A LIVING SAVIOUR
Luke 24:1-8 “Now upon the first [day] of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain [others] with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down [their] faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words.. ‘
We have once again observed the season known to the world as Easter. A high and holy day that is the focus of many Christian calendars. A time when many merchants and men of the world are focused upon the commercial aspect of a holiday that has become all too worldly to be taken too seriously as a time the world celebrates the resurrection of a living Saviour. But it is a time when many innocent children are once again sadly given the obvious impression that bunnies and eggs are the main reason for the season. A time when such myths may once again undermine the serious effort of committed parents to separate fact from fiction and negate the effect of the equating the eternal truths of deity with the mythologies of materialism and mysticism.
In the beginning it was not so. To the early Christian the tremendous triumph of the resurrection was much more central to their daily existence and witness than to the nominal Christian today. It seems for many years following this eventful resurrection morning it was impossible for these simple fisher folk, men and women of the true faith, to even meet casually and unexpectedly without greeting each with the triumphant, enthusiastic and heartfelt cry, “He is risen!” And then receive in response from a brother or sister of the faith an equally excited exclamation, “The Lord is risen, indeed!” For many years thousands of such true believers met daily in their simple assemblies of immersed believers in almost every provincial city or village in the Roman Empire. As they came together they greeted each other with the cry, “He is risen!” The central focus of their coming together and going out into the world to share the gospel was the good news of a living Saviour.
The only special day they used for a special emphasis or special celebration of the resurrection was the Lord’s day; the day following the Sabbath in the Jewish calendar. It was so named because of His resurrection. This day was to later become known as Sunday, named by a Roman Emperor after the Roman sun god.
History teaches us that the name and many of the practices associated with the annual date called Easter came into being many centuries later. Eastre was an old Teutonic goddess of Spring. Eggs, bunnies etc., all have to do with the rites of Spring that developed around pagan celebrations.
If all this is true, and it is, some might legitimately ask, “Why do you as a Christian make a special thing of this season?” In fact, I received a phone call yesterday from a stranger, a brother in the far outback of Queensland, who had read my regular column in the “Biblical Fundamentalist,” entitled, “Doing Things God’s Way.” In it I had said, “It would be difficult to over-emphasize the importance of doing things God’s way to the exclusion of all other ways. But to do so seems to be one of the greatest problems man faces. Man seems obsessed with spiritual innovation. He constantly seems to be trying to re-invent the spiritual wheel. Any way, but God’s way, seems to be best way as far as man is concerned.” It seems this brother was in a dialogue with a pastor and others about scripture versus tradition. He felt my article backed his stance. Their discussion was focused upon pagan holidays observed by Christians. The question was legitimate and I trust my response was helpful.
In response to such legitimate questions, I must state emphatically that answers do not come easily. The risk of misunderstanding is great. I do not condemn any brother or sister who may differ with me on the issue and absolutely ignore the season and who has nothing to do with any observance. Perhaps even refusing to preach on the subject during the time period. But I would also plead that my view point be given respectful consideration as well.
I do not participate in nor encourage others to be involved in the mythological worldly practices of the season. But I do take advantage of the opportunity to focus upon the great truths of the gospel that are at the heart of the matter. I cannot ignore the special privilege of emphasizing the cross of Christ and the resurrection of a living Saviour during a time the world’s attention is drawn to the basic facts.
I also do not wish run the risk of being misunderstood by an unbelieving world. Those who might legitimately ask others, “Why is that pastor and those people ignoring the cross and resurrection during this season?” Of course, in many cases I would never have the opportunity to explain the real reasons why. Even if I did, my explanation to an unbelieving mind might seem so negative that it might be a factor in preventing that person from hearing the gospel from my lips of the lips of others.
The canvass upon which the triumphant and glorious story of the resurrection is painted is the gloom and doom of the darkest day that ever dawned in human history. The day our Saviour was crucified upon a cruel cross. The innocent was sacrificed for the guilty. He had gone about doing good. Nothing but good. Giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the speechless and life to the lifeless. Preaching and practising the greatest sermons ever spoken, lived and recorded. Living a life perfectly expressing all that was high, holy, noble and Godly; even though He was known as the lowliest of the lowly. But the radiant light of His perfection shone upon the sins of those in high and low places alike; exposing the fake and falsity of man’s shoddy, shabby and sinful situation.
So they crucified Him - killed him; hoping to silence Him forever. But there was something they did not know. Their sinful and shameful cruelty would be used by the eternal Father to consummate His eternal purpose for man. He would weave the black thread of their sinful rejection and rebellion into the crimson tapestry of His plan for the redemption of fallen man.
As Peter said to many of those same Christ rejecting Jews on the Pentecost following the resurrection, “Ye men of Galilee, hear these words, Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved among you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves know: Him by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked and cruel hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that He should be holden of it.” (Acts 2:22- 24)
With the cry of the angel on that wonderful resurrection morning, this terrible travesty and tragedy was turned to tremendous triumph. The sighs of sorrow and sadness were changed to shouts of joy and gladness. Loss and loneliness were exchanged for gain and glory. Why? Because He lives! We serve a living Saviour. He’s in our world today. A living Saviour who not only walked and talked and ate with His followers, but was handled and seen by upwards of five hundred of them for forty days and nights. And just as surely as He lives and walks among those who love and serve Him today. How do I know He lives? He not only lives in my heart.- BUT -
We know he lives among those who need Him. These who had witnessed His cruel crucifixion were depressed, dejected, and downcast. Understandably so. We can but try to imagine the immediate shock, horror and trauma they had suffered. These who had walked the Way with Him. Who had sat at His feet listening to wonderful words fall as pearls from His lips.
They had seen his life snuffed out right before their eyes. They had heard the terrible cries of a blood- thirsty mob. Their hearts had been pierced and broken as scorn and ridicule were heaped upon the Lord of the universe. They had witnessed the indescribable agony that was His as He had hung, suspended between heaven and hell . They had heard the terrible cries of eternal isolation, loneliness and suffering as they were wrenched from His very soul. They had heard His final cry of “It is finished!” Who can blame them for feeling it was really all over? But then our Saviour burst forth from the tomb and all this changed forever. None of those who had needed Him so desperately would ever be the same again!
We today can know this living Saviour in the valley of our despair as well. Life is not necessarily meant to be easy, especially for the Christian. Life is not a bed of roses. The Word contains no promise that we should be borne to heaven on flowery beds of ease. In fact, quite the contrary. Our Saviour said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And again He said, “Blessed are ye, when [men] shall revile you, and persecute [you], and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great [is] your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
This truth is so clearly taught and so graphically illustrated in the lives of those in the early churches and by true church history, that it might be good for contemporary Christians to be concerned if their life does not fit the pattern. Could it be that we are not living the life or walking the walk as openly and aggressively as those who have gone before?
It is God’s plan for His people to grow more through burdens and bumpings than through beauty and blessings. Tribulation does seem to be the true requisite for patience. When Jesus was asked about the apparent incongruity of John the Baptist, the great new Testament prophet, eating locust and wild honey and wearing camel’s hair and rough leather, he in effect said, “People who wear soft clothing live in King’s houses (palaces).” And even though we are children of the King and He is preparing a palace for our future, He will not spoil and make us unfit for the rough service of the Lord here by pampering and petting us in the here and now.
That is one of the primary perversions of the name it and claim it crowd. The idea that servants are to strive to be more financial prosperous or physically better off than their Master. The absurdity of such a so-called theology would be laughable if it was not such a sad travesty upon the truth of true service to a living Saviour. If measured by this standard, many of those called as pastors and missionaries might look back at what “might have been” financially and view themselves as utter failures. But thanks be unto God we have our Saviour as the standard of selfless service we may strive toward.
This living Saviour makes a difference for the Christian. When he goes down into the valley of disappointment and disaster he is not alone. The living Saviour walks with him there. He is the one who sticks closer than a brother through the thick and thin and lush and lean times of life. We can fall into no hole too deep, but that the living Saviour will be there; to lift us up and out and place our feet upon the Rock.
Vance Havner had this to say about the challenge of living and walking daily with a resurrected, living Saviour and about His grace for living for Him day by day: “A maid was asked how she liked her new job. “It’s all right,” she replied, “except its so daily.” It takes a lot of grace for the grind, the ordinary, day-by-day, run -of -the mill experiences when we strike neither top nor bottom, height nor depth, but must “walk and not faint.” On the heights we may be driven by sheer desperation to meet God in our extremity. But it is the monotonous trudge the tries the traveller. The new Testament has a lot to say about the daily. (Daily bread. Daily cross. Daily walk. Daily death.) But there is grace for the grind. The danger of the heights is that we may become boastful. In the depths we may become bewildered. On the level stretch we may become bored. But His grace is sufficient for it all and nowhere do we need more grace than in ‘the daily.’”
We know He lives for those who pray. When Thomas had doubts, fears and perplexities, he simply asked Jesus for the answers. The story reassures us that when we go to Him in prayer, with the doubts, fears and perplexities of our life, He will always respond graciously and lovingly; supplying our real needs in His service. Who can deny that answered prayer is a true testimony in our lives and before the world that we serve a living Saviour? How many times do we see relatives and friends saved, others restored to health, members of the body given employment and many other needs met? This in response to the sincere heartfelt prayer uttered according to His will, intended to glorify Him.
There was a day early in my ministry when I received a desperate call to attend a member’s hospital bedside. His respiratory disease was in an advanced stage and he was in a desperate condition. I met the doctor outside, who was a real Christian. He told me he held no hope. My friend would surely go home before the night was over. But I felt God might still have use for him. We were in the midst of a building programme and he was one of our faithful few. I went in and prayed sincerely for God to spare Him, if it was His will. I returned to the church just in time for our midweek prayer meeting. We focused fervently upon the need of our brother. But ending our pleadings and petitions with the proviso that God’s will be done. I was early at his room the next morning. When I opened the door and peeped in, I saw him sitting up in the bed, detached from all the wires and tubes of the night before, heartily eating a large breakfast. The doctor later told me, ‘It had to be a miracle. God’s answer to prayer. Medically he had no hope!” Our friend lived to serve the Lord faithfully a few more years before going home to rest in Him.
Many times in the years that have ensued I have seen God respond just as marvellously to the sincere prayers of His people; offered through a living Saviour. We can know He lives and have confidence and boldness in coming to the Father through Him. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16)
We can know He lives when we render loving service to Him. We can know He lives when we take up our cross daily and follow Him. His invitation to us to take His yoke of service and walk with Him in the Way, as he eases the burdens and lightens the load, is a very personal appeal from a living Saviour. What an honour to be hooked in tandem with a living Saviour! What a great blessing to be personally called to labour together with others, and with Him, a living Saviour.
The story of Simon of Cyrene is inspiring. The Roman soldiers evidently forced him to bear the cross of a condemned man, but in doing so, he met the Master! We are also called to bear such a cross, and in doing so we meet and walk with a living Saviour. But how can we take up such a cross today? What is cross bearing? Merely, as some may jokingly imply, suffering the inconvenience and hurt of an unappreciative husband, nagging wife or wayward children?
It is much more than this. Paul said it is reasonable to present our bodies a living sacrifice - to serve a living Saviour. It would be illogical, unreasonable and insane to serve a deceiver, lunatic or dead imposter. But what is a living sacrifice? Paul said it is to be ready to live or die for Him, no matter what the cost. It is said an old Roman coin had the image of an Ox, standing between a plough and an altar. The inscription read, “Ready for either.” Obviously, service or sacrifice. So it should be with those who walk with a living Saviour.
Many promises of our living Saviour seem to relate to duty and service. He said, “Follow me, and I will make of you...” He promised, “Take up your cross . . . and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” His promise, “. . . and lo, I am with you always..” was conditioned upon active participation in carrying out all facets of His great commission. We have no promise that if we sit in sinful disobedience in our small circles of introspective navel inspectors, that our living Saviour will sit with us. He always says, “Go, and I will go with you..”
Why are so many Christians weak, weary, faltering and failing? Could it be that the power of a living Saviour primarily abides upon those who tread the pathway of duty and service? R. G. Lee once said, “Duty and service are the most rewarding and sublime words in the human language. Surely it is also so for the Christian’s spiritual vocabulary.”
That which is not achieved through struggle is seldom worth having. In fact it often brings more harm than help. We see the truth of this played out in the lives of many who somehow obtain easy money through such greedy practices as gambling and lotteries. How often we hear of their ultimate disaster and read of their statements indicating they feel they would have been much better off if they had never gotten their hands on such ill-gotten gains.
We know He lives in the valley and shadow of death. Man may boastfully bluff his way through days of health and prosperity, brightness and beauty, but when he comes face to face with the stark reality of the inevitability of that common denominator of all mankind, he needs more than bravado to make sense of it all. It is commonly said that even the most brash and brutish of men will sometimes cry out for the comfort of their mother’s arms in their final hours. It is a well documented phenomenon as far as military conflict is concerned. Sadly, the cries of fatally wounded soldiers have often been a pleading for their mothers. Others will, as the thief on the cross, cry out to God for mercy. (Of course, there were two thieves).
But those who live their life in the presence of a living Saviour need never fear. He who has conquered death, hell and the grave, will desert them in the valley and the shadow of their final earthly appointment. Pastors can attest to the difference an acquaintance with a living Saviour can make in the final days and moments of a Christian’s life; as well as to those who they leave behind. Most can give personal testimonies about such observations.
I’ll never forget her. I have never met a more confident and vibrant new Christian.
She naturally and simply shared Christ with all those around her, including her agnostic, atheistic husband and three sons. At times she was scorned and ridiculed for her trouble. But she bore it all with a smile on her face and a quite confidence that God would save her family and she would be with them in heaven some day. But a day came when her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She remained faithful in her witness. He was gloriously saved on his death bed. At his memorial services, I was the privileged to share his testimony and the gospel with a large crowd of his fellow employees from a large corporation.
After his home going memorial service, I was privileged to lead his fifteen year old son to the Lord in his home. Never suspecting that exactly one week later I would be called to identify his body in a large city morgue. He had been accidentally run over by a train. I was able then to share his testimony and the gospel with a auditorium full of his school mates. Through all this, the presence and power of a living Saviour was wonderfully attested to by Shelia, a simple person who walked with a living Saviour.
Yes, we serve a living Saviour. He is in world today. The reality of His living presence is completely unrelated to the opinions or opposition of those who do not believe or who have not met Him in true repentance and faith. We see His hand of mercy and salvation all around us. We can hear His voice of encouragement and help each day as we read His Word and pray and walk with Him in the way.