To Preach With PowerPoint or Without?

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If you are a preacher, why do you use PowerPoint? Seriously ponder the question. To look technically savvy? The congregation expects it? Everybody does it? It enhances your communication of the message? You’ve always done it (or something like it)? You like making pretty slides?

Television and internet production technology conceptPerhaps you think the audience remembers better if they see and hear the message. Kenton Anderson asked a provoking question “Does PowerPoint Increase Retention” on his blog. Does any preacher dare ask members a couple of weeks later what he preached about on a given day. For our sanity and fragile self-image we often avoid asking such questions. If we could prove that sermons preached with PowerPoint are retained clearer and longer than messages delivered without them then the matter would be closed. I am certain that certain complex topics explained with a meaningful graphic are long remembered  but is this the exception?

I rarely use PowerPoint when preaching. I’m not averse to technology; I have used computer technology since I was a teen. It’s not that I haven’t given it a chance; I went though a period where I always used PowerPoint. I use PowerPoint when I feel it helps explain or illustrate a concept that is difficult to understand or a series of thoughts that I want to link for clarity. If it has a purpose, I will use it. PowerPoint is a tool that can enhance or disturb the message.

Effective communication requires purpose

Conscientious and effective preachers labor over the structure of the sermon, what passages, illustrations, and points to include and exclude. Good sermon preparation is often focused on weeding thoughts instead of adding material. So when the sermon is complete, what is the purpose of the PowerPoint? How does each slide communicate the message? If it is eye candy to accompany the spoken word, could the time spent in slide presentation be put to a better use in the kingdom? If slides can help communication or retention, give adequate attention to constructing an effective visual message.

Borrowing from the wise advice “speak when it improves the silence” use PowerPoint only when it enhances the message. Some situations where I will use PowerPoint:

  • Maps, historical pictures and illustrations, and archaeological artifacts
  • Multiple quotes (i.e., Bible commentators, subject experts, news excerpts for a culture issue)
  • Statistical data, especially when used for comparison (i.e., number of abortions in a year relative to country populations for the same year)
  • Showing a rapid succession of short verses to support a main point to keep the audience focused on the big picture
  • Describing a process
  • Dissecting a difficult passage

Some argue that PowerPoint will allow the audience to remain focused on the main point being discussed and I have used slides for that purpose. It can help those wrestling with children or otherwise distracted know the main point that is being discussed. Before PowerPoints, many of us would use an overhead projector and reveal main points printed or written on a transparency. The truly old school created charts on white bed sheets (some of these charts were beautifully designed). One of the highlights of my youth was standing tall on a stage holding the corner of a sheet for the visiting preacher.

If you use PowerPoint when you preach, make sure it serves a purpose. Like any tool, it can be extremely effective when used well and a distraction when used poorly.

Questions preachers should ask when using PowerPoint:

Should we put all the Bible verses on Powerpoint?

I advocate putting verses that you might quote in rapid succession to allow the audience to read what you were going to quote without turning to the passage. I don’t advise putting a long passage on a slide so that it is unreadable.

One argument for putting every Bible verse on the chart is that visitors who have a hard time finding passages will be able to read it without being lost turning pages. A disadvantage is that Christians can become dependent on the displayed passage instead of reading it for themselves where they can look at other verses in context. Personally, I will put some small verses on the PowerPoint but reserve some passages, particularly lengthy passages, for reading directly from the Bible (with the verse citation on the slide). Some churches address the visitor concern by using the same Bible in the pew and calling pew Bible page numbers in addition to the reference.

Should we use pictures representing Jesus?

Should you use artist representation of Jesus on slides? Some object strongly to using a cartoon, illustration, or actor representing Jesus either because it is representing God in image form or they simply do not like it. Some will use silhouette images, primarily on the cross, to illustrate the point without using a detailed image of Jesus. A significant problem is that some images portray Jesus as a European. Some images are effeminate looking. Personally, I avoid using representations of Jesus when I use charts.

Should I dump my outline onto the slides?

No. Seriously…no.

5 Ways to Annoy an Audience with PowerPoint

  1. Put so many words on your slide that one could not read it from the front pew
  2. Use every transition in every presentation
  3. Make sure you use grainy unfocused images
  4. People love “read along with the preacher” so put every word on your slides
  5. Use light colored text on a light background for a greater audience challenge

Do not construe my comments to being anti-PowerPoint. If you use it, have a purpose and invest the time (or money) to create quality slides that enhance your presentation and the audience’s understanding of God’s word.

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Who Can Live With God?

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Though God desires all men to come to Him through Jesus, the one who would accept that invitation must strive to be like God. We cannot simply confess our sinfulness and brokenness and make no effort to purge bigstock-reaching-the-heaven-29396564wickedness from our lives. We must purify our lives in order to reflect the glory of the Father.

David contemplated the character of one who would abide in the tabernacle of God and dwell in His holy hill in Psalm 15. Here are the characteristics he observed:

  1. Walks uprightly: The ESV says one who walks blamelessly. The word “walk” describes a manner of living. To live blamelessly means that no charge can easily be made against him. He strives to live holy because God is holy. 1 John 3:7 says, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” (ESV)
  2. Does what is right: Not only does he live righteously, he is actively doing good. He follows the righteousness of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17). He produces good fruit because of the living faith planted within (James 2:14-17). Who he is and what he does is right.
  3. Speaks truth in his heart: His life is not a false front. From the depths of his heart, he embraces truth. He does not allow wickedness in the place where no one would see it. He is true to God in the one place that only he and God can see. He also has a tender heart to receive and practice the truth.
  4. Does not slander: James 3 urges the believer to control his tongue. 2 Corinthians 12:20 warns that an uncontrolled tongue can destroy the relationship between brethren. This person does not use his tongue to tear down others but builds them up with graceful words of truth.
  5. Does no evil to a neighbor or friend: He does not speak evil slander nor does he do wrong with his hands against others. His neighborly love is such that he will not listen to gossip or lies spoken against the neighbor or friend. Instead of doing harm to a neighbor, he helps and protects him.
  6. Honors the godly and despises the vile: He gives honor to those who, like him, honor God and respect His word. These are the people with whom he shares a brotherhood and common love. Because of this desire to live holy, he cannot stand that which is wicked. It disappoints him to see people rejecting God and embracing immoral lifestyles. Like Lot, his soul is vexed by the evil conduct of the wicked, 2 Peter 2:7. The Judean king Jehoshaphat was rebuked for his association with the wicked kings of Israel in 2 Chronicles 19:2: ““Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord?” The one who loves God will love the lost souls but despises their behavior.
  7. Keeps his integrity even if costs him financially: He will take a financial loss to preserve his good name and avoid bringing reproach on the name of Christ. If he gives his word, he will keep it no matter what the cost. Of course, one would be wise to keep his mouth from making agreements that will be costly to fulfill. However, for the sake of integrity, one must keep the promise and strive to make better promises in the future. In 1 Corinthians 6:6-8, Paul urges believers to settle financial differences away from the court system instead of being a bad example before the unbelievers. He urged them to take the dispute to knowledgeable and fair brethren or, if necessary, to accept being wronged rather than acting disgracefully and materialistic before the unbelievers.
  8. Generous lender: He does not take advantage of others in financial distress. He is generous and helpful to the needy. He uses his financial blessings to be a blessing to others.
  9. Does not take bribes: Not only is he generous, his integrity and sense of justice will not allow him to take a bribe against the innocent. He does not compromise others and he is not compromised himself. He will not pervert justice for financial or personal gain.

The principles described in Psalms are the core values of the believer. They become part of the character and guiding principles to ensure the person stays on the correct path. Daily Bible study and prayer help refine and improve the strength and depth of these values. Daily exercise of righteousness further integrates the will of God and the character of His follower.

David notes that if a person embraces these principles he can live in God’s holy hill and shall never be moved. From integrity in the heart to the outward display of righteousness and good, this person strives to be like God and to be with God. And to paraphrase a popular song, “No power of hell nor scheme of man can ever pluck him from God’s hand.” He will not budge from his desire to be with God.

Confused Christian Communication

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Noise fills the air but nothing makes sense. Sometimes we focus on our message and tune out others. At other times we fit their words into our expectation of what they mean. Often we simply wait for them to be quiet so we can continue our message. Just because two people are talking together, it doesn’t mean they are in the same conversation.

I’ve been in arguments where the person insisted that I meant something I did not say. They twisted my words to fit their preconception. I left those arguments.

Spiritual conversations often become confusing because two people are talking but not communicating. Sometimes they assign different meanings to the same words. At other times they ignore what is being said because it doesn’t fit their view of the scripture.

This happened often in the life of Jesus. Consider these conversations from the gospel of John:

  • John 3: Jesus discusses the spiritual birth while Nicodemus is thinking of the impossibility of physical rebirth. In time Nicodemus comes to understand the words of Jesus.
  • John 4: Jesus discusses spiritual nourishment while the woman at the well is focused on her physical needs. Eventually she and Jesus are talking about the same topic.
  • John 6: Jesus teaches the multitude about the bread of life and the crowd is focused on bread for their stomach. Eventually some get frustrated and quit following Jesus.
  • There are numerous instances of the disciples being confused about the sayings of Jesus or focusing on earthly things and worldly power instead of spiritual things. In time they were in the same conversation with Jesus.
  • Ultimately the gospel of John is a conversation taking people from a view that Jesus is a good man and a great teacher to seeing Him as the Son of God and the true light and life for humanity.

Knowing this about human nature, it should not surprise us that we can have confusing conversations. This should encourage us to be more humble and patient with others. If people talking to Jesus had a hard time understanding spiritual things, we will probably have similar challenges.

Evangelism

We should not be easily frustrated when teaching the gospel to someone who has no background with the Bible, Jesus, or spiritual things and they don’t grasp what we are saying. Some people see the truth immediately as it shines bright in the darkness of their ignorance. Others are confused by false teaching and worldliness which clouds their minds which must be un-learned before they can receive the truth. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 reminds us that the gospel can be covered (veiled) to the lost because of the work of error. Be patient and help the person clear the rubble of confusion and error to uncover the truth.

Relationships with Other Christians

1 Corinthians 2:14-16 tells us that non-Christians will not understand the spiritual things of God immediately and may think it is foolish. New Christians who have immature Bible knowledge will not immediately understand spiritual principles and we must be patient as they grow in understanding. (Ephesians 1:15-18).bigstock-Businessman-42201676

When a church has people who are spiritually minded and some who are focused on worldly things, there will be confusion, division, and strife (1 Corinthians 3:1-4).  Each Christian should strive to grow in knowledge and maturity into the fullness of Christ, Ephesians 4:12-14 to prevent such problems and deal appropriately with those who though ignorance or arrogance are not acting with the mind of Christ.

Personal Growth

We must also be patient with ourselves. As we grow in the knowledge of God and His will, we may struggle with our immature understanding and the truth of God’s word. We must trust God and continue to study and grow. We will not learn everything at once but it creates a lifetime of joy as we “grow in the grace and knowledge” of God’s will. Spend time with God’s word daily even if you don’t always grasp what you are reading. It may be that, like the apostles, woman at the well, and disciples of Jesus, you are missing what God is saying. If you continue the conversation you will eventually understand what is being said.

The 10 Essential Principles for Teachers from 1 Thessalonians

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bigstock-Bible-study-session-857560Paul wrote an encouraging letter to the church in Thessalonica praising them for their zeal and work in the Lord that encouraged him when he heard of it. In 1 Thessalonians, we observe the interrelationship between the Thessalonians and their teacher Paul.

Cycle of Example

Paul told the Corinthians to “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Paul lived a holy and righteous life in the presence of the Thessalonians and exhorted them to live righteously (2:9-12). He commended the Thessalonians for following his example and the example of Christ (1:6). As a result, the Thessalonians became an example to the believers in Macedonia and Achaia (1:7). In fact, their example became so widespread that Paul learned of it from others and it encouraged him (v. 8).

Cycle of Words

The gospel came in words and the power of the Holy Spirit (1:5) and they received it as the word of God (2:13). The word of God changed their focus and manner of life (1:9) and gave them hope (1:10). Not content with their spiritual gain, they sounded the word in the regions of Macedonia and Achaia (1:8).  Paul received word of their living by the word and spreading the word to others.

Cycle of Suffering

Paul and his companions were treated shamefully at Philippi and suffered much when they taught the Thessalonians as well (2:1-2; Acts 16 and 17). Despite the conflict, Paul shared the gospel with them with great tenderness and affection, giving themselves completely to the effort (2:7-8). The Thessalonians obeyed the gospel and they also suffered as Paul did (2:14-15) for the sake of the gospel.

The close and loving relationship between Paul and the Thessalonians is one that every teacher should desire with their students. To have them not only hear the message but to allow it to change their lives, and create a zeal to carry the message to others despite the opposition is something every teacher would like to see. In this letter, Paul describes his approach to teaching the Thessalonians.

Effective Teaching Principles

Paul described the principles he and his companions embraced when they taught these believers whose response to the gospel had a continuing positive effect in the kingdom. They are principles we should emulate as well.

  1. Boldness in the middle of conflict – 2:1-3
  2. Taught only a pure doctrine – 2:13
  3. Pure motives – 2:3-5
  4. Sense of duty – 2:4
  5. Concerned with God’s approval – 2:4
  6. Selfless (not teaching for pride, greed, or power) – 2:5
  7. Gentleness – 2:7
  8. Intense effort – 2:9
  9. Exhortation to holiness – 2:11-12
  10. Continue to teach/not abandon them – 3:1-3, 11-13; 4:1

The Conversion of Cornelius and the Command to be Baptized

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Some people argue that one does not need to be baptized using the conversion of Cornelius and the Holy Spirit’s presence at his conversion as their example. However, a close examination of the Bible account in Acts 10 and 11 teaches the exact opposite. Cornelius and his household was a peculiar case of conversion in the book of Acts in that He is the first non-Jewish convert: the opening of the gospel to the Gentile world. We must be careful not to make a broad application of this unique story to all conversions or put it at odds with other passages about salvation.

Story Summary

The story begin in Acts 10. Cornelius, a Roman military official, receives a vision of an angel of God instructing him to get the apostle Peter who is staying in Joppa. He is instructed to send for Peter because he would tell Cornelius “what he must do,” Acts 10:6. As Cornelius’s servants approach the house Peter has a series of visions in which he sees animals that the Old Law declared unclean and a voice telling him to kill and eat them. Peter, in respect of the Law, refused and received the reply “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” Peter was perplexed about the vision when the servants of Cornelius arrive. The Holy Spirit told Peter to go with them for He sent them. The next day Peter and several of the Jewish brethren went to Cornelius.

When they arrived at the house of Cornelius, there was a a gathering of close friends and relatives. Although the Jews were not supposed to enter the house of a Gentile, Peter said that God taught him that he should not call any man common or unclean: the lesson of the vision of the unclean animals. Cornelius told Peter of his vision  that they were gathered to hear what God commanded to be done. Peter told them about Jesus and his command to preach to the people (Acts 10:42). Certainly Peter is referencing the command in Mark 16:15-16 to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person. He that believes and is baptized would be saved. He that didn’t believe would be condemned.” Also Matthew’s account of the command to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19. Peter concluded that “whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins,” Acts 10:43. In Acts 11:14, Cornelius said that Peter would tell them “words by which you and all your household will be saved.”

At this point the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and those who heard the word and they began to speak tongues as Peter and the apostles did on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The Jewish Christians with Peter were astonished at this and Peter said, “can anyone forbid water to these who received the Holy Spirit in the manner we did?” (Acts 10:47). Then Peter commanded them to be baptized.

When Peter returned to Jerusalem some of the Jewish Christians confronted Peter because he ate with the Gentiles. Peter explained the whole account from the vision and the Holy Spirit coming on the Gentiles as it did upon the apostles “at the beginning” (Day of Pentecost in Acts 2). Peter realized he would be withstanding God if he forbid the Gentles to be baptized. The Jewish Christians then glorified God saying “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life,” Acts 11:18.

When was Cornelius Saved?

When was Cornelius saved When we consider the story of Cornelius we must understand when he was saved. According to Acts 11:14, he was not saved before the preaching of the word. This poses a problem for some who follow a popular teaching called Calvinism. Many religious bodies follow the teaching of John Calvin who taught the salvation of man by grace alone and the impossibility of being lost. Calvin said man was born in sin and cannot seek God unless God regenerates the man so that He will seek God. According to Calvin, at this point of regeneration the person is saved and will then seek God’s will. Cornelius was a devout religious man before he was told to send to Peter who would tell him words by which he would be saved! How could Cornelius have been baptized by the Holy Spirit after Peter’s preaching when he had to have already been baptized by the Holy Spirit so he could seek God in the first place?

The manifestation of the Holy Spirit proved to the Jews that the Gentiles could be saved. As demonstrated in Acts 11, there was Jewish prejudice against the Gentiles. The Gentiles, like the animals in Peter’s vision, were considered common and unclean because they had not been circumcised and did not follow the Law of Moses. Acts 10:27-29 records how God had to send a vision three times to tell Peter that no man can call unclean those whom God has cleansed. When Peter returned from Cornelius, the Jews chastised Peter for teaching the Gentiles, Acts 11:1-2. This conversion account is as much about the conversion of the Jews to the idea of equal access to salvation through Jesus Christ as it is about the conversion of the Gentiles.

Accepting the Gentiles

The Old Law had been abolished by Jesus when He fulfilled it. According to Ephesians 2:11-18, the removal of the Old Law was a removal of the division between the Jews and the Gentiles. However, the gospel had not been preached to the Gentiles yet. The Jews were to no longer consider the Gentiles unclean but equal. The Jews, steeped in tradition and separation from the Gentiles, needed something profound to show them that the gospel was for all men. Through divine means, God brought together these separate worlds. God sent the Holy Spirit to show Peter and the Jews with him that the Gentiles could be baptized. The Jews were amazed because the Holy Spirit fell on them as it did at the beginning. It is important to note that they did not refer to the Holy Spirit coming upon every convert like this. In fact, the conversion of the Samaritans in Acts 8 shows that after the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit only came on individuals by the laying on of the apostles hands, Acts 8:16-18.  The baptism of the Holy Spirit here proved that God would allow them to be baptized, Acts 10:47-48 and Acts 15:7-9 (when Peter again refers to this event).

In the baptism of the Holy Spirit here we do not have a pattern for every conversion. The gospel going to the Gentiles was as dramatic of an event as the beginning of the church. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit fell on the apostles to demonstrate that Jesus had ascended to the right hand of God. In Acts 10, the presence of the Holy Spirit showed that the Gentiles could be baptized in the name of Jesus. This was not a common occurrence. Acts 11:15 refers to “the beginning” of the church, not to every conversion since that time.

Response to God’s Word Saved Cornelius and His Household

God could have sent the angel with the words of the gospel. If it was the coming of the Holy Spirit that saved Cornelius, God could have just sent His Spirit and finished the work without Peter. However, God told Cornelius to send for Peter. Note what would be accomplished:

  • Acts 10:6 – He will tell you what you must do
  • Acts 10:33 – Tell what has been commanded
  • Acts 11:14 – Words by which you will be saved
  • Peter would teach Cornelius what he must do to be saved
  • Acts 10:47-48 – Cornelius commanded to be baptized

In order to be saved Cornelius needed to hear and obey what God commanded him to do through Peter’s instruction. If the baptism of the Holy Spirit saved Cornelius, Peter would be commanding Cornelius to do something he had not control over. The Spirit follows the will of the Father; not the will of man. You cannot command someone to be baptized of the Holy Spirit. Peter commanded Cornelius and his audience to be baptized. Notice this was a baptism, immersion, in water for Peter said none should forbid them water. Water baptism was a baptism that a person could command and a person could obey.

Cornelius BaptizedReview

Peter went to a lost man to preach the word of salvation. Peter preached Christ to Cornelius and his household. Cornelius and his household believed the words of Peter and were ready to do what God commanded to be done according to what He commanded them to teach. Jesus commanded Peter and the apostles to teach the gospel and baptize those who wanted to be believers in order for them to be saved (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16). However, the Jews were not convinced the Gentiles could be baptized. The Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his household as it came upon the apostles when the gospel was first preached at Pentecost. Seeing God’s approval, Peter baptized the Gentiles, their response to the words of salvation. The sign was such that the Jews in Jerusalem who chastised Peter for being with the Gentiles realized that the Gentiles could be saved and they ceased complaining and glorified God. In a Acts 15, Peter recounted this incident to show that there was no longer a distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles in the kingdom of God.

After this incident, there is no other account of the Holy Spirit coming upon man in this fashion for they were unique periods of Bible history. Peter and the other disciples continued to preach words by which one could be saved and commanded listeners to obey God by repenting of their sins (Acts 2:38), confessing Jesus (Acts 8:36-39; Romans 10:8-9), and being baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38; Acts 8:36-39; Romans 6:1-4; Galatians 3:26-27).

Whoever Calls on the Name of the Lord will be Saved

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For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved
Romans 10:13

We can take great comfort in the fact that Jesus died so we could have eternal life.  Paul told the Romans that “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  What does it mean to call on the name of the Lord?

The Context of Romans 10:13

Beginning in the first part of the book, Paul argued that the Jews under the Old Law did not keep the Law completely (so as to earn justification) and failed when they tried to establish their own righteousness.  Since one cannot earn righteousness because of sin, man needed God to develop a means of removing sin and allowing man to once again live in harmony with Him.

Paul wrote that the righteousness of God is obtained through faith.  Faith is belief based on the word of God (Romans 10:9, 14) coupled with obedience to the word (James 2:14-26).  Without faith, we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).

In Romans 10, Paul says that one must believe in Jesus and confess Him before He can be saved.  If this were all that was written about salvation,  this is all one would have to do.  However, there are other passages that tell us what we must do  to  “call on the name of the Lord.”  Some passages tell us that repentance is necessary for  salvation.  Other passages tell us that we must be baptized and live godly lives in order to have salvation.  Let us look at what all of the scriptures say about our salvation. Let us begin with Acts 2.

Joel’s Prophecy

Romans 10:13 is a quote from Joel 2:32.  It is a prophecy that the apostle Peter says was fulfilled after Jesus ascended back into heaven.  In Acts 2, Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32 and says that the events that took place that day were the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy.  From that day, the day that the church was established, Peter and the apostles preached that whoever would call on the name of the Lord would be saved.

Peter’s Sermon

Back in Romans 10, Paul wrote that in order to call on the Lord, one had to believe; in order to believe, one had to hear the gospel.  Peter, in Acts 2, began to preach about Jesus so the
audience could believe that Jesus, whom they crucified, was the Son of God.

Many in the audience believed the words of Peter and realized that by killing Jesus, they had made themselves enemies of God.  They cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”  They wanted to make peace with Jesus for they had sinned against Him.  Remember, from this time forward “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Peter did not tell them to pray and accept Jesus Christ into their heart.  I have read many tracts that encourage the reader to commit his life to Jesus then tell him to pray something like this:

“Lord Jesus, I do now by faith accept Thee as my personal Savior.  I call on Thee to reign in my heart.”

Though it is good to want Jesus to be in charge of our lives, there is no instance of anyone in the New Testament being told to pray to accept Jesus as their personal savior in order to have salvation.  Search the scriptures and you will find this to be true.

Calling on the Name of the Lord

What did Peter tell them to do?

“Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins”

They were to call on the name of the Lord by repenting and being baptized in the Lord’s name.

Joel:     Call on the name of the Lord => Saved.
Peter:  Repent and be baptized => Saved

In Acts 22:16, Paul was told:

Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord

Paul was not baptized because he had called on the name of the Lord, nor was he baptized because his sins had already been washed away (according to the verse they had not been removed).  Baptism was part of the calling on the name of the Lord.  It was the culmination of his response to Jesus’ call.  Of course, this response to the gospel was commanded by Jesus in Mark 16:16:

He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned

If we want to call on the name of the Lord, we must do so like Jesus and the apostles taught.  Since we cannot find the “Sinner’s Prayer” in the New Testament nor do we find any person who was saved in the New Testament by being told to pray a similar prayer for salvation, we must acknowledge that this approach is man-made, not from God’s authority

To “call on the name of the Lord” is to call for the Lord’s help, namely, to remove our sins.  It is more than a verbal acknowledgement of Jesus’ lordship, for some will call Him “Lord” and be lost (Matthew 7:21-23).  Calling on the name of the Lord is complete obedience to the gospel for it alone has the power to save us.

For more details, look at this SlideShare presentation:

Barabbas and Second Chances

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I sometimes think about the first person Jesus saved when He went to the cross. We do not often consider this person as he is not a main character in the New Testament. He is a bit character in the drama of the crucifixion. Though the part he played was brief, his place in history provides some lessons for us to consider.

The Jews put Jesus through the illusion of a judicial process to deliver a sentence of blasphemy and the punishment of a death penalty. Under Roman rule they could not carry out the death sentence so they brought Jesus within the Roman judicial system to be tried for treason and put to death. The Roman officials Pilate and Herod each examined Jesus. Though their men treated Jesus with contempt, they found no reason to execute Him, Luke 23:13-16.

Pilate fought for Jesus’ release. He knew that Jesus had been delivered into his hands because the Jewish leaders were envious of Him. He even had Jesus violently beaten and presented before the people. Perhaps Pilate thought a near-death beating would satisfy the blood lust of the crowd and perhaps draw some pity out of their hearts for the abused man presented before them. But their hearts were not touched. Read John 19:1-16

It was Pilate’s custom to pardon a criminal during the feast. On most occasions, one might imagine a popular individual whose case inspired sympathy but could not be dismissed as a subject of pardon. The people would get someone they liked and Pilate could receive some appreciation from the people. It would be a great political strategy most years to appease the Jews.

“Give us Barabbas!”

In Pilate’s attempt to free Jesus it seems that he introduced a person he hoped the people would hate more than Jesus: a notorious criminal named Barabbas. Barabbas was part of a revolt and committed murderer in the insurrection. John also refers to him as a robber. Certainly the people would prefer to have Jesus released than a notorious hated criminal like Barabbas back on the streets. It seemed like a good strategy to bring a violent criminal as an alternative to Jesus. Pilate would force the people to choose the outcome he preferred: the release of Jesus.

However, the people took Pilate by surprise and asked for Barabbas to be released. Think about this: the people asked for one who took life instead of the one who gives life. They chose someone who embraced violence and chaos to the Prince of Peace. When the people called for Barabbas Pilate is shocked and amazed asking about Jesus, “Why? What evil has he done?” The people did not answer Pilate, the demanded Jesus. Fearing the people, Pilate released Barabbas and crucified Jesus.

Barabbas became the first person Jesus saved by going to the cross. Barabbas was saved crucifixion and even a continued prison sentence for his crimes and was allowed to go free. Jesus saved Barabbas from the penalty due for his crimes by taking his place on the cross.

Second Chances

I’ve often wondered if Barabbas was affected by Jesus taking his place. We do not know what he knew about Jesus. I imagine him having drinks that night with his criminal friends asking what crimes were committed to make the people hate Jesus more than him. bigstock-Another-Chance-Just-Ahead-Gree-55029689Perhaps he laughed at how dumb the mob was and began planning a new insurrection and returning to his criminal lifestyle. It could be that Barabbas took his second chance seriously and obeyed the law from that point forward.

We do know that Jesus was crucified: a just punishment for Barabbas but not for Jesus. We know that Barabbas got a second chance at life because Jesus went to the cross. We all can have a second chance because Jesus went to the cross. That day in Jerusalem, Barabbas literally experienced what we all can enjoy spiritually. Barabbas was condemned to death but Jesus took his place. Barabbas was guilty but did not have to die for his crime because one who was innocent died in his place.

Likewise, Christ died for us though we deserved to die:

  • Romans 5:6-10 – Christ died for us when we were enemies
  • Isaiah 53:4-6 – The Lord laid our iniquity on Him

In the Old Testament, an innocent being killed for the sake of the guilty was understood in the sacrifice of animals for sin: Leviticus 16:6-10; 15-16. Though we deserve death for our sin, Jesus took our place so we could have life.

What will we do with the second chance we have been given? How will we live since Jesus sacrificed Himself to save us when we did not deserve it?

“Earn It”

Many have seen the World War II movie “Saving Private Ryan.” Because of the language, if you watch it I would recommend viewing it on network TV where the language has been edited. Some networks show it all day on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. If you are not familiar with the story, it is about a group of soldiers that venture into hostile territory to find the only remaining son of a woman whose other sons were killed in battle. When the soldiers find Private Ryan, he is sad that his brothers have died but he does not want to abandon his comrades with whom he has fought. The group who searched for Private Ryan stay with him and they fight the enemy together.

In the end, in a fierce battle against a strong German force, many of Private Ryan’s buddies and the men who risked their lives to find him were killed. As reinforcements drove the Germans back, Captain Miller, who led the search for Private Ryan, and a character whose leadership and courage inspired the soldiers, was sitting on a bridge dying from his battle wounds. The captain looked around at the dead and dying, and the carnage of war, then looked at Pvt. Ryan and said, “Earn this.” He wanted him to make something of his life as a result of their sacrifice for him.

These words, “Earn this”, echoed in Private Ryan’s mind as he stood at the grave of the captain many decades later. Standing with his wife, with his family in the background, he stares at the captain’s grave and asks his wife for reassurance that he lived a life worthy of the sacrifice of Capt. Miller and the other men: “Tell me I led a good life. Tell me I was a good man.”

We are indebted to so many people who died to make our country free. Their sacrifice should inspire us to use the opportunities we have in this country to make the world a better place. However, we have a greater obligation to make something of our lives for the one who died to give us life. In this sense, when we see Jesus on the cross, dying for our sins, the thought “earn this” should ring in our ears. As sinners who rebelled against a loving and holy God we don’t deserve such mercy and sacrifice. Yet Jesus hangs there between earth and sky as an offering for our sins on a cross we deserve.

Walking Worthy of the Sacrifice

“Earn this.” Live a life worthy of this sacrifice. Don’t get me wrong. I am in no way implying that godly living earns us the sacrifice of Jesus. We could live the most heroic lives as Christians and gain worldwide attention for our good deeds and not earn one drop of the blood of Jesus. But the sacrifice of Jesus should change the way we live in profound ways.

Paul says to walk worthy of the calling made possible because of the cross, Ephesians 4:1-3. John urges us to walk as Jesus walked, 1 John 2:5-6. We were bought with a high price; therefore, we must live in a way that reflects our gratitude for such a high sacrifice.
If a person’s life was saved by another giving his life, the survivor will likely find all he could about the person who saved him and do something to honor their memory.

Our life should be a lived as honor to respect the one who died to save us. We should desire to know all we can about Jesus since He gave Himself to save us. Understanding the sacrifice of Jesus and the sense of debt we should feel towards him helps us to also understand the tragic end and punishment of one who turns his back on Jesus, and does not consider Christ’s sacrifice as anything special, Hebrews 10:26-29.

We don’t know what Barabbas did with his second chance. What will you do with yours? Will you live worthy of the love and sacrifice offered to give us life? Will you be apathetic about Jesus’ sacrifice and do nothing to honor Him?

Honoring Jesus with the Lord’s Supper

Every Sunday Christians approach a table set with a memorial feast in the shadow of a cross. In the bread and the fruit of the vine is a reminder of so great a sacrifice made for us. Reflect on the body and blood of our Lord. As you consider Jesus on the cross, let His sacrifice strike deep in your heart and feel the love and mercy of the God who would die for you to save you. “Earn this.” Let His death mean everything in your life and let it transform the core of your being, the thoughts of your mind, the intents of your heart, and the work of your hands.

Honor the one who gave His life to save you as you thoughtfully and reverently partake of the supper of our Lord. And honor Him by returning to the table, and to His cross, each first day of the week as He commanded until He comes again. Honor Him with your life as you leave the table and carry your cross into the world.

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