Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lessons learned on the road to Emmaus; Luke 24:13-32

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.  I remember as a boy, I had a voracious appetite to read books.  I grew up without a television and so reading was for me the primary source of entertainment.  Everything I became interested in, I first of all went to the library and checked out every book I could find on the subject.  And that was all fine and dandy until one day I decided I wanted to learn Karate.  There were no Karate schools around, and if there were I would not have been allowed to attend them anyway.  So I found a couple of books on the subject and started trying to learn it on my own.  I put on a bathrobe which kind of looked like a Karate outfit and talked my little brother into joining me and began trying to do the things I saw them do in the books.  But it wasn’t long before we found out that a little knowledge was a dangerous thing.  We seriously hurt one another trying to do stuff that we had not been fully trained to do.  Eventually, we decided we better quit before we killed each other.

That same principle is true in Christianity.  It’s possible to come to a certain understanding  of the gospel, to make a certain amount of progress in your faith, to set sail so to speak in your journey, but because there is not sufficient knowledge of scripture or doctrine to go off course and  encounter shipwreck. In Hosea 4:6 God says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

But as we live in what is sometimes called the information age, the age of the internet,  we must make a distinction between information and true knowledge.  There is a lot of false information being bandied about out there.  In fact, I would suggest that there has never been a time in history when so much information has been available. 

We have yet to see what the result will be of what unmitigated access to information in this computer age will have on society.  To some extent, we are conducting a massive social experiment.  The general public’s  access to the internet has only been going on about 20 years now.  And this generation is being shaped by the internet in ways that have yet to be fully realized.  In times past, a person had to have some sort of credentials in order to be published.  Today, however, anyone with a computer can become an instant expert and throw his opinion out there on the internet.  Truth has become practically indistinguishable from folly in the internet age.

So there is a lot of information out there, but I am here to tell you today that there is only one source of truth.  Jesus told us in John 8:31, ““If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  God’s word is truth.  Jesus was the manifestation of that eternal truth, which existed in the heavens before the world began, and became flesh and dwelt among us.  So that Jesus might say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father except by Me.”

So the truth of God is contained in scripture.  And as Paul told Timothy, knowledge of the scriptures is necessary to lead you to salvation. 2Tim. 3:15, “from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”  But as we see in this account of the encounter on the Emmaus road by two of Jesus’ disciples, it is possible to know the God of the scriptures, to know some scripture, but to have a limited understanding of scripture. To lack the wisdom of applying scripture.  And that is a dangerous thing. 

There was obviously a limited view of theology that had been taught to most Jews at the time of Christ.  And this viewpoint, especially as it pertained to the Messiah was flawed enough to keep people from recognizing Jesus as the manifestation of the Messiah.  The whole nation had a limited, flawed theology of the Messiah because they camped out on some doctrines and dismissed others that did not mesh with their chosen theology.

Listen, we face the same dilemma today in modern Christianity.  There is no lack of teaching, of books, of Bibles,  available in every language, there is no lack of churches, of Bible schools, of preaching on the radio or on television and even on the internet.  And yet our people are perishing for lack of knowledge.  We have failed to do as Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, “study to show yourself approved unto God as a workman that does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”

Instead, the vast majority of people today that call themselves Christians have developed and bought into a limited version of theology.  Many people today have a one dimensional view of God,  they have denied the Lordship of Jesus Christ, they have denied the essential doctrine of sanctification without which the Hebrews 12:4 says no one will see the Lord, they have even gone so far as to deny that they have any sin, even though 1John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

It’s important for you to understand something in this day and age of instant experts and slick television evangelists and proliferating false doctrines, the Bible is God’s word from cover to cover.  From Genesis to Revelation.  Jesus is the Word of God in Genesis that spoke the word and created the universe, and Jesus is the Word of God in  Revelation that will destroy His enemies by the two edged sword of His mouth. Heb. 13:8 affirms that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  A correct theology must incorporate all of what the Bible teaches into a comprehensive theology, without ignoring parts that don’t seem to meet with your template, but comparing scripture with scripture, the whole counsel of the word of God.

Having a scripturally centered theology is illustrated in this passage we are looking at today.  There are some lessons presented here on the road to Emmaus that will help us to understand the principle of “sola scriptura,” the sufficiency of scripture which serves as the foundation for our sound doctrine. 

Now there were two men, one of which was named Cleopas, who had been followers of Jesus.  Yet in spite of following Him, in spite of hoping in Him, they now found themselves in spiritual shipwreck.  They were like a ship without an anchor.  They had just witnessed the crucifixion and it completely destroyed their theology.  They had hoped that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah.  But when He was crucified it destroyed that hope, because they had been taught that the Messiah would bring about a political, social and spiritual change that would result in Him overturning Roman rule and taking the throne of David in Jerusalem.  This was what they had been taught in the synagogues and by the priests, and they had plenty of scriptures to back up their theology.  The only problem was that they did not consider the whole counsel of God’s word. 

So Jesus suddenly appears to these two men as they are walking to Emmaus from Jerusalem.  They are sad. They are down hearted over what has happened.  And their faith is seriously in jeopardy.  But as they are walking, Jesus comes up behind them and appears to them to be just another person on the road leaving Jerusalem after the Passover.  Vs. 16 says that their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. 

Now I can’t read that without wondering why?  Why couldn’t they recognize Jesus?  I don’t believe that it was because His form was changed.  Notice it says THEIR eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.  I believe that Jesus veiled their eyes so that they could not recognize Him. They saw Him, they saw a normal person, but they didn’t recognize Him as Christ. 

But why would Jesus do that?  Was He just being mischievous?  Was He playing a trick on them or trying to deceive them?  No, I think He was making a point, illustrating an important principle which would be in operation now that the resurrection had taken place.  His disciples would be entering a new phase of His ministry, which is where we walk by faith and not by sight.  As Jesus would say to Thomas later in John 20:29, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."

Jesus is illustrating an important principle; that the person of Jesus Christ is revealed in scripture.  Truth is revealed in scripture, and Jesus is the manifestation of that truth, the word of God.  So when they saw the truth of scripture, they would see God. There eyes were closed until they believed in the word of God. This is why we put such an emphasis on the authority of scripture.  This is why we preach the scriptures word by word, verse by verse.  This is why it is so important.  This is why we say that the scriptures are the inerrant, God breathed words of God. Heb. 4:12 says that “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword…”  It’s alive, it’s active, it’s the Spirit of God contained in the word of God.

But I want you to notice something here.  Jesus is walking along within earshot, incognito,  listening to the disciples converse.  I wonder how long Jesus walked near them,  listening to their conversation?  I wonder how often Christ is in our midst, even today, incognito, sitting in the back seat listening to us talk as we drive home from church in the car.  Listening to us at work.  Listening to our conversations with our friends.  I think if we realized that He is always nearby then we would have a different way of talking.

So Jesus eventually comes alongside these guys and says, “what are you guys talking about?  Why are you so sad?”  And they stopped dead in their tracks and looked at Him in despair, “Are you the only person visiting Jerusalem who hasn’t heard of what has happened?” And Jesus said, “What things?”

Now understand something, Jesus asks these leading questions, not to be duplicitous, but to get them to declare their theology, and then having heard it, he will use that as a means to teach them.

So they answer Him saying; “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive.  Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.”

So the key to their bad theology is this;  they knew Jesus was a great prophet, but they had hoped He was the Messiah.  However, the crucifixion of Christ had destroyed that hope, because their theology called for a living, physical king to take the throne and overturn their enemies.  They were good on the glory part of their theology.  But they had no understanding of the suffering part of the Messiah. They hadn’t been taught that in synagogue. 

I find that analogous with a lot of Christian theology today.  The television evangelists are really good on the glory part.  They are all about having your best life now.  They are really good on the parts about freedom in Christ, and blessings in Christ.  But they have failed to comprehend the suffering parts.  The forsaking of the world.  The crucifixion of the flesh.  The denial of the lusts and passions of the flesh so that we might live a God pleasing life.  That part is not being preached today.  They fail to understand the same thing these two on the road to Emmaus failed to understand; that the path to glory is on the road to suffering.  The Messiah’s suffering was to come before His glorification.  And Jesus said the disciple is not above His master, ladies and gentlemen.  We must join the fellowship of His suffering in the present world if we expect to be glorified with Him in the next.  Paul said in Rom. 8:17 that we are the children of God and fellow heirs with Christ “if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”

So Jesus uses their bad theology as a jumping off place to preach a sermon.  I love it.  I also like what it says about how He preached a sermon.  I like how the KJV says He expounded the scriptures to them.  I do expository preaching here not because I can’t think of a good topical message.  But because I think the power is in the word of God, and so we expound it, explain it to bring out the truth that is inherent in the word.  You know, I can prove almost anything by finding a verse somewhere that seems to say something confirming  what I am trying to assert.  But expositional preaching is taking in consideration the full counsel of the word, from Genesis to Revelation as you explain a passage of scripture in context.  The parameters of the context both in the immediate passage and then to all of scripture helps us to stay centered on the truth.

Jesus says in vs. 24, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

What scriptures is Jesus referring to?  Well, the NT scriptures have not been written yet.  So Jesus is preaching NT theology from OT scriptures.  I want to be sure you get that today.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. The OT is still the inspired, eternal word of God.  Jesus said He didn’t come to annul the law, but to fulfill it.  So Jesus started with Moses, that means He started with Genesis and worked through the Pentateuch, which was called the Law, then through the Psalms, and through the minor prophets, showing them how they taught that the Messiah must suffer before He enters His glory. 

Now we don’t have His message recorded for us here, but we do have His source material. We have the OT scriptures and we know what they say about Christ’s suffering.  So we might surmise that the scriptures that the Lord taught from may have been such as these;  He may have started with the promise to Eve in Genesis 3:15 that He would be the bruised seed which would crush the head of the serpent; He might have reminded them of the promise to Abraham in Genesis 22 that God would provide the lamb for the offering; I’m sure He pointed out that He was the Passover Lamb that was prescribed to deliver them from death in Exodus 12;  that He was the scapegoat of Leviticus 16 that was offered for the atonement of the people; that He was the brazen serpent that was lifted up on a standard in Numbers 21;  that He was the smitten rock in the wilderness from which came forth living waters according to Numbers 20; He was the suffering servant in Isaiah 50 that gave His back to those who strike Him and His beard to those who would pluck it; He was the One who bore our griefs in Isaiah 53, who was crushed for our iniquities, and the chastisement for our sins was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed; He was the Soul not abandoned to Sheol in Psalms 16; that He was the reproach of men in Psalm 22 whose bones are all pulled out of joint; that He was the One betrayed by His friend in Psalm 55; He was the weeping prophet of Jeremiah; He was the pierced son of David in Zechariah 12; and He was the smitten Shepherd in Zechariah 13.  All of these and perhaps so many more would have been the subject of His message concerning His suffering. 

Well, I don’t know how long of a message that was, but it probably took a while.  Long enough that they were at the village where they were staying.  And Jesus acted as if He was going to go on further.  But they implored Him to stay with them.  Once again, Jesus isn’t trying to deceive them.  If they had not asked Him to stay with them then He would have gone on further.  And that is instructive for us as well.  Jesus is not going to force Himself on you.  His desire is that you desire Him.  The reason He created us was not to produce a bunch of robots who have to choose only one way or respond in only one way.  He designed us for love, for a relationship, for communion, for fellowship.  That is what He desires; a people who will choose to obey Him because they love Him and not because they have no choice. 

When they listened to His words they said that their hearts burned with them.  That is the way love feels.  I ask you folks here today; does your heart burn at the reading of God’s word?  Is that what the preaching of God’s word produces in you?  It should if you are a true child of God.  If you love God you will love His word.  If you were separated from your wife or husband or girlfriend or boyfriend, would you find yourself bored with the reading of their letters?  Or would your heart burn within you as you read their words?  If you love them, you will love to read their words.  It won’t be a chore.  It’s an act of love.

And so that brings us to the last lesson to be learned on the road to Emmaus.  The word of God brings us into communion with God.   Jesus turned aside to go in with them and have dinner with them.  And Luke says that “when He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.” 

What is the significance of all of that?  Why did Jesus vanish as soon as they recognized Him?  I think it was because He was continuing to teach them the principle of the sufficiency of scripture. By the word of Christ their souls were fed.  By the word of God their hearts were warmed.  By the word of God their doubts were erased.  By the word of God their doctrine was established. By the word of God their faith was strengthened.  By the word of God they were given hope.  By the word of God they saw God.

I hear people today say that if only they could see God then they would believe in Him.  But that is not how God has designed it.  He says the just shall live by faith. Heb.  11:1 says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  But it’s not as though God has asked us for blind faith.  He has revealed Himself in His word.  I believe that was what Jesus was teaching that day.  He expounded the scriptures to teach them about Himself.  And when they saw Him as the Word of God, in the word of God, then they truly saw God. 

Listen, the picture presented here is Christ breaking the bread and blessing it and passing it to His disciples.  It’s a picture of communion, which means fellowship. We can have fellowship with God through His word.  We don’t need to seek extra biblical visions or experiences to have fellowship and communion with God.  We find fellowship with God in communion with His word.  And when these men saw Jesus in the word, then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him as sitting across from them.  And when their eyes were opened, He vanished from their sight.  They didn’t need to see Him anymore.  Like Jesus told Thomas, “how much more blessed are those who don’t see Me and yet believe in Me.”

Listen, these men took advantage of the opportunity  presented by the visitation of the Word.  They begged Jesus to stay with them so that they could hear more of what He was teaching them.  They had a hunger for truth.  But they could have let Him leave when He made as if He was going to go further.  There are times when we may come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and though we recognize it, we may not always act upon it.  We may allow the moment to pass, and in so doing, we have let go an important opportunity to know Christ more fully.  These men seized the opportunity of Christ’s availability, and they received a blessing. Isaiah 55:6 says,  “Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near.”  If the Lord is speaking to you today, don’t let the opportunity pass to respond to Him.  You may not get that chance again.  Today is the acceptable day of salvation.   The word of the Lord has been preached.  The truth of the gospel has been revealed through the word of God.   How will you respond? 

Jesus said in Rev. 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”  You want to have communion with God, fellowship with the Son?  Then open the door and invite Him in.  He will not force His way in.  But know this, that He loves you so much that He gave His only begotten Son that if you believe in Him, you will not perish but have eternal life.  He came so that you might know the truth and that the truth shall make you free.  The choice is yours. The Lord has come near to you today.  I hope you will invite Him to stay with you.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Left Behind, Luke 24:1-12

 I’m sure you all have heard of the movie that came out recently in the theaters called “Left Behind.”  As you may know, it is from a book series that has been around for quite a while actually, by a Christian author named Tim LaHaye.  In case you’re not familiar with the story line, the basic premise is that there is a divine event called the rapture in which all Christians mysteriously disappear and the series deals with the people on earth that are left behind to deal with the tribulation events.

Well, at the risk of offending some of you, I think that may make for entertaining novels or movies, but I believe it’s bad theology.  Or more precisely, bad eschatology.  Just for the record, I don’t subscribe to the rapture theology, but I do believe in the second coming of Christ, and I do believe in the resurrection of the dead. 

Now I say all of that, not to start a fight with anyone over their pet doctrine, but because I wanted to title my message today, “Left Behind,” and I wanted to disassociate it right away from that book series.  But the Biblical context for “left behind” that we are going to look at today is found in this passage which recounts for us the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I’m not going to try to somehow turn this into a sermon on the end times, but rather I want you to consider the ramifications of Christ’s resurrection.  Because Christ’s resurrection is the keystone of our faith. 

Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians that Christ’s resurrection sets a precedent for our own resurrection.  So it is important that we understand how that works.  Look at 1Cor. 15:20-24,  “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.  For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming,  then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.”  Notice the phrase, “first fruits.”  Christ is the first fruits in regards to the resurrection.  That means He was the first to be raised from the dead to a glorified life.  And as He was raised, so will the dead in Christ be raised.

If it were not for Christ’s resurrection, then Christianity would be of no consequence.  All that Jesus came to teach about the kingdom of God would have been invalidated if He had not risen from the dead.  The ministry of Jesus would have been a failure.  If He had not been raised from the dead, then atonement would not have been enacted for sins.  If He had not been raised from the dead, then His sacrifice would not have been deemed sufficient by the righteous Judge.  In fact, if He had not been raised from the dead, then He had not been sinless as we had hoped, nor was He the Son of God.  Paul goes on to say in I Cor. 15:17-19 “and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” 

So no wonder that His followers were disillusioned after His death.  It’s no wonder that they were scared and holed up in a room hiding out from the rulers of the Jews.  In spite of all that Jesus had prophesied concerning His death and resurrection, they were totally unprepared for it, and were completely without comprehension of it’s meaning.  As far as they were concerned, everything that they had believed about Christ and the kingdom of God had gone down the drain when Jesus was arrested and crucified. 

But conversely, what His resurrection signified was everything.  It was hope of the greatest magnitude.  It may have still taken them a little while for His followers to grasp the full implications of it all, but the fact of His resurrection meant hope.  It meant assurance of salvation.  It meant forgiveness of sins.  It meant victory over death.  No wonder the disciples were filled with power after the Holy Spirit came upon them and no wonder that they were bold to preach the gospel even at the cost of their lives.  Because they now knew that their Savior, the Lord Jesus, had the power over death.  He had the keys of death and Hades.  He had triumphed over sin and the devil.  And now, because they were His, there was no fear of death for them. 

You know, obviously great technological advances have been made in the last 2000 years.  We can do so many things today; cars, airplanes, traveling to the moon,  instantly able to talk by computer to people thousands of miles away.  Incredible technology is available to our modern society that would have been unimaginable for the average person 2000 years ago.  But one thing technology has never been able to overcome, and they never will. Despite all the advances of society, mankind still cannot escape the hopelessness of death. 

In fact, I believe that part of the reason for the hopelessness we see so often evidenced in our youth today is that though technology has made pleasure and fulfillment of our passions and  entertainment more rapidly available, yet ironically it only serves to enable the average young person to find out by age 20 what it took our grandfathers a lifetime to find out: that the temporary pleasures of this world are unfulfilling and without the hope of eternal life there is no point to life at all.

So though the story of the gospel is 2000 years old, still the resurrection is a message that should resonate with every man, woman and child.  Because the fact is that death has to still  be faced by every person as Heb. 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”  But the hope of the gospel is that though Jesus died as a man, the just for the unjust, yet He rose again as the first fruits of those that believe in Him.  He died and rose again so that man might have the hope of life after death.

So I want to look at the resurrection today from the perspective of what Jesus accomplished through it.  Rather than just regurgitating the historical narrative, I would like to try to bring out a series of simple truths that can be framed through the lens of what Jesus left behind.  When Jesus rose from the dead, He left behind some things.  And in so doing, His resurrection reveals certain things we can leave behind as well, as He is the first fruits.  And as He was, so will we be. 

To start with, when Jesus rose from the dead He left behind the darkness. Look at vs. 1, “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.”  One of the saddest sights I have ever seen was passing by a graveyard at night I noticed a grave marker here or there illuminated with a little light.  As if the surviving relatives were trying to give some measure of comfort to the bones and dust kept there inside the coffin.  But I am afraid that there is no light that can reach six foot down through the darkness inside that coffin, except one.  And that is the light of the world that is Jesus Christ.  Through His resurrection Jesus vanquished the darkness.

Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”  John said that Jesus “was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”  So the first simple truth that is established because of the resurrection is that Christ has vanquished the darkness of the shadow of death.  He is the light of the world that gives light and life to all who believe. 

Secondly, when Jesus rose from the dead He left behind the Sabbath and all the ceremonial laws that had been a burden to the Jews. Peter referred to these ordinances in Acts chapter 15 as a yoke that neither they nor their fathers had been able to bear. Notice vs. 1 says, “on the first day of the week…”  As I pointed out last time, Jesus body lay in the tomb on the Sabbath day.  His body kept the last Sabbath under the Old Covenant but His Spirit  was alive and about the Father’s business in Paradise.  But with the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week, the early church put away the Sabbath celebrated the day of resurrection in the new covenant as the Lord’s Day. 

The Sabbath, and all the attendant ceremonial laws were foreshadows of what was fulfilled in Christ.  We saw earlier how Christ was the fulfillment of the Passover Feast.  We don’t keep the Passover today, because it was fulfilled by Christ who was the Passover Lamb.  Today we keep Communion, or the Lord’s Supper.  If you remember Christ changed the Passover to the Lord’s Supper in the upper room on the night before His crucifixion.  And  similarly, the Apostles changed the observance of the Sabbath to a celebration of His resurrection on the Lord’s Day. 

Paul said in Colossians 2:16-17 “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--  things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”  So the resurrection of Christ left behind the ceremonial laws, the dietary laws, the Sabbath and festival laws, the sacrificial laws, all of those things which were a mere shadow of what was to come, that is Christ who fulfilled those foreshadows.  Now Hebrews tells us, we no longer need the shadows, for the fullness is now realized in Jesus Christ. 

Thirdly, in His resurrection Jesus left behind an open tomb.  Vs. 2, “And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.”  What does the open tomb signify?  It simply signifies that Jesus has made a way to escape death. Paul tells the Corinthians that for those who are in Christ Jesus, death will not have dominion over them, but Christ has given us the victory over death.  1Cor. 15:51-54 “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed,  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.”

Fourthly, when Jesus rose from the dead, He left behind His grave clothes. John 20:6-7 adds some more detail to Luke’s account.  John said  “Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.” 

Why do the gospel writers bother telling us about the grave clothes and the face cloth?  I can assure you it was not to lend some sort of credence to the fairy tale of the shroud of Turin.  But I would suggest that it is a picture of leaving the trappings of the old man in the grave and the new life that comes through Jesus Christ. Isaiah 61:10, “I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness.”  So therefore, according to Eph. 4,  those that are in Christ Jesus are to lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, (the old corrupt, dead garments of the flesh) and  be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

Paul likens it to being awakened from the dead. Rom 13:11-14 “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.  The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”

Fifthly, when Jesus arose from the dead, He left behind witnesses.  Vs. 4-7 “While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. 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."

At the birth of Christ we saw many appearances of angels, heralding His birth to the shepherds, announcing His birth to His parents and various people.  Now at His resurrection it is only appropriate that we see angels attending this occasion as well. In the various gospel accounts, there are descriptions of angels sitting at the foot and the head of where He had lain, there are descriptions of angels as young men, there are descriptions here in Luke of angels in dazzling apparel. And some cynics that would point all of that out as some sort of discrepancy of the gospels.  But what I think is actually going on here is that for a short time at the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the veil between this world and the spiritual world is pulled back, and there are seen angels all over the place, appearing and then reappearing.  Appearing in various forms.  But their purpose is to minister to Christ’s followers.  That is the purpose of angels.  Hebrews 1:14 tells us that angels are “all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation.”  So they appear to announce the good news to the confused an bedazzled group of followers of Christ.

And they are not the only witnesses.  Paul says in I Cor.15:3-8 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”

And because of those witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, we too are to be witnesses to the world of the good news of the gospel. Acts 1:8 “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

Sixthly, when Christ arose from the grave He left behind the dead.  Note vs. 5, the angels said, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen.”  This question points to such a fundamental misunderstanding that men have concerning death.  You need to understand something; death is not a state of being, it is an act. It is not a condition, it is a transition. 

Contrary to what some people think, and even what one old hymn seems to teach, Jesus did not lie dormant in the grave for three days.  There is an old hymn we used to sing when I was a boy called “Low in the grave He lay.”  Well, His body laid in the grave.  But I can tell you this for certain;  Jesus wasn’t there.  Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” 

In 1 Peter 3:18 we read that “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison.”  So though He was in Paradise He was able to speak to those in prison, that is Hades, and proclaim victory over sin and death.

The Bible teaches that there is a first death: it is appointed unto every man once to die, but there is also a second death.  Everyone participates in that first death. But as Jesus illustrated in His death and as He also described in the story of Lazarus and the rich man, though their body is in the grave yet in their Spirit they are alive in either Paradise or Hades.   But for the Christian there is no fear of the second death. Rev. 20:6 says, “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”  So by resurrection we shall escape the second death just as Christ did.  But for those that have rejected Jesus they are held in prison, which is Hades until the judgment.  And then they too will be resurrected. Rev 20:13 “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.  Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.”

But for those that have believed on Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they too will leave behind death and enter into everlasting life.

Finally, the resurrection of Jesus left behind despair.  The last time we saw Simon Peter He was in despair.  He had denied the Lord Jesus three times at His trial.  He then abandoned Jesus, after having boasted that He would never fall away, He would never desert Jesus.  And yet before that very night was over he had denied Christ.  Peter, who was the strongest, the bravest, the most ardent in His faith.  Peter, the man Jesus said He would call Rock.  Peter, who would be the foundation of the church of Christ, had fallen away from Christ, swearing fiercely and denying Him three times.  And afterwards in the pit of despair Peter went out and wept bitterly. 

But now, when the women came back to the mourning disciples with the news that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb, the angels said He was risen, while the rest of the disciples were unbelieving, Peter got up and ran for the tomb. Vs. 12 “But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.”

Why did Peter run?  I suggest Peter ran because he wanted more than anything to have his heart of despair taken away.  He wanted more than anything to see His Savior.  He wanted more than anything to know the joy of forgiveness for betraying His Master.  I think Peter ran to the tomb crying in a mixture of hope and repentance.  I can imagine Peter with tears streaming down his cheeks running through the streets in the early morning, praying aloud, “O God, if Jesus is truly risen I will never, ever leave Him again.  If you will just forgive me I will serve Him with my life until the day I die!” I can only imagine the fervor and the passion that this news awakened in Peter. 

I think Luke makes a colossal understatement when he says that Peter finding no body there, but only the linen garments, went away to his home marveling.  I think as he considered the implications of the empty tomb Peter suddenly had joy where there had been nothing but despair and suddenly had hope when there had been only discouragement.  

Ladies and gentlemen, I wonder how many of you today find yourself mired in despair over your denial of Christ?  How many of you have denied Christ by what you have said, or by your actions, or by your lifestyle and now find yourself living in discouragement?  I want you to know that the resurrection of Jesus can give you hope.  I want you to know that Jesus sought Peter out before His ascension and let him realize reconciliation with God.  Jesus gave Peter a new mission.  And Peter went on to preach the first message after the resurrection and 3000 souls were saved that day.  He went on to be the first pastor of the very first church.  God had a plan for Peter.  So no matter how badly you might think you have messed up, no matter how many times you may have denied Christ, you need to remember that Jesus came to save. He rose from the grave to provide reconciliation with God. And that reconciliation is available today to you as well. 

Listen, God is not the God of the dead who have no hope, but of the living.  Christ rose from the dead to redeem you from the captivity of sin, and set you free. Heb 2:14-16, 18, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,  and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.  For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. ...  For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” 

The story of the resurrection is that there is hope in Jesus Christ available for you today.  That we might live no more to die in our sin, but to have life in Christ, and to have it more abundantly.  I pray that today you might find the peace that comes from being right with God.  Jesus is waiting.  Won’t you run to Him?  He will meet you and forgive you and take away your despair and leave you marveling at His grace, even as He did with Peter. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sanctification through the burial of Christ, Luke 23:50-56

As I have alluded to many times before, Luke has an interesting way of arranging and presenting his historical account in such a way as to present an underlying allegory or symbolism that teaches a fundamental doctrine or principle of Christianity.  And in today’s passage, I think we see that illustrated in the burial of Christ.  The symbolism in this passage of the burial of Christ presents for us the doctrine of sanctification.

The doctrine of sanctification is one of the most essential doctrines of the gospel, but unfortunately also one of the most overlooked doctrines.  Modern churches today  tend to eschew teaching sanctification for fear of appearing legalistic.  But I would simply remind you of what the author of Hebrews has to say about how important a doctrine it is; Heb. 12:14 says, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”

Yet in spite of that declaration, I would dare say that the majority of people in church today would be hard pressed to be able to aptly define sanctification. I believe that this account of Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea will enable us to come to a Biblical understanding of this essential doctrine.  So to that end we will look at three principles of sanctification presented in this passage; sanctification realized, sanctification symbolized, and sanctification multiplied.

First though, let’s establish the context of this account.  As Jesus hung on the cross, we have seen several reactions to the crucifixion.  We saw out right scorn and ridicule and hatred from various members of the crowd.  But we also have seen at least two conversions; that of the thief on the cross, and the centurion.  Both of these men were saved as a result of the effect of the crucifixion.  However, the thief on the cross was a deathbed confession, if you will.  He went to Paradise within hours of his salvation.  And as to the centurion, we don’t have any more information available in scripture as to what became of him after the cross. 

And there were two other groups represented there that day; the crowd which went away, returning home, lamenting the death of Jesus, and the women and acquaintances that stood afar off, watching from a distance.  Now of the two latter examples, you will remember we said the crowd symbolized people who had an emotive response to the death of Christ, but they went back to their previous way of life.  They were not saved, but they went away sad, without hope.  And then there were the women and acquaintances that stood at a distance.  You will recall that I identified these people as being disciples but wanting to stay as far away as possible from the cross and still be ok.  They are examples of people today that want the assurance of Christianity, but they don’t want to get too carried away with it.  Don’t let it become embarrassing.  Don’t let it dominate your life.  It’s what we used to call in management the 20% that will get you the 80%.  Doing the least possible for the greatest possible result.  That categorizes most Christians, I am afraid.  Walk down the aisle, say a prayer and then you’re good to go to heaven when you die.  Maybe try to come to church now and then if it doesn’t interfere with your golf game.

So that’s where we left it last time.  Though we have seen some people saved, seen the thief enter into Paradise, we’ve seen nothing of sanctification.  Everyone has either been just saved or saved but standing afar off or even deserting Jesus.  So the Holy Spirit prompts Luke to introduce to us a new character by the name of Joseph of Arimethea as an illustration of the process of sanctification realized. That introduces the first point; sanctification realized.

Now perhaps we should start with an explanation of what sanctification is and how it fits into salvation.  There are three stages to salvation.  The first is justification; the act of grace, whereby God imputes to the sinner Christ’s righteousness in response to his faith.  God transfers our sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to us.  That is called justification. 

The second stage of our salvation is the process of sanctification; the act of dying to sin and living for Christ.  That is what is so vividly illustrated in baptism.  We are buried with Christ to sin, and raised with Christ to new life in the Spirit.  We are dipped under the water as a symbol of death, being buried, and raised up out of the water as symbolic of a new life in the Spirit.  We die to the old man, and are raised as a new creation.  Old things are passed away, all things become new. 2Cor. 5:17 “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”  We die to the old way of life, and start living out what we have been reckoned to be spiritually.

The third stage of our salvation is glorification.  The act of being transformed from our old body to a new body at the resurrection of the dead or when Christ shall appear.  This is when this fleshly body will be changed, when this mortal shall put on immortality, and we shall live forever with the Lord, when we shall see Him face to face and be made like Him, to receive our inheritance to rule with Christ.

Now those three stages of salvation must happen or there is no salvation.  You can’t eliminate any one of them.  For instance, you can’t eliminate glorification.  Paul said in 1Cor. 15:19 “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”  If there is no eternal reign with Christ, then we are of all men most to be pitied.  Glorification is absolutely essential to salvation or there is no hope in this life. And the same can be said about the other two; justification and sanctification.  We must first be made holy so that we can then live holy lives.  One cannot exist without the other. 

So as Luke comes to the end of the crucifixion, I believe he includes this account of Joseph of Arimethea in order to illustrate how sanctification is realized.  Because in all the other examples we have seen here, sanctification is not evident.  But as we have said, it is essential and I think he sees  the burial of Christ as a perfect metaphor for what comprises sanctification.

Now in vs. 50 he introduces Joseph of Arimethea.  Nothing has been known of this man before this text.  And yet  all the gospel writers include him in their accounts.  Each of the gospel writers include something about him which helps us to get a complete picture of who this guy was. If you put them all together we understand first of all that he was rich. He donated a private tomb in a garden for the burial of Jesus.  This would have been an appropriate burial site for a king or very wealthy individual. And furthermore, the gospels tell us he was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin.  The Sanhedrin was the 70 members of the Jewish ruling society that made up what was like the high court of Judaism.  They were the ones that had conspired to put Jesus to death along with the High Priests.  But what Luke and the others tell us was that Joseph did not consent with their plan of action.

But what is most significant about this man was as Luke said he was a good and righteous  man who was waiting for the kingdom of God. Luke says good in the sense of spiritual goodness, and righteous – “dikaios”, the  same exact word used in verse 47 of Christ. “Certainly this Man was righteous.”  Jesus was righteous and Joseph was righteous.  Jesus was righteous by nature, and Joseph was righteous by grace.  We don’t know when it happened, but it was the same righteousness.  If you’re righteous, you have the same righteousness as Christ does.  That’s what Paul says in Philippians 3:9, “not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” So, Joseph is righteous as Jesus is righteous, only in Joseph’s case it’s a gift of grace. Joseph has been justified by faith through grace.

But there is a caveat that John adds in his gospel.  He says in John 19:36 that though Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, he was a secret one, for fear of the Jews.  Joseph may have been justified, but he was still holding back in his discipleship.  He was following from afar.  He might even have been at the cross with those women, those acquaintances that stood afar off at the crucifixion.  He feared the Jews, that would be the Sanhedrin.  He was afraid of being ostracized.  Like a lot of Christians, he wasn’t open about his faith at his work.  He was afraid of what it might cost him.  He didn’t want to be seen associating with Jesus openly, because it might cost him politically, or socially, or economically.

But there is something that happens to this man as he witnesses the crucifixion of Christ.  When so many others abandoned Jesus in this hour, this man found himself drawn there by the sovereignty of God.  And as he witnessed the death of Christ I think he was convicted by the Holy Spirit.  As he saw Jesus die on the cross, it prompted him to ask himself if he was willing to die for his faith as well.  Not necessarily to die on the cross, but to die to the fear of criticism, die to the fear of losing prestige, power and social standing, to die to the allure of the world.

I don’t know what it is, but there is something about a person that goes bravely to their death that sometimes serves as a catalyst for those that are holding back in their faith.  If you read Fox’s Book of Martyrs there are several documented examples of people witnessing the execution of a Christian who came to the knowledge of saving faith in that moment, and then take their place alongside the victim to be burned at the stake as well.  They were inspired by the commitment of the martyr.

Somehow, as Joseph witnessed the courage of Christ on the cross, the compassion of Christ for His enemies, and the conquest of Christ in His victory cry, “Tetelestai!”  “It is finished!”  He was moved to a realization of his need for a greater consecration of his faith in his own life.   Mark says that immediately upon the death of Christ, Joseph mustered up his courage and went to see Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body.  That was a greater act of courage than what we might imagine.  Undoubtedly he met some of his colleagues there from the Sanhedrin who had just been asking Pilate to break the victims legs so that they  would not hang there on the Passover. His courage to walk into Pilate’s praetorium meant an end to the secrecy of his discipleship, and probably meant an end to his position as a judge in the Sanhedrin as well. And not only that, but he had to identify himself as a friend of Jesus to the Roman governor, the very man who had sentenced Jesus to death. 

So not only does he identify with Jesus life and teaching, but he identifies with His death.  And I think this is the picture that Luke wants us to see.  The way of sanctification is the way of death.  Dying to the world.  Dying to whatever it is that separates us from Christ. Col. 3:3 says, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Therefore, Paul says in vs. 5, “consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.”  Joseph realized that only by dying to the world could he gain the sanctification that comes from following in Christ’s footsteps and so he courageously stepped out in faith and asked for the body of Christ.  And what we can take from his example is that sometimes the process of sanctification can take a while.  That’s why we call it a process of sanctification. There may be times when there seems to be little evidence for a person’s salvation.  But if God is in them, then there will come a time when God moves them to a greater consecration of their lives.

Then look at vs. 53 and we see sanctification symbolized.   “And [Joseph] took it down [that is the body of Jesus] and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain.”  I want you to think about the physical act of Jesus dying for a moment.  Picture Jesus hanging there on the cross.  Around 3pm He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit My Spirit.”  And he breathed His last.  Jesus died.  His last breath went out like a sigh and He was dead.  His lifeless bloody body hung there by nails.  Just try to imagine that for a moment.  The Son of God, lifeless, dead, hanging there.  A corpse on a cross.

What a tragic, horrible picture.  It would be the saddest picture that ever existed except for one thing: Jesus wasn’t there anymore.  Look back in the text at what He said, “Into your hands I commit My Spirit.”  He released His Spirit from His body.  What was hanging there was the flesh and blood that once clothed that Spirit, but Christ’s Spirit was alive and in Paradise.  1Peter 3:18-20 says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.”  What Peter is talking about is that immediately upon His death, just as Jesus told the thief on the cross, His Spirit was in Paradise. 

Paradise was described by Jesus at an earlier time as Abraham’s bosom, the place where Lazarus went after dying to be comforted with his people, even as his master, the rich man was sent to Hades.  And Jesus related how there was a great chasm between the two destinies.  Some think that Paradise is the  upper chamber and Hades the lower chamber,  and that somehow in this spirit world they are able to communicate and observe, but they cannot cross over.  Peter says though Jesus’ body was hanging upon that cross, and then laid in a tomb, yet in His Spirit He was alive and He went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison.  Jude says specifically that these spirits were the disobedient angels that were bound in the lower dungeons of hell until the judgment day.  Jesus went and proclaimed victory over sin and death to these fallen heavenly hosts. Col. 2:15 says, “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.”

There is much that we could say of Jesus in the lower regions of the earth but I cannot take the time to discuss it all today.  But I want you to consider the symbolism of His burial.  And one thing that is touching on our discussion of sanctification is the picture of Jesus being dead in the flesh, and being made alive in the Spirit. That is the picture of sanctification.  When we enter into the process of sanctification, we consider our bodies as dead, voluntarily crucifying our flesh and it’s passions, so that we might be made alive in the Spirit to walk in the Spirit. 

When you are born again, the Holy Spirit is given to you in full measure.  So there is no process of getting more of the Holy Spirit.  We don’t need to seek what some call a second baptism.  Because the very nature of salvation is that we are baptized with Christ into death. 1Pet. 3:21 “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  Peter’s not saying water baptism saves you.  He makes that clear.  But it is a reference to the mortification of the flesh as we appeal to God for forgiveness of sins.

So the way to a sanctified life in the Spirit is not to get more of the Spirit, but to crucify more of the flesh. Scripture speaks of that crucifying of our flesh as either circumcision or baptism.  In Col. 2:11-14 Paul uses both metaphorically; “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”  Sanctification then is the putting to death the deeds of the flesh so that we might live in the Spirit and do the deeds of the Spirit.

Note also vs. 54, “It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.”  It is noteworthy that God planned it so that Jesus body was in the tomb on the Sabbath Day.  This is a pivotal point in the gospel.  It is the last day under the old covenant, and so you see everyone trying to make all these preparations for the Sabbath so that they don’t do any work on it.  Technically the Sabbath started at sundown on Friday evening.  And so they are all working to get Jesus off the cross and buried and then get home before sundown so they don’t break the Sabbath.  But look at what Jesus is doing.  His body, which represents the old man under the first covenant, is dead in the tomb, resting.  His body is keeping the last Sabbath under the law.  But in the Spirit Christ is alive and moving.  He is about the Father’s business. He is the perfect picture of dying to the flesh and being alive in the Spirit.

It reminds me of John 5, when Jesus was accused of breaking the Sabbath because He was healing on the Sabbath, and Jesus answered them, ““My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”  The principle of the Sabbath as a day of rest is this; the rest that is found in Christ is resting in the finished work of Christ for our justification, and resting in the power of Christ working in us for our sanctification, and resting in the hope of resurrection for our glorification.  It’s not that we don’t keep the moral laws of God anymore.  We never could.  But now the law of God is written on our hearts and on our minds so that our desire is to please God, so we keep His commandments not because of the law but because of love.  Jesus said, “if you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” 

Heb 4:9-11 says, “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.”  Our Sabbath rest is found in diligent obedience to the Spirit of God.  The Spirit of God convicts us and leads us through the Word of God.  Vs. 12 continues to that effect, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Finally, one more point; sanctification multiplied.  Besides the obvious benefit of sanctification to the one being sanctified, there is another benefit and that is to the people to whom you influence by your consecration.  We already saw that multiplication effect on Joseph as he witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus which was the ultimate act of sanctification.  But now Joseph as well multiplies that effect by influencing others through his sanctification.  One person in particular is of special note, but we have to look elsewhere to see it. John 19:39-40 “Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight.  So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.” 

You remember Nicodemus in John chapter 3 who came to Jesus by night, secretly, so as not to be seen, to enquire of Jesus the way of salvation.  And though John did not indicate in chapter 3 that Nicodemus was saved on that occasion, yet obviously he was later converted.  John also said he was a ruler of the Jews.  That would have most likely made him a member of the Sanhedrin as well.  I cannot help but imagine that these two men were companions in their secret discipleship.  And now that Joseph has bravely come forward to claim Jesus’ body, Nicodemus is also inspired to join him in preparing Jesus body. 

And notice also the women that follow them to the tomb and watch their preparations of His body and where they laid Him.  They go back home to prepare more spices for His embalming that they will do on Sunday morning after the Sabbath.  I believe the devotion of Joseph and Nicodemus were an encouragement to these women as well as they see them take a bold stand for Christ.

And folks, I would just offer their example to you today as an encouragement as well.  If our goal is to see the kingdom of God multiplied on the earth then we need to see some men and women come out of the shadows and make a public stand for Christ. The best way to be a testimony for the gospel is to live a sanctified life as an example to others. Let me warn you though it’s not going to come without a cost.  These men put their lives, their careers and their finances on the line for the sake of the kingdom of God.  They took their eyes off the reward of the world and were looking for the reward in the kingdom of God.  The sacrifices of their careers, the sacrifice of their positions in society, the myrrh and spices that they bought, the linen wrappings and the tomb in a garden that no man had ever been laid all came with great price.  But if it were possible to question these men today even in their rest in Paradise if the reward of a sanctified life were worth it, I’m sure that they would say it was worth it all. 

In Hebrews 11 we see several OT saints lifted up as examples of sanctification for us to follow.  Heb. 11:24-26 identifies one of the most famous, “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter,  choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,  considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.”

I pray that the death of Christ will have a similar impact on your life even as it was on the life of Joseph of Arimathea.  Maybe you have been saved at some point of your life, but you have languished in your zeal for the Lord.  Maybe you have been embarrassed to take a stand as a Christian.  Maybe you have been too attached to the things of this world.  I pray that today you will consider the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the example of the saints that have gone before us and decide that starting today by the grace of God you are going to renounce the world and consider the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasure of this world.  To take up your cross and follow Jesus, no matter what the cost.

In closing, I would like to read to you chapter 12 of Hebrews which exhorts us to live a life of sanctification.  Heb. 12:1-14 “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES."  It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”