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These Easter messages were preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship through the years. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson (excepting audio for 2001).

Four additional Easter messages may be located in other message series: 

Related Topics: Christology, Easter, Resurrection

Easter [1993]: Why the Resurrection Matters (1 Corinthians 15:1-19)

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April 11, 1993

Special Easter Message

A man named Jones took his car to the mechanic for repairs. Jones ignored the signs posted in the garage that told customers to keep out of the working area. He kept looking over the mechanic’s shoulder, getting in the way. The mechanic had had a rough day, and he was getting frustrated. Finally he took Jones by the shoulder and led him out of the working area. He said, “Let’s play a game.” He drew a circle on the floor with a piece of chalk and said, “The rules of the game are that you stay inside this circle while I fix your car. I’ll bet you can’t do it!” “It’s a deal,” said Jones.

The mechanic went back to the car, but before he went back to work, he glanced up at Jones, Who had a silly grin on his face. The mechanic thought, “I’ve had it with this dumb yokel.” He felt like he had to relieve his tension. So he picked up a sledgehammer and smashed it into the fender of Jones’ car. He looked over at Jones, who was cracking up with laughter, still inside the circle.

That made the mechanic angrier yet. He smashed the car two more times with the hammer, and looked over again at Jones. Jones was doubled over with laughter, but still inside the circle. The mechanic was furious with rage. He started smashing Jones’ car all over with the hammer. Jones was rolling on the floor and holding his sides from laughter, but still inside the circle. The mechanic couldn’t believe it. He went over to Jones and said, “Why are you laughing while I’m smashing your car?” Jones got control of his laughter long enough to reply, “While you weren’t looking, I stepped outside the circle three times!”

You say, “Jones was crazy!” You’re right. Jones was crazy. He was taking seriously something meant to be taken lightly, and he taking lightly something that was rather serious. But many who would laugh at Jones and call him crazy are doing the same thing on a far more serious matter.

Let me explain: The Bible proclaims the fact (which we celebrate today) that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, and that He appeared to a great number of witness over a 40 day period, giving many convincing proofs of His resurrection. Then He ascended bodily into heaven. The Bible also affirms that this risen Lord Jesus some day will return to judge all the living and the dead on the basis of their response to Him (Acts 10:42; 17-31).

That’s serious! What you do with the risen Christ now will determine where you spend eternity. Eternity means forever! Jesus said, “What will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

And yet most people spend the bulk of their time and efforts trying to gain the things of the world, which will perish, while neglecting their own souls and the souls of others, which are eternal. They are doing just what Jones did—they are taking seriously something that isn’t very important, and taking lightly something that is really quite serious.

If Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, it’s the most important fact in all history. Tremendous consequences hang on your response to the resurrection. It’s extremely important on this Easter Sunday and every day of your life that you understand why the resurrection of Jesus matters so that you take it seriously. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-19 Paul shows us why the resurrection matters.

1. The resurrection matters because it is true (15:1-11).

The resurrection is not a religious myth, which coincides with springtime to inspire us with hope and positive thinking. Rather, it is an historic fact that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the dead. It was a physical, not just a “spiritual” resurrection. To be sure, Jesus arose with a resurrection body, which has different properties than our earthly bodies, as Paul explains (15:35-49). But it was a body that could be seen and touched, that could eat and drink.

There are people in our day who say, “Well, if it helps you to believe in things like the resurrection, that’s fine. If it’s true for you, that’s great. But it’s not true for me.” But they misunderstand the nature of verifiable truth. The resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t something that’s true for some, but not for others. It’s like the law of gravity. You don’t have to believe that gravity is true for it to be true. It is true, whether you believe it or not. And it makes a great deal of difference whether you believe it or not if you’re standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and decide to jump off! Even so, it makes a great deal of difference whether you believe in the truth of the resurrection.

How can we know that the resurrection wasn’t just the invention of Jesus’ early followers? Paul is not exhaustive, but he lists a few evidences for the resurrection in 15:1-11.

A. The is the evidence of the prophetic Scriptures (15:4)

The Scriptures prophesied that the Messiah would be raised from the dead. In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted from Psalm 16 and showed how David referred to Christ: “You will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay” (see Acts 2:24-32). In our text, Paul refers to Christ’s resurrection as the “first fruits” (15:20, 23). In the Old Testament, the first fruits were presented to God on the day following the Sabbath after Passover (Lev. 23:9-14). Since Jesus the Passover lamb was lamb was slain on the Jewish Passover, His resurrection on the day after the Sabbath fulfills this scripture.

Other Old Testament Scriptures, when read in their context, clearly refer to the death and resurrection of Christ (Ps. 22:22ff. with Heb. 2:12; Isa. 53:10-12; Jonah, with Matt. 12:38-41).

Jesus Himself predicted on a number of occasions that He would be killed and raised up on the third day (Matt. 16:21; 17:9, 23; 20:19; 27:63; John 2:19). Since the Scriptures are accurate on hundreds of other prophecies, and since Jesus Himself is not known to lie, these prophecies lend weight to the fact of the resurrection. It was not a story that was made up after the fact by a bunch of dejected disciples. The death and resurrection of Jesus were in accord with God’s eternal plan.

B. There is the evidence of eyewitness testimony (15:5-8).

Paul lists a number of people who saw the risen Savior. None of these were expecting a resurrection, especially not Paul. The sheer number of witnesses argues against the possibility of hallucination. The moral integrity of the witnesses—men who gave the world its highest moral teaching—precludes the possibility of fabrication. To doubt the resurrection of Jesus you have to say that all of these witnesses were deceived or deceivers.

C. There is the evidence of changed lives (15:9-11).

Paul mentions his own transformation as exhibit A. He had been a persecutor of the church of God, but now he was pouring out his life on its behalf. We also know that Peter and the other apostles were transformed from depressed, fearful men after the crucifixion to joyful, courageous witnesses after the resurrection. It is hard to explain that change and their willingness to suffer for Christ even unto death, if they knew the resurrection to be a hoax.

And then there is the evidence of the changed lives of those who have believed through the witness of the apostles. The Corinthians had believed (15:11) and were transformed (6:9-11). Millions of others in every century and culture have testified to the life-changing power of the risen Savior.

The evidence is solid. We must begin by realizing that the resurrection matters because it is an historical fact: thus we must take it seriously.

2. The resurrection of Jesus matters because apart from it, the Christian faith is worthless (15:12-19).

The Corinthians were not rejecting the resurrection of Christ per se, but there were some that were saying that there is no such thing as the resurrection of the dead. Paul is showing them the logical consequences of the wrong belief. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised (15:13), and if that’s the case, a number of other things follow, which make the entire Christian faith worthless:

A. The Gospel is worthless (15:14a, 15).

“Our preaching is vain” (= “empty”). There is no substance to the gospel if Christ is not raised. Christianity may have some nice moral platitudes, but it simply takes its place among other powerless religions and ethical systems if you remove the living Lord Jesus.

Worse that that, all the New Testament writers would be lying if Christ is not raised. If they lied about something as crucial as that, how could you trust them as teachers of ethics? So you must throw out the entire Bible if Jesus Christ is not raised from the dead, because it would discredit those who wrote the Bible. Thus…

B. Believing the gospel is worthless (15:14b, 17).

Apart from the reality of the resurrection, faith is no good. Have you ever heard, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe”? That’s absurd. That’s faith in faith. Faith is only as good as its object. You can believe with all your heart that your car will fly. You can drive it over the edge of the Grand Canyon at 80 miles per hour, firmly believing that it will fly. But your believing it doesn’t make it true. If your car had been designed to fly, then believing that fact would be necessary for you to benefit from that feature. But faith is only as good as its object.

Why is it worthless to believe in Jesus if He is not raised from the dead? Because we have a sin problem. God is absolutely righteous and cannot accept us into His presence if we have any sin. Christ died on the cross as the substitute for our sins (15:3). If He is not risen, then His death is no different than any other death, and faith in Him is worthless. We would still be in our sins (15:17). Jesus must in fact be risen if our faith is to be of any effect with regard to our sin problem.

C. Hope beyond the grave is worthless (15:18).

Paul says that if Christ is not risen, then those who have fallen asleep (died) in Christ have perished. There is no ground for believing that your departed loved ones who had put their faith in Christ are in heaven, if Christ is not raised.

You hear a lot of false ideas about death. Many people have invented a god just a bit better that they are. Their theory about eternal life is, “If a person does the best he can and helps others and is a good person, then he’ll make it to heaven.”

Hear me carefully: Such an idea is diametrically opposed to the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament. Such thinking grossly underestimates the absolute holiness of God and the awful sinfulness of the human heart. It assumes that a person can be his own Savior, with just a little boost from God. Nothing is farther from the truth, and nothing could insult what Christ did on the cross more than that kind of thinking. If men and women can save themselves, do you think that Jesus Christ would have laid aside the splendor of heaven, taken on human flesh, endured the suffering He did at the hands of sinners, and died upon the cross?

The only reason He went to the cross is because that is the only way the justice and righteousness of God could be satisfied. It is the only way sinful people can be saved. If Jesus didn’t die on the cross for our sins and rise again on the third day, triumphant over the forces of evil and death, then there is no hope beyond the grave! Hope based on human theories about God and eternity is worthless. Our hope for eternal life for us and for our loved ones can only be built upon the death and resurrection of the sinless Savior who bore our sins.

Thus if Christ is not risen, the gospel is worthless; believing the gospel is worthless; and hope beyond the grave is worthless.

D. Your suffering and toil are worthless (15:19).

Have you ever thought, “Even if Christianity is not true—there is no God and nothing beyond this life—I would still want to be a Christian because of the good life it brings me now”? I have. Where else can you find a way of life that brings you as much joy and happiness as Christianity?

But we forget one factor, and we minimize another, when we think like that. We forget that we are not facing persecution on account of our faith. Paul was. If there is no God and no eternity, then why suffer for your faith? If Jesus is not risen, then why endure persecution? And we minimize the fact that we are called to live sacrificially and work hard for the cause of Christ. We American Christians are too soft. Biblical discipleship as Jesus presented it is costly. It involves giving of yourself, your time, and your money. It’s not the easy road. That’s why Paul says, “If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most to be pitied” (15:19).

What’s the bottom line if Jesus is not risen? Paul gives it in 15:32: “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” In other words, live for yourself and for pleasure now, because that’s all there is. As Peggy Lee sang a few years ago, “If that’s all there is my friend, then break out the booze and have a ball.”

I’m concerned that some of you may be thinking, “I believe in Jesus and the resurrection,” and yet, if you were to stop and examine your lifestyle, you would find that it is described by verse 32. You are living for yourself, or perhaps for yourself and your family. Your goal in life is to pursue personal comfort, pleasure and affluence. Your dream is to get a little nicer house, a newer car, and a few other trinkets to make life more enjoyable.

And God? The church? They fit into that scheme. To the extent that God and His church make you feel good and increase your happiness, you get involved. But in the final analysis, the controlling value in your life is personal happiness. But that’s how a person lives if the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not true! A person who truly believes in the risen Savior seeks first His kingdom and righteousness.

Be careful! If you claim to have been a Christian for a long time, but Christ and His kingdom are not central in your life, you may have believed in vain (15:2, 10)! If the grace of God and the fact of the risen Christ are a reality in your life, then, like Paul, you should be denying yourself and following Jesus, no matter how hard that may be. Paul labored hard for Jesus Christ as a result of his meeting with the risen Savior (15:10).

“But,” you say, “that was Paul, but I’m not Paul.” True, but look at 15:58. Paul’s conclusion, in light of the fact of the resurrection of Christ and His coming back (which stems from His resurrection, 15:50-54) is, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” That’s written to the whole church in Corinth—and in Flagstaff. Every believer—not just full time Christian workers—but every Christian, as a result (“therefore”) of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is to be involved in the work of the Lord. Work for the Lord is not in vain. It is the only source of true fulfillment.

Is the goal of your life to seek first the risen Savior’s kingdom? Or is it to work for your own happiness and fit in the Lord’s work when it’s convenient and doesn’t interfere with your happiness? Does the resurrection of Jesus Christ matter to you this morning? Or, like Jones, are you serious about something that really isn’t very important in the light of eternity—the things of this world: and not serious about something that is really quite important—the eternal destiny of your soul and of other souls for whom Christ died?


The resurrection of Jesus Christ matters because it is true and apart from it, the Christian faith is worthless.

A few years ago there was a TV game show called, “Let’s Make a Deal.” The contestants often had to choose between a prize that was visible to them or another prize which was concealed behind a curtain. The visible prize was usually a nice item, like and expensive stereo or TV set. Sometimes the unseen prize turned out to be an impractical gag gift, such as 10,000 boxes of toothpicks. But at other times the person chose the visible gift and discovered to their horror that they had passed up, behind the curtain, a new car worth thousands of dollars. Whenever that happened, you felt with the contestant that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach that comes from making a major wrong choice.

Each person here faces a far more serious choice: You can live for the things your see in this world and miss the unseen eternal prize or you can let go of the things of this world and pursue the eternal reward. God has told us in His Word that the eternal prize behind the curtain far outweighs any temporal prize you can pursue. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the sure evidence that what He taught is true. It is the central fact of history. If you base your life on it, you have a sure hope for time and eternity. If you pursue anything else, it will ultimately result in futility. Don’t be like Jones! Don’t take seriously something that doesn’t matter and take lightly the truth that matters most of all! Jesus is risen! You can build your life on that fact!

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you answer the person who said, “If Christianity works for you, that’s fine; but it isn’t for me”?
  2. Are those who claim to be Christians but who are living for self and this world “believing in vain” (15:2)? What does that mean?
  3. Why is it important to base your faith on truth rather than on “what Jesus can do for you”?
  4. Does 1 Cor. 15:58 mean that a Christian can’t pursue a “secular” career? How does it apply?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1993, All Right Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Easter, Faith, Resurrection, Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life

Easter [1994]: What To Do If The Resurrection Is True (Acts 17:30-34)

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April 3, 1994

Easter Sunday

A woman who works for the Internal Revenue Service was responsible to communicate with delinquent taxpayers. On one occasion, to get in touch with a man, she had to call Anchorage, Alaska, and was patched through to a ham operator in the Aleutian Islands. Two hours later the ham operator raised the taxpayer’s home base and from there reached him at sea with his fishing fleet. After identifying herself as being with the IRS in Utah, there was a long pause. Then over the static from somewhere in the North Pacific came: “Ha! Ha! Come and get me!” (Reader’s Digest, [10/82.)

A lot of Americans shrug off the idea of God’s judgment like that delinquent taxpayer shrugged off the IRS. I suppose they would agree that someday there will be a day of reckoning, but that seems far, far away. So they ignore it and go on about their lives.

These same folks would probably view Easter as an innocuous spring holiday. If you said the word “Easter” and asked them to tell you what words popped into their mind in association with it, you might hear things like resurrection, Sunrise Service, hope, springtime, flowers, Easter lilies, new clothes, Easter egg hunts, Easter bunnies, dinner with family and friends. It would never occur to them to connect Easter Sunday and God’s judgment on their sin. Easter has such a positive, upbeat connotation. Judgment has such a negative, unpleasant connotation. They don’t seem to go together.

But the Apostle Paul made just such a connection. In Acts 17:30-34, he is concluding his sermon to the philosophers in Athens. Paul takes a logical approach. He is saying,

If the resurrection is true, then judgment is a certainty; if judgment is a certainty, then repentance is a necessity.

The message of Easter is that Jesus Christ is risen bodily from the dead. Paul says that if Jesus is risen, then He is the judge of the whole world. This puts a demand on every person--each one must turn to God from sin (“repent”).

1. If the resurrection is true, then judgment is a certainty.

The whole thing hangs on the assertion that ...

A. The resurrection is true.

This is the foundation of Christianity. Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless ...” (1 Cor. 15:17). Christianity is not built on religious speculations, but on the revelation God has given of Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. The authenticating proof that Jesus is Lord and Judge is that God raised Him from the dead.

The proofs of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ are many and they have withstood the attacks of critics for almost 2,000 years. I can’t go into detail, but I briefly mention some of the proofs:

(1) The empty tomb--This fact is not disputed, even by critics. If the tomb had not been empty, when the disciples started preaching the resurrection of Jesus, the Jewish leaders would have marched to the tomb, produced the body, and the disciples would have been laughed out of town. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, there are several explanations of the empty tomb, none of which are plausible:

--Jesus’ enemies stole the body. But, they had no motive for doing so, and they would have produced it to quench the disciples’ preaching if they had known where it was. Besides, the tomb was guarded to prevent any theft of the body.

--The Roman guards stole the body. But they had no motive to do so. They didn’t care about this Jewish religious trial. If they had stolen the body, they could have sold it for a lot of money to the Jewish leaders, but that didn’t happen.

--The disciples stole the body. This was the theory the Jewish leaders tried to promote (Matt. 27:63-66; 28:11-15). But, the Roman guards would have prevented this. They would not have risked their lives (the penalty for not properly standing their watch) for a bribe. The disciples’ couldn’t have moved the heavy stone and stolen the body out from under the noses of the guards.

Besides, the disciples were too depressed, confused, and fearful to pull off a daring grave robbery. And if they had, would they have gone out and preached the resurrection, even with threats against their lives? In fact, the initial thought of the women and disciples was that someone had taken the body (John 20:13, 15). If they had confirmed that fact, they wouldn’t have preached as they did later on.

(2) The post-resurrection appearances--There were numerous appearances of Jesus to many of His followers in a variety of situations over the 40 days between His resurrection and ascension into heaven. These many witnesses could not possibly have fabricated their story. J. N. D. Anderson wrote:

The most drastic way of dismissing the evidence would be to say that these stories were mere fabrications, that they were pure lies. But so far as I know, not a single critic today would take such an attitude. In fact, it would really be an impossible position. Think of the number of witnesses, over 500. Think of the character of the witnesses, men and women who gave the world the highest ethical teaching it has ever known, and who even on the testimony of their enemies lived it out in their lives. Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence--and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication they were trying to foist upon the world. That simply wouldn’t make sense. (Cited by Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, p. 233.)

Anderson’s quote leads to a third proof:

(3) The changed lives of the witnesses--None of this depressed, confused, fearful band were expecting a resurrection. And yet they were all transformed into bold, committed witnesses who gave their lives to preaching that Jesus was raised from the dead. Paul himself was transformed from a vicious persecutor of the church and hater of Gentiles to the dedicated apostle to the Gentiles after he saw the risen Jesus Christ on the Damascus road.

That’s just a quick overview of some of the evidence for the resurrection. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well if the evidence is so convincing, why don’t more people believe it?” The answer is: People refuse to believe in the resurrection because it has moral implications. If Jesus is risen, He is Lord. If He is Lord, then I have no right to continue rebelling against God by running my own life. The main issue in unbelief is never intellectual; it is always moral. If Jesus is risen, then I must turn from my sin, because He is going to judge the world. If the resurrection is true, then ...

B. Judgment is a certainty.

Paul notes three certainties (17:31) with regard to the judgment: A certain day, a certain standard, and a certain Man.

(1) A Certain Day--God “has fixed a day ....” We look around and see wickedness going unpunished and think that sinners get away with their sin. But the court date is set in heaven: God has a certain day when He will judge the world! If we ask, “Why does God wait?” the answer is, “Because He is patient and merciful. He is giving those who have sinned against Him an opportunity to repent” (2 Pet. 3:9).

At the Mount Saint Helens visitor center in Washington, a film tells the story of the awesome eruption of that volcano in 1980. It shows the now famous longtime resident at Spirit Lake, an old man named Harry Truman, who disbelieved the warnings that the mountain was about to blow. He’s famous now, but dead and buried under hundreds of feet of lava, because he made the fatal mistake of thinking that just because that mountain had never erupted in his many years of living there, it never would.

Many people make that eternally fatal mistake when it comes to the warnings of Scripture about God’s judgment. Paul points out that God “overlooked the times of ignorance.” Perhaps you have been ignorant of the demands of God’s absolute righteousness; you haven’t been aware of your own sin; you haven’t known about God’s means of forgiveness. If He had judged the world before now, you would have been lost. But don’t wait--the day is certain!

(2) A Certain Standard--“He will judge the world in righteousness.” Many think that God will grade on the curve, that only the scum of the earth will fail. Just last month I heard on National Public Radio about a recent Gallup Poll in which 60 percent of Americans say they believe in hell, but only four percent think there’s a good chance that they will go there. We don’t think we will go to hell because we compare ourselves with other people and we don’t stack up too badly. We assume that God grades on the curve, so everything will be okay.

Years ago, when poet Robert Frost taught at Amherst College, he detested semester exams and grading, but since it was mandatory, he complied. But he made the tests as easy as he could. Once he asked only one question: “What good did my course do you?” and requested brief replies. One student wrote, “Not a dam bit!” “Did you pass him?” asked a friend. “Yes,” said Frost, “I gave him a 90.” “Why not 100?” the friend asked. “He left the ‘n’ off damn.”

Many think that God will be an easy grader, like Robert Frost. Unless we’re horribly bad people, the judgment won’t be any sweat. But God’s standard is His own character--absolute righteousness! That character is reflected in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. Many people think that they live up to this standard. But have you ever thought about how impossibly high that standard is?

Take the first commandment: Can you look at your life and honestly say that you have not in the past and you do not now have any gods before the One True God? Or take the simple “Golden Rule”: Can you say that you always do unto others as you would have them do unto you? If not, you’ve broken the two commands that sum up God’s holy standard: You have not loved God with all your heart and you have not loved your neighbor as yourself. God’s certain standard is His own righteousness. Unless you somehow satisfy that standard, you have much to fear when that certain day of judgment comes around!

There is a certain day and a certain standard.

(3) A Certain Man--“Through a Man whom He has appointed.” That may seem strange--usually we think of God as the judge, not man. But the final Judge is both. The Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal God who took on human flesh through the virgin birth. Jesus said that the Father had given all judgment to Him, the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father (John 5:22-23). Jesus Christ is both the perfect standard for judgment, in that He lived a perfectly righteous life; and, the perfect Judge, who in His deity knows the very thoughts and intentions of our heart. Every wrong thought we’ve ever had will be exposed to His gaze!

Thus, since the resurrection is true, judgment is a certainty. And if you say, “All I ask is that God be fair with me,” you don’t realize what you’re saying! If God is fair, you will go straight to hell, because you have violated His righteous standard many times over. If you went into a court of law, even in our lenient justice system, with thousands of counts against you, how do you think you would fare? Never ask God for fairness. Every one of us, because of our sin, stands guilty many times over before God’s righteous standard.

What should we do? Should we run from God? Should we try to hide? Should we try harder? No, God has offered a remedy for our guilty condition:

2. If judgment is a certainty, then repentance is a necessity.

“God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent.” The word “declaring” should be translated “commanding.” It’s a word of authority, not just a helpful hint. Repentance may sound like an outmoded term. But if God is commanding “all everywhere” to repent, then we had better be clear on what it means! “All everywhere” is fairly comprehensive. It includes religious people, even decent folks who attend Easter church services. None of us are exempt from the requirement to repent.

The Greek word comes from two words meaning “to change one’s mind.” But the Bible is clear that repentance is more than intellectual--it means to turn to God from sin. It is a total change of orientation. If I were driving to Phoenix and “repented,” it means that I would turn around and drive back toward Flagstaff. All of us, because we’re sinners, live for ourselves. We run our lives with the goal of pleasing ourselves. To repent means that we turn from self and sin to God. Instead of thinking that our own efforts will put us in good stead on judgment day (which is the ultimate in pride!), we turn from our works to God’s provision for sin in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who bore the penalty for us. Instead of living for ourselves, we now live to please God.

Repentance is not separate from faith, but is actually a vital part of genuine faith (17:30, “repent”; 17:34, “believed”). Repentance and faith are the two sides of the coin of conversion. In order to turn to God for forgiveness, you must believe that what He says is true: That you have sinned and that Jesus Christ died for your sins. If you truly believe that, your life will be drastically different than before. You can’t hold onto your sin with one hand and reach out for God’s salvation with the other.

In his excellent book, Faith Works (Word, pp. 74, 75), Pastor John MacArthur writes,

The Western church has subtly changed the thrust of the gospel. Instead of exhorting sinners to repent, evangelicalism in our society asks the unsaved to “accept Christ.” That makes sinners sovereign and puts Christ at their disposal. In effect it puts Christ on trial and hands the judge’s robes and gavel to the inquirer--precisely opposite of what should be. Ironically, people who ought to be concerned about whether Christ will accept them are being told by Christians that it is the sinner’s prerogative to “accept Christ.” This modified gospel depicts conversion as “a decision for Christ” rather than a life-transforming change of heart involving genuine faith, repentance, surrender, and rebirth unto newness of life.

MacArthur goes on to quote A. W. Tozer, who wrote:

The trouble is that the whole “Accept Christ” attitude is likely to be wrong. It shows Christ [appealing] to us rather than us to Him. It makes Him stand hat-in-hand awaiting our verdict on Him, instead of our kneeling with troubled hearts awaiting His verdict on us. It may even permit us to accept Christ by an impulse of mind or emotions, painlessly, at no loss to our ego and no inconvenience to our usual way of life.

The Bible is clear that there is a false kind of faith, a mere intellectual agreement with the gospel that does not include repentance. Such “faith” does not save.

In the early 1950’s notorious gangster Mickey Cohen attended a meeting where Billy Graham was present. He expressed some interest in the message, so several who were there, including Dr. Graham, talked to him about spiritual matters. But he did not respond until some time later, when another friend urged him to invite Jesus Christ into his life. He professed to do this, but his subsequent life gave no evidence of repentance. When his friend tried to confront him on this, Cohen protested, “You didn’t tell me that I would have to give up my work and my friends!”

He had heard that so-and-so was a Christian entertainer, and another was a Christian actress, and another was a Christian politician. He thought he could be a Christian gangster and continue to run with his pagan friends in his pagan way of life! (Adapted from J. Edwin Orr, Christianity Today [1/1/82], pp. 24, 25.)

That is not saving faith! I must recognize that I am guilty before God’s standard of absolute righteousness. Also, I must understand that I can never earn God’s forgiveness by my own good works. I can’t help God out, since I deserve only His wrath because of my sin. But God, being rich in mercy sent Jesus Christ to die for my sins, thus maintaining His justice, but also enabling Him to extend a free pardon to every sinner who will take it. So I turn to God from my sins to receive that pardon. As a result, I seek to live the rest of my life to please the God who so loved me and gave Himself up for me. That’s saving faith!


Paul saw three different responses to his message that day. Some began to sneer (17:32). They didn’t believe in the possibility of a resurrection of the dead, which means they didn’t believe in God who alone is able to raise the dead. I hope not, but it is possible that some of you are scoffing at what I have said. I urge you not to shrug off this most serious matter! Others procrastinated. They said, “We shall hear you again concerning this” (17:32). But so far as we know, they never got that chance. The text says that “Paul went out of their midst.” They missed the opportunity to repent and believe. I urge you not to put off repenting and believing, since you may not get another chance!

But some joined Paul and believed (17:34). That is what I urge you to do—to join us who believe by believing yourself in the good news that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God offers a pardon for your sins. Having overlooked your time of ignorance, God is now commanding that you should repent. That’s what you need to do because the resurrection of Jesus is true!

Discussion Questions

  1. Some say, “I’d be a Christian even if there’s no resurrection of the dead, because it’s such a good life.” The apostle Paul disagreed (1 Cor. 15:12-19). Why?
  2. Why is it fatal to think that we’re good enough to merit heaven?
  3. Why is “inviting Jesus into your heart” or “accepting Jesus as your personal Savior” an inadequate presentation of the gospel?
  4. Some argue that to call sinners to repent is to add works to faith. Why is this not so?

Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Confession, Easter, Resurrection, Soteriology (Salvation)

Easter [1995]: How To Get Right With God (Romans 10:9, 10)

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April 16, 1995

Special Easter Message

A couple of years ago when we stopped by Zion National Park on our family vacation, we rented tubes for the kids to float down the Virgin River. It was great fun for them. Since I had sprained my ankle the day before, I sat on the bank with my ankle in the cold water, watching them float by. They finally prevailed on me to give it a try, and since it looked kind of fun, I limped upstream and launched off. What I didn’t realize is that some of the rapids could be kind of tricky to navigate, and I ended up getting dumped in the swift current a couple of times, which didn’t do my ankle any good!

I’d like each of you to picture yourself floating down a river. Some of you are in inner tubes, floating lazily along in the calm parts, enjoying the excitement of the rapids when you get to them. Others of you are going in more comfort, in a boat. Back at the place where you rented your tube or boat, there was an ominous warning sign that read, “WARNING! All who go down this river face the risk of going over a fatal waterfall, often without immediate notice. The company assumes no liability.” That sounded kind of scary, but since so many others were renting tubes and boats and having so much fun, you shrugged it off by thinking, “That’s probably just a disclaimer so the company won’t get sued.” So you launched off.

The river I’m speaking of is the river of life. Every one of us is floating down it, some just with the basics, some in style. The trip is generally enjoyable. Some get dumped in the rapids, but come up sputtering for air and get back on board. But every once in a while you see someone who hits the rapids, goes under, and never comes up. It troubles you for a while, but you figure, “I’m still floating and enjoying the ride.” So you put it out of your mind and keep cruising along. Once in a while you remember that warning sign back at the start and wonder what hidden dangers might be lurking around the next bend, but usually you shake the thought and keep floating along.

Suddenly you notice that the current has gotten much stronger. You’re moving quite rapidly downstream. And, you notice a noise that keeps getting louder and louder, until you can’t hear anything else. You see some who are trying desperately to paddle upstream, but it’s not doing them any good. Some others are simply yelling, “Help! Save me!” But you’ve heard from some others who were floating down the river that going over the falls is not all that bad. It’s just part of the natural cycle of things, and no one really knows what’s on the other side. So just accept it.

When it comes to floating down the river of life and facing the inevitability of death and of standing before God, the best advice you can get isn’t the philosophy of someone else heading downstream, who thinks that the falls aren’t all that bad. Nor is it best to follow the example of those who are rowing for all they’re worth to try to escape the inevitable or to deal with it in their own strength. Rather, what you need is someone who has already experienced the falls, who knows for sure what is on the other side, who can tell you how to get ready for it. You need someone with a sure word on how you can be ready to face God.

Jesus Christ is uniquely qualified to tell us what to expect in death and when we face God. He claimed to have come to this earth as one sent by God the Father. He died and was raised from the dead, and was seen in His resurrection by many reliable witnesses. He spoke authoritatively about how we can get ready to face the falls that surely lie ahead on the river of life.

One of those witnesses who saw the risen Lord Jesus was a man who formerly had been bitterly opposed to Him. After his encounter with the risen Christ, the apostle Paul later wrote that the entire Christian faith hangs on the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He said, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). That statement implies that our sins are a problem that need to be dealt with before God, and that they are in fact dealt with in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the text before us (Rom. 10:9, 10), that same apostle tells us how believing in the risen Lord Jesus gets us right with God.

We get right with God by believing and confessing that Jesus is the risen Lord.

In the context, Paul is talking about his deeply felt concern for his fellow Jews who needed to be right with God, but who in fact were mistaken on this most crucial matter. When Paul says that his prayer to God is for their salvation (10:1), we need to understand what that word salvation means. It is not a mild term. It does not mean that folks need to change their course slightly or that they need a little boost from God to help them cope. The only people who need to be saved are those who are hopelessly lost or in grave danger, who cannot deliver themselves. So when the Bible talks about the need for salvation, it is referring to a desperate situation where, if God does not intervene, those needing salvation will be eternally lost.

As Paul has shown earlier in the Book of Romans (chap. 3), every person, from the raw pagan to the most religious person on earth, is under God’s just condemnation for his sin and is desperately in need of God’s salvation. The pagan may not even realize the trouble he’s in. He’s just floating through life, enjoying the trip, not thinking too much about the falls ahead. The religious person may realize the impending problem, but he’s confident that by his own good works and efforts, he can solve it. But Paul has shown that both types are in big trouble, because they have sinned against a holy God.

In the case of the religious type, Paul acknowledges that they have a zeal for God, but it’s not according to knowledge (10:2). Contrary to popular opinion, it does matter what you believe. You can be as sincere as the day is long in believing that your car will fly you across the Grand Canyon. You believe it so sincerely that you drive your car toward the rim at 90 miles per hour. Your sincere belief will plunge you to your death, because it is not based on the truth. You can sincerely believe that because you’re a good person, you will get into heaven, but if that is not the truth, you will plunge into destruction.

The Jews were sincere in thinking that their good deeds along with their Jewish birthright (after all, they were God’s chosen people) would make them right with God. The fallacy in their thinking was, they didn’t understand God’s righteousness, nor did they submit to it (10:3). That is precisely the error of many “good” people in our day: They underestimate the absolute righteousness of God. They fail to see that God is so holy that even the most righteous person on earth would be consumed if he stood before Him, just as a spaceship would be consumed if it attempted to land on the sun. They overestimate their own righteousness by mistakenly thinking that their good deeds can qualify them for heaven. So Paul wrote these verses to show how people who think they’re pretty good, but who really are heading for the falls, can get right with God--get saved. (It also applies to those who know they’re in big trouble, who know they need to be saved.)

1. To get right with God, you must recognize that you’re wrong before God.

The Apostle Paul formerly thought that he was right with God. He was zealous in his practice of the Jewish faith. As a Pharisee, he was meticulous in keeping the Jewish rituals and ceremonies. He says he was “... a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness of the Law, found blameless” (Phil. 3:5, 6).

But like many who are religious, Paul mistakenly thought that righteousness is an outward matter of keeping a bunch of rules and regulations. He took great pride in his ability to do all these things. But in reality, God’s law is a matter of our hearts before Him. His holy standards, rather than justifying us, actually condemn us. The very first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exod. 20:3) convicts us all, because none of us have always put the living and true God in His rightful place in our hearts. The entire law, summed up in the two great commandments, to love God with all our being, and to love our neighbor as we do in fact love ourselves, does not exonerate us. It condemns us by revealing how far we fall short of God’s perfect standard.

So God’s law reveals His own perfect righteousness as well as the extent of our sin. It tells us of God’s judgment that we face because of our sin. Until this dawns on us, we won’t recognize our need of salvation. We’ll just cruise down the river thinking that things are fine, not recognizing the falls ahead. So the first step in getting right with God is to realize that, even if you’re a good person, a religious person, you’re wrong before Him.

2. To get right with God, you must recognize that you can never get right with Him by your own efforts.

This was the problem with the Jews of whom Paul is writing in these verses. They thought they could get right with God by keeping His law. In 10:5, Paul quotes Moses to show, “If you want to be right with God by keeping the law, then you’ve got to keep it perfectly. You’ve got to live by it entirely.”

The problem is, no one, not even the most religious person on earth, can do that. God’s law isn’t just an external matter. Even if it were, it would be virtually impossible to keep. But it’s a matter of the heart, and no one can do it. We’ve all pushed God aside and done what we’ve wanted to do. We’ve all had selfish, hateful, greedy, and lustful thoughts. And no amount of self-reformation can cure the problem or balance out the scales of God’s justice, because God has decreed that the wages of our sin is death. We’re all in that swift current, heading toward destruction, and it’s impossible by our own good works to row against it. Unless God intervenes, we will face His just condemnation for our sins. So if we realize that we are wrong before God and that we can never get right with Him by our own efforts, then we must look elsewhere for an answer. That answer is what Paul calls, “The righteousness based on faith” (10:6).

3. To get right with God, you must recognize that Christ has done for you what you could never do for yourself.

Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled God’s holy law and satisfied, in His death, the penalty of the law that we all deserve. Thus, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (10:4). This verse means that when you stand before God someday, either you must present to Him the righteousness of Jesus Christ, in whom you are trusting for right standing before God; or, you can present your own “righteousness,” which isn’t going to cut it!

Verses 6-8 are a bit confusing. Without going into detail, Paul is quoting somewhat loosely from Deuteronomy 30:12-14 to show that even under the law, salvation by grace through faith was readily available to the Jews. Since no one, not even Moses, could perfectly keep the law, God has always graciously offered to justify the person who has faith in God’s provision for his sins. As Moses wrote of Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, “He believed in the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).

Thus, to get right with God you must first realize that you’re wrong before God. Second, you must realize that you can never get right with God by your own works. Then, you must realize that Jesus Christ has done for you what you could not do for yourself, namely, He has made His perfect righteousness available to you by faith. How do we lay hold of Christ’s righteousness on our behalf, so that we can be saved?

4. To get right with God, you must believe and confess that Jesus is the risen Lord.

In verses 9 & 10 Paul explains how we can avail ourselves of the righteousness based on faith. Verse 9 states the principle, following the order of the quote from Deuteronomy in verse 8 (mouth, heart); verse 10 explains verse 9 in its logical order (believing first, then confession).

A. You must believe that Jesus is the risen Lord.

To get right with God, you must believe in your heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead. This encompasses, of course, the fact that Jesus died and the purpose for which He died. As Paul states (1 Cor. 15:3), “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” He was the fulfillment of what the Jewish sacrificial system pictured and pointed toward, namely, that for sins to be forgiven, there must be the shedding of blood, and that God accepts the blood of a proper substitute. Thus Jesus is the Lamb of God who shed His blood as the necessary payment to satisfy God’s justice. You must believe in this crucified and risen Jesus.

God put His stamp of approval on Jesus’ substitutionary death when He raised Him from the dead (Rom. 1:4). If He had not been raised, He could not save anyone from their sins. Thus Paul here mentions the resurrection, not to the exclusion of Jesus’ death, but because it includes His death and proves that it was acceptable to God as the just penalty for our sins.

Paul says that you must believe this truth of the resurrection. Faith is not some vague, nice notion that “for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows.” Faith has specific content regarding what God has revealed about Jesus’ death and resurrection. At the same time, faith is rooted not just in some religious ideas, divorced from verifiable history. Rather, biblical faith is rooted in the historical fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. So, the kind of faith that results in “righteousness” (right standing with God) and “salvation” (being delivered from God’s judgment) is based on a well-established historical fact, not on religious speculation.

To be saved, you must believe this truth in your heart. Biblically, the heart is not just the seat of the emotions, but refers to our whole person--intellect, emotions, and will. Thus biblical faith is more than just intellectual assent, although it includes that. It involves committing your total person, indeed, your eternal destiny, to the crucified, risen Lord Jesus as your only hope of right standing before God.

A lot of people believe in Jesus as the risen Savior in the same way they believe that seat belts in their car save lives. They believe in the concept, that it’s true; but they never buckle up. That kind of belief in seat belts doesn’t save you in the crunch. And mere agreement with the notion that Jesus is the risen Savior doesn’t save you from God’s judgment. You must personally avail yourself of what Jesus did for you when He died on the cross and was raised from the dead, so that you are counting everything in this life and in eternity on Jesus’ sacrifice (and it alone) being sufficient to put you in right standing before God. That’s what it means to believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead.

B. You must confess that Jesus is the risen Lord.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Wait a minute! I thought that we are saved by grace through faith plus nothing. Isn’t confession adding something to faith?” But those who argue in this manner do not understand the nature of genuine faith. We are saved by grace through faith apart from works, but faith that saves always results in works that give evidence of the authenticity of the faith. Thus Jesus promised that everyone who confesses Him before men, He will also confess before the Father in heaven, but whoever denies Him before men, He will deny that person before the Father in heaven (Matt. 10:33).

What is it that we are to confess? That “Jesus is Lord.” This means that the man (Jesus) is Yahweh, God (Lord). The word “Lord” points to His absolute sovereignty as the rightful ruler of this universe. It includes the personal aspect as well, that He is my Lord or Sovereign, with the right to rule my life. The idea that you can accept Jesus as your Savior without accepting Him as your Lord is absurd. To confess Jesus as Lord is to confess Him as your Lord.

One of the first ways a person should confess Jesus as Lord is by being baptized. The act of baptism is a public confession that a person has believed in Christ as Savior and Lord and pictures being identified with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection. Then we go on confessing Jesus as Lord by living a life pleasing unto Him and by bearing verbal witness as we have opportunity (1 Pet. 3:15).

In verse 9, Paul says that the result of confessing and believing in the risen Lord Jesus is, “You shall be saved.” But in verse 10, he distinguishes the results by saying that we believe, resulting in righteousness, and we confess, resulting in salvation. He is looking at the fact that confession, both initially and ongoing, verifies and confirms the inner faith we have in Christ, and he is focusing on the future aspect of salvation, especially, as mentioned by Christ, our future deliverance from God’s judgment when He confesses us before the Father because we have confessed Him on this earth (see 1 Pet. 1:9; Matt. 10:32-33).


Some people were touring a mint where coins are made. They came into the room where cauldrons were filled with molten metal. The tour guide told them that if a person were to dip his hand into water and then have someone pour the hot, liquid metal over his hand, he would not feel any pain or suffer injury. Then, turning to a couple, he suggested that perhaps they would like to prove the truthfulness of what he had just said. The husband quickly replied, “No, thanks, I’ll just take your word for it.” But his wife eagerly said, “Sure, I’ll give it a try!” She thrust her hand into a bucket of water and then held it out as the molten metal was poured over it. Just as the guide had said, it harmlessly rolled off. The guide turned to the husband and said, “Sir, you claimed to believe what I said, but your wife truly believed.”

Do you claim to believe that Jesus is the risen Lord, or do you truly believe, as evidenced by the fact that in your heart you are trusting in Christ alone to deliver you from God’s judgment? Is your faith revealed in a life that confesses that Jesus is Lord? If so, then you are right with God and need not fear facing Him some day.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can we help a person who senses no need for salvation to see his true condition?
  2. Someone says, “I believe God is loving and wouldn’t judge any sincere, good person.” How would you respond?
  3. Why is the belief that people are basically good and that their good deeds will save them so offensively wrong before God?
  4. What verses show that the idea that “Jesus is my Savior but He’s not my Lord” is dangerously flawed? (Try 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Eph. 5:5-6 for starters.)

Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Confession, Easter, Resurrection, Soteriology (Salvation)

Easter [1996]: The Most Important Question In The World (Mark 8:27-33)

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April 7, 1996

Special Easter Message

If you could receive the answer to any question, what would that question be? That’s another way of asking, “What is the most important question in the world for you?”

If you’re young and single, that question might be, How can I be popular? Or, How can I get a particular boy or girl to like me? If you’re facing graduation the question may be, What career should I pursue? Whom shall I marry? For those who have been married a few years, it might be, How can I have the kind of fulfilling marriage I long for? How can I properly raise my children? Or, How can I find a satisfying job? For those further along, it might be, How should I plan for retirement? What should I do with the final years of my life?

All of these are important questions. But none is the most important question you could ask. The reason is that the answer to all of these questions ultimately rests on your answer to another question: Who do you say Jesus is? You may be thinking, “That’s an abstract, irrelevant theological question if I ever heard one!” But, what you think of Jesus will determine whether you receive or reject Him as your Savior and Lord. If Jesus truly is the Lord and Savior, and you recognize that and follow Him, then you have a basis for answering all of the other fundamental questions in life. If you have not grasped the meaning of that most basic question, then you have no consistent basis to grapple with all of life’s other pressing questions. Also, your relationship with Christ affects not only your life on this earth, but your eternal destiny. So,

The most important question in the world is: Who do you say Jesus is?

Jesus put that question to His disciples as they traveled near Caesarea Philippi, about 25 miles north of the sea of Galilee. Jesus was seeking to bring the disciples to a more clear knowledge of who He is: the Messiah (Christ, = “Anointed One”) sent by God. In one sense, they had believed that from the beginning. When Andrew first told his brother Peter about Jesus, he said, “‘We have found the Messiah’” (John 1:41). But they still were confused about what that meant. Jesus had brought them to this point of outward confession. But, they still had a ways to go.

Mark 8:31 is a hinge verse in this Gospel. The first half of Mark emphasizes Jesus as the Son of Man who came to serve; the second half emphasizes that He came to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). From this point, Jesus began to teach the disciples about His coming death and resurrection. Three times in chapters 8, 9, and 10, Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to be killed and raised from the dead (8:31; 9:31; 10:33, 34), but the disciples didn’t get it. Jesus follows each of these predictions of His death with a call to discipleship, to self-denial and servant-hood. Mark wrote his gospel initially for suffering Christians in Rome. If they were going to endure persecution and be faithful to the Lord Jesus, it was crucial that they understand who Jesus truly is as He revealed Himself. The matter is just as relevant for us if we want a faith that remains strong, even through trials. So I want to explore with you some of the ramifications of this most important question, “Who do you say Jesus is?”

1. The question has an objectively correct answer.

I mean, only one answer is correct. It is not, “Jesus, however you conceive Him to be.” A person may say, “For me, Jesus is always accepting and loving.” One popular TV preacher says he likes Jesus because He is always a positive person. But Jesus isn’t whatever you want Him to be. There is a single correct answer to the question. And that answer is not based on subjective feelings or personal opinions, but on objective truth.

This is important to affirm because we live in a day when people think that spiritual truth is not objectively true. Rather, they see it as existentially true. They do not view spiritual truth in terms of propositional revelation, where God has spoken to us in the Bible in language we can understand. Nor do they see spiritual truth in terms of verifiable history, centered in the historical Jesus of Nazareth, whose teaching, miracles, death and bodily resurrection are reported in the New Testament by eyewitnesses.

Rather, our generation views spiritual truth in terms of each person’s experience of it. As such, it is not verifiable. If it’s true for you, then it’s true. If your spiritual experience is different from mine, one is not necessarily right and the other wrong, even if they contradict one another. They can both be true, according to the existentialist view of truth, because spiritual truth is determined by personal experience, not by objective, verifiable means.

The way this filters into the church is that people are encouraged to “invite Jesus into their hearts.” They are promised that He will help them with their problems. But in many cases they have no idea who Jesus really is or what He came to this earth to do as revealed in the Bible. But, they prayed or walked the aisle. Maybe it was even accompanied by tears. At first, they felt better and thought their problems would go away. But then, some problems got worse and they didn’t understand why Jesus wasn’t “working.” So they fall away. At the heart of this sort of defection is a faulty concept of the nature of spiritual truth, especially concerning the person of Jesus Christ. The person who professed to believe never knew who Jesus really is.

Thus it’s important at the outset to affirm that the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” has one correct answer and many incorrect or partially correct answers. It is not just a matter of personal opinion or preference, where any answer is as good as the next. A wrong answer can be eternally fatal!

2. The question divides people.

This is always the case with objective truth. It divides people into opposing camps. Like Peter and the disciples, you may have to go against public opinion to arrive at the correct answer concerning Jesus.

I wonder if you’ve ever thought about how difficult it must have been for the disciples to commit themselves to Jesus as the Christ. For centuries, faithful Jews had been waiting and looking for God’s promised Messiah. Many lived and died without seeing that hope fulfilled. Sometimes prophets came on the scene, raising hopes that they might be the Messiah. But they died and the people kept waiting. Then, suddenly this young carpenter from Nazareth began preaching and performing miracles. Could He be the one? He certainly didn’t fit everyone’s image of what Messiah would be like. But the disciples committed themselves to Jesus as that long-awaited Messiah.

Remember, they didn’t have 1,900 years of church history to confirm their faith, as we do. They were the first ones to say, “This is the One!” And they had to say it in the face of public opinion that didn’t agree with them. This fact is underscored by the contrast between Jesus’ first question, “Who do people say that I am?” and His second question, “But who do you [emphatic in the Greek] say that I am?”

The disciples had to stand against three public currents to affirm their conviction that Jesus is the Christ. First was the Roman government, which didn’t care if Christians worshiped Jesus as long as they also affirmed Caesar as Lord. But the disciples insisted, “No, Jesus is the only Lord!” That narrow view cost many of them their lives. In the same way, if you take your stand with the disciples in affirming Jesus as the only way to God, you will have to go against the pagan culture of our day. People don’t mind if you hold your personal beliefs in Jesus, just so that you don’t contend that He is the only way! That’s too narrow and dogmatic. I saw a bumper sticker that said, “If you’re against abortion, don’t have one.” The idea is, “You can have your personal views of morality, but don’t tell me that my behavior is sin. If you want to believe in the Bible, that’s your privilege, but don’t judge me for my beliefs!”

The disciples also had to go against the opinions of the Jewish religious crowd, who had varying notions of who Jesus might be. Some heard His powerful preaching against sin and thought of John the Baptist. Others saw Jesus’ miracles and were reminded of the powerful prophet, Elijah. Others thought He might be another of the prophets. All of these were perhaps flattering, but inadequate, ideas of who Jesus really was. The disciples had to stand apart from the Jewish religious crowd to affirm Jesus as Messiah and Lord.

In a similar manner, you may have to go against the Christian crowd of our day. Many who call themselves Christians have ideas about Jesus which fall far short of affirming Him as Lord and Christ. Some see Jesus as the all-tolerant, loving One, who never speaks against anyone’s sin. They seek to get their denominations to affirm sins such as homosexuality and abortion. Others use Jesus to endorse their worldly views of feminism or politics. Still others mix Jesus with some brand of pop psychology. You have to stand against these popular views of Jesus to confess Him truly as Lord and Christ.

The third, and most formidable, group the disciples had to oppose was the Jewish religious leaders (8:31). The disciples were not formally educated in the Hebrew Scriptures; these men were. The disciples had no public influence; these men were the recognized leaders in Israel. They were the interpreters of Moses, the guardians of the Jewish law. Who did this bunch of uneducated fishermen think they were to go against the common judgment of this august body of scholars?

You will often have to join the disciples in pitting your view of Jesus against the religious scholars of our day. Even some who call themselves evangelical deny the trustworthy nature of all Scripture. They interpret Jesus in light of the most recent “scholarship,” which invariably comes from men with an anti-supernaturalistic bias. One flagrant example is the recent “Jesus Seminar,” where a bunch of supposed scholars got together and voted on which sayings of Jesus were authentic. How did they determine this? They begin by assuming the gospels to be myth unless proven otherwise. From there they proceed with other dubious assumptions combined with pure subjectivism. Using their methods and assumptions, we could probably conclude that the members of the Jesus Seminar really didn’t say what they claim to have said! This question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” divides people. You must take your stand with the disciples.

3. The question has deepening levels of correct understanding.

Peter’s answer, “You are the Christ,” is certainly correct. But, Peter had a different conception of what that meant than Jesus did. Peter meant, “You are the promised Anointed One who will sit on David’s throne, subduing the nations under Israel’s feet.” That is quite correct when understood of Messiah’s second coming. But, in regard to His first coming, the more correct answer was, “You are the One Anointed by God to be crucified as our sin-bearer and raised from the dead by the power of God.” Jesus had to fulfill Isaiah 53 and other Scriptures which point to Messiah’s bearing the sins of His people before He would reign on David’s throne. Peter was correct, but he needed to come to a deeper level of correct understanding.

There is even a deeper level of correct understanding revealed here: “You are the crucified, risen Christ who is the Sovereign Lord.” Jesus’ prophecy (8:31) makes it plain that He did not die as a helpless victim. The Jewish leaders who crucified Him did not thwart God’s plan for Jesus to reign on David’s throne. They were guilty of the terrible sin of crucifying their Messiah, but at the same time, Jesus willingly offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. He was in sovereign control, even in His death. Peter later grasped this as he preached on the Day of Pentecost, “This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23).

One of the beautiful things about the Christian life is that you grow into deeper and deeper levels of understanding about the infinite, unfathomable, sovereign person of Jesus Christ. Do you know Him as your Savior? That’s great! You start there. But don’t stop there! There’s much more! If I could pick one place in history to return to, it would be to join those men on the Emmaus road that first resurrection Sunday, when the risen Lord Jesus, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27). All the seminary educations in the world could not compare with that one experience!

So, begin with knowing Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One of God, the Savior. But go on discovering all that He is as the Sovereign Lord of the universe. The joy of the Christian life is growing to know our Bridegroom more intimately.

4. The question reveals the state of our hearts.

This point is revealed by the Lord’s strong warning that the disciples tell no one and by Peter’s subsequent rebuke of Jesus and Jesus’ rebuke of Peter. Peter’s notion of Messiah meant power and dominion, not suffering, rejection, and death. So, when Jesus began to speak plainly about His coming death, it jarred Peter so much that he took Jesus aside to rebuke Him. But Peter’s rebuke drew from Jesus the strongest rebuke He ever gave to one of His followers: “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (8:33).

I think Peter was truly concerned about Jesus. He didn’t want Jesus to die. But his mistake was that he didn’t see things from God’s perspective. He wanted Jesus to spare Himself, not realizing that if He had done so, the cross, which secured our redemption, would have been subverted. It was the same temptation Satan put before Jesus when he showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and said, “All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4:9). So Jesus met Peter’s temptation the same way He met Satan’s: “Begone, Satan!”

The disciples were in sympathy with Peter, which is why Jesus addressed His rebuke so they all could hear (Mark 8:33). And that explains His strict prohibition that they tell no one that He was the Christ (8:30). Both the disciples and the Jewish people were looking for a political Messiah who would put a chicken in every pot and a donkey in every stable. But Jesus wasn’t sent by the Father to make everyone happy, so that they could go on living self-centered lives. He came to deal with the fundamental problem of the human race: sin. The essence of sin is our stubborn self-will that says to God, “I’ll run my own life, God. Just help me feel good when I need You.” The cross, where the Lord of Glory took the penalty we deserved, was the only divine solution for our sin problem.

A. B. Bruce said it well: “For the whole aim of Satanic policy is to get self-interest recognized as the chief aim of man” (The Training of the Twelve [Kregel], p. 180). For Jesus to have avoided the cross would have been for Him to seek His selfish interests. Satan would have triumphed. But Jesus came to do the will of the Father. That’s why He said, “The Son of Man must suffer” (8:31). He came to glorify the Father by being obedient, even to death on the cross. The “must” was the necessity of obedience to the Father’s will above all else.

So you can see how your answer to the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” reveals the state of your heart. If your Jesus is an Aladdin’s Genie whom you use to make you feel good, then your heart is in bondage to self and sin, not subject to Jesus as Lord. You actually are following the Jesus Satan tried to establish, not the Jesus sent by the Father. The Jesus sent by the Father was delivered up on account of our sins and was raised so that we could be right with God (Rom. 4:25). We who follow Him are also to die to ourselves and live to God (2 Cor. 5:15).

Through the trials we encounter, God is seeking to break us of our sinful self-will and make us subject to His will. Instead of living to please ourselves, He wants us to live to please Him. So when He challenges our will, if we submit to Him, we grow to be more like Jesus. If we resist His breaking process, we’re setting our minds on the things of man, not of God.

So tell me what kind of Jesus you follow and I’ll tell you where your heart is at. The Jesus of the Bible is the Christ of the cross. If anyone wishes to follow Him, he must deny himself and take up his cross (8:34). He is the risen Lord to whom all must submit. Until we understand that, we haven’t grasped the primary reason Jesus came to this earth.


What’s your answer to Jesus question: “Who do you say that I am?” You may be standing with the multitude, saying, “Jesus is a fine example, a great teacher. But He is not the Sovereign Lord of my life.” That is a terribly mistaken answer. You may be standing with Peter, saying correctly, “You are the Christ,” but not understanding the sort of Christ He really is. That’s an improvement over the first answer, but it is inadequate. You must stand with Jesus who came as God’s Anointed to bear your sins, who was raised in triumph over sin and death, who calls us to follow Him in obedience to the will of the Father. As Peter later preached, “God has made Him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). If you stand there, ready to do God’s will no matter what the cost, you have correctly answered the most important question in the world: Who do you say Jesus is?

If Jesus is not your sin-bearer and your Lord, I encourage you to read the Gospels with the prayer, “God, show me who Jesus is. If You show me that He is my Savior and Lord, I will follow Him.”

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you answer the person who said, “If Jesus works for you, that’s great, but He’s not for me”?
  2. Is it right to appeal to a person to believe in Jesus for the temporal benefits they will receive?
  3. What expectations of Christ did you have which He has not fulfilled? Were they biblical expectations?
  4. Discuss: “The whole aim of Satanic policy is to get self-interest recognized as the chief aim of man.”

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Easter, Resurrection, Soteriology (Salvation)

Easter [1997]: Hope For Troubled Hearts (Luke 24:13-35)

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March 30, 1997

Easter Sunday Message

If you have lived for very long at all, you have been disappointed by God. I am not implying in any way that God was somehow at fault. He is perfect in all His dealings with us. But because of our limited understanding and perspective, we felt as if God let us down. It may have been through the untimely death of a parent, a child, a mate, or another loved one. Maybe it was through a painful divorce that took place in spite of your fervent prayers against it. Perhaps you lost your job and were gradually worn down as every door slammed shut in your face. Maybe it’s a personal matter that you have prayed about for years, but God has not answered. Whether major or minor, we all have had times when we were disappointed by God.

That is exactly where two weary travelers were at as they trudged along the dirt road from Jerusalem to Emmaus on that first Resurrection Sunday. Jesus tragically had been crucified and His disciples were confused and shocked. It seemed like a colossal triumph for the Jewish religious leaders and a sad defeat for this great man in whom they had put their hopes. As these two travelers walked along talking about these things, a stranger caught up with them. He was really not a stranger--He was the risen Lord Jesus--but the text states that “their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him” (24:16). The passive voice of the verb suggests that God had closed their eyes from recognizing Jesus. There were some lessons about trusting in the written Word of God which these men needed to learn before their eyes were opened to recognize the living Word who was present with them.

Jesus asks the two men (or, it could have been a man, Cleopas, and his wife) some questions to draw them out. Remember, whenever the Lord asks questions of someone, it’s not because He is lacking knowledge! He wants the men to reveal their need so that they are ready for what He wants to teach them. They reveal their deep disappointment both by their sad demeanor (24:17) and their plaintive words, “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (24:21). Even the fact of the empty tomb, which should have given them great hope, just added to their disappointment. “We were hoping ....” These men had been disappointed by God!

The Lord does two things with these men before He opens their eyes to see who He is: He rebukes their lack of faith in the Scriptures, which spoke of Him; and, behind their faith was a lack of knowledge, which He supplies by explaining to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. You cannot properly believe in that of which you’re ignorant. But, knowledge alone is inadequate; it must be coupled with faith in Jesus Christ. These two elements, then, are the key to replacing disappointment in God with hope:

If you have been disappointed by God, you will find hope by knowing and believing in the risen Savior.

1. If you have been disappointed by God, you will find hope by knowing the risen Savior.

These two men from Emmaus knew more about Jesus than most of us do, because they had personally heard Him teach, had seen many of His miracles, and probably had witnessed the crucifixion. But even so, their knowledge of Jesus was lacking in some crucial areas, which the Lord graciously began to supply.

The men knew that Jesus was “a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people” (24:19). That assessment of Jesus was correct in so far as it went; it just did not go far enough. Jesus was not just a prophet; He was the Prophet, the one predicted by Moses (Deut. 18:15) who was the fulfillment of all that Moses and the other prophets wrote about. Just as the prophets in the Old Testament spoke for God, so did Jesus, only more so. They were mere men who could only speak the word of the Lord as He chose to reveal it to them. But Jesus was God in human flesh, one with the eternal Father. The apostle John referred to Jesus as the eternal Word. Just as our words reveal our unseen thoughts, so Jesus, by His words, His works, and His Person, revealed the unseen God (John 1:18).

Of Himself Jesus proclaimed, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the one who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (John 7:16-18). Not even the greatest of the Old Testament prophets could make such bold claims! Yes, Jesus was “a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people,” but He was more than a prophet; He was the very Word of God, one with the Father, who said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

The men from Emmaus also had partial knowledge when they stated, “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (24:21). Luke is using irony, since through the cross Jesus had in fact redeemed, not only Israel, but people from every nation. But these men were thinking of the Jewish hope that God would send His Messiah who would deliver Israel from all her enemies and usher in an age of prosperity and blessing.

Jesus had said of Himself that He came “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The Greek noun translated “ransom” is related to the verb, “redeem,” and means the release of something or someone held captive by the payment of a price, or by a substitutionary offering (see Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross [Eerdmans], chap. 1). Paul uses the verb with reference to Christ when he says that He “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). Peter uses the same word when he says, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).

This concept of Jesus Christ offering Himself as the redemption price for our sins has several implications. First, it shows us that God demands that the just penalty for sins be paid. In His absolute righteousness, God cannot just dismiss the charges against us. The wages of sin is death, eternal separation from God. The penalty must be paid or God is not just.

Second, it shows us that we are in great need. Without a Redeemer, we are in bondage to sin, unable to free ourselves. If left unto ourselves, we would face God’s just judgment and eternal condemnation for our many offenses against His holiness. You may be oblivious to your need, but that does not diminish the fact or the urgency of your condition before God. The very words the Bible uses--Savior, lost, redeemed--are extreme words.

The imagery that would have come to the mind of a person living in biblical times when the word “redeem” was mentioned would have been that of slavery. The slave was in a horrible situation. He was a piece of property to be used for the purposes of his master. He could not do what he wanted with his life. He was totally at his master’s mercy, even if the master decided to work him to death or to kill him in anger. As such, the slave was desperately needy and helpless. His only hope was that a wealthy benefactor would pay the price of redemption and then grant him his freedom. Even so, if you are outside of Jesus Christ, you are enslaved to sin, hopelessly lost, and unable to do anything about your desperate situation.

Third, the idea of Jesus as the Redeemer shows that He offered His own blood as the necessary sacrifice for the sins of all who will trust in Him. When Jesus, beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, explained to these men the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures, He no doubt began with God in the garden shedding the blood of the animals so that Adam and Eve could be properly clothed in His holy presence. He told them that Jesus was the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). He explained how the ram caught in the thicket which God provided so that Abraham could spare Isaac pictured His sacrifice for sinners. He took them through the sacrificial system of Israel, and showed them how it all pointed forward to Him. No doubt, among many other Scriptures, He took them to Isaiah 53:6-12:

All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.

No doubt Jesus explained how the Christ had first to suffer death as the guilt offering for His people, and then enter into His glory through the resurrection. It must have been the most marvelous conversation in all history, to hear Jesus explain the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures!

Jesus would have explained how He was not only the crucified Redeemer, but, also, He was the risen Redeemer! The Scriptures had predicted both His death and resurrection. But also He had predicted His own rising from the dead after three days before it all came to pass. These two men seemed to remember something of the significance of “the third day” (24:21), but they didn’t get it quite yet. The empty tomb should have tipped them off, especially when accompanied by the testimony of angels who reminded the women, “Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again” (24:6-7). But these men were not expecting the crucifixion, much less a resurrection, and they were hesitant to believe the testimony of a bunch of impressionable women!

The point is, these men who were disappointed by God needed a fuller knowledge of who Jesus Christ is as revealed in the Scriptures. Did you notice the repetition of the word “all” in our text? These men were “slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken” (24:25). Jesus, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets ... explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (24:27). They had believed in the part of the Scriptures that foretold Messiah’s glory, but they had overlooked the parts that tell of His suffering.

We’re so much like them. We love the parts of the Bible that promise blessings, but we somehow don’t notice all the parts that talk about suffering. A few years ago, I was going through a time when I was being slandered and unfairly criticized. As I was reading through the Psalms during that time, I noticed for the first time the many references that David made to his being slandered. Those references had been there all the dozens of times I had read the Psalms before, but I didn’t notice them until I was in that situation. And, I realized, many of those references about David were really speaking about the Son of David, Jesus Christ, who was maligned more than any man. So in my time of trial, I came to know more of Christ through reading the Word.

So if you find yourself disappointed by God, get into your Bible and ask God to reveal more about the Lord Jesus to you as you read. “Since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:18). If you have been disappointed by God, you will find hope in knowing the risen Savior more deeply.

2. If you have been disappointed by God, you will find hope by believing in the risen Savior.

Faith is built on proper knowledge. Biblical faith is not a blind leap in the dark. You would be foolish to believe in something you know nothing about. If you do not know what the Scriptures say about the Lord Jesus Christ, read your Bible and ask God to open your eyes to the truth. As Jesus said (John 7:17), if you are willing to do His will, you will know of the teaching whether it is of God or whether Jesus was just speaking on His own authority. But then, once you know, you must commit yourself in faith to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

We often excuse unbelief as a common weakness, but the Lord views it as a terrible sin for which we are responsible. Jesus here rebukes these men quite strongly: “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe ...!” He often confronted the disciples with the words, “O you of little faith” (Matt. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). When we doubt God and His word of promise to us, we are calling into question His love, His faithfulness, and His power.

The apostle John argues, “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for the witness of God is this, that He has borne witness concerning His Son” (1 John 5:9). He is pointing out the common fact, that we believe in sinful, fallen men every day of our lives. When you ate your breakfast this morning, you did not run a chemical analysis to make sure that it had not been poisoned at the food processing plant. When you drive your car, you trust that the mechanic has not sabotaged your brakes. When you deposit a check in the bank, you trust that the teller is not going to put your money in her account, or that the bank isn’t depositing it in a secret Swiss bank account. We trust men every day; shouldn’t we trust God?

The sin of unbelief is also seen in that we are much more prone to trust in ourselves than to trust in the living God. If you ask people, “Why should God let you into heaven?” the vast majority will reply that He should let them into heaven because they are basically good, sincere people and that they believe in Him. The bottom line is, they are trusting in their own goodness, sincerity, and even in their own belief, but they are not trusting in Jesus Christ alone for right standing before God. But the Bible makes it clear that even the best of us have nothing in ourselves to qualify us for heaven. We must renounce all faith in ourselves and trust in Jesus Christ alone to be saved from hell. And yet we sinfully persist in faith in ourselves rather than faith in Christ.

The British preacher, Spurgeon, pointed out that the sin of unbelief is seen in that we are more prone to believe Satan than we are to believe in God. Satan comes and whispers in your ear that the Bible is not true, or that God is not loving and merciful, that He doesn’t care about you and your problems, and you are quick to believe those lies rather than to trust in God’s provision in Jesus Christ (Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia [Baker], 15:69).

The testimony of these dejected men from Emmaus is only one of many witnesses to the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. God has given us solid evidence on which to rest our faith. It is not only foolish, but it’s a sin for which we are liable, if we reject the witness of God and instead believe in ourselves or in the lies of skeptics. If you have been disappointed by God, you will find hope by putting your trust in the risen Savior.


I want to conclude with four observations and applications:

(1) The Lord is near to you in your disappointment even though you do not know it--Be encouraged! These men on that dusty road thought that Jesus was dead and gone, when in fact, He was the one walking with them as they talked, though they did not recognize Him at first. When you’re disappointed or discouraged, you may think that the Lord is a million miles away, but if you are one of His flock, even though you are being faithless and do not see Him, He is there with you. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us.

(2) The Lord is ready to listen to your troubles--Tell Him! Jesus drew near to these men and asked questions in order to get them to talk about their disappointment. Even though God knows all our needs, He invites us to pour out our hearts before Him: “Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).

(3) The Lord may have to rebuke before He heals--Be receptive! These men could easily have taken offense at Jesus’ strong rebuke and said, “Who does this man think he is, to call us foolish and slow of heart to believe?” But instead they were receptive, and as a result they were greatly blessed. Spurgeon says that when the Lord rebukes us, we should see it as His love, scarcely disguised, and reply, “Master, say on.” He says that if Jesus calls us foolish, we should wonder that He doesn’t say something worse about us (ibid., p. 60)!

(4) The Lord is waiting to be entreated by you--Ask Him to come in! As these men and Jesus approached their village, we read that Jesus acted as though He would keep going farther (24:28), but these men urged Him to stay with them, and He did. It was only then that their eyes were opened to see that it was the risen Lord at their table. Even though you may not see clearly, and the Lord must open your eyes to the truth--you cannot do it yourself--perhaps your heart, like the hearts of these men, has been burning in you even as I’ve been speaking. It is the Lord, though you did not recognize Him at first. He wants you to entreat Him to come into your life, to stay with you. When you entreat Jesus to come into your heart as Lord and Savior, He will open your eyes to see who He really is.

If you have been disappointed by God, it is not because God has failed. The solution is to know and believe in the risen Savior. Pour out your troubles to Him. Get into your Bible and learn more of Him. Entreat Him to abide with you. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is unbelief such a serious sin? How can we avoid it?
  2. What would you say to a person who said, “I just can’t believe all those myths in the Bible”?
  3. Why is biblical faith not a leap in the dark? How much knowledge must a person have in order to believe?

Copyright 1997, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Easter, Resurrection, Soteriology (Salvation)

Easter [1998]: Hope For All Who Have Failed (Mark 16:7)

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April 12, 1998

Special Easter Message

If you’ve never failed God, this message is not for you. But if you’ve ever promised God something, but not done it; if you’ve ever resolved to overcome some besetting sin, only to blow it repeatedly; if you’re plagued with guilt over sins that have defeated you; then, today I offer you genuine hope from God.

Mark’s record of the resurrection inserts two short words that offer hope to all who have failed God: “and Peter” (Mark 16:7). The angel at the empty tomb tells the women, “But go, tell His disciples and Peter, …” Why did the angel add, “and Peter”? I am sure that the risen Lord told him specifically to include those words. Peter, who had miserably denied the Lord! Peter, who had boasted of his allegiance to Christ, but who had failed worse than any of the other disciples had failed!

“And Peter”—How those words rang in Peter’s ears! You can be sure that the angel said those words. Peter couldn’t have forgotten the scene. The women had reported to the disciples the news of the resurrection. There was Peter, slumped in the corner, in the gloom of depression. But at the words, “and Peter,” he perked up. “What did you say? Are you sure that the angel said, ‘and Peter’? Tell me again! Were those his exact words?”

Scholars affirm that Mark’s Gospel was written largely under Peter’s influence. Picture Mark, quill in hand, writing, “Go, tell His disciples.” There’s Peter looking over his shoulder, saying, “‘And Peter!’ Mark, my son, don’t forget to write, ‘and Peter!’” Remember, this is the same Mark who had failed Paul on the first missionary journey. Yes, you can be sure that the words are accurate. Those two short words say to us this Easter morning:

The risen Savior offers hope to all who have failed God.

From Peter’s life, I offer three insights on how the risen Savior can turn our failures into hope.

1. Failure cannot be hidden from the risen Savior’s gaze.

Since Adam’s first sin, the automatic human reflex to failure has been to try to hide from God. It’s irrational; it’s impossible; but we still try to do it. But, please observe:

A. Jesus noticed Peter’s failure before it happened.

You will recall that Jesus had predicted Peter’s denial prior to the event (Mark 14:29-31). Peter had insistently denied that he would do such a thing. But that which surprised Peter was no surprise to the Lord. He knew Peter better than Peter knew Peter.

B. Jesus noticed Peter’s failure when it happened.

Luke’s Gospel records the awful scene when Jesus was enduring the mock trial and Peter, in the courtyard outside, was denying Him. While Peter was still speaking, a cock crowed. Then Luke adds the chilling words, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61). What a look that must have been! It communicated more than words ever could do! Both love and reproof were bound up in that look. Peter went out and wept bitterly.

C. Jesus noticed Peter’s failure after it happened.

This is indicated in our text in the words, “and Peter.” The Lord didn’t pretend that Peter’s failure had never happened. He didn’t shrug it off or ignore it. He acknowledged Peter’s failure after the fact by those words, “and Peter.”

We cannot hide our failures from the risen Savior’s gaze. He knows more about us than we know about ourselves. He knows every rotten thought we have before we think it. He knows every terrible thing we say before we say it. He knows how we will fail Him next week and next year. He knows our failures as we are committing them. He doesn’t overlook them and He doesn’t want us to overlook them. He wants us to confess our sins, not cover them.

Has the Lord ever reminded you right in the middle of some sin that He is watching? I once read a story about the revivals in Ethiopia during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Food was scarce because of the war and the plundering by soldiers. One Ethiopian Christian had to leave his family to find work. He was coming home after a year with his entire wages of $25 when some robbers took his money. Angry, he shelved his Christian testimony and went to the house of a powerful witch doctor named Alemu, to get him to put a curse on the robbers.

For years Alemu had confined himself to the darkness of his house, not bathing or cutting his hair. As soon as the Christian man entered his house, Alemu sensed that a spiritual power was present. Before the man could speak, Alemu demanded the name of his god. Embarrassed, the Christian started to explain that he had come to ask for a curse to be put on the men who had robbed him. But Alemu was not interested. He only wanted to know about the spiritual power that had entered his house.

So, very embarrassed, the Christian man recovered his senses and told Alemu about Jesus Christ. When he told him that Jesus had been raised from the dead, Alemu became greatly excited. It was the simple answer he had sought so long—there was someone greater than Satan. He became a believer and went on to start a church and to become its leader. (Told by Raymond J. Davis, The Winds of God [SIM], pp. 19-20.)

Even if we think that we get away with our sin at the moment, the Lord will not let us forget it later. He has ways of bringing it to our attention until we deal with it. So the words “and Peter” tell us that failure cannot be hidden from the risen Savior’s gaze. We’re fooling ourselves if we think that we can hide it. We need to confess it to the Lord immediately. That is always the first step to recovery when we’ve failed.

You may be thinking, “Well, the news that I cannot hide my failure from the risen Savior’s gaze doesn’t fill me with much hope.” But hang on! The words “and Peter” also show us:

2. Failure cannot separate us from the risen Savior’s love.

I can say that because . . .

A. Peter’s failure was as bad as any failure can be.

I don’t mean to dump on poor Peter. It could just as easily have been you or me. We all would blow it just as badly if we were in the same situation. So I’m not criticizing Peter as if he was worse than we are.

But it would be hard to conceive of a way of blowing it worse than Peter did. He had spent three years almost constantly in the presence of Jesus. He had heard Jesus teach. He had seen Him perform miracles. He was in the inner circle of the twelve. He had been in the room when Jairus’ daughter was raised from the dead. He had seen Jesus in His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. And if Jesus ever needed the support of human friends, it was during the dark night of Gethsemane and the events that followed.

To make matters worse, Peter knew that the last words Jesus had heard him speak were words of denial during Christ’s moment of need. It is an awful thing to live with the memory that your last words to a loved one were not what you wanted them to be. Peter spent a dark Saturday with the memory that the final words Jesus heard him speak were words of awful denial.

By including Peter’s example in Scripture, the Lord shows that there is hope for us even at our worst moments of failure! Some of you may know Christ as Savior, but you have done something awful. You are ashamed to tell anyone. You feel as if you can never face the Lord or His people again. But your failure is not worse than Peter’s. Those two words, “and Peter,” show us that there is no failure that can separate us from the risen Savior’s love. Even though Peter’s failure was as bad as any ...

B. Christ’s love was greater than Peter’s failure.

God’s love is always greater than our failures. Note three things about our Lord’s love for Peter that apply to us:

  • Christ’s love knows every sinner by name.

We can all quote John 3:16, “For God so loved the world ….” But God wants you to know and feel that He loves you individually, in spite of your sin. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God is not like Linus, who shouts, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand!” God loves people—individuals, sinners. He said, “and Peter.” On another occasion, He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And He speaks to each one here today with the same individual love. If you have failed Him, then He is calling your name, calling you to Himself.

  • Christ’s love deals personally and privately with every sinner.

The Lord did not embarrass Peter by dealing with his sin in front of the other disciples. True, Peter’s sin was somewhat public, and so eventually the Lord restored Peter in front of the other apostles (John 21:15-17). But first the Lord met privately with Peter to deal with his sin in a private and personal manner.

We learn this from two verses. In Luke 24:34, the disciples tell the two men from Emmaus, “The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon.” The other verse is in Paul’s defense of the resurrection where he states that after the Lord was raised from the dead “He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve” (1 Cor. 15:5). We know nothing more about this meeting. It must have taken place sometime early on that first Easter Sunday. The actual words exchanged were too intimate to be included in the Bible. But in that private meeting, the Lord and Peter were reconciled.

That’s how each of us must deal with God. No one else can deal with God on your behalf. You must meet privately and personally with the Lord. You must confess your sin directly to Him and personally experience His forgiveness. He does not wish to embarrass you by parading your sin in front of others. If there is a need for public restoration because the sin was public, that may follow. But the primary thing is for you to meet alone with the Lord, because all sin is primarily against Him. His love is such that He deals personally and privately with each sinner.

  • Christ’s love is based on grace, not human effort.

The Lord did not say, “Peter, you blew it badly! We’re going to work out a system of penance where you can work off your sin over time. If you really try hard and get it together, maybe I’ll take you back.” God’s grace doesn’t operate that way. Penance is not a biblical concept. Grace is!

God’s grace is unmerited favor. That means that you cannot do anything to deserve it. You cannot earn it by good deeds. You cannot get more of it by extra effort. You cannot qualify for it by making promises for the future. If you do anything to merit it, then it’s something God owes you, not unmerited favor.

The only proper response to grace is to receive it. This very moment, if you will honestly turn to God in your heart and say, “Lord, I have sinned against You. I don’t deserve Your mercy. I realize that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty I deserve. I ask for Your forgiveness”; He will forgive all your sin. His cleansing will sweep over you like an ocean wave.

Our human nature grates against the idea of God’s grace. We like to think that we got on God’s good side because He saw something just a little bit better in us. If God accepts us according to merit, then we can feel that we’re just a notch above others who aren’t “in the club.” But grace humbles us because the only way we can receive it is when we realize that we don’t deserve it.

But, because God’s love operates upon the basis of grace, it means that there is hope for every sinner, no matter how great his or her sin. No failure, no matter how bad, can separate us from the risen Savior’s love if we will simply turn to Him and receive it.

Thus we have seen that failure cannot be hidden from the risen Savior’s gaze; and, failure cannot separate us from the risen Savior’s love. Finally, …

3. Failure does not exclude us from the risen Savior’s service.

A system based on human merit would have removed Peter from being an apostle, or at least would have demoted him to the lowest rung of the apostolic ladder. But God takes those who have failed the worst and makes them trophies of grace for all to see. It was Peter who preached on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 were saved and the church was founded. Two observations on how God uses our failures in His service:

A. God uses our failures to teach us.

A story is told about a promising junior executive at IBM who was involved in a risky venture and lost over $10 million for the company. When IBM’s founder, Tom Watson, Sr., called the nervous executive into his office, the young man blurted out, “I guess you want my resignation?” Watson replied, “You can’t be serious. We’ve just spent $10 million educating you!” (In Christianity Today [8/9/85], p. 67.)

The Scriptures are abundantly clear that Peter’s education through failure was not wasted. One reason he failed was his pride: “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not” (Mark 14:29). But years later he wrote, “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Pet. 5:5).

In the garden Peter failed to watch and pray with Jesus. But later he wrote, “Be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7).

Peter hastily tried to defend the unjust arrest of Jesus by swinging his sword at Malchus. But later he wrote, “But if when you do what is right and suffer for it, you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God” (1 Pet. 2:20).

Peter was surprised into denying the Lord in front of a servant girl. But later he wrote, “Always [be] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). Peter had learned through his failure.

When I say that there is hope for those who have failed, I am not implying that we wallow in our failures. Failure doesn’t mean that we throw out the need for holiness. But God often uses our failures to teach us so that we grow in obedience to Him. If we, like Peter, will learn from our failures, then the Lord will use us in serving Him.

B. God uses our failures to teach others through us.

When the Lord predicted Peter’s failure, He told him, “And you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Later the Lord told Peter, “Shepherd My sheep” (John 21:16). The Lord uses restored sinners to restore and strengthen other sinners.

Have you ever thought of how Peter must have felt about preaching in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost? There were undoubtedly those in the audience who had heard Peter deny the Lord on the night of the betrayal. Peter could have said, “I can’t ever preach before these people. They know my past.” But restored sinners must go to those who are not right with God and tell of the abundant grace of the Lord Jesus. The fact that God has restored you can bring great hope to those who may have known of your past sins.


The risen Savior offers eternal life and forgiveness of sins to you, no matter how badly you have failed God. But you must personally receive His offer of love by faith.

On New Year’s Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played the University of California in the Rose Bowl. In that now infamous game, Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California. Somehow he became confused and ran 65 yards in the wrong direction. One of his teammates went after him and tackled him just before he scored for the opposing team. When California attempted to punt, Georgia Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety which was the ultimate margin of victory.

That strange play came in the first half, and everyone who was watching the game was asking the same question: What will Coach Price do with Roy Riegels in the second half?

The men filed off the field and went into the locker room. They sat down on the benches and on the floor. But Riegels put his blanket around his shoulders, sat down in a corner, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby.

Usually a coach has a lot to say to his team during half time. But that day, Coach Price was quiet. No doubt he was trying to decide what to do with Riegels. Then the timekeeper came in and announced that there were three minutes before playing time. Coach Price looked at the team and said simply, “Men, the same team that played the first half will start the second.”

Everyone got up and started out, except Riegels. He didn’t budge. The coach looked back and called to him again. Still he didn’t move. Coach Price went over to where Riegels sat and said, “Roy, didn’t you hear me? The same team that played the first half will start the second.”

Riegels, his face wet with tears, looked up and said, “Coach, I can’t do it to save my life. I’ve ruined you, I’ve ruined the University of California, I’ve ruined myself. I couldn’t face that crowd in the stadium to save my life.”

Then Coach Price reached out and put his hand on Riegels’ shoulder and said to him, “Roy, get up and go on back; the game is only half over.” And Riegels went back, and those Tech men would later say that they had never seen a man play football as Roy Riegels played that second half.

Perhaps you have never failed in as colossal a way as Roy Riegels did. Normally our failures are not performed in a stadium before thousands of watching eyes. But each one of us at some time has badly failed God. The apostle Paul certainly had. He wrote, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Tim. 1:15).

Peter might argue with Paul about who was the biggest sinner. But neither would argue about how wonderful God’s amazing grace is toward all who have failed. The angel’s words, “Go, tell His disciples and Peter,” say to us, “The game is only half over.” The question is, will you accept the risen Savior’s pardon and go out and play the second half?

Discussion Questions

  1. Are some sins too terrible for God to forgive? Give biblical support.
  2. Will grace—unmerited favor—lead to loose living? Why/why not?
  3. Does grace mean that God removes the consequences of our sins (Gal. 6:7)? If not, how is it grace?
  4. Read Luke 17:9-17. How does a person appropriate God’s forgiveness? How can a person miss it?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1998, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Easter, Failure, Resurrection, Soteriology (Salvation)

Easter [1999]: Dealing With Doubt (John 20:1-31)

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April 4, 1999

Easter Sunday

Every thinking person sometimes wrestles with doubt. That’s true not only for thinking Christians, but also for atheists and agnostics. They sometimes wonder, “What if I’m wrong and Christianity is true?” And every thinking Christian sometimes wonders, “What if I’m wrong and Christianity is not true?” For some, the bouts with doubt are short and relatively minor. For others, the doubts are deep and disturbing. But wherever you’re at on the spectrum, if you’ve been a Christian for very long, you have gone through times when believing isn’t easy.

The sources of my struggles with doubt vary. Sometimes it stems from wrestling with certain troublesome theological issues. At other times the problem of unanswered prayer has tripped me up. And I’ve had to face doubts related to the age-old problem of suffering, especially when it hits home with people I know and love: Why would a good and all-powerful God allow His servants, who are already too few, to be struck down in the prime of life, while the wicked prosper?

While there are satisfactory biblical answers to all of these sources of doubt, there is one answer that undergirds them all. I usually come back to it when I’m struggling with doubt. The apostle Paul said that the entire Christian faith rests on one foundation, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Cor. 15:13-19). If that fact of history is true, then our faith has a solid footing in spite of matters of doubt which we cannot, perhaps ever in this life, fully resolve. On the other hand, if Jesus Christ is not risen from the dead, then the strongest faith in the world is useless, because it rests on a faulty object.

The evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us a solid footing in times of doubt.

If you want to examine a subject, it’s best to go to an expert. The most famous expert on doubt is a fellow whose name is always linked with it: Doubting Thomas. His story is told in John 20:24-29. Thomas was what I would call a sincere doubter. Not all doubters are sincere. Some use their doubts as a smoke screen to hide behind their pride, rebellion, or other sin, which is the real issue. If one area of doubt is cleared up, they will quickly duck behind another, because they don’t want to submit to the Lord. These people do not need more evidence to believe; they need to turn from their sin.

But some doubts are sincere. The sincere doubter is truly a believer in Christ and he doesn’t want to doubt, but he is plagued by honest questions. He is submissive to God and wants to do His will, but he can’t just close his eyes and take a leap of faith. He needs evidence to clear up the doubts. Thomas was that kind of sincere doubter. I maintain that …

1. All thinking people go through times of sincere doubt.

There are many causes of doubt. I am going to limit myself to exploring some of the causes of Thomas’ doubts. I can relate personally to some, but not all, of them. Perhaps you will relate to them also.

Some Reasons For Thomas’ Doubts:

A. Personal failure coupled with Thomas’ personality.

All of the disciples had failed Jesus on the night of His arrest and trial. Most notorious was Peter, who denied the Lord three times. All of the eleven had promised Jesus their loyalty, but they all deserted Him when He was arrested.

Thomas, along with Peter, had been outspoken in his loyalty to Jesus before the crucifixion. In John 11:16, when Jesus wanted to go to Bethany, near Jerusalem, to raise Lazarus from the dead, the disciples objected that it was too dangerous. But Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” He may have been a pessimist, but at least he was loyal to the point of challenging the others to be committed to the point of death. But then he had joined the others in running away when Jesus was arrested. That failure led Thomas into depression and doubt.

It wasn’t just Thomas’ failure, but failure coupled with his personality, that led him into deep doubts. Peter had failed in a big way, too. But Peter was a buoyant, optimistic sort who felt badly about his mistakes, but who could shrug it off and bounce back more quickly. But Thomas was a conscientious, loyal, but gloomy type who did not commit himself to something lightly. To commit himself to Jesus and then go back on his word affected Thomas much more deeply than Peter’s failure affected him.

We’re all wired differently and so it’s important to know yourself so that you can be on guard against your areas of weakness. Usually, by the way, our areas of greatest strength are also our areas of greatest weakness. A man like Thomas, who is loyal and conscientious, who takes commitments seriously, is also more prone to depression and doubt when he fails.

B. A lack of understanding.

Thomas lacked understanding with regard to the Lord’s departure (see John 14:5). On the night before the crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them and that He would come again to take them to be with Him. He told them that they knew the way where He was going. But Thomas wasn’t the type to keep quiet if he didn’t understand. So he blurted out, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”

I’m glad he asked because Jesus’ reply was, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (14:6). But if you put yourself back into that situation, with all of the confused emotions of that night, and with the disciples’ still limited insight into Jesus’ death and resurrection, you can see how Thomas would still be confused about what Jesus had meant. He lacked understanding, which led to doubt.

Some of my times of doubt have been due to a lack of understanding on doctrinal matters. I’m not going to share specifics, because if it’s not a problem for you, I don’t want to lead you into doubt by bringing it up! But, frankly, there are many hard teachings in Scripture, some of which we won’t resolve until we are with the Lord. We have to trust God, even when we don’t understand.

In John 6:60, many of those who had followed Jesus turned away when He taught some hard things. Jesus even asked the twelve if they would turn away also. Peter gave the great answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). I have come back to that answer many times when I have struggled with doubt due to a lack of understanding. Where else can I go?

C. Deep disappointment and shock over suffering.

A third factor that caused Thomas such deep doubts was the disappointment and shock he felt as he watched Jesus die. Even though Jesus repeatedly told the disciples in advance that He would be crucified, it didn’t sink in. When Thomas saw the badly mangled body of Jesus on the cross, it sent him into shock. His emphasis on the wounds of Jesus (John 20:25) shows how deeply it affected him. The bloody holes in Jesus’ hands and feet, the gory spear wound in His side, and Jesus’ disfigurement from the scourging and the crown of thorns, haunted Thomas in the week after the crucifixion and fed his doubts.

In the same way, whenever we face deep disappointment and shock because of some tragedy or something that doesn’t go as we had expected, we’re vulnerable to doubts. A few years ago, a pastor friend who was my age was struck down with cancer. As I stood by his bedside the night he died, along with his grieving wife and two sons, I couldn’t help wondering, “Why, Lord? This is one of Your servants. He still has many good years left. His family is young. Why should he die so young, when so many wicked people live long, healthy lives?” Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one or faced a personal tragedy. It’s a short step from there to being right where Thomas was, to doubting the Lord: “If God really exists and is a God of love, then why is this happening?”

D. Isolation from fellow believers.

A fourth reason for Thomas’ doubts was his isolation from other believers. We don’t know for certain why Thomas was absent from the other disciples that first Sunday when Jesus appeared to them. But a likely reason was his morose disposition. The last thing he wanted at a time like that was to be around other people. So he wandered off by himself to brood over the horrible events of the previous few days.

Then to add to his misery, when he finally did see the others, they told him that they had seen the risen Lord! How would you feel if you missed church because you were depressed and doubting and we all told you, “Hey, you really missed a blessing! Jesus appeared to us last Sunday!” Great! That really encourages you, doesn’t it! But even though we often are bugged by other believers, the fact is, we need them. Whenever we separate ourselves from the fellowship, we make ourselves vulnerable to doubt.

I’ve not covered all the causes we have for doubting God or the Bible. Perhaps you have other things that have shaken your faith. But whatever the source of your doubts, the solution is the same: to come back to the basic fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. If that is true, then even though you may not understand everything, you still, with Thomas, must bow and acknowledge Jesus to be your Lord and God.

2. The evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus is solid.

I can’t give all the evidence for the resurrection in one message. Many books have been written on the subject. But there are five reasons in John 20 alone which prove Christ’s resurrection to be true history, not a myth or wishful thinking:

A. The empty tomb substantiates Jesus’ resurrection.

One incontrovertible fact, with which both the disciples and the Jews agreed, is that the tomb was empty. If not, when the disciples began proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus a few weeks later (which was the central point of their preaching), the Jewish leaders could have simply marched to the tomb, produced the dead body of Jesus, and the disciples would have been laughed out of town. But clearly they couldn’t do it because the tomb was empty.

There are several ways to account for the empty tomb. Jesus’ enemies could have stolen the body. But they had no motive for taking His body. It was to their advantage to leave it right where it was, which is why they had Pilate put the Roman guard and seal on the tomb. If they knew where the body was, they could have produced it and silenced the disciples’ preaching.

Another possibility is that the Roman guards stole the body. But again, they had no motive to do so. They weren’t concerned about this Jewish religious trial. The Jewish leaders, who were scrambling for ways to explain away the resurrection, didn’t accuse the soldiers of taking the body or of allowing it to be stolen.

A third possibility is that the disciples stole the body. This was the theory the Jewish leaders tried to promote by bribing the Roman soldiers (Matt. 28:11-15). But there are many reasons the disciples could not have moved Jesus’ body. The tomb was as secure as the Roman guard could make it. The soldiers wouldn’t have fallen asleep on the watch, because the penalty was death. The stone at the tomb was large and heavy. Even if the soldiers had been sleeping, the noise of a group of men moving the stone would have awakened them. Besides, the disciples were too depressed and confused to try anything like grave robbery in front of a Roman guard. Even if, through bribery, they had managed to remove Jesus’ body, they would not later have risked their lives to preach the resurrection.

Nor would they have suffered beatings and threats if it had been confirmed that someone else had taken Jesus’ body, which was the first thought of the women who visited the tomb early that morning (John 20:2, 15). All we know of the character of the witnesses as well as the fact that they did not yet understand the Scripture that Jesus must rise again from the dead (John 20:9) militates against them knowingly promoting a hoax. The empty tomb is a solid piece of evidence that God raised Jesus bodily from the dead.

B. The grave clothes substantiate Jesus’ resurrection.

Mary Magdalene didn’t look very carefully when she first came to the tomb. She saw the stone removed and assumed that Jesus was gone. So she ran to tell Peter and John, who ran to the tomb. John got there first and stood at the entrance looking in. Peter, in his usual blustery manner, went right in and saw (20:6, Greek = “to gaze upon”) the grave clothes. Then John entered, saw (Greek = “to see with understanding”) and believed.

The presence of the grave clothes proves that the body was not stolen. In their haste, grave robbers would have taken the body, grave clothes and all. If for some reason they had wanted to strip the body, they would have left the clothes strewn all over the tomb. But Peter and John saw them left in an orderly fashion, as if Jesus had passed right through them. Remember, these weren’t men who wished so much for a resurrection that they perhaps saw what they wanted to see. These were men who did not understand or believe at first. The evidence convinced them, even as their testimony of the evidence should convince us.

C. The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus substantiate His resurrection.

John lists four post-resurrection appearances of Jesus: To Mary Magdalene (20:11-18); to the disciples except Thomas (20:19-23); to the disciples, including Thomas (20:24-31); and, to seven of the disciples, by the Sea of Galilee (21:1-25). Paul mentions several other situations, including one appearance to over 500 at one time (1 Cor. 15:6-8). J. N. D. Anderson, formerly Professor of Oriental Laws and Director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London, wrote (Christianity Today [3/29/68], pp. 5, 6.),

The most drastic way of dismissing the evidence would be to say that these stories were mere fabrications, that they were pure lies. But, so far as I know, not a single critic today would take such an attitude. In fact, it would really be an impossible position. Think of the number of witnesses, over 500. Think of the character of the witnesses, men and women who gave the world the highest ethical teaching it has ever known, and who even on the testimony of their enemies lived it out in their lives. Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence—and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication they were trying to foist upon the world. That simply wouldn’t make sense.

The varied circumstances of the appearances and the different personalities of the witnesses militate against hallucinations or visions. Whether Thomas actually put his hand in Jesus’ wounds is not stated, but Jesus made the offer and Thomas was convinced (John 20:27). The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are a strong evidence of His bodily resurrection.

D. The changed lives of the witnesses substantiate Jesus’ resurrection.

As already mentioned, John calls attention to the fact that none of the witnesses was expecting a resurrection. Mary Magdalene thought that someone had taken Jesus’ body (20:2, 15). The disciples were fearful and confused. Thomas was depressed and doubting. But all were transformed into the bold witnesses of the Book of Acts because they became convinced that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. They were so convinced that the resurrection was true that many of them went on to martyrs’ deaths.

E. The unique person of Jesus Christ substantiates His resurrection.

Study the Gospel accounts of who Jesus was, of what He taught, of the miracles He performed, of the prophecies He fulfilled. On more than one occasion He predicted His own death and resurrection (John 2:19-22; Luke 9:22). His encounter with doubting Thomas shows that His purpose was to bring Thomas into a place of full faith in His deity (20:27). When Thomas answered, “My Lord and my God,” Jesus did not rebuke or correct him for overstating things. Rather, Jesus commended Thomas’ correct perception and faith (20:28-29).

A merely good teacher, especially a devout Jewish rabbi, would never accept such worship from a follower. Everything in the Gospel accounts about Jesus’ person and teaching militates against His being a charlatan or lunatic. The only sensible option is that He is who He claimed to be, the Lord God in human flesh, the Christ of Israel, the eternal Son of God. He offered Himself for our sins and God raised Him bodily from the dead.


In Loving God ([Zondervan], pp. 61-70) Charles Colson has an interesting chapter titled, “Watergate and the Resurrection.” He makes the point that with the most powerful office in the world at stake, with all of the privileges of power, with the threat of imprisonment, ten men in the White House could not hold together a conspiracy for more than two weeks. He then applies his experience in the Watergate cover-up to modern criticism of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection—that the disciples were mistaken, that it was only a myth or that Jesus’ followers conceived a plot to cover up His death. He concludes:

Is it really likely, then, that a deliberate cover-up, a plot to perpetuate a lie about the Resurrection, could have survived the violent persecution of the apostles, the scrutiny of early church councils, the horrendous purge of the first-century believers who were cast by the thousands to the lions for refusing to renounce the Lordship of Christ? Is it not probable that at least one of the apostles would have renounced Christ before being beheaded or stoned? Is it not likely that some “smoking gun” document might have been produced exposing the “Passover plot”? Surely one of the conspirators would have made a deal with the authorities (government and Sanhedrin probably would have welcomed such a soul with open arms and pocketbooks!)....

Take it from one who was inside the Watergate web looking out, who saw firsthand how vulnerable a cover-up is: Nothing less than a witness as awesome as the resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and Lord (p. 69).

Does the evidence about Jesus’ resurrection clear up all our doubts about God and the Bible? No, nothing this side of heaven will do that. But it does provide a solid basis for intelligent faith in those times when we struggle with doubt. To whom else will you go? Jesus alone is the risen Savior. His desire for each of us who have not seen Him is that, like Thomas, we would be believing, not unbelieving. He wants each of us to recognize that He, our Lord and God, died in our place, taking the penalty we deserved for our sin. He wants us to join Thomas in believing worship, proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”

If you wait to trust in Christ until all of your doubts are cleared up, you will go to your death alienated from the Savior. There is more than adequate evidence to support a reasonable faith that Jesus Christ is the risen Savior. The question is, Will you lay aside your doubts, which serve only as excuses, and trust in Jesus as your Savior and Lord?

Discussion Questions

  1. How can a person know whether his doubts are sincere or whether they are just an excuse? Are sincere doubts sin?
  2. Is biblical faith a “blind leap”? If not, how does it differ?
  3. Is it possible to live without faith in something? Are materialistic humanists purely rational? How can we witness to them?
  4. Why is it crucial to base our faith in the fact of Christ’s resurrection rather than on our personal religious experience?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1999, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Assurance, Discipleship, Easter, Empower, Spiritual Life

Easter [2001]: A Revolutionary Reborn (Acts 26:4-18, 22-25)

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April 15, 2001

Easter Sunday Message

The Macedonian world-conqueror, Alexander the Great, approached a strongly fortified walled city with a small company of his soldiers. Alexander insisted that the king of the city surrender the city and its contents to this small band of fighting men.

The king laughed, “Why should I surrender to you? You can’t do us any harm.”

Alexander offered to give the king a demonstration. He ordered his men to line up single file and start marching. He marched them straight toward a sheer cliff. The townspeople gathered on the wall and watched in shocked silence as, one by one, Alexander’s soldiers marched without hesitation right off the cliff to their deaths! After ten soldiers had died, Alexander ordered the rest of his men to return to his side.

The townspeople and the king immediately surrendered to Alexander the Great without a battle. They realized that if his men were actually willing to commit suicide at the command of this dynamic leader, then nothing could stop his eventual victory.

If I had lived in that day, I think I would have volunteered to be one of Alexander’s fighting men. Total commitment to a cause worth dying for is in my blood. I was committed whatever the cost to preserve my fatherland and its traditions against those whom I thought were undermining it. I pursued that commitment with the zeal and tactics of a revolutionary.

As I saw it, the followers of the new sect called “The Way” had to be eliminated. There was no room for compromise. I searched out their names and addresses and entered their homes with my guards. We bound with chains both men and women who refused to recant their views and dragged them off to prison. Seeing their children crying as their parents were hauled out the door only made me think, “It serves them right, the dirty traitors!” We commanded many of them to be whipped with the 39 lashes, which left their backs torn into ribbons of bleeding flesh. Others were put to death with my approval. Many tried to escape, but I tracked them down with a vengeance, even to foreign cities.

It was while I was engaged in such activities that I had an unforgettable experience that radically changed the direction of my life. In fact, because of that experience, I went down in history not as a Pharisaic Jew named Saul of Tarsus, but as a committed Christian known as the apostle Paul. The event that changed the course of my life was when I saw the risen Lord Jesus Christ, whose resurrection you celebrate on this day.

It was the irrefutable fact of the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah that convinced me that I must surrender my life to Him. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that if Jesus is not risen from the dead, then the Christian faith is a worthless waste of time and you would do better to be a hedonist, living for the pleasures of this world (1 Cor. 15:17, 19, 32). If Jesus is not risen, then He is only a dead Jewish teacher and not the Messiah at all. He would only be a mere man, not the Savior of men, if He were not risen. But He is risen! There is solid evidence to prove that He is risen. I am here today to communicate a simple but life-changing message to you:

Because there is solid evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, you should respond with trust and surrender to His claims.

1. There is solid evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

I want to share with you four lines of evidence that lend solid support to the fact that Jesus is risen:

A. The prophetic Scriptures show that Jesus is risen.

The Jewish Scriptures prophesied that the Messiah would be killed and then raised from the dead. I had studied those Scriptures for years under Gamaliel in Jerusalem, but I had missed what they were saying. I admit that I was caught up with the notion of a political Messiah, which was prevalent in my day. The thought of a suffering Messiah was repugnant to me. But the prophets clearly taught that Messiah would suffer and die for the sins of His people. For example, Isaiah wrote (53:4-12)

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.

The death of Messiah is so clear there, I don’t see how I previously missed it. And, obviously He would be raised from the dead, or He would never see the “result of the anguish of His soul” and “be satisfied,” as the prophet states.

In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter had cited Psalm 16, where David says, “Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay” (Acts 2:27). Peter insisted that David was writing about His descendant, the Messiah, whom God would not allow to undergo decay. He claimed that Jesus was the Messiah, and that he and the other apostles were witnesses of the fact that God had raised Him from the dead.

Being a devout Jew, I was there in Jerusalem for that Feast. I heard Peter’s words, but I thought, “He’s wrong! It can’t be! That uneducated Galilean doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” It was so opposed to all that I was living for at that time!

But as I later came to see, the simple message of the gospel, that Christ died for our sins and was buried and raised the third day was all “according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). And so to this day, I testify to all “nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-23). That Jesus fulfilled all these prophecies that were written about His death and resurrection hundreds of years before His birth is an impressive evidence of the truth of His resurrection.

B. The empty tomb shows that Jesus is risen.

There was no question on either side about the stubborn fact that the tomb was empty. If Jesus’ body had still been in the tomb, when Peter and the others began proclaiming that He was risen, we could have silenced them very easily by producing the body. But, the Jewish leaders did not have Jesus’ body.

Instead, they argued that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb while the Roman guards were asleep (Matt. 28:11-15). I bought that line of reasoning for a while. But if you think about it, it doesn’t make sense. There are several reasons why the disciples could not have moved Jesus’ body:

  • Much precaution was taken to secure the tomb against theft. The Roman guard and the Roman seal on the tomb would have prevented any grave robbing.
  • The disciples were too depressed and confused to try anything as bold as grave robbery from a guarded tomb.
  • If the soldiers were sleeping, how could they know that the disciples stole the body?
  • The soldiers would not have fallen asleep on watch. The penalty for that was instant death.
  • The stone at the tomb was large and heavy. Even if the soldiers had been sleeping, the noise of a group of men moving the stone would have awakened them.
  • If the disciples somehow, perhaps through bribery, had removed the body, they would not later have gone about preaching the resurrection.

Thus the empty tomb, as I later came to think about it, is a powerful evidence of Jesus’ bodily resurrection.

C. The changed lives of the witnesses show that Jesus is risen.

If the Jews or the soldiers or the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body, then there is no way to explain the dramatic change in the lives of those who claimed that He arose from the dead. None of them were expecting a resurrection. They were confused and frightened. They all doubted the earliest reports that He was risen. And yet after this they all were transformed into the bold witnesses that you read about in the Book of Acts, many of whom gave their lives for their faith.

I personally saw many of them refuse to renounce their faith in the risen Jesus under threat of physical harm and imprisonment. But none made such an impression on me as Stephen did. A number of us debated him publicly over these matters, but we were not able to cope with his wisdom and power. It was as if God’s Spirit was speaking through him! We had some men bring false witness against him and then put him on trial, thinking that he would soften his message (Acts 6:9-14). But instead, he accused us of crucifying God’s Messiah!

That was too much! The council pounced on that blasphemer, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him to death. I held their coats and watched with approval as the rocks smashed him to death. But there were two things about that incident that I couldn’t get out of my mind. First, while we were still in the council chambers, just before the elders rushed upon Stephen to drag him outside, he looked up into heaven with his face looking like the face of an angel (I saw it!) and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Then, second, as he was being stoned, Stephen’s last words just before his death were, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then he said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” That disturbed me! It was as if Stephen was talking directly to the risen Jesus!

From that day on, I was furious in my persecution of the Christians (Acts 8:3; 26:11). I felt that it was my duty to prove that this sect was wrong. I was breathing threats and murder against all the followers of Jesus (9:1). But deep down inside, Stephen’s witness haunted me. I thought, “What if it might be true? No, it couldn’t be! But, what if it is?” Then I received personally the fourth line of evidence, which was for me at the time the first and most convincing proof that Jesus is risen.

D. Eyewitness testimony shows that Jesus is risen.

Some of the Christians whom I imprisoned claimed to have seen the risen Jesus. Stephen also made that claim, as I mentioned. The apostles did, too. But I didn’t believe them.

Then, as I was going to Damascus with orders from the high priest to extradite any runaway Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial, a blinding light from heaven knocked me down. Just before I went blind, I saw the risen Lord Jesus and heard Him speak to me (9:3-9, 17, 27). I could no longer deny it. Jesus really was risen from the dead!

Later I had occasion to talk with Peter and James, the half-brother of Jesus, about their contact with Him after His resurrection. I also learned that He had appeared to over 500 of His followers at one time, and I have spoken with many of them (1 Cor. 15:5-7). The eyewitness accounts were too varied and too many to explain away. And there was certainly no way that I could explain away my encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. Add it up and you will conclude that the eyewitness testimony is strong evidence that Jesus is risen!

If we had time, I could mention more reasons to persuade you. But these four lines of evidence—the prophetic Scriptures, the empty tomb, the changed lives of the witnesses, and the eyewitness testimony—are overwhelmingly convincing that Jesus is risen. He was crucified, but the grave could not contain Him. He rose again on the third day, just as He said that He would. Because there is such solid evidence to support the resurrection, …

2. You should respond with trust and surrender to the claims of the resurrected Christ.

Jesus made amazing claims during His earthly ministry. He said, “He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). He said, “For this is the will of My Father, that every one who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up in the last day” (John 6:40). I could go on and on quoting such amazing claims. These claims demand a response.

A. You should respond with trust to Christ’s claims.

What does it mean to believe in or trust Jesus Christ? It means that you count His promises as true. You depend on Him and what He did when He died on the cross as your only means for eternal life. You do not trust in your own efforts or good works to save you, as I once did when I was a proud Pharisee. You depend only on Jesus’ death as your substitute for your sin.

You trust Him as you would trust a surgeon when you allow him to operate on you. You trust Him as you would trust a lawyer to defend you in court. You trust Him as you would trust a bridge to hold you up as you go across a deep chasm. You do not rely on yourself at all. You rely totally on Him as your only hope for forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But also, …

B. You should respond with surrender to His claims.

When Jesus appeared to me on that Damascus road, I asked, “What shall I do, Lord?” He said, “Go into Damascus; and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do” (22:10). I did what He said then, and I have been doing what He says from that time on. What else can you do when you’ve been struck blind? At that point, you know who is Lord, and it isn’t you!

But it was not only my fear of the risen Jesus who struck me blind for those three days that caused me to surrender my life to Him. It was also His abundant love and grace. He rightly could have struck me dead for the crimes that I had done to His people. But He showed me love and mercy instead. How could I walk away from such abundant love?

But it is possible! Some to whom I’ve proclaimed the good news of the risen Savior have not responded with trust and surrender. Some reject the offer of forgiveness of their sins with various excuses. For example, Festus, the Roman governor, said that I was crazy (26:2-25). I think that he was convicted of his sin and had to say something to escape the compelling evidence of my argument. King Agrippa tried to use humor to shrug off the truth, saying, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian” (26:28). I think that he was embarrassed in front of Festus, even though he sensed the truth of my testimony. Being a man of wealth and power, he probably felt that to surrender his life to Jesus would have been too costly. And so he walked away from the truth.

In my experience, those who do not respond with trust and surrender to the risen Savior are not lacking in evidence that He is the truth. Rather, they don’t want to turn from their sins and live under the Lordship of Jesus. But that’s irrational. When you see who Jesus really is, the risen Lord of all, bowing before Him as Lord is the only reasonable option.


In the nineteenth century, two young lawyers in England thought that they had good reasons for rejecting Christianity. They thought that only two things supported the foundation of the Christian faith: the alleged resurrection of Jesus and the alleged conversion of the apostle Paul. One of the men, Gilbert West, decided to write a book showing that Jesus never could have risen from the dead. The other man, Lord Lyttleton, said that he would write on the alleged appearance of Jesus to the apostle Paul. He would show that Paul could never have been converted as the Bible reports.

Some time later they met again, and one said to the other, “I am afraid I have a confession to make. I have been looking into the evidence for this story, and I have begun to think that maybe there is something to it.” The other said, “The same thing has happened to me.”

In the end, after they had done their investigations and written their books, each had come out on exactly the opposite side of when he began. Gilbert West wrote a book, The Resurrection of Jesus, arguing that it is a fact of history. Lyttleton had written a defense entitled Conversion of St. Paul. Both men had come to believe in the truth of the biblical accounts (James Boice, Tabletalk [4/92], p. 30).

How about you? Have you seriously considered the evidence? There are solid reasons to support the fact that Jesus is risen bodily from the dead. Have you shrugged off the evidence because you don’t want to face the implications for your own life? Yes, it would radically alter the direction of your life! You would have to give up your pursuit of sinful pleasure. You would have to follow Jesus wherever He directs you to go. You would have to do what He tells you to do. But He would replace your futile pursuit of happiness with solid joy and lasting pleasure that only those who follow Him know, both for time and for eternity.

Each of you is trusting in something for your eternal destiny. To trust in yourself or your good deeds is completely inadequate. The risen Lord Jesus asks you to trust Him to forgive your sins and to give you eternal life and to surrender to Him as the Lord of your life. He could rightly judge you on the spot for your sins, but in His grace, He offers you a full pardon and eternal life at His expense, because of His great love. The risen Lord who transformed the revolutionary Saul of Tarsus into the apostle Paul can transform your life as well.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it essential to base our faith on the fact of the resurrection rather than on subjective feelings?
  2. What is the strongest evidence for the resurrection in your mind? What are some other evidences not mentioned in the message?
  3. Some say that you can accept Christ as Savior without following Him as Lord. Why is this not a biblical option?
  4. Is the main reason that people reject Christ a lack of evidence or the love of their own sin? Discuss?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2001, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Assurance, Easter, Prophecy/Revelation, Resurrection

Easter [2003]: Rescued by the Risen Jesus (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)

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April 20, 2003

Special Easter Message

The recent dramatic rescue of our soldiers who had been taken captive in Iraq brought great joy and relief to all Americans. It’s tragic when people are held captive by an evil enemy that finds pleasure in torturing and destroying them. Our joy overflows when the captives are set free.

The Bible declares that “the whole world lies in the power of” a wicked tyrant called “the evil one” (1 John 5:19). He is a murderer by nature (John 8:44), intent on destroying those whom he holds captive (John 10:10; 2 Tim. 2:26). Jesus Christ, “the Son of God, appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). He does that by rescuing people from Satan’s domain of darkness and transferring them to His kingdom, where they have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14). God uses us, His people, as His commandos, to go into enemy territory with the powerful weapon of the gospel to liberate those who are being held captive by the evil enemy.

The apostle Paul made one such commando raid into the city of Thessalonica. He came under enemy attack, but was able to rescue some. His daring mission set the city into an uproar. They accused him and his co-workers as being men who had turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). He was forced to leave town after just a few weeks, leaving these newly liberated people to face the angry opposition of those who were content with the evil regime.

A short time later, he wrote them a letter, which we know as 1 Thessalonians. He begins by thanking God for what He had done in the hearts of these people and by commending them for the example of their transformed lives, which was being spoken of everywhere in that region. Before Paul could say a word, people would tell him how the Thessalonians had “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9-10). We learn that…

The risen Jesus rescues from the coming wrath all who believe in Him and turn to God.

These verses contain three vital lessons:

1. There is certainly a wrath to come.

I will admit that the idea of God’s wrath and judgment is not popular in our day, even among evangelical Christians. We would rather tell people that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives. We downplay the notion that God is angry with them because of their sin and that they face horrible eternal punishment in hell if they die without being reconciled to God. If we were honest, most of us would admit that the notion of God’s wrath and eternal punishment is a bit embarrassing. So we dodge it and promote the gospel as a great way to have a happier life.

But in so doing, we misconstrue the biblical gospel and we water down the biblical picture of salvation as God’s rescuing us from certain destruction. It becomes more like starting a new diet or exercise program, guaranteed to make you feel better right away. But our text shows that…

A. The certainty of God’s wrath to come rests on the very character of God.

Paul declares that God is “the living and true God,” and that Jesus “rescues us from the wrath to come.” He further describes this coming wrath in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, where he says that “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, ...”

During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ spoke more about the awfulness of God’s judgment than any other person in the Bible. He described it as a place of outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:30). He calls it a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). He said that it would be better to cut off one’s hand or foot, or even to die by having a millstone hung around one’s neck and being cast into the sea, than to go into hell (Mark 9:42-45). We may not like these words, but if we deny or dodge them, we are not following Jesus, who repeatedly taught this awful truth.

Of course, God’s wrath is not like human wrath. Human wrath is usually an outburst against something or someone that frustrates us. Occasionally, human wrath may be “righteous indignation,” but even then it is tinged with our fallible propensity toward selfishness and misunderstanding. God’s wrath is His holy, settled, active opposition toward all evil, in line with His absolute knowledge of all motives and circumstances. If we do away with the concept of God’s wrath, we also then do away with His holiness and justice.

If someone broke into your house and raped and murdered your wife or daughter, and the judge said, “You shouldn’t have done that; try not to do it again,” we would rightly be outraged. That judge would be neither righteous nor just. In the same way, if God who is infinitely holy does not judge all sin with infinite punishment, He is neither righteous nor just. Most of us can agree mentally with this concept, and it even gives us a sense of relief to know that the evil terrorists of the world will meet with God’s perfect justice.

But at this point, many err by thinking that they will escape God’s judgment because they are not like these terrible murderers. They think, “I’m a decent, church-going American. I pay my taxes and obey the law. I don’t beat my wife and children. Sure, I’ve got my faults and I’m not perfect, but I’m not an evil person. I don’t need to fear God’s judgment.”

But our text indicates that there are only two kinds of people: those who have been rescued by Jesus from God’s wrath to come; and, those who have not. And, …

B. All who have not been rescued by the risen Jesus are in imminent danger of the wrath to come.

By nature, we all tend to look at our own works or at what we consider to be our good intentions, and we think that we’re good enough for heaven. But the Bible is clear that no one gets into heaven by his own efforts, good works, or good intentions. Our problem is that we compare ourselves to the wrong standard. If we compare ourselves to other people, we may come out on the right side of the curve. But God’s standard is His absolute holiness, beginning on the thought level. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, if you’ve ever been angry with someone, you are guilty of murder in God’s sight. If you’ve ever lusted after a woman, you are guilty of adultery (Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28). Both sins make you “guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matt. 5:22, 29-30).

Let’s assume that you are an unusually good person. You’ve only chalked up, on the average, one sin of thought, word, or deed per month since the time you were five years old. If you sassed your mother once that month, the rest of the month you had nothing but sweet, loving thoughts toward her. If you selfishly demanded your way, you only did it once that month, and did not at any other time think in a selfish manner.

At this record-breaking rate of righteous living, you will have chalked up 840 sins by the time you are 75. Can you imagine going into any court of law and pleading, “Judge, I admit that I’ve broken the law 840 times, but I’m far better than most people, so you should let me off”! How much less does anyone, even the best of us, stand a chance of acquittal based on our good deeds when we stand before the holy God whose standard is perfection?

The Bible declares that we are all by nature children of wrath because of our sins (Eph. 2:1-3). It warns that the wrath of God abides on all who do not obey the Son of God (John 3:36). Jesus did not come to earth and die on the cross just to help you live a bit more comfortable and happy life. He came to rescue you from the wrath to come! If He has not rescued you, then you are in imminent danger of that wrath! It is imperative that you understand how you can be rescued while there is still time.

2. To be rescued by Jesus from the coming wrath, we must hear the gospel, believe it, and turn to God from our idols.

A. To be rescued by Jesus from the coming wrath, we must hear the gospel.

Paul mentions the kind of reception [literally, “entrance”] that he had with the Thessalonians (1:9). We read about it in Acts 17:2-4, where it says that Paul went into the synagogue there on three successive Sabbaths and reasoned with them from the Scriptures, “explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.’” Some believed that message, but the majority opposed it and formed a mob to set the city against Paul.

The gospel (or “good news”) that Paul proclaimed may be summarized as follows: All of us have sinned against the holy God, thus incurring His wrath. God could justly condemn us all to hell. But being a God of great love and mercy, He sent His own eternal Son Jesus into this world to bear the penalty that we rightly deserve. He had to suffer death, which is the penalty that God imposed for our sin (Rom. 6:23). God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice, as evidenced by the fact that He raised Him from the dead. God’s justice was satisfied, in that Jesus paid in full the penalty for our sins. He can now be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). You cannot be saved apart from hearing and understanding that message.

B. To be rescued by Jesus from the coming wrath, we must believe the gospel.

Hearing the gospel must be accompanied by faith (Gal. 3:5). The Thessalonians had “received the word” (1:6) with “faith toward God” (1:8). Paul says (2:13), “we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”

Contrary to popular opinion, biblical faith is not a blind leap in the dark. It does not mean setting your brain on the shelf and believing a bunch of old Jewish legends. Rather, biblical faith is based on the testimony of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, teaching, death, bodily resurrection and ascension into heaven. Granted, we cannot “prove” these truths in the same sense that we can prove that 2+2=4, and so there is the need for faith. But it is not an unreasonable or blind faith, in that the evidence is trustworthy. We believe the testimony of men all the time, but the testimony of God concerning His Son is greater (1 John 5:9).

When Paul first preached in Thessalonica, he pointed to the evidence of the Scriptures concerning Christ’s death and resurrection (Acts 17:2-3). No doubt he took them to Psalm 22, which describes in detail a death by crucifixion centuries before that mode of execution was known on earth. He also took them to Isaiah 53, which predicts with great detail the suffering and death of God’s Messiah, “when He will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:11). Both of those texts also imply the resurrection of the crucified Messiah, when God “will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death and was numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). Paul probably also pointed to Psalm 16:10, which predicted that God would not “allow [His] Holy One to undergo decay” (see Acts 13:34-35).

Beyond the evidence of Scripture, there was the further evidence of all of the eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5-6). There is also the evidence of the dramatically changed lives of the witnesses, including the apostle Paul. He was militantly against the Christian message until the day that he saw the risen Jesus on the Damascus Road.

Believing this message is not just assenting to the facts as presented in Scripture and by the eyewitnesses. Biblical faith involves an active commitment in which we renounce all trust in our own good works to save us from God’s judgment and a total entrusting of ourselves to Jesus as the only Savior from God’s wrath. Genuine saving faith is inseparable from repentance, which means turning to God from our sins.

C. To be rescued by Jesus from the coming wrath, we must turn to God from our idols.

Before, these people had hoped that their idols would placate God’s wrath. But once they heard the gospel, they threw away their idols, turned to God alone and trusted in Jesus’ death on the cross to rescue them from their sins. The word “turned” occurs often in the Book of Acts to describe the proper response to the gospel. Paul described God’s commission to him as opening the Gentiles’ eyes “so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins …” (Acts 26:18). He sums up his preaching as telling people “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20; see also Acts 9:35; 11:21; 14:15; 15:19).

Maybe you are thinking, “This is all very interesting, but I am not an idolater. I don’t bow down or pray to any statues. So this doesn’t apply to me.”

But the only choices are, you either serve God or you serve idols. An idol may be a literal statue. Even here in Flagstaff, we have a store that specializes in selling idols! But an idol is anything that usurps the rightful place of the living and true God in your life. At the root of all idolatry is the god of self. Many people leave this god on the throne and try to “use” Jesus to get what self wants, such as happiness, health, wealth, love, or many other things. But to leave self enthroned and to use Jesus as an Aladdin’s genie is not to turn to God from our idols. The Thessalonians did not just add Jesus to their existing pantheon of idols. They trashed their idols and turned to the living and true God alone.

For Jesus to rescue you from God’s wrath to come, you must agree with God’s judgment, that you have sinned against Him and that you deserve His wrath. You must understand and believe that God’s Son Jesus came to earth and paid the penalty on the cross that you rightfully deserved. Genuine faith is not just agreeing mentally with these facts, but also turning from all of your false gods to the only true God. If you have done that, your life will be demonstrably different. Everyone could see the dramatic change in the Thessalonians. Paul mentions two things that stood out after they turned to God from their idols:

3. Those who have been rescued by Jesus submit their lives to God and wait expectantly for Jesus’ return.

The word translated “serve” comes from a word meaning to serve as a bondslave. A bondslave was not free to do whatever he pleased. If the bondslave wanted to go to the beach, he couldn’t tell his master, “I’m taking the day off. See you tomorrow!” He belonged to his master and lived to do his master’s will.

In our case, our Master gave His life to rescue us from certain doom. Thus we do not serve Him out of bare duty or obligation, but out of gratitude and love. And, thankfully, He is a loving and gracious Master, who has our best interests at heart. Serving Him is not drudgery, but a delight.

Also, we eagerly long for His return from heaven, when He will crush all of His enemies and set up His righteous kingdom on earth. Just as a young bride whose husband has gone off to the war longs for his safe return, so we who have been rescued from God’s judgment by Jesus long to see His face. As Paul later tells the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4:16-18),

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

Those whom Jesus has rescued from the wrath to come submit to Him as Master and eagerly look forward to the day of His coming. Those whom He has not rescued live for themselves and don’t give much thought to the day of His coming, which for them will be a day of wrath and judgment, unless they repent.


Picture a bunch of people on a luxury cruise ship, sailing in calm Caribbean seas. They’re lounging on deck, eating great food, and having an enjoyable time. Along comes a man selling sun visors. “Would you folks like to buy a sun visor? It will make your cruise much more enjoyable. They don’t cost very much.” So lots of folks try out the sun visors.

But lets suppose that before the cruise began, terrorists had planted a powerful time bomb on board that will blow the ship to shreds. You had just learned that it was certain that the bomb would go off and that everyone who didn’t escape while there was still time would be hopelessly doomed. Would you be on deck selling sun visors to make the trip more comfortable, or would you be warning the people to get into the lifeboats as quickly as possible before they were blown to bits?

God is not a terrorist, of course! But He is a holy God who must judge all sin. He has given due warning that He is going to judge this cruise ship called “The World.” But He has not left us without a means of escape. His Son Jesus is not a sun visor to make your cruise more comfortable. He is the lifeboat! But you must abandon ship to get into the lifeboat while there is still time.

The point of getting into the lifeboat is not that it will make you happier and more comfortable than you are on board the ship. You may look over the side and yell, “Ahoy, down there! Do you serve gourmet meals on the lifeboat?” “No, we have C-rations on board. But please jump off that ship before it’s too late!” “Do you have queen size beds on the life raft?” “No, we are somewhat crowded and uncomfortable here, but if you will get on the raft, you will be saved. If you stay in your stateroom on board, you will perish.” “I really enjoy the shuffleboard here on the ship. Do you offer shuffleboard on your life raft?” “No, but your ship is doomed. Flee to this raft while you can!”

Believing in Jesus doesn’t mean sitting on deck in your lounge chair, sipping a cool drink, and thinking, “I’m sure glad that I’ve got this Jesus visor to make my trip more comfortable!” No, believing in Jesus means that you take seriously His warnings about the coming judgment on this wicked world, so that you jump ship and trust totally in Jesus as your life raft.

Like the Thessalonians, today you have heard that God has pronounced wrath to come on this world. You have heard that He sent His Son Jesus to die for your sins and that God raised Jesus from the dead. He is coming again, either as your Savior or your Judge. Believing that message, you abandon ship and place your eternal destiny totally upon the risen Jesus. If you will do that, Jesus will rescue you from the wrath to come!

Discussion Questions

  1. Are we presenting the true gospel if we say that Jesus is the way to a happier life, without mentioning sin and judgment?
  2. Theologian Clark Pinnock complains, “Everlasting torment is intolerable from a moral point of view because it makes God into a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for victims whom he does not even allow to die.” How would you refute him?
  3. Since even the most sincere believers struggle against idolatry, how can we know when our faith is genuine?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Easter, Resurrection, Soteriology (Salvation)