EQUAL IN GIVING SPIRITUAL LIFE – John 5:24-25

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INTRODUCTION:

When we talk about the quality of physical life, we often use phrases like “in the prime of life”, “the good life”, “barely alive”, “in the peak of health”.  When we answer the question, “How are you?”, we may have responded with words such as “fine”, “OK”, “still kicking”, “so-so”, “could be better”, “could be worse”, “hanging in there”, “not very well”, “fantastic”, “doing well”, and a host of other descriptions.  There are many possible and reasonable answers to that question.

When we speak of physical death we sometimes use phrases like “deader than a doornail”, “deader than a doorknob”, “deader than a doormat”, “as dead as can be”.  But think about that logically.  When you’re dead, you’re dead, right?  You can’t get any deader than that!  If you’ve ever watched the movie, “The Wizard of Oz”, you may remember that Dorothy’s house fell on the wicked Witch of the East.  After the Munchkin coroner examined her body, he gave his professional conclusion very clearly and succinctly.

“As coroner I must aver,
I thoroughly examined her;
And she’s not only merely dead,
She’s really most sincerely dead.”

I think he got the point across very clearly, don’t you?  There aren’t degrees of physical death because it’s not a comparative term;  it’s a once-and-for-all term, with a few rare exceptions given in the Scriptures.  A mortician/embalmer may do such a masterful job of preparing the person’s body for viewing that everyone at the funeral service believes that the dead loved-one is only sleeping.  But even a “total makeover” is not going to bring that person back to life.

This passage of Scripture we are studying deals with spiritual life and spiritual death.  There is a basis for comparison here.  A spiritually lost sinner is as spiritually lifeless and helpless as a dead person is physically.  He cannot save himself and he cannot give himself spiritual life.  In this passage of Scripture, the Lord Jesus is telling His listeners that He not only has the power to give physical life, but He also has the greater power to give spiritual life with all its benefits, and to remove spiritual death with all its consequences.

I.  SPIRITUAL REGENERATING (verse 24)

Verse 24 begins with the words, “Truly, truly, I say to you.”  Jesus is once again telling them that He is speaking from personal knowledge and experience, therefore what He has to say is true.  To put it into our manner of speaking, Jesus is saying something like “Pay close attention to what I am about to tell you.”  “It is very important information.”  He continues by saying, “he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”  This verse of Scripture has a lot to say to us.

The phrase “He who hears My word” is often misunderstood.  In this case, as well as in many other New Testament scripture passages, the word “hear” conveys the idea of listening, being receptive, and responding in obedience.  There were many who heard Jesus speak, in the sense that they were in “earshot” of Him and heard the words He said.   There have been many over the centuries since that time who have “heard” the gospel message with their ears, but with no concern or response.  It was “in one ear and out the other” so to speak.  When correcting a child, a parent might sometimes use the words, “Do you hear me?”.  Does the parent mean, “Did you hear the words I pronounced to you”?  No!  When I’ve heard those words spoken, the parent meant, “Are you going to do what I just told you or are you going to face the consequences!

There are some Old Testament scriptures that may give us a better perspective on this phrase, “He who hears my words”.  You will find that I often go to the Old Testament to seek a basis for the words of the Lord Jesus Christ:  how He said them, where He said them, to whom He said them, and why He said them.  There is a reason why I spend a great deal of time seeking answers to those questions in the Old Testament scriptures.  I am personally convinced that the Lord Jesus is often tying His words to the words God spoke to His people through the prophets.  He is thus reminding them that this isn’t the first time that similar words have been spoken to them,  He’s also implying that He is the “Prophet who is to come” – the Messiah.  I think we miss much of what Jesus is saying to His people if we fail to make that connection.

In this case, when the Lord Jesus says, “He who hears My words”, scripture passages galore should have come to the minds of His listeners.  Jesus is in Jerusalem, speaking to the leaders of His people, the Jews.  Do the words, “Hear the Word of the Lord” sound familiar to you?  If they do, imagine how familiar and convicting they would have sounded to the Jewish leaders standing before Him.  Moses, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Micah, used those words when prophesying to the people of Israel and Judah, and usually those words were an indication of an impending judgment by God upon His people.

Here in verse 24, however, we have participles instead of verbs in the Greek text.  The beginning of the verse is literally saying, “The one hearing My word and believing the One having sent Me”, and the result is positive rather than negative.  It’s as if the Lord Jesus is showing them a contrast between those words of impending judgment, spoken by the prophets to their ancestors, and the words of pardon and eternal life that He is about to offer them.

Jesus refers to His Father as “the One who sent Me“.  He used that phrase several times while He was on this earth.  Does that sound impersonal to you – to refer to His Father in that way?  It did to me at first, but after doing some research, I think I understand why Jesus uses those words at times when referring to His Father.  Whom did God “send” in the Old Testament scriptures?  He sent Moses to lead the people of Israel and be His spokesman.  He sent the prophets to declare His words to His people and speak of things to come.  He also sent “the Angel of the Lord” to protect and defend His people.  Earlier in his Gospel, the apostle John said, in chapter 3, verse 17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”  The apostle Paul says in Galatians 4:4, “In the fullness of time God sent His Son . . .”.  By using the words “Him who sent Me”, Jesus is telling His listeners:  “You can’t believe the Sender and not believe the One who was sent.”  To put it another way, “You can’t believe in the One who sent His Son without believing in the Son Whom He sent.”

The Lord Jesus is telling His listeners, and each of us, the relationship between hearing and believing.  Both knowledge and faith are involved in salvation.   The apostle John’s thinking about faith is unique to the New Testament.  Faith is based on the testimony of historical witnesses.  At that particular point in time, Jesus was giving a testimony about Himself, and that testimony was authenticated by the Father.  Eternal life was the result of listening to that testimony and choosing, by God’s enabling, to believe Him by putting their trust in Him as their Messiah, the Son of God, sent by the Father.  At that moment eternal life began.  The focus of Jesus Christ in verse 24 is on the object of one’s faith.  The Lord Jesus has just been telling them that He is equal to the Father in working (verse 19), in knowing (verse 20), in resurrecting (verse 21), in judging (verse 22), in honor (verse 23), and now in regenerating (verse 24).  They have received Jesus’ testimony concerning Himself.  Now He is inviting a response from them.  Only faith in Him as the Son of God and the Father’s Representative results in “eternal life, no judgment, and passing from death to life”.  No One else and nothing else can bring those gifts as a result.  Only Jesus Christ is equal to the Father in regenerating – giving spiritual life.  As Jesus said in John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand”.  “Following” is the outward evidence of genuine belief.

You and I have saving faith when we understand what the Bible says about Jesus Christ, and when we act upon that truth by putting our trust in Him as our Lord and Savior.  When that happens, events occur in heaven and in your lives.  It will be a life-changing event, as the Lord Jesus begins to conform us to His image and as we take delight in spending time with Him in His Word and prayer.  So the words “eternal life”  also refer to a change in the quality of our lives while we are on this earth.

Dr. H.A, Ironside, the famous Bible expositor and pastor of Moody Bible Church in Chicago a generation ago, said that a friend of his preached on a similar passage of Scripture, John 3:36.  At the close of the meeting, his friend went down to the church door to greet people as they were leaving.  A lady who was troubled about her soul came by the door and the preacher looked at her and said, “Well, how is it with you tonight?  How is your soul; have you been born-again?  Are you saved?”

She said, “I don’t know, sir.  I hope so.”

He said, “Well let me go over that text with you again.  It says, he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.  Do you believe in the Son?”

She said, “Oh yes, I do sir.  I believe in Jesus Christ.”

He said, “Well, do you have everlasting life?”

She said, “I hope so.”

He said, “Well, let’s look at the verse again: he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.  Do you believe in the Son?”

She said, “Yes I do.”

“Do you have everlasting life?”

“I certainly hope so.”

“Well, read it again”

And so they went through the same thing again, and finally he said to her, “You know, when you were a little girl they spelled very differently from what they did when I was a boy.”

She looked at him and said, “What do you mean; I’m not so much older than you.”

He said, “Well, evidently when you were a girl, H-A-T-H spelled hope.  When I was a little boy, H-A-T-H spelled hath.”

She said, “Oh!  I see it!  He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life!”

It makes you wonder how many truly born-again Christians are still hoping for something that they already have!  I say that because, on the night I believed in Jesus Christ, after having the Gospel message presented to me, and all my questions answered, I memorized several verses on assurance of salvation, including John 5:24, before going to bed that night.  The concept and the promise were so amazing to me that I needed to go over and over that realization in my mind so that I could remove all doubts and enjoy what was now mine.

The promise of the Lord Jesus in verse 24 not only includes the free gift of eternal life which we do not deserve; it also removes the judgment that our sins really deserve.  The believer “does not come into judgment”.  A poll conducted for the Times Mirror Company in 1993, revealed that more than four out of every five Americans agree that “we all will be called before God, at judgment day, to answer for our sins.”  I was surprised to find that figure to be so high, only because I wasn’t expecting people to be so honest and willing to admit their own accountability to God.

Dr. H.A. Ironside said that one of the first illustrations that ever made a real impression upon his young heart was a simple story which he heard a preacher tell when Harry was less than nine years old.  It was of pioneers who were making their way across one of the central states to a distant place that had been opened up for homesteading. They travelled in covered wagons drawn by oxen, and progress was necessarily slow.  One day they were terrified to note a long line of smoke in the west, stretching for miles across the prairie, and soon it was evident that the dry grass was burning fiercely and coming toward them rapidly.  They had crossed a river one day before but it would be impossible to go back to that before the flames would be upon them.  One man only seemed to have understanding as to what could be done.  He gave the command to set fire to the grass behind them.  Then when the space was burned over, the whole company moved back upon it.  As the flames roared on toward them from the west, a little girl cried out in terror.  “Are you sure we shall not all be burned up?”  The leader replied, “My child, the flames cannot reach us here, for we are standing where the fire has already been!”

What a picture of the believer, who is safe in Christ!

“On Him Almighty vengeance fell,
Which would have sunk a world to hell.
He bore it for a chosen race,
And thus becomes our Hiding Place.”

The fires of God’s judgment burned themselves out on Him, and all who are in Christ are safe forever, for we are standing where the fire has been.(H.A.Ironside, Illustrations of Bible Truth).

Verse 24 ends with the words, “but has passed out of death into life”.  The Lord Jesus is saying that those who believe in Him immediately pass from spiritual death and judgment into spiritual life, never to be condemned.  The only way this could be possible would be for Jesus to be judged in our place and pay the penalty Himself, which He would accomplish on the cross of Calvary (Philippians 2:5-8).  For those of us who have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, our judgment is now in the past, paid-in-full, and God the Father has signed off the debt.  It’s written in blood – the blood of His Son.  A change of reservations was made.  Your reservation for hell was immediately cancelled and your reservation for heaven was immediately written down in the book compliments of the Owner (your Heavenly Father).  You have first-class accommodations awaiting you, and you will be treated like family forever because you’re a child of God!

Looking at verses 24-29, I personally observe five resurrections mentioned by Jesus.  In each case, the resurrection came to pass as a result of the words of Jesus.  In verse 24, we have already looked at the first resurrection – the spiritual regeneration and resurrection of all who hear Jesus’ words and believe.  At the moment of genuine belief in Him as Lord and Savior, one has eternal life, release from the condemnation for one’s sin, has passed from spiritual death to spiritual life, and has a changed life.  The second resurrection is given in verse 25.  I believe that Jesus is referring to the physical resurrections from the dead that He is going to perform while on this earth.  At that point in time the Lord Jesus hadn’t performed any resurrection miracles yet, but they were soon to come.  There were three of them recorded in God’s Word, and in each case the resurrections occurred at the voice of Jesus.  The third resurrection is given in verse 26, and I believe that Jesus is referring to His own physical resurrection from the dead in fulfillment of His words.  The fourth resurrection, in verses 27-29a is the resurrection of life – the call of believers to the judgment seat of Christ.  The fifth resurrection, mentioned at the end of verse 29, is the resurrection of unbelievers to judgment and condemnation.  In this sermon we are studying the first two resurrections and will save the other three for the next construction project.  There is much yet to learn from verse 25.

II.  RESURRECTIONS TO PHYSICAL LIFE (verse 25)

In verse 25, the Lord Jesus makes the same oath again, saying “Truly, truly, I say to you”.  I take those words to mean that Jesus is about to say something different; that He is attesting to something else that He is going to do.  He says, “An hour is coming and now is.”  There are things that are going to be happening, and they are just about to happen.  What is it that’s about to occur?  The Lord Jesus continues, “when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live.”  My conclusion is that Jesus is talking about those people whom He is going to physically raise from the dead while He is here on this earth.  He has not performed any physical resurrection-miracles yet, but it’s going to start happening very soon.

Before we look at the resurrection-miracles of Jesus, let’s first look at the physical resurrection-miracles in the Old Testament so that we can use them as a basis of comparison.  In I Kings 17, the son of the widow at Zarephath dies, and we see Elijah’s response and God’s answer:  “Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord my God, I pray Thee, let this child’s life return to him’.  And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived.” (I Kings 17:21-22).  The restoration to physical life came as an answer to prayer.  God was the One Who resurrected the child, not Elijah.

The second resurrection-miracle is found in II Kings 4:32-35.  The Shunammite’s son dies and Elisha’s response is similar to that of Elijah.  “So he entered and shut the door behind them both, and prayed to the Lord.  And he went up and lay on the child . . . and the flesh of the child became warm . . . and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes.”  Once again God restored life in answer to prayer.

By contrast, when Jesus raised the dead, He didn’t pray or apply “life-saving techniques”.  He spoke or gave the command and the person was instantly restored to life.  “Talitha Kum!” (which translated means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” (Mark 5:41).   “Young man, I say to you, arise!” (Luke 7:14).  “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43).  They came back to life as a result of hearing His voice.  God alone can do that – give life and restore life by just saying the word!  In the account of creation in Genesis we find God saying, “Let there be” , . . “and there was”.  Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.”   The patriarch Job said, “The breath of the Almighty gives me life.”   Jesus’ resurrection-miracles, and the way in which they were performed, were irrefutable proof that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.  The people who watched those miracles occur could come to no other rational, logical, or Scriptural conclusion!  They already believed that God is the Creator, and the only Creator and Controller of the universe.  Therefore Jesus Christ must be God.

The Jewish leaders, as well as all of the Jews, revered Elijah because of his amazing miracles, especially the raising of the widow of Zarephath’s son.  But as you can see, the Lord Jesus is infinitely greater than Elijah, and Elijah would wholeheartedly agree.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

Jesus claimed the power to raise people from the dead.  Did you notice that the dead always responded to the voice of the Lord?  What about the living?  How did they respond?  That’s a different story, isn’t it?  Very few of those who heard the words of Jesus and saw His signs, even His resurrection of people from the dead, responded in faith and followed Him.  But did that stop Jesus from continuing to declare Who He was, or from explaining God’s plan of salvation?  Not at all!

I may have shared a principle with you before, but it bears repeating because I have observed that Jesus followed this principle during His ministry on earth.  Here is the principle:  “Expose people to as much truth over as long a period of time as they will allow you.”  It’s important that we understand the first word in that quote.  The rest of the words are evident.  The word “expose” means to communicate, not only by our words but also by our lives.  People are looking for truth, and most of them not only want to see it in writing and hear it spoken, but also to observe it being lived out in a person’s life.  People want truth that will set them free from their hopelessness and emptiness, and bring purpose, meaning, joy, and direction into their lives.  If we are truly Christians, indwelt and empowered by the Spirit of God, our lives will be evidenced by a love for God and His Word, a love for people, a hope for the future, and joy in spite of circumstances.  Is that a description of you?  If so, don’t become discouraged in your witness.  Keep growing in your walk with the Lord and faithfully being a witness for Him by word and by life.  The Spirit of God is working in the lives of people.  Many of those who may be silently watching you and questioning the things you are saying, may later want what you have and be ready to know the Giver of life eternal.  Nothing we do in obedience to the Lord is without reward in this life and the next.

If you are not a Christian, are you willing to give more thought and consideration to the One who raised the dead by just saying the words?  If Jesus Christ can have such power over physical life, and can give eternal life, imagine what He can do in your life if you put your trust in Him.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

There are also over 100 completed sermons on this website and it’s always “Open House” here.  Please take a look around the block!  There are sermons from  Philippians, James, Jonah, the Gospel of John, and other seasonal and assorted messages.   Thanks for taking a look, and may the Lord bless your time in His Word.

 

THE REMOVAL AND BURIAL OF JESUS – John 19:31-42

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INTRODUCTION:

When the Lord Jesus came into this world as an infant, there were also miraculous signs that accompanied His birth.  Luke 2 tells us of the angel who suddenly appeared to the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.  After the angel made the announcement of the Savior’s birth, a whole multitude of angels appeared in the sky singing, “Glory to God in the highest . . . “.  Then there was a star that pointed the way for the Magi from the East to find Jesus.

Jesus’ death was also followed by some amazing events.  Matthew 27 tells us that immediately after Jesus said “It is finished!”, the earth shook and the rocks were split apart.  Also tombs opened up and bodies of the saints were raised and entered the holy city of Jerusalem.  When the centurion who was guarding Jesus saw these things happening, he said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”.  The Lord Jesus revealed His deity to a few people both at His birth and at His death.

I.  REMOVAL FROM THE CROSS (verses 31-37)

As we read in verse 31, the Jewish leaders asked Pilate that the legs of those crucified should be broken so that they would soon die, and then could be taken off their crosses before the Passover Sabbath began.  Breaking their legs would result in a quick death because the crucified person would no longer be able to lift himself up to exhale, and would soon died from asphyxiation.

Pilate granted their request, and the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves, but they didn’t break Jesus’ legs because they could see that He was already dead.  So in verse 34 it says that “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear”.  The middle of the spear’s head was a hand-breadth wide.  Out of Jesus’ side flowed blood and water.  It’s believed that the sword pierced the membrane surrounded the heart, and the serum with clots of blood in it was proof that Jesus had already died.

These events fulfilled two Old Testament prophesies.  The first was the instructions for cooking and eating the Passover lamb.  Exodus, chapter 12, says that as you eat the lamb, you are not to break any bone of it.  This command not to break any of the bones of the Passover lamb is repeated in Numbers 9:12 as they celebrate this feast day each year.  Secondly, the piercing of Jesus’ side fulfills the prophesy in Zechariah 12:10, which is quoted here in verse 37:  “They shall look on Him whom they pierced”.

II.  THE BURIAL (verses 38-42)

The Romans had made an exception by taking Jesus and the two thieves down from the cross.  Normally the Romans left those who were crucified on their crosses until their flesh was eaten by birds of prey.  Guards kept watch over the bodies in order to keep friends and family members from taking them away.  But Pilate made an exception in this case.

Up until now, Joseph of Arimathea had been a secret believer for fear of the Jews.  Now, in verse 38, he boldly comes forward to claim the Lord’s body for burial.  Why did Pilate hand over the body of Jesus to Joseph?  Joseph wasn’t even related to Jesus, and that was against Roman law.  Perhaps it was because Pilate was convinced that Jesus wasn’t guilty.

In verse 39 Nicodemus joins Joseph, bringing with him a hundred pounds of spices.  Why so great an amount of spices to prepare one man’s body for burial?  That’s’ enough spices for a king’s burial!  That’s exactly what they wanted to do for Jesus – give Him a king’s burial!  The spices were probably in a powdered form, or a paste.  They put some of the spices directly on Jesus’ body, wound strips of linen cloth around His body from His feet to His shoulders, and put more spices between each layer of cloth.

Verse 41 says that “in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb.”  Matthew 27 tells us that it was Joseph’s new tomb, which he had hewn in a rock.  This hill called “Golgotha”, on the edge of town, was considered  a God-forsaken place.  No expensive tombs were constructed by the Jews in this area.  Most wealthy Jews had burial places on the property where they lived.  It’s very possible that when Jesus was arrested and sentenced to death, Joseph of Arimathea hurriedly bought that piece of land in the garden and hired a crew of laborers to cut that tomb in the rock so that Jesus could be buried there.  There wasn’t time to take the body of Jesus very far because it was almost time to prepare for the Passover meal.  Matthew 27 tells us that they rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb after they put Jesus inside, and the chief priests and Pharisees put a guard there.  They didn’t believe Jesus’ prophesy that He would rise from the dead in three days, but they wanted to make sure no one could steal the body and start a rumor that Jesus rose from the dead.

As you’ve read this sermon, have the events surrounding the death and burial of Christ made any impression on you?   The centurion who observed these events was amazed and afraid, and his attitude toward Jesus Christ changed.

ILLUSTRATION:  One day two non-Christians were riding along on a railroad train discussing Christ’s wonderful life.  One of them said, “I think and interesting romance could be written about Him”.  The other man replied, “Yes, and you are just the man to do it, setting forth the correct views of His life and character.  I advise you to tear down the idea of His divine nature, and paint Him and He was – just a man living among men.”  The recommendation was acted upon and the novel was written.  The man who made the suggestion was Colonel Ingersoll, and the author was General Lew Wallace.  The book was entitled “Ben Hur”.  I imagine that many of you have read the book or seen the movie.

In the process of writing that book, Wallace learned some amazing truths.  The more he studied Jesus’ life and character, the more he become convinced that Jesus was more than just a great teacher.  Like the centurion in Matthew’s Gospel, he became persuaded that “Truly, this was the Son of God”!  I pray that you might also reach that conclusion, act upon it, and enjoy the privileges of being a “child of God”.

CHRIST’S RESURRECTION AND FIRST APPEARANCE – John 20:1-18

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I.  INTRODUCTION:

Christians meet together for worship and fellowship on Sunday morning because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  The Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week, and Christians have been worshiping on Sunday ever since. Throughout the centuries men have tried to honor their heroes by erecting lavish monuments.  The massive pyramids of Egypt were built as resting places for the Egyptian Pharoahs;  the glistening Taj Mahal in India is the tomb of an Indian emperor and his favorite wife.  Lenin’s tomb in Russia’s Red Square is where the body of the Marxist leader is preserved by some mysterious process;  and the burial vault at Mt. Vernon is the site of George Washington’s’ body. Jesus’ simple grave can’t compare with these costly burial places.  But the tomb of Jesus excels all of these in the most important respect.  It’s empty!  He is not there!  At the heart of the Christian faith is the claim that Jesus Christ, on the third day after His death on the cross, rose from the dead and is alive forevermore.  No other world religion has dared to make such a claim about its leader.

I.  MARY AT THE TOMB (verses 1-2)

Let’s look at what happened in John’s Gospel on the third day after Jesus’ death on the cross.  In Verse l, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb very early on the first day of the week.  Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary was bringing spices to prepare  His body for burial.  She must not have known that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had already done so. Why did Mary wait until the third day after Jesus’ burial?   The Jewish traditions taught that the soul hovered over the body of a dead person until the third day, when it finally left.  Friends and family were often in the habit of going to the grave up to the third day, when corruption was supposed to begin, in order to make sure that the person was really dead. The first thing Mary sees is the stone that had been rolled away from the tomb.  The stone was a large disc-shaped stone that had  been rolled down against the entrance to the tomb.  It would have taken many men to move such a heavy stone away from that tomb. Mary must have been in a state of shock as she ran to tell Peter and John what she had seen.  She tells them in verse 2 that “they have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid Him”.  Notice that Mary says, “WE do not know”.  Luke tells us in his Gospel that Mary was accompanied by Joanna and Mary the mother of James, as well as other women, when she went to the tomb.

II.  PETER AND JOHN (vs. 3-10)

After listening to Mary words, Peter and John have a foot race to the tomb in verses 3 and 4, and John wins.  It’s interesting to see the differences in these two men.  Verse 5 says that John looks inside the tomb, sees the linen wrappings, but does not go in.  Peter, however, is more bold.  He goes into the tomb, sees the linen wrappings lying there, and also sees the face-cloth rolled up in another place. In verse 8, John also enters the tomb, sees the linen wrappings and believes.  What did John believe and why did he believe it?  John believed Jesus’ promise that He would rise from the dead, and he believed when he saw the linen wrappings.  The wrappings were strips of linen cloth.  The spices placed between the wrappings were like glue, and they held the strips of cloth together.  It was like a cocoon around Jesus’ body from His shoulders to His feet.  Jesus’ glorified body somehow passed through those wrappings, leaving them flattened but still wound together. A little boy once said sadly to his mother.  “I’m so disappointed!   You told me that something beautiful would come out of that brown thing I picked up the other day, but when I just now looked at it, I found a hole in it and only an empty skin was left!”  The mother said, “My child, you have looked in the wrong place for what I have promised.  Come with me.”  The mother took the boy back into the other room, and there, not too far from the empty cocoon, was a beautiful butterfly.  It had perched on the window sill so that it could dry its wings in the warmth of the noonday sun. Jesus’ disciples did not understand that Jesus must rise from the dead in fulfillment of Scripture, so verse 10 says that they went away to their own homes, to go back to their old way of life.  In much the same way these friends and followers of Jesus looked in the wrong place when they looked for the Savior.

III.  MARY AND THE ANGELS (verses 11-14)

In verse 11 we find Mary Magdalene remaining at the tomb weeping, and then when looked inside the tomb again, she saw two angels sitting one at the head and one at the feet of Jesus’ empty wrappings.  However, Mary did not realize that they were angels.  In verse 13 they ask her, “woman, why are you weeping”, and Mary gives her reason.  She says, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid Him.”  Mark’s Gospel tells us that the angel on the right tells Mary:  “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified;  He is risen;  He is not here.”

IV.  MARY AND JESUS (verses 15-18)

You can imagine Mary’s confusion in verse 15 when she turns around and Jesus is standing there.  But Mary didn’t recognize Jesus, nor did anyone recognize Him.  He was changed.   He now had a glorified body and His physical appearance was changed.  Jesus asks her basically the same question that the angel asked her.  Mary didn’t recognize Him until verse 16 when Jesus said her name.  Then she recognized His voice and the way He always said her name.  She calls Him “Rabboni”, which means Teacher. Jesus is not chiding Mary in verse 17 when He says to her, “Stop clinging to me . . . “.  He is actually gently letting her know that the time is short and there is much to be done.  Then, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives her a commission when He says, “Do not be afraid;  go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they shall see Me.”  Mary does so in verse 18.

CONCLUSION: Today we celebrate the resurrection  of Jesus  Christ from the dead.  We serve a risen Savior, don’t we?  The resurrection of Christ is mentioned 108 times in the New Testament, and it is the greatest miracle in the New Testament.  For the believer, the cross of Jesus Christ closes the door to hell, and the empty tomb opens the gates of heaven.  Andrew Blackwood makes this observation:  “There is not a single pessimistic note anywhere in the New Testament after Christ’s resurrection.”  The risen Christ became a source of rejoicing for all who followed Him.  They were reminded  of what Jesus said to them in John 16:22 before His death:  “Now is your time of grief,  but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” Are you experiencing the joy of the resurrected Christ?  Is He living and reigning in your life?  May we experience that joy and peace this Easter day and every day of our lives.  Let’s not let a day go by, let’s not let a waking hour go by without thinking about and thanking God for the death and resurrection of  His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

NEW YEAR 2014

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Are you in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions?  One dictionary defines a resolution as “a firm decision to do or not to do something”.  Another dictionary says:  “a serious decision to do something.”  From those definitions I get the impression that resolutions are choices we commit ourselves to do. What are you looking forward to in 2014?  What are you dreading?   What do you hope to find?  What choices did you make in 2013?  Are you satisfied with those choices? The search engine Google put a short film on U-Tube entitled “What Did The World Search For This Year.”  It focused on personal and world events that made life worth living in 2013.  At the end of the film are written these words:  “Search On“. I hope that you have come to this site to gain an eternal perspective on life, and to seek God’s  wisdom to guide you on your continuing search for answers and meaning to life.   The Bible tells us that there are only two things in this world that are going to last forever:  God’s Word and people.  In Matthew 24:35 the Lord Jesus told the parable of the fig tree, and said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.”  In I Peter 1:24-25 the apostle Peter quotes from Isaiah 40 when he says:  “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord abides forever.” The other entity that lasts forever is people.  They will live forever in one of two places:  heaven or hell.  In John 5:24 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My words, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life.  He will not come to judgement, but has passed from death to life.”  By contrast, the apostle John records in Revelation 20 what he saw in a vision:  “And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it. . . . And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life. . . . And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” The wonderful and exciting thing about heaven is that it lasts forever.  The terrible and terrifying thing about hell is that it lasts forever.  Each year brings you closer to death, and also to eternity.   May you choose to have a joyful eternity by receiving the Lord Jesus Christ into your life as your personal Savior and Lord.  Then every day and every year until eternity will be filled with joy, inner peace, and unfading hope.

Please let me know your honest reaction to this New Year’s Eve message.  I will gladly respond to any comments you make and any questions you might have.  My purpose was not to dampen your spirit, but to put the year in perspective.  These were a few of the thoughts that came to my mind this New Year’s Eve.  I’m interested in knowing your thoughts also.  Thank you for visiting, and a happy New Year to you!

SIMEON AND ANNA MEET THE BABY JESUS

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In Luke’s Gospel we read about two elderly people who loved God, served Him with all their hearts, and looked forward to the coming of the promised Messiah.  Luke 2:22-24 tells us that the baby Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after His birth in obedience to the Law of Moses.  Then after the time of purification, which is thirty-three days for a male child according to Leviticus 12, if the child is the first-born, he was to be brought to the temple to be dedicated to God.  So the baby Jesus was about six weeks old when his parents brought Him to the temple for His dedication, and they also brought two turtle doves as a sacrifice to the Lord.

SIMEON (Luke 2:25-35)

In Luke 2:25 we are told about Simeon.  He was “a righteous and devout man, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”  Verse 26 says that the Holy Spirit revealed to him “that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”  The word “Christ” means “the Anointed One”, the “Messiah”.  Verse 27 tells us that it was the Holy Spirit who led Simeon to go to the temple at the very time when Mary and Joseph were bringing the baby Jesus to the temple to dedicate Him to God.  Simeon was given the ability to recognize that this baby was the Messiah, and as he holds the baby Jesus in his arms, his heart is filled with joy and his words of gratitude are very moving as he says, “Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for my eyes have seen Thy salvation.”  The sight of the baby Jesus in his arms made possible Simeon’s joyful departure from this world.

Jesus’ presence with us today is also real, giving us strength for service, and taking the fear out of dying for those who have put their faith in Him.  I have seen humble believers leave this world with peace, joy, and radiant hope on the faces because they knew that the Lord Jesus was with them and was taking them home to be with Him.  Even martyrs have been able to sing while being burned at the stake.

Simeon’s words that follow in verses 31-35 causes us to realize that Simeon knew that this baby Jesus would someday provide salvation by suffering and dying for our sins.  Simeon also prophesied that Jesus would be a Savior to both Jews and Gentiles, and that Mary’s soul would be pierced by a sword of sorrow at her Son’s death.  Like Simeon, we too must look to Jesus for our salvation.  Like Simeon, we too can rejoice even in the face of death if we know Jesus as our Savior and Lord.  So don’t let hardship and trials rob your Christmas of its deeper joy.

ANNA THE PROPHETESS (verses 36-38)

While Simeon was holding the baby Jesus in his arms, someone else was there in the temple, and she came forward to see the baby Jesus.  Her name was Anna and she was a prophetess of God.  If you add up the numbers in verses 36 and 37 you will find that Anna was over a hundred years old.  Verse 37 says that she “never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.”  Her entire life was devoted to prayer.  What an example she is to us all!

Anna instantly knew that this baby was the Messiah and she immediately gave fervent thanks to God.  But Anna didn’t stop there.  Verse 38 says that Anna “continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”  She  became a ready and willing witness for Jesus Christ, and probably prepared many to follow Him thirty years later when Jesus began His public ministry.  The affects of her witness for Christ continued long after her lifetime here on this earth.

Like Anna, may we pause to reflect upon, and give thanks for, the One who came as a baby in order to save us from the penalty of our sins.  Also, like Anna, let us ask God for opportunities to share the saving work of Christ with others during this Christmas season, so that they too might experience the true and lasting joy of Christmas, and have the peace of heart that only Jesus Christ can give.  During this season of the year when depression and suicides are at their highest, may we radiate the love of Christ, and be ready to give a reason for the hope and joy that is in us.

A LESSON ON COMPASSION (Part II) – Jonah, chapters 3 and 4

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The book of Jonah, chapter 2, ended with the description of the great fish spitting up Jonah onto the dry land at God’s command.     God caused this to happen because of what Jonah said at the end of his prayer of thanksgiving.  To put it in today’s language, Jonah was saying, “I’ll do what you command”  and “You can save whomever you choose.”  Let’s see what happens in chapters 3 and 4.

III.  JONAH’S PREACHING AT NINEVEH (Chapter 3)

We find God repeating His initial command to Jonah in chapter 3, verses 1 and 2, and this time Jonah obeys God’s command and walks through the city over a period of three days crying out and saying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  The result was that the people believed in God and repented of their sins.  They demonstrated their repentance by proclaiming a fast and putting on sackcloth.  That would be like wearing a large burlap sack over your bare body.  Can you imagine how much that would itch and irritate your skin.  Even the king of Nineveh took off his royal robes and put on sackcloth and sat on the ashes.  He also issued a decree, beginning in verse 7 saying, “. . . Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing.  Do not let them eat or drink water.  But both man and beast must be clothed in sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and the violence which is in his hands.  Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?”

It doesn’t say how long they did this.  It may have been for days, or weeks, or even the full 40 days.  They were appealing to God’s mercy and they found that God is a merciful God.  In verse 10 it says, “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them.  And He did not do it.”

II.  JONAH’S DISCONTENT AND CORRECTION (Chapter 4)

There must have been great rejoicing in the city of Nineveh.  But one person wasn’t rejoicing.  He was angry.  And that person was the prophet Jonah.  Was Jonah mad because his prophesy didn’t come true?  Was he embarrassed?  No.  The real reason why Jonah fled from the Lord, and why he was angry with God is found in 4:2-3.  Jonah was willing to die for the sailors.  He thanked God for sparing his own life.  But Jonah didn’t want God to spare Nineveh because they were a very wicked people; they weren’t Jewish, and Nineveh was the capitol of the nation of Assyria.  The prophet Isaiah had already prophesied that Assyria was going to someday destroy the nation of Israel  and take the remainder of the people back to Assyria as captives.  This prophecy is found in Isaiah 7:17-20 and following.  In Jonah 4:2 he even accuses God of being “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness”, as if those were God’s faults or weaknesses!

Jonah is so angry that he asks God to take his life.  He would rather die than have God spare the lives of the people of Nineveh, and God questions his anger.  Jonah leaves the city and builds a booth “outside” the city; waiting to see if God will come to His senses  and decide that these people don’t deserve to be spared.  While Jonah sleeps God causes a gourd plant to sprout out of the ground overnight and grow big enough to provide shade for Jonah.  This makes Jonah very happy!  He must have been thinking, “God has finally come to His senses and has agreed with me that these people don’t deserve to live!”  But then God causes a worm to destroy the vine, and Jonah becomes very angry again.  There is an important lesson here.  God is in control.  He caused the storm.  He caused the fish to swallow Jonah and later spit him out.  He caused the vine to grow up overnight, and He caused the worm to kill the vine.  Everyone and everything obeyed God except the preacher.  The storm, the dice, the sailors, the fish, the Ninevites, the east wind, the gourd plant, the worm!  Everyone and everything except . . .  Jonah!  Sometimes God allows us to suffer the consequences of our actions so that we might know that He is in control.

A second lesson is found in 4:10-11.  Jonah lacked God’s compassion for people.  There’s a little bit of Jonah in all of us sometimes, isn’t there?  Sometimes more than a “little bit”?  It is the Jewish custom on the annual celebration of the Day of Atonement to read from the book of Jonah.  And at the end of the reading all would say, “We are Jonah!”

If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, the book of Jonah is saying that God loves you and wants to show you mercy, no matter how sinful you have been.  God wants to receive you into His family if you are ready to turn from your sins and let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of your life.  The Controller of the universe gives you the freedom to give Him control over your life, and you can do that right now.

If you are a Christian, the book of Jonah is saying that people are precious because God considers them to be precious.  God wants us to lay aside our prejudices and let Him fill our hearts with His compassion for the sinning and suffering people we meet.  Do you remember that person I asked you to bring to mind at the beginning of this message?  What are you and I going to do this week to reach out by the power of God’s love to that person we’ve been avoiding?

I’m closing this message by reading a portion from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  The Lord Jesus says it better than anyone else.  The passage of Scripture is Matthew 5:43-48.  The Lord Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same?  And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

NEW YEAR’S 2013 – ARE YOU READY?

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New Year’s Day is the closest thing to being the world’s only truly global public holiday or day of celebration.  It may be celebrated on different months and different days but the new year is celebrated in almost every nation and culture.  Most countries use the Gregorian calendar as their main calendar, and New Year’s Day is observed on the first day of January.

The month of January originally owes its name to the deity Janus, the Roman god of gates, doors, and beginnings.  Janus had two faces, one looking forward and the other looking backward.  January 1 represents the fresh start of a new year after a period of remembrance of the passing year.  In our country we celebrate New Year’s Day with New Year’s resolutions, parades, football games, and fireworks.

2012 has been a very eventful and alarming year in many ways.  It has been a very stressful year for many who have lost jobs or who have lost family members in very traumatic ways. Thoughts of the end of the world have filled the minds of many of us.  Have you given your fears, concerns, regrets, and disappointments from the year 2012 over to God?   Pastor Ray Steadman once told his congregation, “On New Year’s Eve we realize more than at any other time in our lives that we can never go back in time.  We can look and remember, but we cannot retrace a single moment of the year that is past.”

Looking ahead, are we ready to move on into 2013?  As we’ve waited for, and been warned about, the end of the Mayan calendar and the predictions of the end of the world, are we ready for the calendar of events God has revealed to us in the Bible?  According to the Scriptures, the next thing on the world’s  calendar is not the end of the world.  That won’t occur for over a thousand years.  The next thing we need to be ready for is the rapture of Christians.  By “Christians” I mean those who have repented of their sins and have invited Jesus Christ to be their Savior and Lord, and their changed lives bear witness to the fact that their commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ is real.  I Thessalonians 4:15-18 and I Corinthians 15:50-53 tell us that all genuine Christians will suddenly disappear.  They will be caught up to meet Jesus Christ in the air and be taken to heaven.  Are you ready for that moment?  If not, you will be left behind, and there will be seven years of Tribulation – the wrath of  God upon the earth.  Please make a New Year’s resolution to come to a personal knowledge of, and commitment to, Jesus Christ.

Dr. Dennis DeHaan shared the following message in the New Year’s Eve Daily Bread brochure in 2004.  16th-century Venetian artist Titian portrayed Prudence as a man with three heads.  One head was of a youth facing the future, another was of a mature man with his eyes on the present, and the third head was that of a wise old man gazing at the past.  Over their heads Titian wrote a Latin phrase that means, “From the example of the past, the man of the present acts prudently so as not to imperil the future.”

This has not been an easy year to look back on, and the coming year may not be an easy one to look forward to, but we are not alone.  In the Old Testament book of Joshua, chapter 1, after Moses died and God told Joshua to enter the land of Canaan and conquer it, He also gave this promise:  “As I have been with Moses, so I will be with you. . . . Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Let’s dedicate ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ so that we might enter the year 2013 with courage and joyful excitement!

CITIZENSHIP IN HEAVEN – Philippians 3:17-21

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INTRODUCTION:

It seems strange that in this letter filled with joy we find Paul weeping. But these tears are not for himself but because of others. Paul is heart-broken over the way some, who call themselves Christians, are living their lives, with their minds on earthly things.

I. FOLLOW MY EXAMPLE (Verse 17)

In verse 17 Paul uses himself as an example and tells the members of the church at Philippi to follow him and those who imitate him. Why should the Philippian church follow Paul’s example? Why should we? I wouldn’t dare point to myself as a “model Christian”. None of us should. Paul knew he was a sinner. In I Timothy 1:15-16 he twice refers to himself as the “worst of sinners”. Paul, however, could say these words as he was writing from his prison cell because over the years he had poured himself out in full devotion to the Lord, and he had on his body the marks of Jesus Christ. He had received several scourgings as a result of his testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ. In Galatians 6:17 Paul says, “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus Christ.”

Until we are as dedicated as the apostle Paul, and have suffered the hardships he has experienced, it would be better for us not to call attention to ourselves as examples. However, we must also realize that every Christian is a pattern to someone who is watching him or her. So, what people see in us will either help or hinder the cause of Christ. That’s why Paul said to Timothy in I Timothy 4:12, “in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example to those who believe.” Remember, others are watching us.

II. THE ISSUE (verses 18 and 19)

We don’t know for sure, but in verses 18 and 19 Paul may be talking about the Judaizers and their followers. The Judaizers were “enemies of the cross of Christ” because they added the Law of Moses to the saving work of Christ on the cross. Their “god is their appetite (or their belly)” because they were so strict about what things you could eat and what you were forbidden to eat. Their “glory is in their shame” because they required and boasted in the circumcision of all males. They were glorying in something that they should have been ashamed to talk about. In Galatians 6:14 and 15 Paul says, “but may it never be that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” In verse 19 Paul shares the real source of their problems: they “set their minds on earthly things.” And verses 19 and 20 indicate that these “enemies of the cross of Christ” were not Christians, nor were they part of the Philippian congregation.

III. THE SOLUTION (verses 20 and 21)

Paul reminds the Christians at Philippi that their “citizenship is in heaven”. The church is a colony of heaven here on earth. Citizenship is important and it has its privileges. From across the world people continue to come to the United States to become citizens. This is often a deeply moving experience. One woman said, “I cried when I got my citizenship. I looked at the flag and said “I’m an American now!” Another man said, “I gave up everything to come here, but it was worth it”. Why do so many people have such a strong desire to become Americans? Their answers are basicly the same answers as those given by the Pilgrims. This is a country of hope, and they want a chance to be free. One person was asked how he was going to celebrate the day he became a citizen. His answer was, “I’m going to go to work. That’s the best way I can show my gratitude for my new homeland.”

None of us wants to suffer the fate of Philip Nolan in the book entitled “A Man Without A Country”. Because he cursed the name of his country, Nolan was sentenced to live aboard ship and never again see his native land or even hear its name or news about its progress. For 56 years he was on an endless journey from ship to ship and sea to sea, and finally was buried at sea. He was truly a man without a country.

As citizens of heaven living on earth, we Christians should never be discouraged because we know that our Lord is one day going to return, and maybe we’ll already be in glory before then. Thank God, we will not have to live in our present bodies forever. A new body is waiting for us, which will be a body like the resurrection body of our Lord Jesus Christ. It will be an eternal body free from decay, and best of all, free from temptation and sin. A famous American wrote his own epitaph for his tombstone. This is what it says:

“The body of Benjamin Franklin, printer.
Like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out,
Lies here, food for the worms;
But the work shall not be lost,
For it will appear once more
In a new and more elegant edition,
Revised and corrected by its Author!”

As we notice the signs of age in these physical bodies of ours, it should not alarm us. The grey hair, the wrinkles, the declining physical strength, the aches and pains, and such things as false teeth and bifocal glasses should remind us that we are not to dwell in this old house forever. God has promised us a much better one. Take a look in the mirror! The moving van is on the way! Are you ready to go to heaven?

When I was a child I found an animal that was longer and thicker than my middle finger. It was a pea-green color on top and a darker shade of green below. It had a flat head with a black mouth that was lined with sharp teeth. It had six hands with snow white pads on them, which it used to stuff food into its mouth constantly. It had ten stubby little feet with suction cups on them. At the top of its rear end was a curved reddish horn, ending in a sharp, but harmless, point. At the time I thought it looked beautiful, but to most people it looked repulsive. Did you guess what it was? It was a big, fat tomato caterpillar! I put it in a mayonnaise jar and poked some small holes in the lid. My family and I were taking a trip to the mid-west for three weeks to visit family, so I stocked him up with leaves and grass. When we got back from our trip, I hurried into our garage to see it. To my surprise the caterpillar was gone, but in that jar was the biggest moth I had ever seen. It was light brown and had what looked like eyes on its wings. I had planned on keeping the caterpillar, but when I saw that moth I knew that I had to let it go. It was meant to fly and it was cooped up in that little jar. I opened the lid and watched with excitement and delight as it stretched its wings, took off, and flew away.

If we’ve accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we are now citizens of heaven, and we’re in for a wonderful and beautiful change. We are going to have a peace, freedom and joy that we’ve never experienced before. It’s beyond our imaginations!

Are you a child of God? Are you a citizen of heaven? John 1:12 says that if you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are a citizen of heaven by adoption. Only children of God become citizens of heaven. How are we expressing our appreciation for the wonderful privilege of being children of God and citizens of heaven? Are we faithfully and joyfully serving the Lord Jesus Christ today? That is the best way to celebrate the fact that we have truly become citizens of heaven.