladly reflect His glory in our lives.

Let these words sink deeply into your heart, soul and mind this day. God is so great and He so greatly wants us to live lives of holiness and happiness. God made you to joyfully show forth His beauty and glory. If you love this truth then know this day that all things—all things in your life past, present and future—will help you see and show more of that unsurpassed glory this day and all your days.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Second Column in the Destin Log

Passing time pleasantly. I love to pass time pleasantly. I would guess that all of us do. It seems to be our default mode of existence. To work; to be with family; to enjoy hobbies; to relax in our favorite chair in front of the T.V. All good, pleasant things--but in themselves they cannot satisfy a heart made for God, nor do they bring delight to the heart of our God.

Consider the life of Brownlow North, an Englishman born in January of 1810, who was a son of privilege, raised in a family of status and wealth. Though he was known as an enjoyable companion and “good-natured,” he spent the first four decades of his life on this earth in what he would later call “empty living.”

North’s life was empty because it was consumed by his comfort. He loved to fish, hunt and travel; he married and had children, but rarely, if ever, did he consider God.

All of this changed in 1854 when after having a pleasant dinner, North sat down in his billiard room to enjoy a cigar and a game of cards. All at once he was struck by severe abdominal pains—so severe that he was sure that he was about to die. North later recounted, “My first thought then was, Now what will my forty-four years of following the devices of my own heart profit me? In a few minutes I shall be in hell.” In later years he was to say, “I believe it was a turning point with me. I believe that if I had at that time resisted the Holy Spirit it would have been once too often.” The next day he told his friends that he had given his life to Christ. The whole direction of his life changed dramatically.

In January 1855, a month after his conversion, he wrote on the first page of a New Testament, “Brownlow North, a man whose sins crucified the Son of God.”

The last twenty years of North’s life were not wasted as the first forty were. In his last two decades, North humbly sought to serve God and any who had need. Whether he was with a noble or a “nobody,” he would share with them the Good News of a Savior who could forgive their sins and give them new life. North was mightily used by God in a revival that swept through Northern Ireland and other parts of Great Britain in 1859, so that many today consider him to be the greatest evangelist of 19th century Scotland.

So what does Brownlow North have to teach us as the New Year begins? Let me mention two lessons. First, Jesus can change and use anyone—even you and me. The love of Jesus is an amazing thing. It really does bring about newness and usefulness in any life. Who does not long for real change, and who of us does not yearn to be a blessing to others? Jesus did this in the life of Brownlow North; He can do it in yours. Turn to Him. Trust Him. He really is a mighty Savior.

Second, always be aware of the danger of just passing time pleasantly. “For forty-four years of my life," North tells us, "my object was to pass time pleasantly; so long as the day was spent agreeably I was satisfied.” Yet North came to see there was greater and lasting pleasure to be found in knowing and serving his Savior. In his last two decades, he often preached and wrote about these truths using Jesus’ parable of “the Rich Man and Lazurus” (Luke 16:19-31) as his text.

It is so easy to waste our lives and days passing time pleasantly. But we live in a fallen world. Hell is real. People are lost and hurting. The needs are great. God calls His people to love and serve and give in the strength He supplies. Will we just pass time pleasantly this new year? God has made us for greater things, for grander pursuits, for eternal pleasures.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Applying the Gospel = Theology

I want to put in a good word for Gospel-centered theology today. It seems appropriate as our church begins its study of A Gospel Centered Life on Wednesdays. What we are seeking to do with this study is good theology, that is, applying the truth of the Gospel to every area of life.

We need theology. The fact that God called Paul to be an apostle is proof of the fact. One of the chief reasons that God chose Paul is that the early church needed a theologian. More specifically, the early church needed someone who was well-equipped to apply the Gospel to the new Gentile believers.

Think about the fact that the early church flourished and grew for several years before God even called Paul to be an apostle. In addition, it was some time before Paul began to exercise influence in the early church. What this tells us is that a clear and full theology are not needed for a young Christian church or individual to flourish. However, theology is much needed as the church or individual grows and begins to confront new circumstances and difficult questions.

Most of us know this by experience. When you first came to rest in Jesus, you probably knew very little of the Bible and its implications for your life, but you loved Jesus and rejoiced in your new life and flourished for a time apart from a clear theology. But as time goes on, if we are to continue to grow and flourish, we need to begin to apply the Gospel to every area of our lives. Without this we very soon begin to drift and loose joy and power and hope in our lives.

Doing theology means asking questions such as: How does the Gospel apply to obeying the law? How does the Gospel apply to what I watch on T.V.? How does the Gospel apply to reading God’s Word and prayer? How does the Gospel apply to the house or car that I purchase? How does the Gospel apply to my sexuality or my bad habits or my loneliness or my hyper-critical spirit?

Many people never ask these questions—they never do theology. Gospel theology that brings life also sustains our life in Jesus and makes us fruitful for His Kingdom.

Gently rebuff those who say that theology doesn’t matter. It matters because what God thinks about everything matters. To not care about theology is not to care about what God thinks.

May God help all of us to be “little theologians” because we love Jesus; we love His Gospel. We want to be more like Him.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Destin Log Column

Below is my first column that ran in the Destin Log on December 10, 2010. Enjoy!

Jesus is Great and I am Not
By James Calderazzo
Pastor, Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” These words from the hymn, Amazing Grace are so familiar that it is almost hard to read them without humming along that timeless, lilting tune. John Newton, the former slave-trader who encountered Christ and then went on to become a faithful pastor for four decades, knew first-hand the overwhelming mercy of God’s grace. Near the end of his life he summed up what he considered to be the most vital truth—not just for himself but for all of us. Newton said, “When I was young, I was sure of many things; now there are only two things of which I am sure: one is, that I am a miserable sinner; and the other, that Christ is an all-sufficient Saviour. He is well-taught who learns these two lessons.” I am a sinner. He is sufficient.

As a local pastor, who continues to rely on Newton’s “two lessons” daily, I am thankful every eight weeks or so to have the opportunity to lift up the “sweet sound” of the grace and truth of Jesus in this column. There is simply no one like Him. Even skeptics and atheists must admit the profound and positive influence that Jesus and His teaching have had throughout our world.

I do approach Jesus from a certain perspective. I am a person who, like Newton, has encountered Christ personally and who believes that He is more than just a positive role model--He is the unique Son of God, the Messiah; indeed, He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That last description of Jesus is found in the first Chapter of the Gospel of John, and it reminds us of something important. We are sinners. Many people believe that those who follow Jesus think of themselves as good people. That is not the message of the gospel. Those who see themselves as good people have little real need for Jesus. It is Jesus who is great and not us. We are sinners; He is our Savior—the Lamb of God who takes our sin.

In March of 1861 the great Baptist preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon, was speaking at the dedication of his new church in London, the Metropolitan Tabernacle. On that day he declared, “I would propose that the subject of the ministry in this house, as long as this platform shall stand, and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers, shall be the person of Jesus.”

Spurgeon also stated, “I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ’ Jesus who is the sum and substance of the gospel, who is in himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth, the all-glorious embodiment of the way, the truth and the life.”

I am definitely not the exceedingly gifted Charles Spurgeon, nor do I speak from the Metropolitan Tabernacle. But I join with Spurgeon in saying, (with one slight change), “I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name Presbyterian; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ’ who is the sum and substance of the gospel.” We need more of Jesus—all of us. Jesus is everything, and there is great joy to be found in knowing and resting in Him.