Your Labor Is Not in Vain

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By Olive Tree Employee: David Mikucki

labor-in-vainA Christian without a resurrection is a dismal Christian indeed. In 1 Corinthians, Paul goes so far as to say that if Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17). Praise God, then, that Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). The resurrection of Christ can be a great encouragement to us when we feel like we’re experiencing deadness. Christians can feel discouraged in many areas, but the resurrection helps us to understand that our God is a God who brings life out of death. The word “impossible” isn’t in His vocabulary.

Most Christians take encouragement from the fact that Jesus is going to return and resurrect the dead. Jesus’ resurrection means that those who are in Christ will be raised on the last day to spend eternity with God (1 Corinthians 15:24). The resurrection is our great hope as Christians, but the resurrection also offers us hope in this life.

Hope in This Life

You might be discouraged because the world has grown darker in recent years. Jesus said, “destroy this Temple, and in three days I’ll raise it up,” referring to His body (John 2:19–21). When they killed Jesus, they destroyed His temple—but He raised it. He also began building up His body, the church (1 Corinthians 12:27), which is also God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Church is built because Jesus’ body was destroyed and because He rose again—the Church is His rebuilt temple.

Things never looked more grim than when Jesus was in the tomb, but God chose to start the Church when right when things looked completely impossible. Regardless of how dark and sinful the world gets, we can look to where Jesus said “I will build my church; and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) In this way, we can be encouraged by Christ’s resurrection in this life.

Another area we are often discouraged is that of our own personal walk with God. John reminds us that we all sin (1 John 1:8), and we know that our sin can often discourage us. Our walk toward holiness sometimes feels like we’re on a treadmill—taking a lot of steps but not getting anywhere. The resurrection helps us here by first reminding us that we are justified before God because of the resurrection of Jesus (Romans 4:25). There is no condemnation for sin if we are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Jesus’ resurrection means we’ll be raised, even though we’ve never done anything to deserve it—not even in our best efforts.

The resurrection also reminds us of the new life we receive in Christ. Our sin-enslaved self died on the cross with Jesus (Romans 6:6). Through the resurrection we can walk in newness of life. We see this in our baptism (Romans 6:3–4). Even though we may see a lot of sin and darkness in our lives, God is transforming us by His Spirit through Christ’s resurrection. The fact that you can say “no” to sin at all and you’re not totally enslaved is an evidence of that new life working in you. If you’re having trouble saying no to sin, remember that your wishing you could say no more is also an evidence of God’s grace working new life in you. Dead men don’t want to love God more. Thank God for this grace and ask for then seek more grace through prayer, reading Scripture, and attending church.

There are many other reasons that we can be discouraged as Christians. Relationships, marriages, churches, businesses, and more can be marred by sin. The resurrection reminds us that nothing is impossible for God and that He loves to bring life out of death. He loves to work good out of evil (Genesis 50:20)—although it’s not always the good we’re expecting. If you’ve been discouraged lately, this Easter might be a good time to read and study 1 Corinthians 15 to see the triumph God is working in Christ through the resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV): Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

David is a front end web developer at Olive Tree. He also writes on his personal blog, And the Rest of It.

Saturday Hope in the Waiting

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hopewaiting1Guest Blogger: Melissa Joy

Job 30:26
But when I hoped for good, evil came,
and when I waited for light, darkness came.

Hope is a double edged sword. Walking through Holy Week, we think along the lines of so many events… It’s so busy! Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem while His people worshipped and called hosanna, He cleansed the temple and taught His people, He is betrayed by one who is unfaithful, He is perfumed by one who is faithful, He gives thanks even in the presence of His betrayer, He hands out bread and wine to His followers, He prays in solitude, He is captured and taken away, He is scrutinized and condemned, He is taken before leaders and stood before multitudes, He is burdened in every imaginable way, He is stripped and scourged, He is hung and nailed through, He cries out, He is forsaken, He bleeds, He dies, He is taken away, He is buried in the dark tomb…

Now what?

The time between death and resurrection feels so dark, so empty, so long. What is happening in this day between Friday and Sunday? What are we to do as we sit outside the tomb? And what is our Lord doing in the darkness, the cold grips of death?

I have experienced waiting—longing, yearning, begging—for something, feeling like darkness and grief and death and hopelessness reigns around me. Hope is illusive.
Hope is defined as a longing and a desire, anticipating something good to come, a trust, to desire expectation. But Scripture adds a nuance of entwining hope with faith. A quick search of the word hope shows 164 places in the ESV Bible where the word is directly mentioned—and even more frequently alluded to. Adding faith to hope limits the results to just 13. We who are schooled in the Church are very familiar with the idea in Hebrews 11:1 that faith is the assurance of things hoped for—assurance. Faith is the guarantee of the hope.

Where is our hope? In the Lord. And what is the assurance of Him? Our faith. And who gave us this faith? Paul plainly tells us that faith is a gift of the Lord (Ephesians 2:8). But—He died. He is in the tomb!

On Saturday the busyness slows, seems to stop. What is the Lord doing? What are His people doing? The tomb is closed. Hope feels lost. The Guarantor of my hope, the One in whom I have faith, is lying lifeless in a dark cave, covered in perfumes and herbs, wrapped in burial cloths. I can not see my Lord, I only see thick rock through my eyelashes dripping with tears.

What do we do with our faith and our hope when we seem to be stuck in the long, dark Saturday between death and resurrection? When we can not see what the Lord is doing, do not grasp what His people are up to, and ultimately feel like we must simply wait because the darkness is so heavy and the grief so thick that there is nothing to do but sit. Wait. Groan. Wonder. Weep.

Job 17:15
Where then is my hope?
Who will see my hope?

© Melissa Joy, 2015

Melissa Joy seeks to grow in grace and wisdom alongside her husband Steven (Olive Tree’s VP of Operations), while pursuing joyful domesticity by nurturing her home and family. The joy she finds in her family, homemaking, music, writing, ministering to those in grief, and seeking to be a pillar of loving strength in her home can be seen unveiled at Joyful Domesticity.

 

Remembering the arrest and trial of Jesus

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As we continue in the week of Christ’s passion, moving closer to Good Friday, and the death of the Savior, we remember the arrest and trial of Jesus. To set the stage, Jesus has been taken from the garden where He prayed by temple guards, betrayed by one of His own. The theme of the arrest and trial of the Lord is one of betrayal. Betrayal by Judas, one of the disciples, but also betrayal by those He came to save.

matthew26In Matthew 26:63-65, the court is arrayed against Jesus, and after the parade of lying witnesses, the high priest presses Jesus for an answer to the question of His divinity. The high priest should have been filled with the Spirit as he mediated between God and his people. Instead we see him here condemning the true High Priest. Those who knew the law and the promise of the coming Messiah the best completely reject the Christ.

Matthew’s gospel is full of ironies, often brought to light in later passages, particularly surrounding the Passion narrative. Take for example that Christ is rejected by his own people, who instead beg to have Barabbas released to them – a man whose name means “son of the father.” Or that the same passionate crowd who followed Christ into Jerusalem shouting “Hosanna”, later yells in unison demanding the death of the true Son of the Father. Or here, that the lies told in court to cap the rejection of Jesus by His own people and religious leaders is contrasted with the truth on the lips of a Gentile soldier — “Truly, this was the Son of God.” And finally, as the scene builds to the climax — the dramatic sentencing of the Christ — just as the high priest tears his garments, crying “Blasphemy!” in his rejection of the true High Priest, so too the holy of holies rends its outer garment, the veil, at the true blasphemy of the murder of the Son of God.

And yet, while Jesus endured these rejections, He suffered a much greater rejection on our behalf: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” Bearing the sin of his people, the sacrificial lamb drank the full cup of God’s wrath down to the dregs. Our Lord, the second Adam, endured the full rejection of God that we, in sin, earned by the first Adam. And by His rejection we, who are called children of God, are accepted and restored.

Rabbit Trails to the Cross

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trailWhile the gospel ought to always be at the forefront of our minds, I do not deny there being something special about this time of year. The Passion Week presents us with the opportunity to look closely at the cross of Christ and to share salvation’s good news with loved ones. Hearing about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is brand new for many people. But, how does the person who’s been a Christian for years or decades keep the gospel fresh? This is one of my challenges as a Christian. So, what do I do? I look outside the gospel narratives and look at the rest of Scripture.

Since all the Bible is about Jesus, we should see things that either point forward (Old Testament) or back (Acts & beyond) to the work of Christ. Today I’d like to walk you through a quick time of study I had this morning reading a seemingly random Bible passage and how that pointed me back to the cross and helped me meditate on Christ this Passion Week.

My morning started with a reading in the first couple of chapters in 1 Timothy. As I read, one verse stood out more than others:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15)

Yes, Jesus came to save sinners, and Paul assures us that this statement is trustworthy and worthy of acceptance. Like Paul, I can identify with these words and I lean on the truthfulness of why Christ came. After meditating on that verse and its surrounding context, the ESV cross references pointed me to Romans 4:25, which is where my study became fun.

23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:23-25)

In this context Paul is talking about Abraham and how he was justified through faith. Paul makes it clear that Abraham was declared righteous before his circumcision or any other act he performed, such as obeying the call to sacrifice Isaac. Paul then brings this forward and applies it to Christians and our justification. He shows how justification is applied through our faith in Jesus’ atoning work. The cross is now clearly in view and how it benefits my life.

At this point, a few Study Bibles provide further edification as they elaborate on the Romans passage.

4:25 Both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are necessary for forgiveness of sins and justification. raised for our justification. When God the Father raised Christ from the dead, it was a demonstration that he accepted Christ’s suffering and death as full payment for sin, and that the Father’s favor, no longer his wrath against sin, was directed toward Christ, and through Christ toward those who believe. Since Paul sees Christians as united with Christ in his death and resurrection (6:6, 8–11; Eph. 2:6; Col. 2:12; 3:1), God’s approval of Christ at the resurrection results in God’s approval also of all who are united to Christ, and in this way results in their “justification.” (ESV Study Bible)

 

4:25 The proof of justification by faith alone in Abraham’s case leads Paul back to the foundation of justification in the work of Christ (3:24-26). Christ’s death and resurrection are two indivisible but distinguishable aspects of His one saving work. In His death, Christ bore the legal penalty for our guilt. In raising Jesus from the dead, the Father vindicated Jesus, nullifying the sentence of death, and declaring Him to be righteous. This vindication grounds our justification through our union with Christ. (Reformation Study Bible)

Both of these notes drive home great points concerning the correlation between Jesus’ work on the cross and our justification. Without his death our sins are not forgiven; and, without his resurrection there is no proof that God accepted his sacrifice. Like Abraham, we only receive this through faith. In response to reading these notes all I could think was, “Ah, thank you Lord for the cross! Without your death and resurrection I am hopeless!”

But, there was one more note in the HCSB Study Bible that cross referenced one last passage in Acts, which led me to a moment of true thankfulness and hope.

4:25. Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses as promised in Is 52:13–53:12. Who delivered up Jesus? Was it Judas? Pilate? The Jewish Sanhedrin? Satan? Certainly all these were causal agents in the crucifixion of Christ, but ultimately it was the sovereign God who brought it to pass in order to fulfill His plan of redemption (Ac 4:27- 28). The Father delivered Jesus up for our trespasses, and raised Him so that His righteous Servant would justify many people (Is 53:11). (HCSB Study Bible)

Jesus’ death on the cross was not an accident. God planned it long ago and had a hand in all of it. After being released from prison, Peter and John prayed to God and recognized that he was at work the entire time, even working through wicked men. Personally, realizing the bigger picture of the Passion Week is a huge comfort to me. Yes, wicked men sentenced Jesus to death, but it was all part of God’s plan. Jesus died for our sins. He rose again, showing God’s acceptance of his sacrifice. We are justified because of our faith in the work of the cross. But, God had his plan in place before Adam even sinned. What an awesome God we serve!

I love how God can work and point us to the gospel as we read his Word. It may be Passion Week, but that’s not where I’m reading; yet, God still points me to his Son’s work on the cross and my soul is lifted because of it!

Introducing the Biblical Imagination Series

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For years Michael Card’s music has imaginatively explored the narrative power of the Word of God. Now in the Biblical Imagination Series, Card invites readers to enter into Scripture as he has learned to do, at the level of the informed imagination.

These volumes will help you discover the biblical text for yourself, ask your own questions and uncover deeper truths. Taking seriously the individual life and voice of each biblical writer, the Biblical Imagination Series will help you reintegrate your mind with your heart to recapture your imagination with the beauty and power of Christ.

Right now the Biblical Imagination Series 4 Volume set is only $24.99 for a limited time!

Who was St. Patrick really?

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He didn’t drive out snakes, drink green beer, or pinch people. In fact, he wasn’t even Irish! For the truth about St. Patrick watch the video below from our friends at Rose Publishing.

For great titles on church history and more go here!

 

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