Last week was a very difficult week for me personally. It felt like the perfect storm where all things surrounding me had spiraled desperately out of control. I fell into despair and wondered where God was in the midst of each of these situations. It was a very dark place for me, and for a time, I forgot that our battle in this world is not against flesh and blood but “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12). We are in a spiritual battle and I failed to recognized that I was standing in the line of fire. I was listening to the lies of Satan about me and about each of these situations, and it felt overwhelming and depressing.
And as I cried out loud, “Please help me God, where are you??” I saw Him reveal Himself in four specific and clear ways throughout the week, even in the middle of my despair. I won’t share about each of them because some are very personal to me. But I did want to share one amazing way God touched me this past week. God led me to a particular sermon by David Platt that I desperately needed to hear.
Part of my routine this summer has been running at the park in the morning with my boys and another sweet family. While I run, I normally listen to a podcast by Matt Whitman called Ten Minute Bible Hour (I highly recommend it - he does a fantastic job!). However, I happened to glance at the screen before I fired up the next episode and saw the title of a podcast by David Platt. It was called “The Battle Between Our Ears.”
Without even knowing what exactly he would discuss, I knew that described what I was experiencing, especially this particular week. “The battle between my ears.” That is where that true spiritual battle happens.
When the Bible says the devil is prowling around like a lion looking for whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8), it would almost be easier if it were a real lion. Then it would be visible. You could see where he was about to attack and you could see where you were vulnerable. You would know better when and how you were being attacked.
But that’s not how Satan attacks. He starts with our minds. He whispers into our thoughts. He deceives us with subtle lies. He reminds us of our failures. He exaggerates our circumstances. He encourages us in our pride. And he can become almost undetectable. This place in our minds is where the battle is being fought, therefore this is where the battle must be won.
You don’t have a choice about this battle either. You can’t just decide you’re not going to fight. Satan is attacking you whether you want to be involved in the fight or not. So it’s best that you are prepared.
In this sermon, David Platt talked about the importance of our thoughts as we engage in this battle. There are so many verses that emphasize this.
--- In Matthew 22:37, Jesus said the greatest command was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
--- We are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
--- The peace of God will “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
--- And even Peter says in preparation of that lion to “be sober minded.”
All of these deal with our thoughts, our minds. What you think and what you focus your mind on matters because ideas have consequences. Our ideas is what drives our actions. So it is ever important to set your mind on things above (Colossians 3:2).
Then Platt related this to one of my favorite verses. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
I love this verse so much I even bought a shirt with it on it. I’ve used it often to answer my son when he asks why we don’t watch certain things or listen to certain things. I always answer him in return, “Is that true? Is that noble? Is that pure or lovely? No. Then we don’t fill our minds with that.”
And while that is still absolutely true – you can’t think on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable if you’re filling your mind with stuff that isn’t, I realized I always stopped short in applying the full meaning of this verse. It isn’t just about watching, reading, or listening to things that are wholesome and not watching things that are unwholesome. Because both of those things are passive, not active.
Paul says “think” on these things. Not just passively watch and listen to these things. But think on them. This is what I had failed to consider. I wasn’t taking those thoughts captive into obedience unto Christ. I wasn’t thinking on the things that were true and noble, that were pure and lovely. I was thinking on the things that were lies, that were unlovely, and that were not praiseworthy.
Thinking is an action. We must be intentional with our thoughts, actively thinking on things of God, on things that are true and noble and pure. And we must be intentional to stop focusing on things of the earth, on things that are not true and not noble and not pure. All of this is done only through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This was the message God wanted me to hear as I had been lazy in my thinking. I was allowing Satan to have the upper hand in the battle of ideas. I wasn't being intentional to think on the truth from God. In other words, we need to think about what we're thinking about. Is this a thought that is truth from God? Is this something that is commendable to God? Is this something that is praiseworthy? If not, then change your thoughts to things that are.
The following Sunday morning in a sermon from my pastor Blake Kersey, I was reminded again of this spiritual battle as he was discussing Ephesians 6. Paul uses an analogy of the Roman soldier’s armor for the things God has given us so that we may stand against the devil’s schemes in this spiritual battle. The first piece of armor Paul references is the belt of truth. We are to stand with truth buckled around our waists. In other words, whatever is true, think on these things.
So I encourage you, when you feel those moments of despair, know that the enemy is prowling around wanting to devour you. And his strategy is to change our thoughts. Just like with Eve in the garden, Satan says, “Did God really say…?” He challenged her thoughts about who God is and who she was to God. Satan does the same with us today. Did God really say you are forgiven? Did God really say you are redeemed? Think about what all you have done! Did God really say you belong to Him?
I’ll close this with these words from Pastor Blake Kersey. He uses the first three chapters of Ephesians to remind you who you are in Christ if you have given your life to Him:
You have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. You have been chosen before the foundation of the world. You are holy and blameless. You have been adopted and loved. You have been redeemed through Christ’s blood. You have obtained an inheritance in heaven. You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. You have been made spiritually alive together with the Holy Spirit. You have been seated with Christ in the heavenly places. You have been saved by God’s grace through faith. You have become God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works. You have been brought near to God by the blood of Christ, and Christ Himself is your peace. You have access to God through Christ. You are no longer a stranger and alien, but now you are a fellow citizen and a member of God’s household. You are a fellow heir and fellow member of the body of Christ. You are a fellow partaker of the promise of Christ Jesus through the Gospel. You can enter boldly and confidently before the throne of grace because of what Jesus has done for you.
That, my friends, is the truth of who you are in Christ Jesus. Do not let the lies from the great deceiver tell you otherwise. Take those thoughts captive into obedience unto Christ, and instead think on those things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy.
In Matthew 18:21-22 Peter asks Jesus about how often he should forgive someone who has wronged him. Peter thinks he’s going above and beyond when he was willing to forgive someone seven times. But Jesus blows his mind when He says, “Not seven, but seventy times seven,” which basically means always. Always? Forgive? I’ve recently found myself asking this very question. “Lord, how many times must I forgive this person??” And the answer comes back to me from this passage: “Always.”
If we’re all really honest with ourselves, this has got to be the hardest part of living the Christian life. Forgiveness is a very difficult thing to do, especially when the person has not even asked for forgiveness. But it is something we are commanded to do because our own forgiveness is at stake – whether there is an apology or not. Jesus always connects our forgiveness of other people to the forgiveness that we hope to receive ourselves. In the Lord’s Prayer it says, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus says, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
That’s a tough verse to read. Is my forgiveness really conditional on how well I forgive others? If so, then I’m doomed. And so are you. To put this in context, let’s consider the parable Jesus gives after He corrects Peter about how often to forgive in Matthew 18. The parable is about a man who owed to the king a debt so large that he would never be able to repay it. After the man begs for mercy, the king was moved to compassion and forgave this man the entire debt!
When the man left the king’s court, he encounters one of his own servants who owed him a trivial amount of money. Instead of showing the same kind of mercy and forgiveness that had just been shown to him, the man throws his servant in prison. When the king learned of this, he said, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” The king then delivered him over to the torturers.
Jesus concludes this parable with some verses we’re probably not quite comfortable with. He says, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” Wow! God is serious about forgiveness!
See, just like that first servant, we have been forgiven infinitely more by God than anything we would have to forgive other people for. We offend God in every moment we draw breath. We owe God an amount that we are physically unable to pay. Yet 1 John 1:9 promises us that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness if we confess our sins. He is that king in the parable, forgiving our enormous debt of sin. How can we then go out and refuse to forgive one another?
If we are honest though, we all struggle with being able to forgive. Why is that? The simple answer is the same answer, really, to all our failings: pride. We think we deserve to be treated better. “How dare they do that to me?” “I don’t deserve to be treated this way.” So rather than offer forgiveness “seventy times seven” to people around us, what do we do? We hold grudges. We cut people out of our lives. We demand restitution. We cling to our status as the victim. And those feelings remain for as long as we refuse to forgive.
But the only truly innocent victim the world has ever known didn’t respond like that to His oppressors. Jesus didn’t cling to His status as the victim. He didn’t hold a grudge against His oppressors. He didn’t strike them down in revenge. Instead, He chose to forgive. From the cross, looking down at His executioners mocking Him, He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” We are to forgive the way He forgives. He gave us the ultimate example of being an innocent victim yet finding forgiveness in His heart for the very ones persecuting Him.
Forgiveness is the very reason Jesus came.
What about all of these terrible offenses and wrongdoing that others have done? Doesn’t that mean we shouldn’t forgive? Offering forgiveness does not mean that sins and offenses go unpunished. We must still remember all of the Scripture that talks about church discipline and punishment for wrongdoing. (In fact, justice is a Biblical concept – a concept that only exists because God exists.)
But after discipline and punishment comes forgiveness (ref. 2 Corinthians 2). And this, my friends, is for your sake, not the offenders sake. Remember? God will forgive in the manner in which you forgive others! Paul also instructs us in Ephesians 4:31-32, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Peter gives the same instruction in 1 Peter 3:9, “Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”
It goes against our human nature to forgive, which is why we must be intentional to “put off our old nature” and put on our new nature. It is only through prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to truly forgive. As with anything with our fleshly nature, it will not be a one-time prayer thrown up and suddenly we’ve forgiven everything. It will require consistent, urgent, sincere prayer, sometimes daily, sometimes hourly. It must be constant until God changes our heart to be bent toward forgiveness and not pride.
There is so much anger and bitterness around as everyone feels they have been wronged by someone else. Yet when we take a close look in the mirror, we would do well to remember how many times we have been the one to wrong another person. None of us are truly innocent in this game of doing wrong to others. As soon as you point your finger to accuse someone of being hateful to you, think of how many people could point that finger back at you.
So with everything going on in our world today, may we choose to exercise forgiveness. Whatever injustice, hurtful words, trials, or offenses you have endured, may you choose to remember how the only innocent victim responded. May you respond with forgiveness through the power of the Holy Spirit. Let vengeance be in the hand of the Lord. Besides, by responding in kindness and forgiveness, you will “heap coals of fire” on their heads.
A Day at the Clinic
A few weeks ago a dear friend of mine messaged me that she wanted to get more involved with the efforts to end abortion. She is an amazing prayer warrior and such a Godly woman so I was thrilled she wanted to know how to get involved, and more importantly, how her church can get involved. We need more churches actively fighting to end abortion. As I heard one woman say, “Christians are the reason abortion still exists.” That is so sad yet so true.
Christian individuals and Christian churches must take action to abolish abortion. However, too many are absolutely silent on this issue! They may say they are “pro-life” because they support pregnancy centers, but they won’t openly expose the evil truth about abortion. And it takes addressing both sides of this issue for us to abolish abortion and save the lives of the innocent unborn.
I shared with my friend several different ways she can get involved in the fight to end abortion.
Ultimately what I told my friend though, regardless of what area she ends up serving, she has to come to the sidewalk with me to see what it’s like. Even though the sidewalk ministry may not be where she works to end abortion, she must go in order to witness firsthand the battleground where abortion is happening. In her words, she compared it to going on a mission trip to better understand overseas missions, though you may not be called overseas.
So she did just that.
Last Friday morning we went to the local abortion clinic together. I chose Friday because that is one of the killing days (as opposed to a consult day) so she could see what the clinic workers were like and what it might be like to save a baby. And boy did she get a full experience!
As we parked on a side road and approached the clinic, I pointed out that the facility is just called a “Women’s Clinic." Were it not for the pro-life ministry on the sidewalk, most people in this city would have no idea what is going on here. Whereas if it were a Planned Parenthood, everyone would know they were in the business of killing babies. But this clinic disguises that fact from passers-by (although their website makes it perfectly clear their main service is abortion).
The set up for this particular clinic, I’ve been told, is one of the most hostile to pro-life work in the southeastern region. The building entrance is on the back side, the door farthest from the street. They have recently installed a large speaker on the side of the building blaring music. The “deathscorts,” as we appropriately call them since they are escorting women and their babies in for death, are all holding large umbrellas and a smaller upright speaker blaring music. As soon as a car pulls into the parking lot, the deathscorts rush to surround the car, open those umbrellas, and crank up the volume. All of this serves to shield women from seeing and hearing the pro-life people on the sidewalk.
The deathscorts don’t want any woman to be told by a sidewalk person that they don’t have to kill their baby. Deathscorts don't want the women to hear that we will give them any money they need to help with their prenatal care, or that we will fully stock their nursery for their baby, or that there are families standing there ready and willing to adopt their baby, or that we can provide any other kind of help they may need to keep their baby. No, the deathscorts don’t want the woman to know there are life-giving choices available to her. They want her to only choose one thing – abortion.
Why? Well, as we watched the owner of the clinic drive in with his Escalade, my friend saw for herself why. The abortionist’s Mercedes and the owner’s Cadillac are why they want women to abort. Abortion is a lucrative industry.
Many people ask if there is shouting from the sidewalk? Absolutely. But shouting at people seems so ugly! Aren’t we just being mean to these vulnerable women, like the media portrays? We have to ask why we are shouting. The shouting is so we can be heard over all the efforts of the clinic to silence us. It is to be heard over the umbrellas and the loud speakers and at the back of the parking lot. The shouting is so these women can hear the last cry for help and hope that they will ever get before they kill their babies.
The deathscorts are doing everything they can to drown out the voices of hope and help. They work to stop these women from the last possibility of choosing life. So we shout in order to be heard. Besides, if it were you inside that womb about to be dismembered alive, wouldn’t you want people shouting in order to save you?
The woman faced with an unexpected, unplanned, unwanted pregnancy is in a vulnerable and difficult situation. She is desperate. She has been deceived by the clinic workers and by culture telling them that her only solution is to kill her child. She is deceived by the lie that her life would be better if she killed her baby. She is possibly* choosing abortion because she thinks there is no other option.
For this woman, we are shouting words of hope and help. “Come talk to us.” “Let us help you.” “You don’t have to do this.” “There are other options.” These are life-giving words to help a desperate woman. For her, we need to be tender and loving, yet that is hard to do when you must shout over the umbrellas and the blaring music in the 10 seconds it takes them to walk across the parking lot.
The other type of person is the wicked. These are the clinic workers. These people’s hearts have been so hardened to the mass murder taking place inside that building. They curse at those who are trying to help. They dance around and celebrate when babies are murdered. They sing songs cheering aborted babies. They taunt the sidewalk workers. We heard one clinic worker shout sarcastically to us, “Did you save any babies today?” They call the police if a sidewalk person has a toe on their grass, more incensed over accidental trespassing than murder.
The words for those people need to lead them to conviction for what they are doing. By analogy, what type of words would you have for the Nazi guard leading the Jews into the gas chamber? Or for a slave owner whipping a slave? The wicked need words to pierce their hearts and awaken them to the evil they are committing.
As we walk up to the building, the head deathscort approaches us with a camera as a means of intimidating us away from the sidewalk. Since I clearly don’t care whether they film me or not, I smile and wave. She flips me the bird and cusses at me. We were greeted by other sidewalk ministers though, which gives everyone a little encouragement. We are all from so many different backgrounds yet united in the fight for life. Ironically, nearly all the people on the sidewalk that day are not from the city of this abortion clinic. Yet this city boasts over 120 churches, not counting the surrounding suburbs. Where are this city’s residents in this fight to end abortion? Where are this city’s churches?
I began explaining to my friend the rules of this particular sidewalk, where you can stand and not stand. How you can cross the entrance to the other sidewalk but not stand in the entrance. How you can’t step on the grass or they’ll call the police for trespassing. how twice they have driven a car up onto the sidewalk, aimed directly at a sidewalk worker. How you can shout to try to be heard over all their noise, but not shout too loud or they will call the police for a noise violation. The clinic makes sure any minor offense is reported to the police so they can murder unborn babies without interference.
Since Fridays are killing days, those are the clinic’s busy days. We notice the full parking lot and are overwhelmed with a wave of grief for how many women are inside that very moment having their babies pulled apart limb from limb inside the womb. We stood there quietly as I held my sign which read, “Killing an innocent person is never the solution to the problem. Let us help.” Then a different deathscort flipped me off and cursed me. I ignored her.
As we walked across the driveway to the other side of the sidewalk, we noticed three police cars pull into the parking lot. The officers approached the sidewalk ministers on the other side of the road. All the deathscorts rushed over with their phones pulled out to film everything. They had called the police because one of the gentlemen had been praying out loud. And they didn’t like it.
During all of that commotion on the opposite sidewalk, a young Latina drove into the parking lot. I was hoping the police distraction would allow me to actually talk to her directly, but a deathscort noticed her too and rushed over with her umbrella so the young woman could not see me. However, I found if I moved farther down the sidewalk I could get around the view of the umbrella and make eye contact with her. You could tell she had been crying and she kept burying her face in her hands. My friend was pacing the sidewalk behind me, praying fiercely for this young woman.
I called out to the young woman, “Please don’t do this. You don’t have to do this. We can help you. Just come talk to us.” In response to me, the deathscort flipped me off and fired up her chant, “Mind your own business. Go away!” This display of ugliness from the deathscorts in response to someone offering to help would weigh heavily in the mind of a young girl unsure of what to do next. I called out, “These women don’t care about you. We care about you. Please let us help.” The deathscort began chanting again as she was joined by two other volunteer deathscorts.
I found their yelling that to be terribly ironic. “Mind your own business”? Why have they made it their business to make sure these girls kill their babies? “Go away”? Why don’t they go away? If they really are about “choice,” why are they refusing these women any chance at hearing the life-giving choices they actually have? Why do they have such a vested interest in making sure a woman kills her baby?
Why have these clinic workers made it their business to make sure these girls kill their babies?
In the meantime, three of our sidewalk ministers are being handcuffed and put into the police cruisers to be taken downtown. For what? For voicing an opinion. For offering help to woman in a crisis pregnancy. For trying to save a life. For peacefully protesting the murder of the innocent. Isn’t this what our Constitution protects? Aren’t we allowed to stand on a public sidewalk and voice our dissent? I wanted to run to the people inside the building and tell them, “We are willing to get arrested to save the life of your baby. These people want to take your money to kill your baby.”
could see me around the umbrellas. There were now four clinic workers, including one man, who kept shouting for me to mind my own business and go away. But I was not going to leave the sight of this woman. After I long time, she cracked her window and said something to the clinic workers. I have no idea what she said, but I knew she had chosen life by the reaction of the clinic workers. The deathscorts snapped those umbrellas shut and stormed off from the car. I continued to pray. She backed her car up and pulled out of that wretched parking lot.
As she pulled onto the street, she was crying and waving. She slowed down as she passed me, and we smiled at each other. I waved and told her I loved her. I wish she had stopped so I could give her a big hug. But I knew in that moment as she drove away she had chosen life for her sweet, innocent, defenseless baby.
I had such a rush of tears of joy and overwhelming gratitude to God for those answered prayers, and for the role I got to play in helping her have the confidence and courage to choose life.
But then I thought about the two teenage girls who had gone in together earlier. I thought about the man who walked his girlfriend inside. I looked at all those cars in the parking lot. And I grieved again in my heart. Though we saved a baby that day, we had three people arrested and at least 12 other babies who were not so fortunate to survive their mothers’ decisions.
The sidewalk ministry is tough. It is a true, spiritual battleground. But if you’ve ever said #blacklivesmatter and you support peaceful protests, then this is a battleground you can’t neglect. At this clinic, 60% of the abortions performed are on black babies. If you’ve ever said #alllivesmatter and you support peaceful protests, then this is a battleground you can’t neglect. This is where lives of all color, gender, and creed are being torn from the mother’s womb.
crisis centers are choosing life and asking for help. But many women are not even going go the crisis pregnancy center. There must be a voice to help those women and their babies who are already choosing abortion.
If you think that some things aren’t done right at the sidewalk, then come out and do it differently. Come out and change it. If you think it doesn’t really work, say that to the little baby who was saved out there on Friday. I’m fully convinced if we had not been out there that day, that woman would have chosen differently. Our presence, our encouragement, our on-the-spot prayers made a difference. It saved her life and her baby’s.
I have been reading through a book with my children telling the life stories of great heroes of the Christian faith. It has short biographies of people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John Bunyan. This week we have been reading about the life of Peter Cartwright. He lived from 1785 to 1872 and was a traveling minister as this fledgling nation began to move westward.
Oftentimes there weren’t enough townspeople, or even enough of a town, to support their own church minister, so ministers would “ride the circuit” where they would travel around the area holding tent revivals and church camps. Peter Cartwright was known for being bold in standing firm on true biblical doctrine, even confronting the stereotypical charlatans trying to dupe people out of money by peddling a false doctrine. But more importantly, he was known for speaking out against the institution of slavery.
Cartwright knew there were many Christians attending these camp revivals who owned slaves. But somehow they had failed to see the contradiction of living as a Christian while owning another person as property. To address this, Cartwright could have pounded the Bible in the pulpit and thundered at the crowds, demanding them to emancipate their slaves. Instead, he preached on God’s commands for us to love others – all others. And you cannot love another person while owning them as a slave.
It was like a light bulb finally went off in the minds of these people. Many of them realized how they could not follow God while owning slaves. One woman, Mrs. Stewart, had been so stirred in her heart upon realizing what she was doing that she decided to free her slaves and led many others to do the same.
Through his life and ministry, Mr. Cartwright was able to appeal to the hearts of these Christian slave owners to change their stance on slavery. But the most amazing thing is what seems so obvious to us today (you can’t own another person and be following God) was so unclear to these people. How did that happen? How could Christian people not see the wrong in slavery? How did the Christians in Germany not see the wrong in Hitler’s regime during Bonhoeffer’s life? How did Christians not see the wrong in segregation during Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life? How do Christians now not see the evil in things like abortion or racism? I think we can find three possible reasons for it that apply not only to these examples, but to many current social issues.
1.) Not all Christians are actually Christians. This is probably the most important thing for anyone to understand. Not everyone who describes themselves as “Christians” are Christians. Just because you claim that title or check that box on a form does not mean you are a true follower of Christ. Jesus warns us about this in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” This should be the scariest verse in the Bible for many people. Not everyone who says they are following Jesus actually belong to Jesus.
So how do we know who are true Christians and who are not? Jesus tells us how in John 14:15. “If you love Me, keep my commands.” John says the same thing in 1 John 2:3-4, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” This isn’t some “judgy” way of looking at other people. Jesus equates our love for Him to our obedience of Him. Though many people may say they “love Jesus,” if they are not doing God’s will, then they do not. They are not following Him, thus they are not real Christians.
Jesus says in Matthew 7:13, “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Jesus tells us that there will be few who take the difficult path of following God in true obedience. Those who will enter the kingdom of God by the narrow gate are not those who who just had an emotional experience at youth camp, or who had a fun week at VBS, or who attend church when their spouse drags them. Only those who walk in obedience to Him. And because of that, we should honestly expect to see more people not following God’s will than those who are.
If our love for God is determined by our obedience to God, then what is God’s will that we are to obey? The Pharisees asked, “’Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-39). Jesus says, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44).
Jesus says this again in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” The first thing we must do to walk in obedience is to love other people, whether friends, enemies, different gender, different race, different political view, and different nationality. We are to even love the people who don’t love other people!
Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” So obedience to God would include being thankful and rejoicing IN ALL THINGS, whether it is fair and just, or unfair and unjust; whether it is in wealth or in poverty; whether in fullness or in hunger; whether in success or in suffering. And the way to be able to do that is by praying without ceasing.
Paul says again, “For this is the will of God: your sanctification; that you abstain from sexual immorality.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3) Peter emphasizes this in 1 Peter 1:16, “God says, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” This is the will of God to be holy, and specifically to exhibit holiness in our sexual conduct. He is our God and we are His people. We are to be holy because God is holy.
How can we ever do that? We will all fail at doing God’s will, so the question becomes: are you even striving to? Are you brokenhearted and grieved when you do fail? Do you approach God with a broken and contrite heart, sorrowful over your sin? Or do you presume on God’s grace, hardened to the convictions of the Holy Spirit and unwilling to repent? These are the things that tell us whether we are true Christians or not.
2.) We fail to follow God when our actions are guided by society. In each of those examples given above, the Christians in those societies were misguided in how they were treating others because they were using society’s standards to determine their stances on those issues. It was socially acceptable to own slaves. It was just “the way life was” for races to be segregated. Everyone else blamed the Jews for the failures of the nation. A woman just gets to choose whether to stay pregnant or not. In each of those scenarios, it had reached a social norm to treat certain humans as “less than” human. And that made it easier for folks to live with this dichotomy of “being a Christian” and devaluing other humans.
Anytime throughout history that man has placed himself in a position to assign worth to other humans, he has failed miserably. Wherever man gets to make those decisions, there will always be a people-group oppressed, devalued, and dehumanized. Wherever people allow God to set the standard of human worth, people are uplifted, loved, cared for, treasured, and given life.
How do we avoid dehumanizing others in our society? We must continually look to God’s Word to form our opinions, our stances, our actions, and our behaviors. When we look at social norms, we will get it wrong every time. So what do you use to determine your stance on things, your feelings? voter polls and social media trends? hashtags and marches? Or do you use God’s Word?
3.) We fail to follow God when we allow society to rename the issue. In order for evil to prevail, it simply needs to be renamed so people don’t recognize it as evil. Society will hijack the terms surrounding the issue to make it more palatable. In the Civil War, one side was fighting for the emancipation of slaves; the other side was fighting for “State’s rights,” where the issue of slavery would be left at the state instead of federal level. In Germany, Nazis convinced people to look the other way for national pride. The people were convinced that these steps were necessary to get the nation back to a place of pride and prominence. So you were either for Jews or you were for Germany. The evil of murdering babies in the womb has been renamed “women’s reproductive rights” or a “woman’s right to choose.” It’s called pro-choice vs. pro-life; who wants to be against “choice”?
Each of these issues has been framed in a way that disguises the evil that is actually being discussed. Slavery should have never been about state vs. federal laws. It should have been about human dignity and worth. Nazism should have never been about the pride of the German nation vs. Jews being blamed for its failure. It should have been about human dignity and worth. Abortion should have never been about “women’s rights” vs. the right to life. It should have been about human dignity and worth. Again, we are in grave danger when we reframe and rename the issue to hide the true evil at stake.
How do we prevent that from happening? What do you allow to frame the issue for you? Can you see past the hashtags and media hype and taglines about an issue? Do you stop to consider the larger idea at stake or just your personal preference? Do you consider what God would desire or are you more interested in the social hype for the cause of the day?
Ultimately, we cannot look at what some Christians do to determine what God actually desires us to do. Many of those people are not actually Christians. And many of those people are true Christians, but are failing to do what God commands. Therefore, we must always go back to God’s Word to guide our actions instead of what those around us are doing. We must consider what God commands from us, not what others demand.
Yet we are all humans living among humans, all equally sinning. What do we do when all of these efforts fail? What do we do when “Christians” are not truly following God and aren’t obeying His commands? What do we do when other people’s actions are more guided by society than by God’s Word? How do we respond when society has renamed evil as good? We go back to what God’s Word says. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14). “Then Peter came to Him and asked, ‘Lord, how many times will my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let it go? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered him, ‘I say to you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22).
The resurrection of Jesus is the central part of Christianity. If Jesus had not resurrected from the dead, then our faith is useless, and we are still dead in our sins. It would mean we should all find something better to do with our time and energy. This is why it is so important that we know with confidence that the resurrection truly took place. And we need to be able to share the evidence for the resurrection with others, whether it is unbelievers to whom we are witnessing or to our children whom we are raising in the faith.
There’s a beautiful hymn that says, “He lives! Christ Jesus lives today! You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.” That is true, but in the wrong order. We know He lives because of the evidence, and because of the evidence we believe in Him, and because we believe in Him, He lives in our hearts. We believe in Jesus because He proved He was the Son of God, because He was crucified, and because the tomb was empty three days later. How can we have confidence that Jesus really resurrected from the dead?
1) The women found the tomb empty. That early morning on the first day of the week, the women were returning to the tomb of their beloved Jesus to further prepare His body for burial. They even questioned how they would move that big stone away. But when they got there, they found the tomb empty! They encountered an angel who told them the good news - that Jesus is risen! They immediately ran back to tell the other disciples.
How can we believe they really found the tomb empty? Maybe they just went to the wrong tomb? Well, when the women announced the tomb was empty, Peter and John raced to see for themselves. They too found the tomb empty. So if the women went to the wrong tomb, then Peter and John went to the wrong tomb as well. It is not logical to think they all went to the wrong tomb. They would not have forgotten in three days where their beloved friend had been buried. Besides, if they had gone to the wrong tomb, once they announced Jesus had risen, the authorities would have wasted no time going to the correct tomb and showing them the body. So we know they weren't at the wrong tomb.
Granted, the accounts of what happened at the tomb is different across the four Gospels. In Matthew, two Marys see the tomb opened by an earthquake with an angel sitting on top of the stone. They meet Jesus on their way to announce it to the disciples. In Mark, the two Marys plus Salome find the tomb already open with an angel sitting inside. There’s no mention of their encounter with Jesus in the garden. Luke just says “women” went to the tomb to find it empty with two angels standing. He also doesn’t mention their encounter with Jesus. John says only one Mary goes to the tomb to find two angels sitting in the tomb. He mentions how he and Peter race to the tomb and that Mary encounters Jesus on her way to tell the others.
With these variations, does that mean the resurrection didn’t happen? Not at all. It means four people are giving their account of the same event. Though they include different lists of people, they agree women went to the tomb early in the morning. Though they describe differently how the tomb was opened, they agree the tomb was open and empty. Though they describe the angel differently, they agree there was an angel who announced Jesus had risen. Though they describe what happens as the women go to tell others differently, they agree the women were instructed to tell others and that they did.
What we find in these accounts is natural variations of different people observing the same event and recalling this same event from their own perspective, writing style, and recollection. This does not invalidate the event.
When I taught high school apologetics, I used the example of assigning them to write an essay about last weekend's high school football game. Each student would have different details based on their experience of the game, whether they were on the football team, a cheerleader, in the band, or just a spectator with a younger sibling. Their essays better have differences or I would know they had cheated. But they better agree on the essentials, like who won, the time of day, the location, the size of the crowd, etc., or I would know they had not actually been there. That is what we find in the variations of the Gospel accounts.
2) There is a drastic change in the disciples. When Jesus was arrested, the disciples all scattered. When He was crucified, only John was at the foot of the cross. When the women went to the tomb, they were hiding out in the upper room. They were understandably afraid of what the religious leaders would do to them. But after the resurrection, the disciples boldly proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God and that Jesus resurrected from the dead. They were no longer afraid to be called one of Jesus’ followers; they were now willing to be persecuted and killed for these claims.
But what if they made it all up? After all, people from other religions die for what they believe. We have to consider a very important thing about human nature. People will lie to get out of trouble, but they won’t lie to get into trouble. If the disciples made this up, it cost them everything – their families, their jobs, their homes, their safety, and their lives. People may die for something they think is the truth, but they will not die for something they know is a lie.
What if they stole the body and told everyone He resurrected? The religious leaders were very concerned that this might happen. That’s why they posted guards and sealed the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66). But when the soldiers came back and told them what happened, the religious leaders bribed them to lie and tell everyone the disciples had stolen the body. This could get the soldiers killed for not fulfilling their duties. So the religious leaders even promised to bribe the officials if they got in trouble.
But why bribe the soldiers if the body were still in the tomb? This confirms the tomb was empty. And for the reasons above we know it the disciples did not steal the body. They were too afraid to be seen at the trial of Jesus, so they’re certainly too afraid to overpower the Roman guards posted at the tomb in order to steal the body of Jesus so they can stage a resurrection they didn’t think was going to happen. Besides, whatever lie the religious leaders wanted to spread about the empty tomb, it couldn't explain the resurrection appearances.
3) Jesus appeared to multiple people on multiple occasions. The resurrected Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10), to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32), to the disciples in the upper room two separate times (Luke 24:33-43 and John 20:26-29), and to seven of the disciples while fishing at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1-23). The resurrected Jesus also appeared to 500 people at one time, to James (his brother), and to Paul on the road to Damascus (1 Corinthians 15:6-8).
These were clearly appearances of a resurrected Jesus because we know Jesus truly died on the cross (see The Death of Jesus for more on that). If He had not died on the cross, then these appearances would be of a beaten, bruised, and bloodied Jesus who somehow managed to unwrap the linen burial cloths, roll away the stone, and escape the grasp of the guards, all while in that kind of physical condition. When the disciples saw Him in that state, they would not have fallen at His feet in worship, they would have rushed to His aid.
So maybe these were these just hallucinations? Hallucinations do occur, but they will trigger only one sense at a time. So you may think you see something, or think you hear something, or think you feel something, but not all at the same time. With the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, He was walking, talking, touching, eating, and still working miracles (for the disciples to catch a boatload of fish).
Furthermore, the same hallucination will not occur for multiple people at the same time. As Paul said, there were more than 500 people seeing, touching, and hearing Jesus at one time. Besides, if these were hallucinations, the religious leaders would have simply gone to the tomb and retrieved the body to remind everyone that they had killed Jesus. But they didn’t do that because the tomb was empty.
4) There is evidence of the resurrection in the reactions of those who did not believe in Jesus. Before the resurrection, Jesus’ half-brothers did not believe He was the Son of God (John 7:5). Can you imagine growing up in the house alongside Jesus, knowing the circumstances of His birth, yet not believing He was God? After the resurrection though, His half-brother James became the founder of the church in Jerusalem, while His half-brother Jude authored the book by his name. James was later martyred for his faith in Jesus as God. The change all happens because they had seen the resurrected Jesus.
There is the drastic change in the life of Saul. He was present for the stoning of Stephen and was headed to Damascus to arrest and imprison others who followed this man Jesus who, in Saul’s mind, was destroying Judaism. After Saul encountered the resurrected Jesus, he completely changed his mission. He went from hunting down followers of Jesus to bringing new followers to Jesus. He went from being the persecutor to being the persecuted. He went from hating Gentiles to bringing the message of salvation to Gentiles. And this change cost him everything – his family, his job, his home, and eventually his life – but it gave him so much more – eternal life. Such a drastic change can only be explained by the resurrection of Jesus.
There is also the reaction of the religious leaders. No matter how hard they tried they could not stamp out the work that Jesus did, and they could not stop the spread of the name of Jesus. In Acts 3 when Peter and John healed the lame man in the name of Jesus, the religious leaders were furious. They arrested and beat Peter and John to intimidate them into silence. Here’s what happened:
The religious leaders could not deny that a miracle had taken place in the name of Jesus. And they could not prove to the disciples that Jesus had not resurrected - which is further confirmation the tomb was empty. And they could not deny the resurrection appearances. So they settled for beating Peter and John to get them to stop preaching the name of Jesus. But as we know, that would not work either.
There are also many extra-biblical writings that confirm Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Tacitus, a first-century Roman historian, wrote in his account of the burning of Rome by Nero:
“Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.”
While Tacitus does not believe himself that the resurrection really happened, he does give evidence that the claim of the resurrection, this “mischievous superstition,” began in Judea and by the time of Nero, had spread to Rome. It tells us how quickly word spread about this man Jesus Christ who had been crucified under Pilate and who had resurrected.
There is sufficient evidence to know with confidence that Jesus resurrected from the dead. No alternate theory can explain the empty tomb or the resurrection appearances. This is why we follow Christianity. No other religion has a God who sacrificed Himself on your behalf and resurrected from the dead. No other religious leader would be willing to lay down his life for all people, even those who killed him. No other religious leader is even qualified to lay down his life on our behalf. Only Jesus could.
As Jesus said to Thomas, “You believed because you have seen Me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Though we cannot see His hands and touch His side, we have the testimony of those who did.
May you believe today, and by believing you may have life in His name. Because Jesus has risen, He has risen indeed!