Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Four Gardens

There are four gardens of great significance in the Bible.
When we think about a garden, we think about a place of beauty, refreshment, and rest – a place where delicious scents and bright colors delight the senses. 

The Garden of Eden

Of course, God was the first gardener. He planted the first garden in Eden – a place of utter perfection. That first garden was created before sin, before weeds, before blight – it was indescribably perfect.

God could have kept it as a place of pristine beauty for all eternity. But he had another plan. God formed man out of the dust of the earth, giving him shape with his own hands and crafting him in his very own image. The Lord gave him dominion over every created thing.

Genesis tells us that Adam walked in the garden with God in the cool of the day. It is hard to imagine what that would have been like. Adam and Eve were the only humans who ever had that privilege. 

Tasting the forbidden fruit changed things forever. The world, as Adam and Eve had known it, was gone. The Lord had to banish them from the Garden he had created for them.

Sin had come, and with it, a world of woes.

With the first bite of that forbidden fruit, sin entered the world, and with it, a penalty.  Adam and Eve needed redemption. A price had to be paid. God, himself, sacrificed animals and dressed Adam and Eve in the animal skins. For thousands of years, animal sacrifices continued – so much sin, so much blood.

Until the perfect sacrifice came. Jesus was the lamb sent from the very hand of God. One without blemish. One that would atone for the sin of mankind once and for all. Upon seeing Jesus, John the Baptist told his followers, “behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

The Garden of Gethsemene

The shadow of the cross had loomed over Jesus from birth, but that shadow became unbearably heavy in another garden – the Garden of Gethsemane. In that garden of despair, when he took our sin upon himself, the agony and travail of spirit was so heavy that he sweat great drops of blood. “Father, let this cup pass from me,” Jesus pleaded. “Yet, not my will, but yours,” he said, submitting to the will of his father.

Why did Jesus, the Son of God, allow himself to experience the humiliation and agony that came with this kind of death? Why did the Father sacrifice his one and only son? 

The answer is simple.  One word - love. He did it for love.

The Garden of Golgotha 

John 19:41 tells us that “in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” Loving hands carried the lifeless body of the Son of Man from the cross to a tomb in the Garden of Golgotha, leaving him cold and alone, his battered body sealed away behind a stone.

Sin came in the Garden of Eden. Jesus took our sin upon his shoulders in the Garden of Gethsemane. And praise be to God - victory came in the Garden of Golgotha! Three days after his death on the cross, after what looked like the worst defeat of all time, the incomparably great power of God filled that cold and lonely tomb, and began coursing through the body of Jesus. He rose in glorious power, claiming victory over sin and death - forever.

Jesus conquered death and the grave, and we are more than conquerors with him. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus said “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there you might be also.” He is preparing a place for all the redeemed. And one day, perhaps very soon, he will come again to take us to the wedding feast of the lamb and to live with him forever.

He has given us a wonderful promise, but with it a warning – for it is only for those who have ears to hear.

The Garden of Eternity

 “To the one who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Once again, we will be in a garden – a garden of eternal delight, ever and always with the one who loved us all the way to the cross and on into eternity.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Living Proof

Religious leaders admitted that the body of Christ had gone missing.

"Without Jesus, I don't think any of us would be here." 

So said one of my Adventure Rangers, the class of fifth and sixth grade kids I teach on Wednesday nights at church. 

That's a powerful statement. We are all - individually, and collectively - living proof of a risen Savior.

I have the opportunity to teach the Adventure Rangers group every Wednesday night at my church. This year, we studied Lee Strobel's "Case for Christ for Kids." It was a great study that really grabbed the minds and hearts of the kids.

When Jesus walked this earth during the three years of his ministry leading up to his death on the cross, he used many names for himself - Son of God, Son of Man, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Bread of Life, and many others.

We asked the question - how do you know Jesus is who He says He is? 

Or, to put it another way, how do you know Jesus is the Son of God, and not just a great man?

That's a really good question and one that my Ranger group grappled with over the weeks.

When I posed the question, there was a huge outcry in the room - it says it in the Bible!

I countered - how do you know the Bible is true?

A hard question for fifth and sixth graders, as well as for adults! It is a question that every Christian should be able to answer with conviction. It is not enough to say that we believe because our parents believed. Each of us must believe for ourselves and be fully convinced in our hearts.

We talked it through and came to a resounding, unshakable conclusion: the Bible is definitely true and Jesus is THE SON OF GOD. 

How did my class reach that conclusion? Well, here are a few of the many powerful supporting facts that are indisputable and which they, and every Christian, can stand upon:

  • There were about 60 important prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament. Jesus fulfilled all of them!
  • Jesus performed miracles in front of thousands of people. At the time the gospels were written, many of these eyewitnesses were still living and could have disputed the gospel accounts if they were not true. (And let's not forget that Jesus still performs miracles today!)
  • If Jesus was not the Son of God and was lying about himself, he was willing to die for that lie. This simply makes no sense - who would die for a lie? 
  • Although his tomb was guarded by professional Roman soldiers, his body was missing. The Jewish leaders admitted the body was missing.
  • More than 500 people saw Jesus after he had risen from the dead, including all his disciples.
  • The men who were his disciples were radically changed by being with him. They were not educated men - just common people who made an enormous impact on the world.
  • All of the disciples, with the exception of Judas (who killed himself) and John (who was exiled to Patmos) were killed for their belief in Jesus. Again - who would die for a lie?

Around the globe this Easter Sunday, millions of Christians will gather: 

  • in churches large 
  • in churches small
  • in churches adorned with stained glass windows 
  • in churches adorned with a plain, rugged cross
  • in churches that meet outdoors
  • in crystal cathedrals
  • in country churches with plain old wooden pews 
  • in city churches that meet in schools and use folding chairs
  • in main street churches or secret underground gatherings
  • praising the risen Savior in thousands of languages

All around the globe - all worshiping Jesus - the Son of Man, the Son of God, sent into the world to save us from our sin.

"Without Jesus, I don't think any of us would be here."

Biker Church Testimonies

Hardened Bikers that Rode for the World Now Ride for Christ This YouTube video, published in June 2016 features powerful testimonies of se...