The Power of Grace

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This is the Roman road in Ephesus that Paul walked on…it is probably similar to the one going to Damascus as the city was redesigned entirely by the Romans after Pompey conquered it.

Acts 4:33 And with great power gave the Apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and great grace was upon them all.

Read Acts 9:1-20  Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and was converted to Christianity, and God’s grace was upon him because he accepted Jesus, and was humbled before God.  Then Saul set out to be obedient to God’s wishes for his life, and continued to live under God’s grace and forgiveness.  Although Saul who became known as Paul after his conversion, was a known persecutor of Christians, and held the cloak of the people who stoned Stephen, the first martyr.  You know the funny (ironic) thing about Paul is that the whole time he was killing Christians he was doing it for God.  He thought that they were heretics and that as a honorable, faithful Jew he should do all in his power to stamp out those of the new religion who were causing so many of his fellow Jews to convert to Christianity and believe in this Jesus as their Messiah.  Paul who was trained really well from childhood as a Pharisee, and knew his scriptures extremely well.  He was trained by a well known Pharisee/scholar named Gamaliel.  Being trained by Gamaliel would probably be the equivalent of being taught about Einstein’s theory of relativity by Einstein himself.  Gamaliel was probably just about as famous in scholarly circles in Paul’s time as Einstein is in scientific circles today.  This just goes to show that even if you are taught the truth, of the scriptures, you can miss the main point.  Paul had the message of the Messiah right there in the scriptures, yet he did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah until Jesus showed up in front of him on the road to Damascus.  There are more than 400 prophecies about the Messiah throughout the Old Testament of the Bible and Jesus fulfilled every single one of them without exception.  

Now there are some people who might say, “Well, Jesus probably knew what they were and he just set out to fulfill them all….”

Well, I am here to tell you, that even if a person tried to do so, they could never have enough control over their own circumstances to fulfill all of those prophecies even if they set out to do so.

 I know, the next question is, “Why not?!!”  Well, the thing is a lot of those prophecies had to do with the circumstances, time and place of Jesus’ birth, and with his death and resurrection, and with the performing of miracles.  No one can control where they are born, or who their parents are related to, no one can control whether or not they rise from the dead.  Also here is a really concrete couple of examples of prophecies about Messiah, the casting of lots for his clothes, the rejection and persecution by his people (the Jews), and that he would die without having any broken bones, and that water would run out of his side.  These are just a few prophecies that would be uncontrollable by a person setting out to prove to people that they were the Messiah.  Psalm 22 is full of prophecy descriptions of the Messiah’s death. Isaiah 53:9 talks about a sinless person who was put to death with the wicked, yet buried with the rich.  There are many many verses about the Messiah in the Old Testament. I won’t overburden you with them here.  If you care to look them up, they are easily available on the web, you can search through them yourself.  I believe that I have made my point at any rate.  Jesus could never have chosen to fulfill all of the prophecies about the Messiah because a large number of them are not controllable by man.  Only God with his infinite power could control the timing of and the person in whom those prophecies were fulfilled.  That person was none other that Jesus the Christ.

God actually made it so that anyone who knows the scriptures should be able to recognize the truth of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  Yet, we have Saul of Tarsus, who was a well trained person who willfully refused to accept what was right in front of his nose and locked in his head because he was probably afraid to closely examine what he had been taught, and to go against his elders who were telling him that the Christians were a bad lot…who were heretics.  Jesus had to show up right in front of him to get his attention, and even when he did, he just asked Saul (Paul) why he was persecuting his children; oh yeah, and he blinded Saul/Paul to get his attention completely on him.  I find the blinding to be another dose of irony…knowing Paul’s intelligence he no doubt would have noticed this irony also.  The irony that the person who was spiritually blind, yet thought they were acting in a very spiritual way on God’s behalf, was now physically blinded in order to be made able to see things in a spiritually clear manner, and truly start acting as God’s servant in bringing more people to know God through testifying about his son, Jesus Christ.  Isn’t God awesome?!!

I noticed a long time ago, that God really has an awesome sense of humor at times when he is trying to get your attention, or test your faith (really what he is doing is teaching you about the amount of faith you have and helping you to have stronger faith.)

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The God of the Living is the God of 2nd Chances

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Angel statue in the ruins at Ephesus, Turkey

Exodus 33:12-23 Moses found grace in God’s sight and told God that he would like to know him personally, and that if God will go with him he will leave that place, but if God won’t be with him, he will stay where God is.  God assured Moses that He was with him, and knew him by his name.  Also God, let Moses see his backside, when he went to get the ten commandments the second time, after the Golden Calf incident.  The second set was obviously the one which was put into the ark of the covenant.

Read Exodus 32 This is the story of the Golden Calf.  Notice that God allowed everyone a chance to repent and come back to him, and if they did then he forgave them, but those who didn’t accept his grace were put to death.  This is symbolic of Christianity’s grace, in which you live your life, and if you accept God’s grace, and recognize your sin, and ask for forgiveness, God is faithful to forgive you, and accept you back to Him.  However, if you don’t repent and accept God’s grace, then when your life is over it is too late, and you will die the eternal death,  instead of living in Heaven in the presence of God.  That is why we have this phrase:  “Where there is life…there is hope.”  Hope for redemption…hope for a return to the side of God.  There is all manner of hope when we are alive.

Truly death is a hopeless state of being, unless you are dead in Christ.  Mark 12:26-27 tells us that God is a God of the living and not the God of the dead.  Jesus says this in answer to the Pharisees’ question about the the woman who was married to one brother after another, so when they would be resurrected whose wife would she be?  Jesus starts the statement about God being a God of the living and not the dead with the statement that God spoke to Moses at the burning bush and said “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”  Then Jesus makes the statement that “God is the God of the living and not the God of the dead.”  Reading that line in the Bible,  there is a detail that I always missed…  The statement made by God to Moses is in the present tense…not the past tense.  How does this fit with what Jesus is saying?  Jesus is saying that these people who in Moses’ time had been dead from the earth for more than 400 years were still alive in God and with God.  God was telling Moses the same thing, that although Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were no longer alive on this earth, they were yet alive with Him.  We know this is what God meant because of Jesus statements in Mark 12:26-27…Logically speaking…God cannot be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the present tense if they are already dead…because He is not a God of the dead!

There is no other way to take this statement when they are combined like this because otherwise they would be in conflict.  Usually, when we read that God is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob..we don’t really hear the tense.  We think of this as God stating that he is an eternal and generational God.  We think that he is simple identifying himself to Moses in terms of: “I am the God of your ancestors…”

While it is true that God is the God of Moses’ ancestors, that is not what God was trying to convey to Moses.  As Jesus tells us, this is one of those “ears to hear, eyes to see, and heart to understand” moments.  A moment when you go…”ah ha!  So that’s what he means!”  or in Sherlock Holmes version, “By jove, Watson!  I think I’ve got it!”

So this is what it means when we are promised “eternal life in Christ Jesus” John 3:16.  Right about now, you are probably thinking, but Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were dead before Jesus was born, so how does that work for them?  Well, they lived under the old covenant, which was a covenant of the law…they followed what God had told them to do faithfully, and were obedient to him…they were saved and considered righteous by their faith.  (Genesis 15:6)  As the Apostle Paul said, they lived and died and never saw the promise fulfilled, but their faith was credited to them as righteousness…(Hebrews 11) Jesus said that the disciples were those who had seen and believed, but so much more honored is the person who has believed, but has not seen. (John 20:29)

We can rejoice in the fact that God is the God of the living…so much so that in the fact of our death we need have no fear as long as we are in Christ during our life…we will continue to be in Christ in our death.  My favorite verse in the Bible is this:  1Philippians 1:21  For me to live is Christ and to die is gain!  Paul goes on to explain that while living this life we can serve Christ, and when we are dead to this life we will be living with Christ so that as Christians we have nothing to lose either way.  This is the grace and promise of God.

The Resurrection

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When Jesus comes back all of the tombs will be emptied and we will all be judged on our faith

John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Read Matthew 28:1-10  This is the story of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to visit Jesus’ tomb, but not finding Him there.  It is noteworthy that considering the status of women in biblical society, that the first people Jesus appeared to after His resurrection were women.  It is also evidence in the bible of the truth with which the apostles reported their experiences that they listed these women as being first to see Jesus alive again.  Women did not serve as credible witnesses during that time period in any court, yet they were the first credible witnesses listed in the bible to witness Jesus’ resurrection.  This is an excellent example of the first being last, and the last being first.

One of the things that we sometimes miss from just sitting in the church and hearing about Jesus’ resurrection is that Jesus did not just rise from the dead and hang around a few days visit all his disciples and then go to heaven.  There were far more than just those few people, who saw Jesus and could testify to his resurrection.  Jesus was on the earth after his resurrection for 40 days (Acts 1:3) and he appeared to over 500 people who as Paul tells us at the time when the book of 1Corinthians was written down (about 25 yrs later) were still alive to affirm the truth of Christ’s resurrection from death.  (1Corinthians 15:6).  That is one of the great things about the New Testament…the books were all written within a time frame whereby there were many many living witnesses to the truth of the writings.  This means to us many generations later that we can count on and trust that truth.

In Matthew 28:1-10, we are told that the men who were guarding the tomb where Jesus’ body lay saw an angel who appeared suddenly after a violent earthquake and his appearance was like lightening and his clothes were as white as snow.  That event was so shocking to the men that they fainted.  Personally, I find it entertaining that the angel then sat on the stone that had covered the tomb.  If we go and read about other times that God has had angels make an appearance to people they do appear suddenly, but usually, it is accompanied by a “fear not…”  In this case, the actions seem more like God demonstrated concretely to the men guarding the tomb and to all of us through the telling of this tale, that he is almighty and definitely in charge, and “don’t you forget it!”  It’s like him saying to us all, “Look!  I don’t want you to ever forget that I am in charge of death too…this piddling little stone you put in front of the tomb is nothing to me!”  The seated angel reminds me that the job of conquering death was completed.  The sins of man had been atoned for…there was nothing else that God had to do in the future…he had already sacrificed the best that he had for the sins of man!

You would think that these guards who had this experience would have become believers…wouldn’t you?  But if you go ahead and read Matthew 28:11-15  you find that this is not what happened.  These same men when they woke up from their faint ran to tell the Chief Priests all that had happened to them.  The Chief Priests then told the Elders  and they hatched the scheme to hide this miracle from the world.  The guards accepted the bribe and agreed to spread the story concocted by the Jewish Elders. The story that Jesus’ body was stolen in the night by the Disciples.   Despite the huge impression that the angel made on these men, their sense of survival and greed overtook it.  To be fair to them they would have, almost certainly, been killed if they had refused to fall in with the scheme.  Guards who failed to guard, generally, were killed for that failure in the Roman army, and with the added problem that these same elders and priests had made sure that Jesus was killed when he went up against them.  On the other hand these men could have chosen to believe in God’s power, (and possibly die) rather than continue on the path set for them.  After all, it is 2000+ years later, look at the number of people following Jesus and believing in his death and resurrection and the atoning power of his blood…and are there that many people who really believe that his body was stolen by the Disciples?  It is obvious that, God definitely made his point!  God is the one with the power and nothing that man can devise will stop his plan!

Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. (ESV)