Did Easter Happen to You?

From Tablet 2 1622 Corinthians 5:17

After a Maundy Thursday communion service, a pastor sat with his small child who was asking what it all meant.  The Thursday meal was described as the last meal Jesus had with His friends.  Good Friday was the day Jesus was killed.  Easter was a wonderful day, because that was the day God raised Jesus from the dead.

Then the boy asked, “Daddy, will Easter ever happen to me?”  What a question:  “Will Easter ever happen to me?”

Great question!  Let me phrase to you in this way:  “Did Easter happen to you?”  I’m not asking if you went to church last Sunday or if you consumed a chocolate bunny or went to a fancy buffet.  I’m not even asking what you did on March 31st of this year.  (2013)  I’m asking:  Have you ever experienced the resurrection that occurs when Jesus becomes the Lord of your life?  Do you have a resurrection story?

Paul says:  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”  We come to life in Him.

Recently came across the testimony of Nard Pugyao:  “In March of 1956 (when I was about 6), a tall, pale, white man stumbled into my home village of Dibagat in the northern jungles of the Philippine island of Luzon. The man didn’t speak our language, so our elders asked him the best they knew how, “Why are you here?”

“I’ve come to learn your language,” he said. “I’d like to write it down and then give you God’s Word in your language.”

“Who is your God?” the elders asked.

“He’s the God of Heaven and earth,” the man answered. “He’s the Creator of the universe. He created you, too.”

“Is he powerful?” the elders probed. “More powerful than the spirits that have controlled our lives from the beginning of time? Is he more powerful than our ancestors, the head-hunters?”

“Yes, he’s more powerful.”

Hopeful, we started teaching this man, Dick Roe, our language. Maybe his God could free us from the spirits.

When I was about 13, Dick had to return to the United States to raise support for his ministry. But before he went back, he translated the Gospel of Mark and gave me a copy. While he was gone, I started reading the Bible for the first time, beginning with the Easter story and continuing through chapter 16. Sitting on top of a rock, I read the Gospel of Mark in my heart language. It felt like I was actually there, seeing the characters.

But the further I read, the more distressed I felt. A mob of people came to get Jesus out of the Garden of Gethsemane. What did he do wrong? I read as fast as I could. They accused him of all kinds of false things. They mocked him, spat on him, beat him, and took him before Pilate. Then the scourge and the crown of thorns. It was excruciating to read that they forced him to carry a wooden cross and then nailed him to it.

Deep in my heart, a hatred of God swelled. I shook my fist and shouted: “I hate you, God, for being so powerless! Why should I believe in a powerless God like you?” With all my strength I threw the Gospel of Mark down to the rocks and started walking home. I couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t protect his own Son. Our headhunters defended us to the death. Because of them, no one could touch us. I wanted a god like that—someone who would protect me from the spirits that demanded we sacrifice our cows, chickens, pigs, and dogs. This God didn’t even save his own Son.

Suddenly, God reached down into my heart. “Nard, don’t you understand?” I heard him say. “That’s how much I love you. I gave my Son on your behalf.” For the first time, I understood grace. I understood how much God loved me.

“God, if you love me that much,” I prayed, “I want to give you my life, my heart. It’s all yours.” I went back and picked up my Gospel, brushed it off, and sat back on that rock to see what happened next. It was an incredible moment as I read that Jesus rose from the grave on the third day. Nobody in all of Dibagat, nobody from among the Isnag people, had ever risen from the grave. The resurrection story changed my life.  (Nard Pugyao  (“Penetrating Power,” Decision (July-August 2006), p. 18; ©2006 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, used by permission, all rights reserved)

Don’t throw the Bible when you get to the end of the Gospel.  There is a resurrection coming.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ… and let Easter happen to you!

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Feeling the Weight of It

simon of cyreneMark 15:21

21 They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross.

Simon was pressed into service (a Greek word commonly used of coercing slaves and animals in work).  It was an example of  Rome’s power over a subjugated people.   They could lay the flat of their sword on your shoulder and compel you to go one mile carrying their baggage.  Jesus refers to this when he teaches:  If you are compelled to walk one mile, walk two.  We call that:  “Going the extra mile.”  Not sure how far Simon had to go… but it had to be the longest mile or two he ever took.

There were two parts to the cross, the patibulum (the beam) and the stipes (the post).  The victim was to carry his own patibulum to the site of the crucifixion site.  It was a heavy weight… particularly for Jesus who was losing too much blood from his flogging and the ghastly “coronation” he endured by the soldiers.

Simon was from Cyrene which was on the north coast of Africa.  This may indicate that Simon was a man of color.  Mark includes two other names:  Alexander and Rufus (known by the readers?)  Mark doesn’t name a lot of people in his Gospel.  Here are 3 names in one verse.  We do know that Rufus was a member of the early church (Romans 16:13).  It is not much of a stretch to imagine that Simon of Cyrene might have been the first disciple to literally follow the command of Christ to “take up his cross and follow.”

How about you?  Have you taken up yours?  Are you following the suffering Jesus?

You might ask me:  How do I do that?  How will I know if I have done it?  You will know it because you will notice the increased weight.

Heard a story recently about a business man who visited the great Passion Play in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  Afterward he went backstage to meet the actor who portrayed Jesus. As they talked, the man saw the cross that the actor carried in the play.
Before the actor had a chance to stop him, the business man handed over his camera and said, “Hey, take a picture of me carrying the cross.” And He bent over and tried in vain to lift the huge cross to his shoulders.
With sweat rolling down his face, he turned in frustration to the actor and said, “I thought it would be hollow; why is it so heavy?”
With a smile of compassion the actor answered, “If I could not feel the weight of it, it would be impossible to play the part.”

Are you like Simon?

Are you devoted, faithful, embracing of suffering, vigilant, ultimately bearing the suffering of others?  Count the cost; take up your cross; feel the weight of it all.

Down With the Old Man, Up With the New

Beginning today I am starting a series on my favorite chapter in the Bible.  It is… a drum roll please… Colossians, Chapter 3.  Find that surprising?  I love this chapter because I believe it to be one of the most beautiful pictures of Christian growth and maturity in the Bible.  It begins like this:

 1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

This is a passage about what happens to a believer post baptistm.  Why do I say that?  Well, verse one says:  you have been raised with Christ.  The word in Greek for raised here is the same one Paul uses in Chapter 2, verse 12:  “…having been buried with him in baptistm and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”  This relationship of being raised out of the baptismal… and being spiritually raised with Jesus at His resurrection… is carried into Chapter 3, Verse 1.  Hence, my favorite chapter in the Bible is all about what it means to live for Christ – after you’ve taken that step of obedience in your discipleship called baptism.  An article in Sports Spectrum years ago tells what a difference baptism plays in the life of a believer.

“Pat Summerall, the well known sports announcer, overcame alcoholism and became a
follower of Christ in his late sixties. He said this about water baptism:  “I went down in the water, and when I came up it was like a 40-pound weight had been lifted from me. I have a happier life, a healthy life, and a more positive feeling about life than ever before.”

About prayer meetings and Bible studies Summerall comments: “It’s like an alcoholic looking for a drink. If he wants it bad enough, he can find it—no matter what. I’m like that when it comes to finding prayer services and Bible studies. No matter where I am working, I know that they’re out there and I can find them.”  (Art Stricklin Sports  Spectrum (Nov/Dec 2001), p. 27)

I like the connection made in this article… between how excited he felt coming out of those baptismal waters and the desire to scope out Bible Study and prayer services where ever he was working.

Becoming a believer in Christ, one undergoes not just an outward washing… but an inward heart transplant (Hebrews 8:10).  Our hearts are no longer chasing after the fame, wealth and comforts that this world can give us… but are after the affections of a living Christ seated at the right hand of God.

One final word about the word, raisedIn the Greek it is in the Aorist tense indicating that our co-resurrection with Jesus is a past completed action.  The moment we were raised with him… our hearts were his.

I still remember the evening of my baptism.  I wasn’t sure it was going to “take.”  For years I had faced the invitation portion of the church service with dread.  I felt an urge to do something, but wouldn’t do anything about it.  I wondered if now, after I had taken the plunge (literally as well as figuratively) I would still have that same feeling.  After my baptism, I changed my clothes and joined the congregation mid-sermon.  When the time came for the invitation… all I felt was… peace.  My heart was truly His!