Articles from January 2020

Secret Disciples?

After the death of Jesus on the cross, we read about two individuals who apparently were “secret disciples” of Christ (John 19:38-42). The Apostle John describes Joseph of Arimathea as a “disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews.” Nicodemus is also mentioned, and John can’t help but remind his readers that it was this man who had “come to Jesus by night” (John 3:2). Both of these men were part of the ruling body of Israel known as the Sanhedrin. They were most likely wealthy men who held positions of power and prestige. Up to the crucifixion of Christ, it appears that they were living in the shadows, afraid to make their commitment to Christ known publicly for fear of ridicule and most likely the loss of position.

But at the cross and death of Jesus, it seems clear that John had the intention of showing that while these men may have been “secret disciples” in the past, they were now both public disciples and were now unafraid to come out into the open. Both of the men together went to great efforts to care for the body of Jesus. Joseph purposefully made a request to Pilate to take the body away and bury him, which was typically not allowed according to Roman custom. This request would have certainly made Joseph associated with Jesus and His movement. Both men were active in taking the body of Jesus down from the cross. Furthermore, both men spent a great deal of their own money to care for the body of Jesus. Nicodemus bought one hundred pounds of spices to use at the burial. Joseph donated his own tomb for Jesus’ burial (Matt 27:60). These were definitely not activities sanctioned by the Sanhedrin. These were the actions of those who had a love and compassion for Jesus. These were the actions of men who had finally and decisively made a choice to associate with Jesus and risk the danger of losing their powerful and prestigious positions. These were the actions of “public disciples.”

Secret Discipleship is an Oxymoron
It is really oxymoronic to say that someone could be a “secret disciple” of Jesus Christ. Certainly, there are those Christians who are genuinely born again, but their faith is weak. Their weak faith in Christ and the Word of God prevents them from coming out of the shadows, and loosing their locked lips in public. But no true Christian should remain in such an immature state. When the Holy Spirit entered the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, they all began preaching the Gospel with incredible boldness (Acts 2:14, 4:31). Becoming witnesses of the resurrection and the empowerment of the Spirit radically transformed them all. This should also be true of every believer. The Apostle Paul encouraged young Timothy that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).

In fact, the most dangerous place for any Christian to be is a place of fearfulness and possibly embarrassment of Jesus. A requirement for being a disciple of Jesus is that one would “deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow” Christ (Luke 9:23, 14:27). One can hardly say that they are a disciple of Jesus if they are not willing to openly follow Christ. The Apostle Paul declares very clearly that for someone to be saved, they must be willing to “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised [Jesus] from the dead” (Rom 10:9-10). There must be a willingness to confess Jesus before men. This is why public baptism is so important. It is one way that the Church recognizes those who are willing to publicly identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While it is clear that baptism does not save anyone, the refusal to be baptized publicly may very well indicate a person’s true heart condition as being unregenerate. Following Jesus requires denying oneself and publicly identifying with Christ. Jesus warned in Matthew 10:32-33, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

The Importance of Having a Friend
It is important to note that Joseph and Nicodemus became public disciples together. This shouldn’t be ignored. It is important to have the fellowship of another believer. Jesus Himself knew the weakness of humanity, and as a result sent out His disciples into the world not as lone rangers, but He sent them out “two by two” (Mark 6:7, Luke 10:1). This reality should not be underestimated. It is vitally important to have a companion who can stand alongside to give each other courage and boldness. While some may have an unusual strength to stand alone, most need others to uphold them. Pray that God would give you a friend who would stand with you in public!

Every Christian should strive to make Jesus known to the people who are in their lives. We should pray that the Lord would unlock our lips so that we can freely speak of Jesus who we love. If many who surround us on regular basis are not aware that we are Christians, then something is radically wrong – not with them, but with us. We should check our hearts to see if we are being controlled by fear in some way. Instead of being fearful, we must learn to trust the Lord with our lives. It is inevitable that we will be mistreated in this world. We should expect the world to hate us and ridicule us (John 15:18-25). Like the Apostle Paul, we say, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:16).

Practical Ways to Go Public
Maybe you are struggling with ways to “go public,” as it were, with your faith in Christ. I would recommend that you pray and ask the Lord to give you opportunities to speak about Jesus. If you are struggling, here are a few ways to begin breaking the ice. Notice that all of these suggestions are really indirect methods.

  • When you hear about difficulties in the lives of others, offer to pray with them not just for them. Then pray in that moment out loud in Jesus’ name for them and begin a conversation with them about their soul’s condition.
  • Ask others what they are going to do over the weekend. When they ask you, tell them that you are going to be worshiping Jesus on Sunday and invite them to attend with you.
  • When difficult topics come up, be ready to give a biblical response (1 Pet 3:15). Quote Scripture in answer to their questions.
  • When tragedies arise (i.e. Kobe Bryant dies in a helicopter crash), take the opportunity to speak about death to those who are talking about it.

These are just a few ways to slowly become public with your faith. Being public with your faith doesn’t mean that you have to stand on the corner of your desk and begin preaching. It does mean however, that you realize that you have a mission (2 Cor 5:11-21) and you are willing to be involved even if that means that you will be ridiculed. And remember that “going public” is a lifetime activity. Every day we should look for opportunities to make Christ known to those who are lost and on their way to an everlasting separation from Christ in hell. Like the early Apostles, we cannot remain silent! Instead we must be compelled to tell what we have “seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

 

Tetelestai – “It Is Finished!”

Tetelestai is the last word that Jesus spoke while He was on the cross, right before He “gave up His spirit” and died (John 19:30). It is one of the most important words that Jesus ever spoke, because it explains to us the mission of Jesus in the world and the purpose of the cross.

Literally the word tetelestai means “it is finished.” The verb teleo means “to bring to an end, or to complete, or to finish.” This word appears only two times in the New Testament (John 19:28, 30). In John 19:28, John implies that all of the prophecies about Jesus were fulfilled or completed. In John 19:30, Jesus uses the term to describe the completed work that Jesus accomplished with His life and death. It is interesting that in New Testament times, the word tetelstai was often associated with the canceling of business debts. The word would often be written on documents or receipts indicating that a bill had been paid in full, or that a debt had been canceled.

It is also interesting to note the verb tense that Jesus uses. In Greek, Jesus used the perfect tense. This is significant because this tense implies an action which has been completed in the past with result continuing into the present. Unlike the past tense which only looks back to an event and says, “it happened,” the perfect tense adds the idea that “it happened and it is still in effect today.”

So what is finished?
Jesus was very clear that He came into the world to do the “work of His Father.” He said in John 6:38 – “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” So, what was the work that is now finished on the cross? Consider what has been completed on the cross:

  • The work of redemption that the Father had given to Jesus was accomplished.
  • Every prophecy of God had been fulfilled. (John 19:28)
  • Sin has been completely atoned. (1 Jn 3:5, 4:10)
  • Satan has been defeated & rendered powerless. (1 Jn 3:8)
  • Every requirement of God’s righteous Law had been satisfied. (2 Cor 5:21)
  • God’s holy wrath against sin had been appeased or propitiated. (1 Jn 2:2, Rom 3:25)

Payment to Whom?
There was a theory presented in the early Church by a Church father named Origen, who suggested that the payment that Christ made was to Satan in satisfaction for the bondage and debt on the souls of humanity as a result of inherited sin. This theory is known as the Ransom to Satan theory. In other words, Christ paid Satan so that Satan would release sinners from the bondage of sin and Satan’s kingdom. The problem with this view is that the Bible never speaks of sinners as owing Satan anything. Satan is nothing but a created being, who deserves nothing. Second, the Bible is clear that sinners have a huge debt that they owe to God who is holy. The death of Christ should be understood only as a means to satisfy the demands of God’s justice. A ransom was definitely paid, but it was paid to God alone (Mark 10:45).

What does this mean for us?
1. It means that sinners can have ALL of their sin debt paid in full! The work of Christ on the cross is sufficient to cancel every sin regardless of how little or how great the sin debt. The incredible payment of Jesus is sufficient to forgive the worst of sinners.

2. It means that forgiveness is a GIFT and that works play no part in our salvation. It is an affront to God for sinners to think that they can contribute to their salvation through their works. The atonement of Christ is not a cooperation between man and God. It is the sole transaction of God providing what is needed for unable and weak sinners (Eph 2:8-9).

3. It means that sinners can rest in the accomplished work of Christ. We must change our mindset about living holy lives. Living holy lives is very important. But our holy lives do not contribute to our salvation. Once our debt has been fully paid, through faith in Jesus Christ, the transaction has been completed and we have been fully justified. Holy living becomes the result of our forgiveness not the source. Certainly, if there is no holiness in our lives, our conversion should be questioned. But our salvation is solely on the work of Christ, so that no one can boast about anything except in the cross. We must no longer view God as some mean Father who continues to punish us when we sin. In Christ all of our sins have been fully paid in the cross of Christ. Therefore, we have the love of God lavished on us and we are truly “sons.”

4. It means that we must tell others about the good news. Since the work of Christ is complete, there is no other way to be saved. We have the good news and must share it with others that they too can have all of their sin debt “paid in full.”

 

Inviting Others to Church

On the first Sunday of January, we handed out invitation cards (five cards each person to be exact) for the congregation to use to invite others to Ebenezer. If you didn’t get your packet, please pick up some at the Welcome Center and join us in our mission. We continually stress the importance of thinking with eternity in mind. Simply inviting someone to church is one way to begin that process. If the truth were known, most of us have never invited anyone to come to church. And, to be honest, it is one of the easiest ways to be involved in the Great Commission. We don’t have to go overseas to do the Lord’s work. There are people in our own backyard who have never heard the Gospel or have heard a false Gospel and need to be saved. Consider why, who, and how to invite someone to Church.

Why should we invite anyone to Church?

To act like Jesus: Remember it was Jesus who invited you to come to Him (Matt 11:28-30). His invitation was probably through the voice of another human who reached out to you. Someone else was faithful to act like Jesus and invited you to church or shared the Gospel with you. Jesus came to “seek and save” the lost (Luke 19:10) and we must also seek out those who are lost. We do that when we invite them to church.

To obey Jesus: It was Jesus who gave us the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20). We are to go into all the world, but often times we fail to go to our own neighbor. Inviting others to church is one way we can fulfill our responsibility to obey Jesus and introduce Him to a lost world.

To truly love others: If we love people genuinely, then we must be concerned for more than their physical welfare. Philanthropy, benevolence, and goodwill are wonderful, but if we truly love people we will be concerned for their souls. Since the Church is the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), by inviting others to church they will hear the truth. Ebenezer is very concerned with being faithful to Scripture. When newcomers attend our services, they will definitely hear that they are a sinner and that Jesus Christ saves. Introducing them to this Gospel message is the most loving thing you can do for any lost person.

To act out your faith: James says bluntly that “faith without works is dead.” He goes on to say “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14-18). When we invite others to church we are agreeing that faith in Christ is the most important part of life. We are actually putting feet to what we believe. If we never share the Gospel and never are concerned about inviting others to church we may have a real heart issue. Our own faith may be “dead.”

To see the greater purpose: When we invite others to church, somehow the Lord does a work in our heart and shows us that all of this isn’t just for me! We are often so egocentric that we forget that “church” has a much greater purpose. The Church is the bride of Christ saved by His blood (Acts 20:28). When the Church gathers, we gather to worship in truth and spirit. We gather to be equipped by the Word of God, and we leave to go into the world to share the “Good News.” When we fail to invite others on a regular basis, it is possible to lose sight of what church is all about. When we are engaged, we begin to see the greater purpose.

Who do I invite to Church?

In a word, EVERYONE! Sometimes we don’t think this way, but everyone will be blessed by being in church. This means that there is no one exempt.

We should start in our inner circle with our self and family. We should make a commitment to be in church on regular basis for ourselves. Then we should think about our family & relatives who need Christ. Next, we should be concerned about our closest friends. Then we should consider those who we see on a regular basis in our neighborhood or work. Finally, we should consider inviting simple acquaintances and, yes, even total strangers. We must be prepared to ask everyone we come into contact with to come to church with us. Make it a point to start to think differently. Strategically think through how you can invite others and be prepared on a weekly basis.

How do I invite someone to Church?

Most unchurched people will not understand why you are inviting them to come to church, and this is okay. We shouldn’t expect them, in their lost state, to have any desire at all to come to church. Furthermore, unchurched people may have attended church in the past and had a horrible experience (in their opinion, whether right or wrong). As we invite others to come to Ebenezer, we should be prayerfully sensitive to them, but we should not be afraid to diligently persist and ask others to come to church. It doesn’t have to be difficult to invite someone to come to church with you, even a total stranger. Here are a few things to consider when asking someone to come to Church:

Be in control of the conversation. This doesn’t mean to be domineering, but to speak with a mission. Ask the Lord to help you find a way to interject something into the conversation that will allow you to bring up spiritual things or church attendance. Then simply ask, “Hey, do you attend a local church?” If they respond yes, ask questions to confirm it. If you discover that it is not a sound church, invite them to your doctrinally sound church. If they are clearly a Christian and go to a sound, biblical church, give praise to God.

Always speak with gentleness & kindness. If they show no interest, do not “sting” them in return.

God may still be working on them for the future. You want to make sure that while you are truthful, you are still sensitive that this whole “church” thing is the Lord’s work. And you certainly don’t want to do damage to the Lord’s work.

Being bad-tempered only brings dishonor to the Lord. Be like a bee who goes from one flower to the next looking for nectar. If the bee doesn’t find nectar he simply moves on the next flower. The bee doesn’t sting the flower where he finds no nectar. Remember that it is very possible that your invitation will be rejected. This should not discourage you. Jesus was greatly rejected and despised (Jn 1:11, Is 53:3).

Give them an Ebenezer invite card. Even if they don’t want the card, most people will take what you give them. The card has all our service times and information. They may throw the card away, but they may also keep it and check out the church. The Lord may use the information you give them down the road.

Be ready to defend & answer hard questions. The Apostle Peter reminds us, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15). It is possible that you will receive opposition and hard questions. The first thing to do is immediately pray for help (in your mind, like Nehemiah in Neh 4:2), then proceed to answer their questions to the best of your ability. If you are not equipped to answer their questions, point them to the website that is listed on the back side of the Ebenezer invitation card. Truelife.org has put together a wonderful video-based website designed to answer many hard questions that unbelievers ask Christians. If they continue in opposition, simply find a way out of the conversation and pray for them as you depart (Matt 5:44).

What do we do if they say yes?

I think we should be expecting that people will say yes to our invitation to come to church. Hopefully, before you ask, you are praying that God would prepare the person’s hearts to respond positively. And when they say yes, we should not act surprised, but be ready to befriend them as they are introduced to a group of people to whom they are totally new. You can imagine how fearful it might be for someone to come into a large group of people whom they do not know, doing strange things that they do not understand. So how do we respond?

  • Tell them that they can sit with you and that you will be looking for them. You may even offer to pick them up to make it easy.
  • Tell them what to expect; we will be singing, giving, praying and listening to a sermon & taking notes.
  • Be sensitive to them as they may have some very deep hurts that need healing.
  • Introduce them to others in the church so that they can see the warmth of the body of Christ.
  • Follow up with them afterward, helping them process what they experienced and possibly asking them questions about salvation. Don’t be afraid to probe with deep questions. If they are unchurched, they have probably never had someone be lovingly concerned about their spiritual welfare. It is not loving to ignore the fact that they may be on their way to hell!
  • Pray for them diligently – that the Holy Spirit would do His saving work in their heart.

Embrace the Mission

There is no reason why everyone of us, young people included, should not be actively inviting others to attend our worship service at Ebenezer. Wouldn’t it be exciting to see new faces and new people coming into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? Consider the joy that it would bring your own heart to know that the Lord used you to bring someone into the Kingdom of God, or to help another believer grow deeper in their walk with Jesus. Four times this year (once per quarter) we will be handing out packets of invitation cards. Please do not get disgruntled when they are handed out, but, rather, embrace our mission!