WHO ARE YOU GOING TO BELIEVE?
Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
MARCH 27, 2016
1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep. ’ 14 And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
— Matthew 28:1-15, ESV
During an election year or anytime a big news story happens, I like to watch the coverage on both CNN and FOX News. Though they both claim to be unbiased, it is amazing what a partisan point of view can do. While focusing on the same speech or set of facts, totally different conclusions are made. When agendas are more important than the facts, one event can be spun into two completely different story lines.
Into a partisan world, Jesus came. It was a spectacular event, to be sure. He lived, He loved, He died, these are the facts. Of course, there is another important fact. On the third day after He died, the grave in which He was placed was revealed to be empty. There was no body, there were no bones, and, at first, there was nobody there who could explain it.
All parties involved attested to the fact of the empty tomb. But in response to this singular event, two very divergent stories emerged. Four women told one story. A cadre of guards, priests, and government officials told another. Who are you going to believe?
The big news event before us today is something we simply call the good news, or the gospel. The gospel is the person and work of Jesus Christ. God became a man, lived a sinlessly perfect life, sacrificially laid down that life upon the cross, and rose again from the dead on the third day. In the gospel there are many dramatic moments, some call them miracles and some call them myths. But is the Jesus story fact or fiction?
The gospel cannot be mere mythology, for there is more historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth than any other human being who ever lived. Whether you believe or not in the virgin birth, the sinless life, the miracles, the crucifixion, and resurrection depends upon your point of view. But the fact that the man lived and died is virtually beyond dispute. And no one can call into question that on the third day, the tomb was empty.
How did it get that way? What happened to the body of Jesus? Two stories emerged.
Most people then, and now, could not believe the first story that came out. It claims, after some initial confusion, that Jesus bodily arose from the grave and appeared to many of His followers, beginning with the first to testify. These first witnessed were rural, uneducated women: “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (mother of James the Less).” The other Gospels tell us that Salome (Zebedee, James the Great’s and John the Beloved’s mother) and a woman named Joanna were also at the cemetery, a fearsome foursome.
The fact they were all women made their testimony unauthorized and unreliable in Jesus’ day. The fact they were unsophisticated makes their testimony somewhat unbelievable in our day. Women of the first century were chattel in a chauvinistic culture, had few if any civil rights, and could not even testify in a legal proceeding. These particular women were simple, hardscrabble, working people, of whom it is said tend to cling to guns and religion during difficult times.
Mary, Mary, Salome, and Joanna didn’t have any guns. But, they had religion. More than that, they had a deep devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. So, a story of faith came flying out of the tomb. But most folks, then and especially now, cannot accept things on faith.
Therefore, another story had to materialize. But was it based on fact? Remember, this fact is the same in both stories: the tomb is empty. The women fold a faith-based story. The men of the guard, the Jewish priesthood, and the Roman authorities, however, told the opposite. The opposite of a faith-based story is not necessarily a fact-based story, for in this important case the men involved told a lie-based story. With evidence to the country, they concocted a tale that told of men slipping past the guards and the heavy stone to steal the body of Jesus away by night. And as the text tells us, “This story has been spread … to this day.”
One event, two stories. Why such a divergence? It all depends upon your point of view.
Two Points of View
Admittedly, these women were predisposed to believe the gospel. They had walked and talked with Jesus for three years or more. Mary Magdalene, prone to addiction and dealing with demons, was delivered by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The other Mary and Salome had sons who were among The Twelve, and Salome probably had the pleasure of watching Jesus grow up. Joanna had ties to Herod Antipas, who tied himself to John the Baptist, who had told everyone that Jesus is the Messiah. They came to the tomb that day as believers, albeit imperfect ones.
The women had miscalculated, however, that the gospel ended with crucifixion. They had in their hands embalming spices, to finish a job that women can do better than men (like most jobs). They were as shocked as the rest of the world that Jesus’ body was gone from the tomb, and did not fully believe until, according to their eye-witness report, angels from Heaven and the Lord Jesus Himself proved the resurrection to them. Then they went and told Peter, John, and the other disciples, and for the next forty days, Jesus would verify His bodily resurrection to many members of His fledgling church.
Why did the believers believe? Because they were simple? No, men and women with high IQ’s have followed Jesus since the beginning. Because they were bought off? No, true Christianity does not make that kind of earthly bargain. They believed because God had given them a certain and sure revelation of Himself to them. For some it was the miracles, from water turning into wine to the bodily resurrection from the dead. For some it was the love in His eyes, the truth of His voice, the healing in His hands. For some it was the perfect fulfillment of the prophetic word spoken from the Old Testament prophets to John the Baptist to Jesus Himself. For some it was the appearance of the angels, or the resurrected Christ. Belief requires revelation, and the entire revelation of the gospel and the word of God is consummated in the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Why did the guards and the Jewish priests and the Roman authorities not believe? Why do most people in the modern world not believe? It is because they are predisposed, too. They are predisposed to sin, which makes faith impossible. They are predisposed to self-interest, valuing money and bribes more than brave truth-telling. They are predisposed to independence, preferring to govern their own lives on their own terms rather than submitting to a risen King of kings and Lord of lords. Their exercise of their God-given gift of free choice has freely chosen to be self-serving, and the lack of grace in their lives causes a heartening of the heart that no cardio-vascular surgeon can cure. Unbelievers unbelief is due to their deliberate choice to look away from the facts, to ignore the biblical revelation, and to live out lifestyles which they think are better than a life committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, who are you going to believe?
As the father of four daughters, I’m going with the four women! I believe them, I believe in Jesus, I believe in God’s word and the gospel. God gave me this revelation, He gave it to me through the witness of other believers, and I believe that Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!
But I understand the pressure on the guards, the pride of the religious establishment in Jerusalem, and the pure greed of the Roman government. A commitment to the risen Christ would have cost them everything. Even for most people today, this is just too much to pay.
The guards couldn’t believe or it would have cost them their bribe, and dollars were hard to come by in that day. Besides, guards of escaped prisoners were generally sentenced to the same fate as the escapee, and they didn't want that. So, they turned away in unbelief from the gospel, even though they of all people knew that it was true, in exchange for money and an easier life.
The Jewish religious rulers couldn’t believe or it would have cost them their control over other people, which they loved. It also would have cost them their pride, to admit they were wrong about religion in general and the gospel in particular. When truth and pride collide, the former is almost always sacrificed for the latter, in cultures old and new.
The governor couldn’t believe or it would have cost him his position, power, and prestige. Those who seek to successfully climb the social ladder cannot be slowed down by the gospel or the Christian faith. Faith is not compatible with runaway riches, unfettered sex, and pleasure at the expense of principle.
Today, you face this same set of facts about Jesus, this same fork in the road of your life. The tomb is empty, that’s a fact. But when, how, and why does it matter. It matters, ultimately, in this life and the next. So, who are you going to believe?
FROM PASSOVER TO THE OVERPASS
Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
MARCH 20, 2016
1 When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” 3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas 4 and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.
— Matthew 26:1-5, ESV
I grew up in an idyllic southern town that was laid out foursquare. The streets ran vertically, the avenues cruised horizontally, and a series of train tracks divided the city between north and south. Those trains rolled long and slow in my childhood days, and it was not uncommon for a long enough, slow enough train to block traffic for a half an hour or more. Back then, there was no overpass.
Since the hospital was on the north side of town, accidents and other medical emergencies south of town could run into a serious problem. The lack of an overpass caused ambulances to be stalled south of the tracks on many occasions. And, on occasion, people died.
So, an overpass had to be built. Like any other municipal decree, it was controversial, messy, and expensive. After years of waiting and wrangling, it finally got done. Now there is an overpass, and the overpass has saved lives.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is an overpass. It was decreed by our sovereign God. It is controversial, messy, and expensive. Yet, it saves lives. Yours could be one.
Jesus Preaches the Gospel
We turn a page in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus’ public ministry ends and His public humiliation, suffering, and death is about to begin. In chapters 24 and 25, He has spoken about the crown He will wear at His second coming. But in Chapter 26, He reminds them about the cross He must bear at His first. Jesus preaches the gospel to His disciples, and tells them in two days He is going to die.
This is actually the fourth plain preaching of the gospel that Jesus gives to His disciples, according to the disciple Matthew. Christ spoke boldly of His death, burial, and resurrection in 16:21, and is answered by Peter’s misguided rebuke. Jesus does it again in 17:22-23, this time met with stunned silence and fear. In 20:17-19, the Lord offers the same simple message, which this time turns James and John into opportunists, wanting the best seats at the table.
The fourth and final preaching of the gospel by Jesus is fairly unique. Jesus’ emphasis is on crucifixion, which at this point would have still been unimaginable for the disciples to accept. So, to help their acceptance and understanding, Jesus ties the upcoming crucifixion in with an ongoing Jewish tradition: the Passover. Perhaps the picture of the Passover will help Christ’s disciples, old and new, to come to grips with the cross.
Jesus and the Passover
Matthew’s is the most Jewish Gospel, yet this is the first time the most important of all Jewish rituals gets a nod. Perhaps it was not until Jesus mentioned it in connection with His crucifixion that Matthew, and the other disciples, finally began to understand. In fact, no Jew or Gentile can really understand the gospel unless we comprehend the Passover.
The Passover is the quintessential event of the Old Testament. Until it happened, Israel was under a death sentence. The Egyptians, having already enslaved the people of God, were systemically committing genocide against them. For a century it had been their policy to abort male babies, allowing females and a few males to live on in bondage. If it had not been for God, His servant Moses, and the Passover, there would have been no salvation for the Jews.
The Passover itself was a ministry of death and life. In this tenth of ten plagues that led to the Exodus, God decreed the death of the firstborn of all who lived in Egypt. However, the Passover provided an overpass that lead from death to life. It was controversial, messy, and expensive. It required sacrifice, death, and blood. Whoever, in faith, would take the blood of an innocent, sacrificed lamb and put the blood in the shape of a cross over the top and sides of the entrance to their home, would be saved. God’s death angel would pass over that home, and the residents inside would be provided with an overpass from death to life, from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to Israel.
The lamb, the blood, and the cross allowed the Passover to paint a picture of salvation for Old Covenant saints to celebrate each year. But in the fulness of time, Christ became the Passover, and the overpass, for those among all nations who repent and believe in Him.
Jesus Is the Overpass
It takes a lot of planning and a lot of people to build an overpass. So it is with the gospel. God planned it before He laid the foundation of the world. But people, in real time and space, played a part in the planning as well.
The Jerusalem religious establishment has been plotting to kill Jesus ever since He burst on the scene as the would-be Messiah three years ago. By the time of the final Passover observed by Jesus, they have finally had enough. They would seek out a traitor, seal ties with imperial Rome, and sack the one who claimed to be the Christ.
The Romans did their part in this perfect planning by devising the execution method known as crucifixion. It was controversial, messy, and expensive. Yet, it perfectly fulfilled the Old Testament Passover and provided the overpass to New Testament Christianity.
The people, representative of the whole human race, played a pivotal part, too. The religious rulers acted in stealth because the people clamored for health and wealth. That’s right, the people loved Jesus and would have objected at first to His arrest and death sentence. Not, however, because they believed He could provide salvation from sin and death; but, because He had the potential to provide them with miracles, healing, and free food.
So, it looks like we are all to blame. Religious hypocrites, government elites, and the popular masses all took part in the building of the overpass. It was controversial, messy, and expensive. But it has been built, all under the supervision of our sovereign and gracious God.
Jesus is the gospel. Jesus is the Passover. Jesus is the overpass. He is the only bridge from sin and death that leads to salvation and eternal life. He alone can atone for sin and impute perfect righteousness. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (ref. John 14:6).
If you had lived on the outskirts of Egypt in the land of Goshen during the days before the first Passover, what would you have done? Would you have thought it hopeless and silly to sacrifice your family lamb and paint its blood in a cross outside your home? Would you, like so many would later prove, that you preferred the comfort and complacency of slavery and death in Egypt rather than go through the controversy, mess, and expense of riding an overpass to the Promised Land? Or, would you exhaust yourself in faith and spend yourself in trusting God and the blood of the lamb for your salvation?
“Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power,
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour,
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?”
“Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb;
There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean,
O be washed in the blood of the Lamb!
— Elisha Hoffman
SHEEP AND GOATS:
A FINAL WORD ABOUT FINAL JUDGMENT
Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
MARCH 6, 2016
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. ’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? ’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. ’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you? ’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
— Matthew 25:31-46, ESV
From the first “Day of Atonement” in Leviticus to the last recorded sermon of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, goats get a bad rap. Sheep seem to fare much better. As illustrated in this end-times parable preached by the Lord, at the end of the day there is a vast amount of space between the sheep and the goats.
But this is not so throughout Scripture. As a matter of fact, with the exception of our text at hand, sheep and goats are basically treated equally by the word of God. Sheep can be found roaming around the Bible approximately 180 times, while goats get in the way in around 160 places. Both are sacred, sacrificial animals in the Levitical law of the Old Testament. Both are relatively stupid, so they aptly illustrate the sinful things human beings can do. Sheep and goats are both made in the image of God, they both are engaged in religious activity, they both make wrong turns and sinful choices. At the end of life, however, they meet with two very different fates. What is the real difference between a sheep and a goat? Why the sudden and final separation by God? And where will you be, with the sheep or the goats, when Christ comes again?
Here Comes the Judge
The most amazing thing about this text or any passage of Scripture is what it teaches us about God. The bottom line here and elsewhere is this: Jesus Christ is Lord! “The Son of Man … will sit on His glorious throne … and the King will answer.” The deity of Christ and the triunity of God are cardinal doctrines of Scripture. They come into clear focus here, at least in the equality of God the Father and the Son.
The “Son of Man” was a favorite title of the Son of God, who stressed both His humanity and His deity. Jesus declared, “I and the Father are one” (ref. John 10:30) and told His followers, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (ref. John 14:9). There is only one “glorious throne” because there is only one true and living God. The word, the Spirit, and the Son reveal the great, glorious, triune God to us.
Within the trinity, however, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, has a special dual purpose carried out by His two trips to earth. He came the first time to give us the gospel, in living color, in human flesh, in preaching and teaching, in living and dying, and in rising again from the dead. He will come the second time to judge “all the nations.” That’s people, all people, all of us. Not everyone accepts the gospel, but no human being can escape the judgment of God.
When Christ returns, the King of kings and Lord of lords will judge you, innocent or guilty, and assign you to an eternal home with either the forgiven sheep or the guilty goats.
Here Comes the Judgment
This is how Jesus judges the sheep. He puts them on the “right,” symbolizing the fact that they are right, or righteous, with God. Their right standing comes from being “blessed,” meaning they have received, not earned, grace and mercy from God. The blessing enables them to “inherit,” again an indicator that they receive something they did not achieve, specifically “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Therefore, the sheep are persons chosen by God before creation. They were made to share in His eternal kingdom. At a predestined point they were given give grace and mercy to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, whereby their sins are forever forgiven and they are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. In other words, sheep are saved by grace through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is how Jesus judges the goats. He puts them on the “left,” for they will be left behind when the gates of Heaven are closed. He called them “cursed,” cursed with sin and its penalty for which in their lifetimes they found no cure, for they either ignored or rejected or faked acceptance of the gospel. He puts them in a place of “eternal fire,” or irrevocable judgment, along with “the devil and his angels,” a place I assure you do not want to be.
Therefore, the goats are the people, relatively good and bad, religious and irreligious, who bypassed the grace of God and spurned faith in the gospel and made a bed for themselves upon which they will lie for all eternity.
The difference between the sheep and the goats will be unmistakable on Judgment Day. But how about now? How can you tell the difference between a sheep and a goat today? Jesus gives an answer that is not quite as clear as it seems.
Here is the Evidence
What is the evidence Jesus uses to judge the sheep and the goats? Is it grace, and if so, how do you see grace go from the hand of God to the heart of a human being? Is it faith, and if so, how do you measure the quality and quantity of a person’s faith? Is it works, and if so, can a person really be saved or lost based on their works?
A first look at this parable seems to point to works, social work, as the dividing line between the sheep and the goats. The sheep, according to Jesus, fed the hungry and quenched the thirsty and housed the stranger and clothed the naked and visited the infirmed and imprisoned. The goats did not. So, if you want to go to Heaven, engage yourself in serious social work and God will let you in, right?
Wrong. Any doctrine of salvation by works is false doctrine, and Jesus did not preach heresy. He preached the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But such faith is never alone, it is always followed by spiritual concerns and a social conscience (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10).
Take a second look at the parable, particularly a key piece of the earthly evidence behind the eternal verdict. When the sheep did their work, they did it, according to Jesus, “To Me.” The goats most likely engaged in social work, too, and seemed surprised by Christ’s condemnation, but Jesus explained, “You did not do it to Me.” Therefore, the difference between the sheep in the goats is not the work they did, but who they did their work for.
Sheep, by the grace of God, have eyes of faith to see God and see God in others. They gravitate to the “brothers” of Jesus, the family of God, the fellow sheep, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. They care about the human needs of people, but they care more about the spiritual needs of people, because people made in the image of God need the Spirit of God and the word of God to live eternally.
Goats may care about people, too, but only for today, not eternity. Goats may well believe in Jesus, but they do not live for Jesus. Goats may be good people, sort of, better than many sheep it would appear. But you do not escape judgment and go to Heaven by being good. You get to Heaven by grace, through faith, which produces good works, evidenced by serving Christ, serving the church, serving others.
Here is one final observation about sheep and goats and final judgment. Sheep and goats are both followers. Sheep, however, follow shepherds along with other sheep. Goats follow their own appetites. It reminds me of some other things Jesus said in order to draw the dividing line between eternal life and death:“Follow Me,” which He said 21 times in the Gospels, including John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org