Articles from February 2020

Devoted Thomas

Most associate the Apostle Thomas with being the “doubting Thomas” because of his statement to the other disciples. He had said that he would not believe unless he saw the nail scars in the hands of Jesus (John 20:25). We shouldn’t be too hard on Thomas for doubting the resurrection, because all of the other disciples also doubted until Jesus appeared to them. In fact, they said that the testimony of Mary Magdalene was “nonsense” and would not believe (Luke 24:11). When we look at the life of Thomas in the Gospel of John we get a different story than one who was a doubter. We actually see that Thomas had a deep love and devotion to Jesus, possibly the closest to Jesus next the Apostle John.

Three Great Traits
Scripture doesn’t tell us much about Thomas. The synoptic Gospels are silent except for simply listing his name among the other Apostles. Only John’s Gospel records details that give us an indication of His character. While we know that Thomas was a twin (Jn 11:16), we also see three great traits that we should learn from Thomas.

A Devout Courage: We are first introduced to Thomas in John 11:16. Jesus had been ministering to the people across the Jordan where John the Baptist had been baptizing. The disciples were seeing a great number of people being converted (Jn 10:40-42). But when Jesus heard that His beloved friend Lazarus had died, He told the disciples that they were going back to Bethany to raise him from the dead. This was troubling to the disciples since the Jewish leaders had been seeking to kill Jesus (11:8). It seemed unwise and foolish to walk back into a trap that would possibly lead to the death of Jesus as well as the disciples. But Jesus assured the disciples that they had work to do and must do it during the daytime (v. 8-10) and that they would not stumble because they had the light. So, Jesus told them that they were going to raise Lazarus from the dead. It was then that Thomas spoke for the first time. His words are profound and reveal a devout courage. Thomas said in that moment, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas was convinced that Jesus was heading straight for a stoning. But if that is what the Lord determined to do, then Thomas was also determined to go with him and die. He was convinced of the Lordship of Christ and was willing to follow Jesus even into the worst of situations. While it may seem pessimistic, it is also evidence of courage rooted in a deep faith. Our faith in Christ must be courageous in a world that opposes us at every turn.

A Devout Love: The second occurrence of Thomas is found at the end of Jesus’ ministry when Jesus is in the upper room with his disciples. Jesus told the disciples that He was going away to be with His heavenly Father in order that He might prepare a place for them. He told the disciples, “And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas replied to Jesus, “Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5). Behind the statement of Thomas is a heart of love for Christ. Thomas doesn’t want to be separated from Christ. He has a deep relationship with Him that he never wants to be severed. His heart is broken that Jesus is leaving them. The thought of losing Christ paralyzed him because he had been so attached to Jesus over the last three years. He could not think of living without him. You have to admire his deep devotion to Christ.

A Devout Faith: The last occurrence of Thomas is found after the resurrection when Jesus graciously appears to him to strengthen His faith and allow Him to be a true witness of the resurrection. While he doubted before he saw Jesus, once He saw the resurrected Christ, Thomas made one of the most profound statements ever made. After he touched Jesus and saw the nail scars in His hands, Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). Thomas acknowledged the deity of Christ. Thomas’ life was changed forever by seeing the resurrected Jesus. Thomas would be filled with the Holy Spirit after Pentecost and become a great witness for Christ (Acts 1:13).

A Great Evangelist
History records that Thomas carried the Gospel to India. Thomas is said to be buried in India near the airport in Chennai. Tradition teaches that many of the churches in India currently have roots in the ministry of Thomas. One of the strongest traditions in Church history is that Thomas was martyred for his faith by being run through with a spear. Ironically this death was a “fitting form of martyrdom for one whose faith came of age when he saw the spear mark in his Master’s side and for one who longed to be reunited with his Lord” (John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men, p. 164)

Thomas is a great example for us. While we have not seen and touched the resurrected Jesus, we have believed and are blessed (Jn 20:29). Like Thomas we must have a devoted courage, devoted love and a devoted faith. If these things are true of us, inevitably we will be like Thomas maybe not in our death, but in our life.

 

Forgiveness

The message of the Bible and Christianity is that forgiveness is available to the world. Many have wrongly assumed that Jesus came into the world to offer lesser gifts like wealth, health or prosperity. But the message of Jesus and the Bible is very clear. Jesus did not come to give physical healing to everyone, nor did he come to make life easier or more comfortable. The message of Jesus Christ is the good news that sinners can be saved from their sin (1 Timothy 1:15). There is no question that this will be offensive to many in the world who do not believe in God, nor believe that they have sinned against God. But the truth of Scripture is that everyone has sinned against God (Rom 3:23), but God has provided forgiveness in His Son. John the Baptist made it clear when he said early on in Jesus’ ministry, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

The Message of the Apostles
The message of forgiveness was made clearer when the resurrected Jesus first appeared and spoke to His disciples. In the very first words Jesus spoke, He commissioned them to go into the world and particularly preach the message that sin could be forgiven. Jesus told them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23). This verse has wrongly been interpreted by some that church leaders (namely popes and priests) have the authority to forgive sins and that sinners must seek to have their sins absolved from a priest. But a simple reading through the book of Acts clears up the matter when we see that the Apostles did exactly what Jesus commanded of them. They did not go and tell sinners that they could receive forgiveness through penance or confession to a priest. Rather they preached that forgiveness is found alone in the name of Jesus. They preached that sins could be forgiven by simply trusting in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Peter preached to Cornelius in Acts 10:43,

“And [Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”

The Apostle Paul preached a very similar message to the Jews in Acts 13:38-39. Since every person was condemned by the Law of Moses, there had to be another way to be set free. This freedom comes only through one man, Jesus Christ.

“Let it be known to you therefore, brothers that through this man (Jesus), forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by Him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”

The Apostles preached that forgiveness of sin was the only message they had to preach. No where do you see the Apostles preaching that Jesus provides physical healing, or prosperity. The Church of Jesus Christ must stay faithful to the Apostolic message of forgiveness of sin.

Coming to Jesus
Many have been delusional and deceived by false teachers who teach that Jesus will provide some great miracle in their life. You would do well to run from the preachers who tell you about some pseudo-Jesus who promises you the comforts of this life. In the end, this message only cheapens the real reason why Jesus came. Jesus was clear about his own mission when He said that He came “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus had a mission with heavenly ramifications, not earthly ones. Jesus came alone to save sinners “from the wrath of God to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). If you have come to Jesus for any other reason, you are going to be sorely and sadly disappointed. You must come to Jesus for the right reason, to have Him alone forgive you (Acts 4:12).

How Do I Get Forgiveness?
Humility is required: So how does this forgiveness come? First it requires humility! In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus shocks his listeners by telling them that a religious and outwardly righteous Pharisee (preacher of the day) would not go to heaven because he was arrogant and unwilling to admit that he was a sinner in need of God’s mercy. But shockingly Jesus told about a wicked tax collector who had his sins forgiven because he was broken and humbled over his wretchedness before God. The tax collector humbly cried out saying “God be merciful to me a sinner.” In the end Jesus said this man went home saved rather than the other. And then Jesus gave this important explanation, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” If you will humble yourself before God and acknowledge that you are a sinner before Him, and cry out to Jesus for forgiveness, you can have all of your sins forgiven, even the worst of sins (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Repentance is required: But repentance is also necessary for forgiveness. In Acts 3:19, when asked how to be forgiven the Apostle Peter said, “Repent, therefore, and turn back that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” To repent means literally “a change of mind.” But inevitably that change of mind will lead to a change of action, causing a person to turn away from sin (see also Luke 5:32, 24:47, Acts 2:38, 8:32, 17:30, 20:21, 26:20).

Faith in Christ is required: Last, but certainly not least, faith in Christ is required for true forgiveness. Many people boast of having “faith” but it should be noted that a general faith in God is not sufficient for forgiveness of sin. The scripture is clear that faith alone (not works) in Christ will result in forgiveness (Rom 3:19-4:8, Eph 2:8-9). A synonym for faith is trust. Sinners are called to trust Christ for forgiveness. The Scripture commands us to “believe” in Christ and to “receive” Him for the forgives of our sin (John 1:11-12, 3:16).

Forgiveness is the greatest gift that God could offer sinful mankind. While God blesses His people with much to enjoy in this life, the chief blessings He gives us are “in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3). The exciting thing is that God so loves the world that He offers this wonderful gift to every person. If you have never received the forgiveness of Christ, please humble yourself before God, repent of your sins and place your trust in Jesus Christ!

 

Glorious Resurrection Bodies

Scripture is clear that just as Christ was raised from the dead and given a glorified body, so believers also will be resurrected and given glorified bodies. The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” The resurrection of Jesus was a “first fruits” of our resurrection to come (1 Cor 15:20-23, 49).

Jesus’ Resurrected Body
When we look at the first appearance of Jesus after His resurrection to His disciples we get a glimpse at what our resurrection bodies will be like (John 20:11-29). The major truth that we need to glean is that the new body Jesus had was definitely a physical body. This is proven in the display to Mary Magdalene and the other disciples as Jesus not only allowed them, but encouraged them, to touch Him. Jesus told doubting Thomas to actually “put your finger here.” He told Thomas to look at the nail scars in his hands and in his side. In Luke, Jesus told the disciples that He was not a spirit, but actually had “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39). He was also able to eat with the disciples which further substantiated the physicality of His new body. This new body that Jesus had been given was a physical body that had been made perfect.

But some may question this by stating that Jesus appeared to go through doors in John 20:19 and in other places simply appearing or disappearing (Luke 24:31). Some suggest that while Jesus had a real physical body there were times when this new body was transformed into a spiritual body with new properties which allowed him to make supernatural appearances (Murray Harris, From Grave to Glory: Resurrection in the New Testament, Zondervan, 1990, pg. 142-43). This may be the case, even though these mysterious passages about Jesus’ appearing and disappearing can be reasonably explained (see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994, pg. 611-613). It is very important however, that we agree that Jesus’ body was a real physical body that truly ascended into heaven (Acts 1). By giving Jesus a new physical body, God was indeed affirming that God’s creation of material things was ultimately very good (Gen 1:31).

Continuity in Our Bodies
One of the questions people continually ask is “Will our glorified bodies look similar to our natural bodies?” Or even more common is the question, “Will we recognize others in heaven?” And the answer to those questions is simply yes. It is clear that Jesus’ resurrection body was not quickly recognized by Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:14), or the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:16) most likely due to the glorification of the new body or even a divine hindrance. But it is also clear that there was a continuity in Jesus’ resurrection body with His natural body because the scars in his hands and side remained. Scripture teaches elsewhere that those with glorified bodies were recognized in heaven (Matt 8:11, 27:52-53).

Clearest Description: 1 Corinthians 15:42-44
The clearest description of our glorified bodies is found in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 49. Paul says, “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” Paul gives us four descriptions of our new glorified bodies.

Imperishable Bodies: Our new physical bodies will never grow old, or wear out, deteriorate, or be subject to any sickness or weakness whatsoever. Our new bodies will forever be completely healthy and strong.

Glorious Bodies: Paul says that our natural bodies were sown in “dishonor” which may relate to attractiveness. When Jesus’ body was transfigured (Matt 17:2), He had a bright light that surrounded him. Our new bodies will be glorious in beauty with no shadow of any defect.

Powerful Bodies: Furthermore, our bodies will have no weakness, but will have fullness of strength. We will not have infinite power like God, nor will we be some “superhuman” like the fictional movies suggest. But our bodies will have no limitations and will be completely sufficient to do whatever is necessary.

Spiritual Bodies: This last description may be somewhat misleading. By spiritual, Paul doesn’t mean non-physical. While on the earth our physical bodies are completely subject to and governed by a sinful will. But when our bodies are raised spiritual, they will be fully governed and subjected to the Holy Spirit perfectly being able to respond to the Holy Spirit’s guidance completely.

Can’t Wait
Having new resurrection bodies is a truth that should excite us as believers! While our earthly tent continues to deteriorate, we know that God is going to give us a new body that is eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1-5). These new bodies will enable us to worship God perfectly and enjoy His presence and joy for all eternity.

 

Having an Eye to See

Most people are enamored with optical illusions. Amazing artists are able to create artistic works that have hidden images in them, and sometimes multiple images. While they are fun look at, the optical puzzles can be quite frustrating to some. Not all are able to see the hidden images as quickly as others. To put it simply, not all have an “an eye to see.” Even after spending a great deal of time looking, the images simply cannot be seen. The picture to the right is a painting that was given to me several years ago. Dick Moody is the artist. Not only was he talented, but he pastored Tabernacle Baptist Church for 25 years. I know him because my twin brother served on staff with him in the 1990’s. If you have an “eye to see” you should be able to see 8 hidden objects that relate to the Church in his painting. (Here is a hint if you need it: Bible, baptism, holy grail, the face of Christ, a dove, the cross, prayer, and the tomb’s stone.)

While it is fun to try to find these images, there is an important spiritual truth to be gleaned from all of this. Just like it takes a trained eye to find physical images, so it also takes a “spiritual eye” to see spiritual things. Not everyone sees the hidden treasures of God that are clear to the eye which has been divinely opened by the grace of God. Scripture is clear that the lost who are still enslaved in their sin, have also been blinded by Satan, “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Seeing & understanding spiritual things is not simply an academic endeavor. Seeing the great truths of God’s Word require divine intervention and the illumination of the Spirit of God (Jn 16:13-16). In fact, Jesus told His disciples that He taught in parables in order that those who had been given God’s grace could see, but those who had rejected God would be prevented from seeing and hearing and understanding (Matthew 13:10-17).

Seeing the Resurrection
One spiritual truth that requires “eyes to see” is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. While the evidences of the resurrection are strong, many unbelievers still refuse to believe. When Mary Magdalene told Peter and John that someone had taken the body of Jesus out of the tomb on that first Sunday morning, they both ran as quickly as they could to see for themselves. It is wonderful how John records how he came to believe (John 20:1-10). He believed because by grace He was given “an eye to see.”

The English translation doesn’t show us what was transpiring in John 120:1-10. But if you look at the Greek text, it is clear that something dramatic was happening in John’s heart. John uses three different Greek words to describe what he & Peter “saw.” In v. 5, when John outran Peter and arrived at the tomb, he says that he “saw” the linen cloths lying there in the tomb but he did not go in. This first word for “saw” is the word Βλέπει (blepei), and it is a word that is often used to describe a simple glance. When John first arrived at the tomb he simply glanced into the tomb without contemplating what he saw. But when Peter arrived at the tomb, he ran right into the tomb and he “saw” the linen cloths lying there as well (v. 6). This time John uses the word θεωρεῖ (theorei) from which we get our English word theorize. This is a more intense word than glance. It means that Peter was thinking and meditating on what he saw, coming to certain conclusions, even though Peter had not yet believed. But then once John entered the tomb, he records for us that he “saw and believed” (John 20:8). This last word for “saw” is the word εἶδεν (eiden). This is a word that often has the connotation of comprehension. It is a word that reveals conclusions have been made. In other words, John saw the linen cloths lying there in the tomb and the spices between the cloths undisturbed and he was given an “eye to see” and His sight became faith. John became the first disciple to believe in the resurrection.

Apologetics is Important…But Don’t Forget
Apologetics is the intellectual defense of the truth of Christian religion and often considered to be a branch of theology. The purpose of apologetics is to answer critics who oppose the Bible and to give Christians tools in order to “always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks them to give an account for the hope they have” (1 Peter 3:15). Apologetics can certainly equip Christians to be evangelistic, but we must not forget that faith is not simply an intellectual argument. Our faith is certainly a rational and reasonable faith. But faith in Jesus Christ is not natural, but supernatural. We can debunk all of the irrational arguments about the resurrection (i.e. swoon theory, stolen body theory, wrong tomb theory, hallucination theory, never buried theory), and come to find that some will still not truly believe in Jesus Christ. The ten appearances of the resurrected Christ to over 500 people (1 Cor 15:6) may still not be enough evidence to bring about conversion in a lost person. Unbelief is not the result of the absence of proof, but the result of a hard sin-bound heart.

Grace is Needed
What is needed most is God’s grace which opens our eyes and heart to the Gospel. It is clear that salvation is by “grace through faith” (Eph 2:8) and rooted in the “mercy” of God (Rom 9:14-16). Those who see have been given “eyes to see.” To put it in new covenant terms, the Lord is faithful to take away hard hearts (Eph 4:18) and give “new hearts” (Ez 36:26). The Lord Himself will make those who are “dead in their sin” come “alive” (Eph 2:1-4). The Apostle Paul is certainly exhibit A. Before he came to know Christ, he hated the Church and Jesus. But when Jesus Christ came to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), the Lord sovereignly opened his eyes and was gracious to him.

Preach AND Pray
As we continue in ministry, we must continue to preach about the resurrection of Jesus Christ which is the cornerstone of the Gospel message. But we must also pray that God would give others “eyes to see.” Maybe you have a loved one or friend who is still lost. The greatest thing you can do is to preach the gospel to them, but also to pray that the Lord would give them spiritual eyes to see. When God gives them spiritual eyes, they will then be able to look at the picture of the Bible, and every spiritual truth will become clear to them in one moment, one saving moment!