Turning to See Jesus

Free Theme Days – Evidence of the Risen Jesus

Revelation 1

Revelation 1 5 6
The last book of the Bible is a strange book. When one reads through it, one is accost with a number of images: dead lambs and dragons, beasts and battlegrounds, angelic armies and satanic hordes, a woman wearing starry crowns and a harlot mounted atop a beast. With these fascinating images along with many others, and a host of interpretations through the years for each image (it’s the Pope, no it’s Russia, no it’s China…) one easily can get lost in those conversations. However, I want to focus on Revelation Chapter 1. Go read it.
READ REVELATION 1!
Think about that description. Who are we talking about?
Jesus.
The one who was dead but is now alive forever and ever. Every day this week, we discussed how Jesus was believed to be alive. Revelation at the following chapters is a testament, a revealing on the work Jesus is still doing to John.
First, John looks and he sees Jesus. His eyes are open to the possibility that Jesus is alive, because he has heard the message as it was told to him or as he experienced it (whether John on Patmos is the same John of Zebedee is too big a discussion for today). And when John has the faith that maybe, just maybe, a man can rise from the dead, Jesus shows up. Jesus is ready to appear and teach.
Second, this Jesus is mighty. He wears a gold sash, with flaming eyes, bronze feet, white hair, with a voice of many waters. Shining like the sun, he has swords in his mouth and holds stars. He now holds the keys of death and hades, and is the First and the Last. John recognizes that Jesus, being raised is more than just a man with breath in his lungs again, like Lazarus or Eutychus who died again. He was alive in a way that made our life pale in comparison.
Third, and this where were the work of Jesus comes into play. What is Christ doing? He is walking among some lampstands. In an act of compassion for our brains, Jesus tells John “The seven lampstands are the seven churches.” What is Jesus doing? He walks among the churches. He is not far away and distance but close beside where his people are.
What do we gain from reading Revelation 1? We gain a few truths. Jesus walks close beside his people, especially when gathered together as the church. If we are gathered together Christ walks among us. If we want to see him, we should go where he wants to be found, among his people. We should also take very seriously that we aren’t looking for a soft cuddly Jesus who will tell us everything we want to hear. He may give comfort (Rev. 2:8-11), but he may also call you out on your terrible behavior (Rev. 3:14-22). But we only see Jesus when we turn and look. He is not hiding, but so often we hear the call of his voice and assume that he is not really there.
John believed that Jesus could still be alive. He turned, and to his joy he saw the risen Christ. The same can be said about us, if we are willing to turn and look, because we believe he is alive.
So, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard
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Deaths of the Apostles

Free Theme Days – Evidence for the Risen Jesus

Acts 2 24

Earlier in the week (two days ago, in fact) we talked about how the apostles were telling the truth about Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. We noted how, out of their many faults, they weren’t all crazy. We also noted how along with Paul, they weren’t gaining much from teaching this tale.
But COULD they have been lying? I assume, knowing their other faults, there is always the possibility that they COULD have been lying, enjoying the privilege of being leaders in a new religious movement. Some people just like power, after all. But there is a large difference between “they could have been lying” and “they lied”. What does the record of their lives show?
Church tradition is normally frowned upon in the Church of God. There are some very valid points to be made for why that is the case. Revelation and tradition have conflicted in the past, and even in many churches today, and we think that what God said is correct and a person’s interpretation of God’s words are not on the same playing field. But there are places where Church Tradition doesn’t conflict with scripture, and it is at least interesting to think about what a majority of Christians have said about the 12 men who followed the founder.
Twelve men followed Jesus from the get-go, and they were called disciples in the gospels and apostles in Acts. We’ve talked about them already, but today I want to touch briefly on how each one of them died. Each of these stories come from church tradition. There is little evidence for some, and undeniable evidence for others. Let’s see their deaths and then comment on them all together.
  1. Peter was crucified upside down, saying that he did not die in a way similar to his Lord.
  2. Andrew, like his brother Peter, was also crucified.
  3. James, the Son of Zebedee, was put to death with the sword by King Herod in Judea. (Acts 12:1-2)
  4. John, the Son of Zebedee, dies in exile, but of natural causes at an older age.
  5. Philip was put to death by a Roman Proconsul in Asia Minor after converting the Proconsul’s wife.
  6. Thomas traveled to India and was killed by four soldiers with spears.
  7. Matthew was stabbed to death in Ethiopia after bringing the faith to the people.
  8. James of Alphaeus was crucified while preaching in the southern parts of Egypt.
  9. Jude/Thaddeus was beheaded in Beirut.
  10. Simon the Zealot was killed after refusing to offer a sacrifice to an idol in Beirut.
  11. Bartholomew was flayed alive and beheaded.
  12. Matthias was burned to death.
  13. Paul, (this is a bit of a cheat, as he wasn’t one of “the Twelve,” but go with me) after appealing to Caesar and traveling to Rome, was killed by the Emperor by beheading.
That’s a pretty grim and dire list. Why bring it up? With the exception of John, every other Apostle of Jesus died in faith, and usually because they were preaching faith, after living a harsh life. Peter was crucified upside down. Do you believe that a man who stole a body would have allowed himself to be crucified upside down if he could produce a body and say “I MADE IT ALL UP! It was a hoax!”? No! Peter didn’t downplay his testimony because he was speaking the truth. Considering that Bartholomew and Matthias both died in places outside of Israel, only one of the twelve apostles died in their homeland.
They didn’t live high on the hog, off the fat of the land. They traveled to places they didn’t know, to people to whom they were sent (apostle means “one who was sent”) because they believed Jesus was alive and that message was important enough to seek out the lost.
John was in exile because he believed Jesus was alive. James, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, Jude, Simon the Zealot, Bartholomew, Matthias and Paul were all killed in various ways because they believed Jesus was alive. Andrew, James the Lesser and Peter were all CRUCIFIED because they believed… no, they KNEW… Jesus is alive. 
So, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard

Paul is Proof

Free Theme Days – Evidence for the Risen Jesus

Acts 9

Acts 9 5 (2)

Much of what we believe in the Christian faith is taken, understandably, on faith. However, if I had to give one story that almost shuts down the need for faith and instead have PROOF about  Jesus and the Resurrection, it would be the story of Saul/Paul and his conversion in Acts 9.

Up until the point in Acts 9, Saul has been persecuting the Christian faith. They were most likely being stoned or thrown in prison for trumped up charges. Stephen was accused of blasphemy and he was stoned to death. We all know he spoke no words of blasphemy, because the truth is not blasphemous, but that is where the Jewish leaders were.

But in Acts 9, something amazing happens, Saul gets knocked off a horse, goes down, hears the voice of a man who claimed to be Jesus, goes blind, and wanders into Damascus blind and healed by a Christian, one of the very people who he had just been persecuting.

Why does this count as proof for me?

1. Because it’s clear that Paul is not crazy. In a day and age where scholars doubt everything from the historical Moses to the historical Jesus, one would assume that when they agree on a traditional understanding, that counts for something. No scholar doubts that Paul wrote Romans. Ask for yourself, is Romans the work of a man out of his mind with guilt, that turned to follow Christ because he was driven to the small band he once hated out of a plagued conscience? There are parts of certain letters where we see Paul’s expressed sorrow (1 Corinthians 15:9, for example), and one could point to that as a case. But Romans! It’s a theological magnum opus! He is a man still gifted with all his intellect and faculties.

2. Could Paul be lying, hoping to gain wealth or fame off this new movement? We will go into this kind of theory even more in depth tomorrow, but Paul lost everything by getting on board this Jesus movement. He was persecuted, beaten, battered, and abused (2 Corinthians 11), and this after he had everything he ever wanted. He was the top dog of Judaism (Philippians 3) but he turned away from all those things so that he may follow Christ.

I encourage you to consider the persecutor-turned-evangelist Paul. What could cause a man rabidly dedicated to defending the faith of his ancestor and the honor of his God to so drastically change his tune and agree with those whom he persecuted?

For my part, it convinces me there is something going on with this Jesus movement, particularly that the leader must still be alive.

 

So, do you believe Jesus is alive?

 

-Jake Ballard

Do You Believe Jesus is Alive?

FREE THEME DAYS: Evidence for the Risen Jesus

Acts 1

Acts 1 3

Over the next few days, I have been given free reign to focus on any portion of scripture. However, I am going to hop around a bit, focusing on a theme: evidence for the risen Jesus.   (And on Sunday our devotions will continue our chapter-by-chapter walk through the New Testament with the book of 1st Corinthians.)
We just celebrated Easter/Resurrection Sunday. This is the most important, most key and most crucial story to what it means to be a believer in Jesus. If Jesus is not raised from the dead: Christmas is little more than a nice story, his teachings are little more than nice words, and his death is little more than a sad story of injustice. BUT, if Jesus was raised to life, never more to die, it means that God put his seal of approval on Christ. Christmas becomes the birth of the Savior, his teachings are divinely given mandates from the best of all possible prophets, and his death is a sacrifice for sin and a ransom from evil/Evil.
Many people in our world today doubt all sorts of miracles. They question the Exodus story due to the “outlandish” claims about the Nile turning to blood or the parting of the sea. They question the stories of creation: was the Earth created in six literal 24 hour days six thousand years ago or through a gradual process involving billions of years? Did Jesus REALLY feed 5,000 people with some fish and some bread, or did they share with one another and no one was left hungry? All of these are interesting questions, and different theological beliefs and convictions lead to various answers.* However, as noted above, CHRIST’S RESURRECTION  is not incidental to the story of the Bible; the Bible IS THE STORY OF THE LIFE, DEATH AND NEW LIFE OF CHRIST. That is God’s Central theme in the pages of Scripture. It gets us to Jesus or points back to him. Jesus, then, connects us to God. Therefore, whatever we believe about other miracles, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is essential.
Which is why Acts 1 was included in Scripture.
READ ACTS 1!
What is so interesting about it is that Christ doesn’t appear to one guy in a room with the door closed (we could chalk that up to lying or insanity). He doesn’t even appear to just the twelve. There are anywhere from 120 (Acts 1:15) to 500 (1 Cor. 15:6) witnesses who saw Jesus resurrected, walking around preaching and teaching and convincing them that He was real and not a figment of their imagination.
Were the disciples crazy? Scripture shows their flaws but none of them would have been delusional.
Were the disciples lying? That could have been refuted easily and wouldn’t they have quickly given up the story and admitted the lie. (We are getting ahead of ourselves, stay tuned.)
The important point to make is pretty clear. Jesus began a movement. The movement didn’t end with his death, but continued on far afterwards, presumably with him coming back to life. Over and over, this has been confirmed in the pages of Scripture and in the lives of believers. When I ask, “Do you believe Jesus is alive?” I am really asking three question.
Is scripture trustworthy about its claims? If yes, then we must believe Jesus is alive.
Are believers trustworthy about their claims? If yes, then we should trust scripture, and should believe that Jesus is alive.
Have you experienced Jesus? If yes, then tell others that Jesus is alive.
So, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard
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*For my part, I think when the Bible tells a narrative, we should trust the narrative to be historically accurate, and when it tells poetry and myths, we don’t hold poetry and myths to that same standard. That discussion takes a lot to unpack… if you are intrigued, be on the lookout for a Young Adult Class coming to FUEL this Summer!

Epilogue of John

John 21

John 21 17 b

The twenty first chapter of the Gospel of John is a fascinating chapter.

Far be it from me to correct the story-telling ability of the author, but why end here? It feels like the story was wrapped up with a nice bow when the author wrote the words we looked at yesterday. Then, almost as if the author forgot a couple stories, he tags on these last couple bits. My fascination with the narration, however, does not diminish what it teaches. Of course, there is both an author and an Author, and so much is given to us in this last chapter.

What I want to focus in on, though, is what happens with Peter? Peter, Peter, Peter. He walks on water, but he doubts. He asks Jesus to wash his whole body when he only needs his feet taken care of. He says “I’ll die for you” but denies him three times. What are we gonna do with Peter?

Of course, you and I are JUST LIKE Peter.

I’ve denied Jesus.

Haven’t you?

I had my doubts after a huge moment of success, when I “walked on water.”

Haven’t you?

I put my foot so far in my mouth my toe tickled by tonsils.

Haven’t you?

So the question is not, “What are we gonna do with Peter?” The question is, “What is Jesus gonna do with Peter?” because that will let us know what Jesus is gonna do with us.

And the answer is exciting.

He makes us better.

He finds Peter and the other disciples fishing, and after helping them perform a miracle, Peter swims to shore. While ashore, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”

Every time, Peter says “Yes!”

And Jesus responds with “Feed my lambs.” “Shepherd my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”

When a person fails to live up to the standard Jesus sets, Jesus forgives and works with us. We look at one of the most flawed characters in the New Testament and see, time and again, his failures, his misunderstandings, his sins. But because Peter trusted Jesus and wanted to follow him, Jesus doesn’t give up on Peter. Jesus lets him know that he will be with him, even in the difficult days ahead. He gives him the power and ability to lead, and Peter becomes one of the leaders in the church. He expands the mission of the church beyond Jews and to the Gentiles. He trains other Pastors/Shepherds in how to care for the people of God. (See 1 Peter 5.)

The next time you wonder “Am I useless? What can God do with me?” look to the life of Peter. Take encouragement in the beautiful truth that, if we trust and love Jesus, or even WANT to trust and love him, he will not let us go. He will fight for us, care for us, and ultimately, he will change us into the kind of person God wants us to be.

-Jake Ballard

He is RISEN! He is RISEN INDEED!

John 20

John 20 8

In John 20, we see Christ has been raised. He is no longer in the tomb. The stone was rolled away and he lives.
The Darkness is over!
The LIGHT HAS DAWNED!
The Light who gives light to every person is ALIVE.
Praise the God who gives life to the Light who shines forth in the Darkness. The Darkness COULD NOT overcome the Light.
However, in this metaphorical language, taken straight from the mouth of John, I don’t want to lose sight of the amazing couple of statements made at the end of the chapter.
John specifically says exactly why he wrote the book.
“These [things] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
You have read through the entire book of John. You have read the prologue of chapter one. You have read the “book of signs”, from chapter 2 to 12, and the seven signs Christ performed. You have read the “book of teachings”, from chapter 13 to 17 and all the things that Christ tells us there. Finally, you have read the “book of glory”, from chapter 18 to 20, all about how he receives his exaltation in the crucifixion and the greatest exaltation of the resurrection.
The reason for each “book”, for every chapter, for every phrase, for indeed EVERY WORD, all of it was for you to at the end say “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Do you believe? Do you believe that Jesus, the one performing miracles, the one speaking truth, the one who died, is the Son of God? Do you have life in his name?
If you don’t, don’t wait. On this day, as we celebrate Christ raised to life, I want to celebrate that YOU have been raised to life. Talk to your mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, legal guardian, your pastor or youth worker, your best bud who believes… talk to ANYONE about giving your life to Jesus, about getting baptized, about believing in the name of Jesus and experiencing life and life abundantly.
If you believe, remember, that today we speak of Jesus and we say
“He is Risen indeed.”
In the future, Christ will say of you, believer,
“My Brother, my sister, the children of my Father, they are all risen. They are RISEN INDEED!”
Amen,
Come Lord Jesus.
-Jake Ballard

Between the Darkness and the Dawn

John 19

John 19 30 b

Last night, Christians worldwide, celebrated and lamented Good Friday. We do not call it Good because we are happy or rejoice at what took place with Jesus on the cross, but because in the crucifixion of Jesus, we are bought and redeemed. Jesus went to the hill of Calvary, in the area known as the Place of the Skull, carrying a cross down the Via Dolorosa for us; Jesus knew that if he did not walk that path, to that place, and march up that hill, all people would be stuck in darkness. We would be forever covering our sins, and never removing them. We would be forever wishing to be better, but never having a Counselor to teach us truths and transform our hearts.
Can you imagine what it was like that first Good Friday and Holy Saturday? Jesus hangs limply from a cross; his disciples had abandoned him, denied him, betrayed him. On either side, two criminals, now with two fates, both die laboriously. Women, who followed this man they called Messiah, crowned with thorns, now lifeless. All creation waits with baited breath for what comes next. Sitting in cosmic darkness, existence waits for Light to dawn.
In our area, sister churches gathered together to commemorate this moment. One thing we tried to experience together was silence. Silence and solitude are twin spiritual disciplines; tragically, they are both neglected in modern Christianity. As you today, sit in the space between Crucifixion and Resurrection, find some space for silence and solitude.
Turn off the phone
Power down the computer
Turn off the background Netflix
Enter into silence, find a place of solitude.
We may find we are sitting in darkness. Don’t be afraid to admit that. Darkness comes, and after that, the Dawn.
Silence can be awkward and uncomfortable. Most of us run from it at the first chance. But when we calm ourselves, when we take a moment to appreciate the silence and the stillness, we come to find that our souls have more to say than we previously thought. Our souls may weep at a chance to speak, having been pent up for so long. As Nicodemus and Joseph leaped at the opportunity to serve the rabbi they followed from a distance, so our souls, in silence and solitude, leap up to tell us their deepest desires. But we must allow them.
And when they speak, we will find that they desire the one who died on the cross, the one who will set them free.
In this time of cosmic twilight, we are betwixt our darkest moment and the brightest day, let us do well to remember the words of Christ.
It
Is
Finished.
-Jake Ballard