Was Jesus in the Grave Three Days and Three Nights? Here’s How It Adds Up

In Matthew 12:38-41, we read about how some of the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign that he really was who he said he was: the Messiah. Jesus responded that only one sign would be given to them: the “sign of the prophet Jonah.”

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the Earth.

Here’s the problem: If Jesus died on Good Friday and rose on Easter Sunday, that doesn’t add up to 3 days and 3 nights. At most it adds up to 2.5 days and 2 nights.

So… does that mean that Jesus didn’t stay in the grave long enough to fulfill his own prophecy?

Nope. Jesus really was in the grave three days and three nights, which is why the early Christians also taught that he was raised on the third day (Acts 10:40, 1 Corinthians 15:4). Let me explain how it adds up, but be prepared: it’s going to change the way you think about “Good Friday.”

Some Basics to Start With

  1. The Jewish calendar is lunar (based on the cycles of the moon), whereas the Roman calendar (which we use) is solar (based on the rotation of the Earth around the Sun). As a result, they don’t always correspond, hence the reason why the date of Easter changes every year. Today in Western Christianity, Easter is celebrated on the Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon. For more on why the date of Easter changes each year, click here.
  2. We tend to think of the new day beginning when we wake up, but in the Jewish mindset, the new day begins at sunset. So, when the sun sets on Monday, it is not considered Monday evening, it is considered the beginning of Tuesday.
  3. We know that Jesus resurrected on a Sunday, “the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1)

What is a “Sabbath”?

The word sabbath means “rest,” and it refers to a holy day when no work is to be done.

Every Saturday is a sabbath, but there are other sabbaths as well – also known as “special Sabbaths.” Some of these “special Sabbaths” are celebrated on a specific calendar date, no matter what day of the week that date falls on – kind of like how we in the USA celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July, and we observe that holiday no matter what day of the week it falls on.

In John 19:31, we read this about the day when Jesus was crucified:

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.

The special Sabbath referred to here was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a holiday which is always observed on the 15th day of Nisan according to the Jewish calendar.

According to Leviticus 24:4-14, there are three special holidays in the month of Nisan: Passover (the 14th of Nisan), the Feast of Unleavened Bread (15-22 of Nisan) and the Feast of First Fruits which was held on the Sunday following the Passover.

Let’s Sum This Up

Jesus actually died on a Thursday. Friday and Saturday were both sabbaths: Friday was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Saturday was the weekly sabbath.

Jewish Month of Nisan

How can we be sure that this is what happened?

Several decades ago, the London Royal Observatory took on the challenge that since they could theoretically identify the position of the planets and start on any date in history, to figure out if around the time of Jesus there was such a time when Passover fell on a Thursday. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar, there is always a full moon on Passover, so this is pretty easy to figure out. Not surprisingly, there were several years around the time of Jesus when this took place. It’s really not that uncommon – just like how Christmas falls on a Tuesday every few years.

Even More Interesting…”Coincidences”?

According to Exodus 12:1-13, God told the Israelites that they were to select the Passover Lamb on the 10th day of Nisan. They were to examine it from the 11th to the 13th to make sure it was without blemish, and they were to sacrifice it on the 14th.

If the 14th was Thursday – and Jesus was crucified on “the day of Preparation” (Matthew 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:31) which was the day when Passover began and the celebration began with the eating of the Passover meal (Jesus and his disciples then would have eaten the last supper Passover meal on Wednesday evening). Then what this means is that when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, that was on the 10th of Nisan – the day when the Passover lambs were to be selected!

Furthermore, remember that the Sunday after Passover was the Feast of First Fruits (Leviticus 23:9-11) – which means that Jesus resurrected on the Feast of First Fruits. This is what Paul the Apostle is making direct reference to in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, where he says:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

So there you have it:

Jesus was indeed in the grave for three days and three nights. It really wasn’t that much of an anomaly, but it resulted in two sabbaths back to back – something which regularly happens every few years.

So “Good Friday” was actually on Thursday, “Maundy Thursday” was actually on Wednesday, and “Holy Saturday” was actually two days long.

However, it is incredible to see how God orchestrated and prepared for this to happen as it did for thousands of years before it happened. In reality, the Bible tells us that God had planned this whole thing out from eternity past (see Revelation 13:8) – and all of it so that you may have life in His name by believing! (John 20:31)

 

Carried by a Donkey

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On Sunday mornings at White Fields, I am currently teaching through the Book of Exodus. This past Sunday, we studied Exodus 13 in our study titled “A Cloud by Day and Fire by Night” (audio here).

After bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt, God established 2 annual feasts that they were to observe so they would never forget the deliverance He had worked on their behalf: the Feast of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Here the people of Israel were told that when they come into the Land of Canaan (the Promised Land) they were to sacrifice to God the first-born of both man and beast.

But wait! There are a couple problems with that…  First of all, human sacrifice was forbidden and considered an abomination. Secondly, some animals were considered “unclean” and therefore they could not be sacrificed either.

The solution?  The first-born of the humans and the first-born of the unclean animals both had to be “redeemed,” through an act of substitution. Specifically, it is mentioned that unclean animals were to be redeemed by substituting a clean animal in their place. In the text, an example is given: a donkey, as an unclean animal, could be redeemed by substituting a lamb in its place.

The donkey is a picture of me: pretty stubborn, not very cute, but worst of all: unclean by nature and condemned to death, but I have been redeemed, I have been saved by the substitutionary sacrifice on my behalf of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

But there’s one more part to the story of the donkey:

Hundreds of years after the Passover, Zechariah the Prophet prophesied about the coming King of Zion – AKA the Messiah, that when he entered into Jerusalem, he would come on the back of donkey.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

Why a donkey? Many people believe that in contrast to conquering warrior kings who would enter a city on the back of a horse, an animal of war, by entering Jerusalem on a donkey, the message would be that the Messiah came in peace. Indeed one of the names he is given by the Prophet Isaiah is “Prince of Peace”.

Several hundred years later, Jesus of Nazareth came to Jerusalem, and he entered the city on the back of a donkey, declaring Himself to be the Messiah – and he was received as the Messiah by the people.

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me.
Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:1-2,8-9)

Now here’s the thing: Just as Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, an unclean but redeemed creature – he still enters into the cities of this world in the same way: carried by those who are unclean, but redeemed.

Christian, you are that donkey!

The way that Jesus has chosen to enter into the cities, the homes, the workplaces of this world, is by being carried on the backs of us “donkeys”: creatures who are unclean by nature, who have been redeemed by the sacrifice of the lamb on our behalf.

Paul the Apostle reminds us that God loves to use the foolishing things of this world (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-30), and that includes us: “redeemed donkeys”.

The Problem with Facades

In Exodus 34, we read an interesting story: when Moses went to meet with God on the mountain to receive the tablets of the 10 Commandments, it caused Moses’ face to glow.

It says that when he came down from the mountain, the people were frightened to see his face glowing. In another place we are told that they couldn’t look upon it, because the glow was so bright.

behind-the-veilBut then an interesting thing happens; if you read the text it says that Moses would first let the people look at his face (or at least see that his face was glowing), then he would cover his face with a veil (supposedly for their sake), and then whenever he would go in before the Lord, he would remove the veil, get “charged up,” then come back, let the people see that his face was glowing again, and then put the veil back over his face.

Now, think about it: If the reason Moses covered his face was for the sake of the people, so as not to blind them by the glow on his face, then why let them look at his face first, and only then cover it up until the next time he went in before the Lord?

There is something implied there which is made explicit in another place in the Bible: in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul tells us that the reason Moses covered his face was because he didn’t want the people to know that the glow was fading away…

In other words, Moses hid behind the veil in order to keep up an appearance before the people, that wasn’t really true. Moses didn’t want people to know that he was just like them. He liked having people look up to him and be in awe of him, so he hid his face, lest everyone see that the glory was fading.

It was a facade.

That’s what a veil is: it’s something you hide behind. It’s a kind of mask that you use to cover up your blemishes, lest people see the real things about you that might change their image of you.

As a pastor, I see this a lot.

There are many examples of this today, in our own culture. Oftentimes people are willing to help other people deal with their “messiness,” but they don’t want anyone to know about the messy things in their lives. People tend to be quick to offer help, but reticent to admitting that they need help, or accepting help when it’s offered. They’d rather keep up a facade that they’ve got their stuff together, that their face glows with the glory of the Lord, even when that’s not the case.

In other words: “Life is messy, and that’s okay – as long as it’s not my mess.” “Community is about serving each other, and that’s great, as long as it’s me serving others and not me being served.”

Veils hinder true fellowship and community. Facades can hinder people from getting help when they need it. If your curtains are on fire, but you don’t want to call the fire department, lest your neighbors see that there was a problem at your house, then the fire will spread until the entire house burns down. All too often, that’s exactly what happens.

If your curtains are on fire, but you don’t want to call the fire department, lest your neighbors see that there was a problem at your house, then the fire will spread until the entire house burns down.

Furthermore, when leaders put up a facade, like Moses did, that things are better than they actually are, or that they are more spiritual than they actually are, it creates a culture which encourages people to not be honest about where they are really at. I believe that people deserve to have leaders they can look up to, and that they should expect more from leaders: to be a leader means to be out in front; after all, how can you follow someone, unless they are a few steps ahead of you? However, it should be authentic and not contrived. What Moses did was contrived.

In Genesis 3, we read about the first time people tried to cover up their shame: Adam and Eve had been naked and unashamed until they rebelled against God, but when sin came into the world, they were overcome with a sense of shame, and they tried to hide it by covering themselves with leaves. Leaves are good for a lot of things, but they made terrible coverings. They’re itchy. They’re drafty.

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Here’s what God did: he said, “I will make a covering for you,” and he made them coverings of animal skins. Do you know how you get animal skins? By killing an animal. In other words: because of their sin, an innocent creature had to die, in order to cover their shame.

Are you picking up what the story is putting down? The only way for us to be covered, is by the death of another. That other, the ultimate covering for our sin and shame, was Jesus – the “lamb of God.”

Any of your attempts to cover yourself will be not only uncomfortable and drafty, they will be insufficient and unhelpful. Facades create unnecessary barriers which hinder fellowship and growth. Embrace the covering of Jesus, and pursue authenticity rather than facades in your relationships and in your spirituality!

Beauty Out of Ashes – Video

This past weekend I spoke at Calvary Aurora, while Jack Curran, a great brother from our fellowship, taught at White Fields.

I shared a message about Jesus’ genealogy, specifically about the terrible and messy story of Tamar and Judah from Genesis 38, and how it is a surprising picture of redemption.

I’m pretty sure I was their first (and maybe last) guest speaker to teach from a biblical text that included the word “semen”.

Here’s the video of the service:

Was Paul Suicidal?

Recently at White Fields I have been teaching through Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in a study titled, The Pursuit of Happiness.

This past Sunday I taught on Paul’s famous saying: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” – and I explained how the gospel gives new meaning to our lives and it redefines what death means for us. Audio of that message can be found here.

In that sermon, I didn’t get to what Paul says after that famous phrase. Here’s the rest:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:21-26)

A reader of this blog sent me a message this week about this passage:

I have always wondered if Paul was experiencing a period of depression when he wrote this epistle. What he says in verse 1:22, “yet what I shall choose I cannot tell” even makes me consider that he was in some ways considering “suicide”. I know that sounds preposterous, and I’m not suggesting that he actually thought of killing himself but rather maybe purposely doing something that would result in his death. In todays world it might be called “suicide-by-cop”. It seems as he continues through the remainder of the chapter that he convinces himself that it is better to remain for the benefit of others. It could be that he was just experiencing a time when his death seemed imminent and he was preparing the readers for that eventuality, but I think that he was experiencing a great amount of stress during this time. As always, he was able, through the Spirit, to overcome his stress and turn it into a beautiful, encouraging letter. I believe it probable that all men of great faith experience times of doubt or fear brought on by the enemy.

That’s an interesting thought. Certainly Paul was facing dire circumstances, and I fully agree with the final sentence, but I wouldn’t go so far as to agree that Paul might have been having suicidal thoughts – even to the degree of doing something that might provoke someone else to kill him.

To me, the tone of the letter is one of triumph in the face of harsh circumstances, even death.

I believe that what’s going through Paul’s mind as he writes those words is that he wants to explain something important to the Philippians: That although as Christians, the ultimate hope of the Gospel is the hope of eternal life in paradise with God, that should never minimize the purpose that God has for our lives here on Earth.

This seems to have been a problem amongst some of the early Christians. 2 Thessalonians was written, in part, to let the Christians know that Jesus had not yet returned, that the Parausia, the Second Coming, was still to come – but that as we await Jesus’ imminent return, we should not be inactive;  we should still work hard. That’s why he says:

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12)

The context of that, is that the Thessalonians were eagerly expecting the return of Jesus any day – as all early Christians did, and as it seems that Jesus intended all Christians to do, which is the reason for his vagueness about when his return will take place.

The point is this: We should not have a Christianity in which we encourage people to just believe in Jesus and then hang on and wait for death! I think Paul wanted to Philippians to understand that: that Christianity isn’t only about going to heaven when you die, it’s about living this life for Christ – as much as, and as long as possible.

It’s not only that because of the Gospel, DEATH IS GAIN – but also: because of the Gospel, TO LIVE IS CHRIST!

Another reason why I think Paul was not discouraged when he wrote to the Philippians is because he closes the letter by saying:

Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. (Philippians 4:21-22)

What this means is that members of Caesar’s household, including the Praetorian Guard (members of which were chained to Paul 24 hrs a day in 6 hr shifts), were becoming Christians through his being there in jail. I think Paul was feeling particularly encouraged after facing years of discouragement prior to this. Finally he was starting to see some fruit and the purpose for which God must have allowed this series of terrible difficulties and injustices happen to him. Many of us may never get to see that in our difficulties, but when we do it helps to encourage us that God is indeed in control and using all of the frayed strands to create a beautiful tapestry.

 

What is Baptism with Fire?

This past Sunday I was out of town, officiating the wedding of some friends in Minnesota. It was my first time in Minnesota, and it was really nice! I can see the appeal of the lakes.

So this past Sunday I was out of town, but the week before that I preached a message titled “Baptism by Fire” in which I taught about the events of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the church in fulfillment of the promises of not only Jesus, but also of God from even the Old Testament. I made reference to the words of John the Baptist, who said that he baptized with water unto repentance, but that one (Jesus) was coming after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, and I talked about how the fulfillment of that is found in Pentecost, when the believers were baptized with the Holy Spirit, and as a sign of them each individually receiving this baptism, tongues of fire rested on each of their heads.

Afterwards, someone asked me a great question: Whether the baptism with fire that John the Baptist was talking about was a description of the baptism with the Holy Spirit (like I had taught), or if John was speaking of the fire of judgment – because in the very next verse, John the Baptist says: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12)

Here was my response:

I am familiar with that interpretation you mention, and I think it’s entirely possible given the context of what John was talking about — which is promise of the Messiah and a warning of judgement. In this interpretation, the assumption is that Jesus is saying: he will baptize some people with the Holy Spirit and other people he will baptize with fire — i.e. the same fire of judgment that he refers to in the following verse (vs 12).

Is that what John meant by those words? I agree with you (and many Bible interpreters) that it is quite possible that this is what he meant.

The other main interpretation about this, is that the “fire” is a reference to the Holy Spirit and the purpose of the tongues of fire on Pentecost was that they were a sign that these words of John were now being fulfilled. This is the line of thinking that I took in my sermon. Here’s more on that from the Holman Bible Dictionary:

Fire is one of the physical manifestations of God’s presence. This is illustrated several times in the Bible: the making of the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:17 ), the appearance in the burning bush (Exodus 3:2), God leading the Israelites by a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 14:24; Numbers 9:15-16; Numbers 14:14; etc.), His appearance on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18; Exodus 24:17; Deuteronomy 4:11-36; Deuteronomy 5:4-26; etc.), and others (1Kings 18:24,1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2Chronicles 7:1,2 Chronicles 7:3 ).

Fire was used symbolically in Israel’s worship to represent God’s constant presence with Israel (Leviticus 6:12-13 ). God’s presence as fire represented both judgment and purification (the words purify and purge come from the Greek word for fire). To be in God’s presence is to be in the presence of absolute holiness where no sin or unrighteousness can stand. To be in the presence of God is to have the overwhelming sense of one’s uncleanness and the overwhelming desire to be clean (see Isaiah 6:1-6 ). God is able to judge and destroy the sin and purify the repentant sinner.

To be baptized with the Holy Spirit has a wider application than this; but when the Holy Spirit is coupled with fire, the particular aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work as described here is in view.

One thing I would add to this excerpt is that fire is a cleansing agent, and one of the roles of the Holy Spirit as he indwells us is sanctification, e.g. Rom 8:13.

This is one of the difficulties of Bible interpretation — to figure out what exactly was meant by a particular word or phrase in its context. In this case, both options are theologically sound and contextually possible, so it’s kind of a win-win. I’m glad to have the chance to explain a little more about the fire aspect and what the significance of it might be.

When I Don’t Feel Like Going to Church

The story of told of the man whose wife came in to wake him up on a Sunday morning:

It’s time to get up honey, you need to get ready for church!  You’re going to be late!

I don’t want to go to church today!  It’s boring and the people there are all jerks and nobody is nice to me.  

But honey, you have to go to church!  You’re the pastor!

Now, just to be clear: I LOVE going to church!  And not just because I’m the pastor.  But I do know that some people sometimes struggle for various reasons with not feeling like they want to go to church.

I would encourage you with the words of Paul’s letter to the Galatians: That going to church, being in fellowship, joining in prayer, singing songs of praise and worship to God, partaking in Communion, hearing the Scriptures read aloud and expounded upon, hearing the Gospel message proclaimed and applied to real-life scenarios – these things are tantamount to “sowing to the Spirit”.

Paul says in Galatians 6:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Gal 6:7-9)

When you don’t feel like going to church, I encourage you to make the choice to sow to the Spirit – take that hour and a half out of your Sunday morning to sow to the Spirit and you will, in due season, reap a harvest of joy and life and righteousness.

Why You Need a Mission

Do you remember being 7 years old? Most of us can.

I have a 7 year old — and there’s a sense in which I would much rather spend time with 7 year olds than 37 year olds, because the thing about kids at that age is that they are full of life and they are so incredibly full of hope! They aren’t jaded and cynical like a lot of adults you meet.

And one of the ways you see that hope, is how every child loves stories about HEROIC quests! About ADVENTURES — about SAVING THE WORLD

World-Saving Missions — that’s what all the great stories are about! The movies, the books, the fairy tales which most excite you — that’s what they’re all about: World-Saving Missions!

And children innately love and believe in world-saving missions, and when they think about their own future and what they want to do when they grow up — they think of it in terms of MISSION!

Earlier this year, my son had his Kindergarten graduation. And during that ceremony, each of the kids talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up. And you know, not one of them said: “I’m probably just going to work in data entry! I’m hoping to sit in front of a computer all day, in an office, pushing papers… If I get lucky, I’ll get my own cubicle…” No! It was: “I want to be a doctor! I want to be a soldier! I want to be a firefighter, a police officer” — one kid said he wants to be President!

Do you see how their focus is: “I’m going to make a difference! I’m going to HELP PEOPLE! I’m going to change things! I’m going to make things RIGHT!”

These children see their future in terms of mission!

And why do you think they want to help people and save the world? Because there is JOY in that!

You see — there is a link between Joy and Mission. Mission is a requirement for joy!

And as we grow up — throughout our teenage years, and into our twenties — high school, college — we hold onto this ideal, of doing something significant to change the world and make things better! Many people I know chose their major in college because they wanted to make an impact for good in the world! They had a desire to bring healing and justice and love and peace to the world! People who study to become teachers or pastors — they didn’t do it to get rich! All the teachers I know — they went into that profession because they wanted to make an impact – to change lives!

But what happens? We see all these adults, running the rat race, but they have no joy in it… They’ve got all the stuff — the house, the cars… but they’ve got not joy. And the reason they lack joy, is because they don’t have a Mission!

In our culture, when you become an adult — you are sold this philosophy which says that idealism and dreams of saving the world are fine for kids — but now it’s time to grow up. And in the real world, all that really matters is your own personal fulfillment and comfort. And a lot of people buy into that, and they trade that mission of changing the world and making a difference, for this new goal of Personal Fulfillment.

But the problem is: When you have no higher cause than making yourself happy and comfortable, then you no longer have a mission; you no longer have anything to live for or to die for or to sacrifice for — except yourself… And when you don’t have a mission, you don’t have joy, because mission is a requirement for joy.

A lot of people are lacking joy, because they are lacking mission. You need a mission! You are BUILT for mission! And when you are living for yourself, you have no mission — and inevitably you will lack joy, because having a mission is a necessary requirement for you to have joy!

Jesus says that very thing, in John 17 — as he sends his disciples out on mission. In John 17:13, Jesus says that he wants his disciples to have the JOY that he has. And that’s why he prays in Vs 18: So, just as you (Speaking to the Father) sent me into the world, so I am sending them into the world. Jesus is saying: “Father, I want my followers to have the same JOY that I have — so, in order that they might have my JOY, I’m giving them my Mission!”

In Hebrews 12:2, we read this incredible statement: it says there that for the joy that was set before him, Jesus him endured the cross, despising the shame. Jesus endured the cross for you. He bore your sin and your shame. That’s the story of the Cross. But this verse takes us behind the scenes. To where God the Father came to the Son and said: “I’m sending you on a Mission! A mission to bring truth and life and salvation to the world that is just broken and dying under the curse of sin and death! And you’re going to go and save them! But it’s going to cost you everything! You’re going to have to take all the punishment, and all the suffering — and it’s all going to fall upon you. And it’s going to crush you! It’s going to tear you to pieces… But as a result, people are going to be saved. Lives are going to be transformed and set free – forever! You’re going to redeem them.”

And as Jesus considered that mission — consider both the cost and the pay-off of this mission — His heart was filled with one thing: JOY! It was the JOY of knowing the final outcome, which carried Him through the difficult times — that made him able to endure the cross and bear the shame. And so Jesus says: I want other people to have MY JOY — and so I’m sending them out on mission — so that they might have fullness of joy.

The reason many people lack joy in their lives is because they are living only for themselves! They have no mission, they have no higher commitment than themselves.

The irony is: The more significance you give to yourself — the less significant your life will actually be. The more you live for yourself — the less you will make a difference and have an impact in the world!

But Jesus says: “I’m giving you a mission! And if you accept this mission, God will use you to bring truth and life and salvation and redemption into the World. Yes, there will be a cost! It will cost you time and energy and resources to fulfill this calling and do this mission. It may even cost you your whole life! But it is something which is worth living for and dying for and sacrificing for — because there is nothing more important in the world, than this mission.”

You need a mission. It’s a fundamental human need. It’s a basic requirement for joy. And the Mission of God is the only mission which is legitimately worth giving everything for, because it is the only mission which actually has the potential to save the world.

[This is an excerpt from a message titled “A Mission from God”, the whole of which can be listened to here]

 

When God Says “No”

One of the things we’ve been doing at White Fields Church is giving people the opportunity to text or tweet us questions during the sermon.

Yesterday morning I taught 2 Samuel ch 7, which is the time when David had a desire to build a house for the Lord, but God said “No!”  That has some interesting implications, because what David wanted to do was a good thing, and it was a biblical thing – yet God said “no”.

This question was texted in during that sermon:

This morning in the sermon, you discussed having a desire to be a missionary, pastor, etc. If we have that desire in our hearts, didn’t God put that there? So why would He close The door if He put that desire there?

That is a great question!  The first question is a particularly important one: Did God put that desire there?  I believe that as we get closer to the heart of God – delighting ourselves in the Lord, as David said (Psalm 37:4) – that our desires are changed and become more aligned with His desires. 

In the story we studied yesterday in 2 Samuel 7: David had a desire. It was a good, noble desire – it was even a Biblical desire. Did God put that desire there? Maybe! Or maybe not. We don’t know for sure. There is a way in which we could argue that God did put that desire in David’s heart – but that David’s role in fulfilling that was not to be directly involved in the building of the temple, but indirectly – as we saw, how David got the ball rolling with the building of the temple and had all of the items made which would be used in the temple.

Let me share an example from my own life: I gave my life to the Lord when I was 16, and almost immediately I developed a desire to minister to the people of the former Soviet Union, specifically Ukraine, where my family had immigrated from. When I was 18, I was invited to go on a ministry trip to Budapest, Hungary – to a conference for Calvary Chapel churches from Hungary and Ukraine. It was the Ukrainian part which I was interested in, and I went there with the hope that I could connect with some ministries in Ukraine. I was able to do that, but interestingly all of the “doors of opportunity” for me to serve in Ukraine seemed closed, however there was an incredible open door and an invitation for me to serve in Debrecen, Hungary – the pastor there told me he had been praying for someone exactly like me to come and work with them. I had no real desire to go to Hungary, my desire was to serve the Lord in Ukraine – but I prayed about it and came to the conviction that this is what God had for me at that point, and after serving there for a little while I could move to Ukraine, where I really desired to be. I committed to go to Debrecen, Hungary for 8 months. During those 8 months, I prayed for Ukraine constantly, I even tried to go to Ukraine to work with some of the people I had met the year before at the conference in Budapest, but once again all the doors of opportunity were closed!  My feeling was: God, why did you give me this desire to serve you in Ukraine, and then close all the doors before me?!  Yet, in the meantime, I had become very proficient in Hungarian and was involved in some very exciting and fruitful ministry in Hungary. I came to see that perhaps God had given me that desire to serve Him in Ukraine in order to get me to pray and to get me to Hungary – which hadn’t even been on my radar, but which ended up being the “land of blessing” for me, where I met my future wife, where I became a pastor, where my 3 kids were born, where I was involved in years of fruitful and wonderful ministry. Was it God who put that desire to serve Him in Ukraine in my heart? I’m not sure. But He certainly used that desire in my life to lead me to where He wanted me to be.

My desire to serve the Lord in Ukraine never went away; I still have it. But I have come to rest in believing that God gave me that desire not in order to move me to Ukraine, but so that I would carry the people of that country on my heart and pray for them, and support what God is doing through other people there – which is exactly what I strive to do! This desire to serve the Lord in Ukraine led me to start taking teams from our church in Eger up to a Hungarian-speaking region of Ukraine, where we would do evangelism and support ministries in that region. I also had the opportunity to take extended trips to Ukraine and teach in a Bible school there. Who knows what God has for the future, but I very much can relate to David – who, although he was not allowed to be directly involved in the building of the temple, found a way to still be involved in it in a signifiant and meaningful way, indirectly.

So, to the question: If you have a desire to be a pastor, missionary, etc. – did God put it there? If so, why would he then shut the door?    I think that 2 Samuel 7 shows us that even if God is the one who put that noble desire in your heart to serve the Lord in a particular way, perhaps the fulfillment of that desire is not found in you fulfilling the role you specifically have in mind – perhaps the fulfillment of that desire will come in a way that is completely from God, and has a greater impact, even in your own life, than you could have ever imagined.

Have Mercy on those who Doubt

There are certain verses which don’t get as much air time as they deserve.

The Book of Jude is only one chapter long, but talk about one chapter that is packed with thoughts worth contemplating.

In verse 4, Jude addresses a particular kind of false teaching, which he says belongs to people who are ungodly. Namely: they pervert the grace of God and make it into a license to sin.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen that attitude amongst Christians more times than I can remember. It is incredibly common, and I believe it is related to the discussion of “free grace” and perceived value, which I wrote about last week.

Towards the end of his letter, Jude gives a call to action:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 1:20-23 ESV)

What I see here in Jude is a man who had a very important balance in his heart and in his message:

  • Pursue holiness!  Don’t compromise!  Preach the Gospel in truth, calling people to repentance!  
  • But show mercy to those who doubt. Be patient with people who are struggling with doubts, who have sincere questions, who are struggling to believe. 

There is a difference between a mocker and a doubter. A mocker is one who doesn’t even take the time to thoughtfully consider something – the kind of person who says: don’t confuse me with facts; I’ve already made up my mind.

A doubter though, is one who is willing to thoughtfully consider, but they have honest questions. I think this is where so many people are at in our society. I think this is where a lot of young people are at, coming out of high school, getting into college, as they begin to explore for themselves what it is that THEY believe, apart from their parents. Our posture towards them must be one of patience and mercy, helping them find real answers to their real questions.

The fact is, not everybody who isn’t a Christian is a hater. Some of them just have sincere doubts. And they are not to be seen or treated as enemies or adversaries.

The difference between sincere doubt and mocking doubt is portrayed very clearly in Genesis chapter 18, where God tells Abraham and Sarah that they are still going to have a baby, even though they’ve already been waiting for 18 years for that promise to come true. Sarah laughed, in a mocking “Yeah, right…” type of way.” Abraham asked, “Lord, how can I know that you will really come through on this promise?”

The difference was, Abraham was struggling to believe; he was struggling with sincere doubts. Sarah however had already determined in her heart that this whole thing about God’s promise to them was just a cruel joke.

May we have the posture that Jude had: No compromise, holiness for ourselves – and mercy and patience towards those who wrestle with sincere doubts.