Sunday, August 26, 2018

THE SIGN OF A NEW CITIZENSHIP


These are the last words of Jesus after he had risen from the dead as they are recorded in the gospel of Mark. He spoke them to his disciples just prior to his ascension into heaven: 

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:15-18 NAS) 

Of course, what we tend to do with these verses is what we do with nearly all of Jesus’ teachings—we try to reduce them to a formula or a ritual. So then, because of this unfortunate habit of ours, we have believers who think it must be a sign of true spirituality to speak in tongues, so they teach others how to speak in tongues, as if it were the next course in our spiritual education program. We have believers who think that it must be a sign of true spirituality to be able to handle poisonous snakes, so in their worship services there is a time set apart for snake handling.

All of this is not much different from what we do with other teachings of Jesus—even with the teachings of Jesus concerning baptism. To many people, the ritual of baptism itself becomes the focus and the end. The real meaning of what Jesus was saying is lost in the ceremony. 

Salvation in Our Daily Lives

What Jesus was actually saying is that with our salvation, we will see that the things of the world will begin to have less of an effect upon us. Our baptism is a sign to the world that we are no longer under its power; we are released from its grip. Our salvation saves us not only from hell, it should also save us from the world.

In addition, our salvation as it relates to the world has beneficial consequences that reach even beyond our own lives. These favorable results will even extend to those around us. Jesus mentions the healing of the sick, as he himself demonstrated many times when he was on earth.

These favorable results include even the daily and familiar aspects of our life. This is why when the Philippian jailer cried out, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul could tell him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household(Acts 16:30-31, NAS, italics added). 

The Great Non-Escape

The jailer in this case was a man who had been put in charge of preventing the escape of any prisoner from the Roman jail in the city of Philippi. In his prison were Paul and his friend Silas, imprisoned there because of trumped-up charges relating to their teachings of Jesus. The two had even been placed in an inner cell and fitted with leg irons. They had also previously been beaten with rods and “severely flogged,” so I am sure that they were in a great deal of pain.

Nevertheless, as the story is told to us in the book of Acts, as the two men sat bound in chains in their prison cell, they were praying and singing hymns. The other prisoners in the jail were listening to what they prayed and to the songs.

Then suddenly, about midnight, there was an earthquake. Amazingly enough, the earthquake somehow not only caused all the prison doors to fly open, but even all of the leg irons of the prisoners fell off.


The jailer had been asleep at the time, but when he woke up and saw all of the prison doors open, he drew out his sword to kill himself. He assumed that Paul, Silas, and the rest of the prisoners must have escaped. Because of this, he knew that there could be no escape for him. For him there would be an inevitable execution because of his failure to prevent the escape of the prisoners.

It is notable in the story that even though the jailer was not the one who was technically imprisoned behind the iron bars, in reality, his work was just as much of an imprisonment as if he actually were behind those same bars. Because of this apparent escape of prisoners, the jailer’s fate was not his to decide. He had no defense. The existence of the earthquake and the destruction of the prison made no difference to imperial Rome. It would be death for him. His life may have been one outside the bars, but he was just as much of a prisoner as was Paul.

The jailer decided that his best option would be to fall on his sword and kill himself. Only this act and this alone was in his power. It was only the words of assurance from Paul that prevented the suicide.

“Don’t harm yourself!” Paul cried. “We are all here!”

Astoundingly, none of the prisoners had taken the opportunity for escape. The reasons that they did not are not given us, but I will make the assumption that since we are told that they were listening to Paul and Silas pray and sing hymns, they had come to understand the true meaning of freedom. The leg irons and bars meant nothing to them.

When the jailer learned the truth, he cried to Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 

The Freeman Becomes Truly Free

From what was the jailer asking to be saved? It could not be from the death sentence from the Roman authorities, since no prisoner had escaped. On the contrary, when the facts became known, the jailer would have no doubt been commended and perhaps even promoted for his bravery in preventing the escape of any prisoner despite the destruction of the prison by the earthquake.

No, the jailer was looking for the same type of salvation that Paul and Silas had been singing about and which the other prisoners had apparently experienced. As I mentioned, Paul’s response to the jailer was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.”
 

Saving an Entire Household

How could the jailer’s whole household be saved if it was only the jailer making the decision at the time? It was because as the head of the home, the whole family lifestyle would be changed when the father’s life was altered by his belief in Jesus. Dad would no longer go out and get drunk and come home and beat the family. The fights and quarrels over petty things in the house would begin to cease. The world would not have the effect on the home as it did before.

In this sense, salvation came to the home. Of course, it is true that the rest of the family may also eventually become believers in their own right and thus also be redeemed. Indeed, this seems to have happened (Acts 16:32). But even before that time, they would experience a sense of salvation from the evil effects of the world in which they before were held captive.
 

The Wealthy Man Becomes Impoverished

We have another story in the Bible of a man we only know of as "the rich young ruler." That is the only way in which he is referred to in the story, so I suppose that must have been his name: first name "Rich," second name "Young," third name "Ruler."

One day Rich Young Ruler approached Jesus with a question: “Good Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 18:18, NAS).


Unlike the jailer, the ruler was not so much interested in salvation from the world as much as he was an extension to his retirement plan. With his riches, the young ruler felt that he was secure in this world. In fact, he liked the world. Now he was merely looking for a way to also obtain a security that would extend into eternity. Jesus knew the real issue behind the rich man’s request and got to the point.

“Sell all that you possess,” Jesus told him, “and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22, NAS).


The young man, we learn, was not willing to do this and went away very sad. He was not willing to give up his riches. The goods of this world were too important to him. He may have kept his earthly wealth, but at that moment, his soul became impoverished.

The problem that the rich young ruler had is the same difficulty that many still have today. One does not have to be rich nor be a ruler to have this difficulty, because the problem knows no economic or social status. Many today want the assurance of eternal life, but they are not so sure that they want to divest themselves of the goods of this world. They simply like too much what the world has to offer, and they think that they might try to get what they can out of the world.

This attitude demonstrates an inadequate view of salvation. Salvation is a complete change in the realm of being. We truly do become “new creatures.” We no longer belong to this world.

 “If you were of the world,” Jesus told his disciples, “the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19, NAS).
 

Salvation from the World Leads to Victory

Jesus told the disciples, “I chose you out of the world.” 
 
The disciples were originally born into this world like everyone else, but Jesus told them that they were no longer of the world. In the same way, a believer in Christ is a new creature. If we are saved, we must let salvation work its effects in our lives right now. We must come to the acknowledgment that this world really does not have anything to offer us.

Let us not only be saved from hell, but let us be saved from the world. By living with this perspective, our salvation from the world will also begin to have beneficial effects on our own families and even our own generation.
 

Steps to Victory

At the first, it will seem to those of the world that we are the greatest of fools. Paul says, “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, NAS).


In terms of the perspective of this present life, we are fools. However, first impressions are not always a true indicator of the truth. In fact, they seldom are, as demonstrated to us by Jesus himself. When Christ died on the cross, it had appeared that forces in the world that were beyond his control had defeated him. Nevertheless, in the end, this very death, and his subsequent victory over death, proved to be the actual means by which Christ achieved the final victory.

In somewhat the same manner, we also must realize that our salvation from this present world is a continual process. In the beginning, it may even seem like a defeat, but our progressive salvation from the world will eventually and assuredly lead to victory.
This Paul writes in the following verse: 

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV)           

            Notice that in these verses Paul speaks of both salvation and perishing in a continual sense. Believers are “being saved,” while the unbelievers are “perishing.” To the first, the world is continually losing its grip, and to the other, the grip is increasingly tighter. 

Salvation from the World Means Freedom

From the story of Paul, we return to again look at some words of Peter. This apostle also speaks of prisoners. In 1 Peter 3:19, Peter tells us that Christ went “in the spirit,” and made a proclamation “to the spirits in prison.”


This is a difficult scripture passage to understand and it is unclear exactly who the prisoners are that Peter was talking about. It is all written in the context of the flood of Noah’s day, but we must read the passage carefully.

In this case, the New International Version of the Bible is wrong in beginning this verse with a context of time. It begins the verse, “After being made alive”… the Spirit of Christ went to the prisoners to make a proclamation.


By understanding it in this way, it seems to mean that this all took place after Jesus was again made alive after dying on the cross, and as if he went to speak to the spirits of the people who were drown in the flood of Noah.

But there is no such phrase in this letter of Peter’s. It was added by the translators according to what they believed Peter meant. They may have done this to help us to understand, but in this case they were mistaken in their own understanding of Peter’s words.

It is true that Christ indeed was made alive after he was crucified, but Peter is only connecting the same Spirit of Christ who was speaking in the days of Noah with the Spirit that still speaks to us today. The verse is as the English Standard Version of the Bible has translated it. This translation puts it (speaking of the Spirit of Christ), “In which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” Peter is simply saying it is the Spirit of Christ who is the one who makes proclamation to those in prison, both in the days of Noah and also in these days.

Sadly, all those of Noah’s day died in the flood, not accepting the freedom offered to them by the Spirit of Christ. This same Spirit of Christ spoke not only to the people of Noah’s day, but is still speaking today. He speaks to prisoners of all times.


The prisoners to whom he speaks are ones in the general sense. They need not be imprisoned behind bars of iron, but may also be prisoners of any kind of the world, as was the Philippian jailer. He was imprisoned by his own life. In many ways, the world itself is a prison from which there is no escape except through Christ. 

God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 3:19-22 (ESV) 

The baptism of Noah and his family was as clear of a sign of salvation as we can find, for in that great flood of water, there was a literal and absolute separation of life from death. Those who died remained prisoners for all time. Those who were on the ark were saved. 

The Aroma of Salvation

This is exactly what Paul meant when he said that “We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16, ESV).


In baptism there is a separation. It is a demonstration that we have been separated from the world.

Salvation from the world must involve baptism. I speak not merely of the ritual itself, but especially the meaning and significance of baptism that indicates the separation from the domain of the world. The separation from the world comes only through the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not by any act that we can ourselves perform. Only in this way will we be saved from the world and have a conscience that is open and good before God.
“He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved,” Jesus said, “but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16 NAS).

 

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