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May 2017

The Unconvincing Power of God

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Resurrecting Jesus Christ from the dead is the most powerful thing God’s ever done. Look at what it accomplished:

It vindicated who Jesus is.

“Who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Romans 1:4 (NASB)

It proved that sin doesn’t win.

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins . . . 20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” – 1 Corinthians 15:17, 20

It defeated death.

“But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” – Acts 2:24 (NASB)

It ushered the future into the present.

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure.” – 1 John 3:2-3

I would think that such an astonishing event would impress everyone, but not so. In fact, quite the opposite.

The religious leaders who railroaded Jesus to death, along with a few Roman soldiers, rebelled against the report of His resurrection.

“When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole Him away while we were asleep.”’” – Matthew 28:12-13

The soldiers and the Sanhedrin knew something special had happened, but they tried to suppress it.

The ignorant mocked the idea of a resurrection.

“A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, ‘What is this babbler trying to say?’ Others remarked, ‘He seems to be advocating foreign gods.’ They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection . . . 32When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’” – Acts 17:18, 32

God raising people from the dead didn’t fit in the Greek philosophical worldview. Some were curious, but most scoffed.

Even Jesus’ disciples vacillated.

“When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.” – Matthew 28:17

Should the resurrection’s lack of convicting power surprise us? No, Jesus predicted it.

In a parable, Christ described how an unnamed wealthy person ignored a beggar named Lazarus. One feasted while the other starved. When they both died, the tables were turned; Lazarus enjoyed comfort in the company of the patriarch Abraham while the rich man suffered the flames of Hades. Unable to get any relief, the desperate soul implored Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family. Abraham dismissed this request; the Scriptures ought to suffice. The rich man disagreed–the spectacle of a man risen from the grave would put the fear of God in his brothers. But Abraham stood his ground.

“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

I want the resurrection of Jesus to be decisive, convincing, and determinative. But by itself, it isn’t. Not without Scripture.

That’s why Jesus rehearsed to two disciples the many passages in the Bible that foretold His death, burial, and resurrection.

That’s why later that day, He reviewed with the 11 apostles how His suffering and triumph had fulfilled the Scriptures.

That’s why Paul and Barnabas quoted the Bible to explain how God promised to raise the Messiah from the dead.

That’s why Paul stressed how the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ formed the heart of the gospel in keeping with God’s Word.

What competes with your faith in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus? Whatever it is, the Bible is your remedy. As you study it, you will hear the Spirit bearing witness to the risen Savior. And any doubts you have about the power of His resurrection will fade in the light of His Word.

 

153

Math may not be your strong point, but God likes numbers. The Bible uses them to communicate spiritual points.

  • For example, 7 represents perfection. God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th.
  • The 12 sons of Jacob formed the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus chose 12  apostles as the beginning of His church.
  • 40 symbolizes trials–the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and Jesus fought the devil in the desert over a span of 40 days.
  • And 666 is the number of the beast, the antichrist who will rule the world in the end times.

What about the number 153? What does it mean?

153 doesn’t pop up often in the Bible. In fact, I could find it in only two places.

The first is John 21. After His resurrection, Jesus periodically visited the disciples before His ascension. Perhaps they grew tired of a delay, so Peter and six other apostles (that makes seven, the perfect number!) decided to go fishing. Unsuccessful as usual (see Luke 5), they caught nothing. But Christ showed up, advised them, and they hauled in 153 fish. Quite a catch!

Does this number symbolize anything or does it merely record the actual count?

I never knew how to answer that question. However, in my devotional time a few days ago, I read 2 Kings 1. Ahaziah, a wicked king of Israel, sustained an injury but rather than ask God for healing, he sought it from Baal, a false god.

Elijah the prophet condemned this action, so the king tried to arrest him. Three times Ahaziah sent a military captain accompanied by 50 soldiers to take Elijah into custody, but twice God wiped them out. The third leader humbled himself and begged that his life and the lives of his men would be spared and God granted that request. Elijah accompanied them, confronted Ahaziah again, and pronounced final judgment on the unrepentant monarch.

As I was reading the chapter, I did some quick addition in my head. “Let’s see, 3 groups of 50 soldiers, each group under the command of a captain. That’s 51 + 51 + 51. Hey, I get 153! I recognize that sum! It’s the same number in John 21!”

So I revisited the question of meaning. I hadn’t discerned anything in the passage in John’s gospel, but 2 Kings 1 could shed some light.

Except that it seemed to contrast quite a bit with John 21.

Elijah confronted an evil king, defeated a small army, and judged idolatry. Jesus met His disciples, engineered a miracle, and provided them a free breakfast. Those stories don’t have much in common!

But then I remembered something I’d read several years ago. In The New Testament Concept of Witness, theologian Allison Trites unearths the forensic character of biblical witnessing. While ancient legal systems may not have been as elaborate as they are today, people back then took them seriously. They were careful to ascertain the veracity of testimony in disputes, including legal and military contexts.

Trites outlines how each chapter of the gospel of John bares witness to the claim that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. The account of the miraculous catch of fish is no exception.

John 13-17 shows that before His arrest, Jesus prepared His followers to continue His work in His absence. And, lest they swell with pride at their accomplishments, Jesus reminded the apostles that their success in ministry would depend on His grace.

The miracle of the 153 fish demonstrates that the Risen One has authority to provide for His people. Only by the power of Jesus Christ will the witness of the apostles convince people and bring souls into the church.

But serving the Lord can be dangerous. Sometimes authority figures want to stop you. They want your tongue silenced. How do you respond when the world comes against you?

Don’t fight back; rely on the Lord. The same God who can provide 153 fish can protect you from 153 soldiers. When you serve Jesus, you need both provisions and protection. He will give you both.

 

with Bob Condly

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