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”.

IT’S A NEW YEAR!

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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 that we commit ourselves to do. What are you looking forward to in this new year?  What are you dreading?   What do you hope to find?  What choices did you make year?  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.

Thank you for visiting, and a happy New Year to you!

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.