Resurrection Sunday 2021
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.  For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.  But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:  “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;  even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy  And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;  the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.  And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.  Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Fires of the Resurrection - Jesus the Savior
I get it. There was a real mob, real soldiers, and a real cross... but, killing Jesus did not kill Jesus - our sin did. However, early on that Sunday morning two thousand years ago the power of His resurrection overcame our sin and our death. The fires of the Resurrection of Jesus were lit - and the message of redemption and hope began to burn. In spite of the best attempts from the mechanisms of unbelieving men, their corrupt intentions, and all the demonic forces of Hell, those fires have burned in the hearts of true believers ever since the day Jesus came out that grave.
Yes, the Resurrection lit the flame of the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised He would send to His disciples when He told them, "for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." Jesus made good on that promise when He sent the Holy Spirit to manifest as "tongues of fire" and then filled the one-hundred and twenty in the upper room of Jerusalem on Pentecost. Before that event Jesus spent four weeks with His handful of faithful giving them the instructions for lighting the fires of the resurrection around the known world.
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
"And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Fires of Pentecost - The Apostles
For those followers who gathered in the upper room, the power of the Holy Spirit that came that day would help them to close the gap between physically knowing Jesus and the spiritual and organic community of people He had called them to be. As the one-hundred twenty prayed and worshipped in unity and faith, the promise of His Spirit was fulfilled among them, and those who gathered in the street below became witnesses to the manifested power taking place above them. Those who witnessed were a blend of local unbelieving Jews, and hundreds of pilgrimage Mediterranean Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem for the "Feast of Weeks" the fifty-days of Passover to Pentecost. The supernatural witness they heard that day revealed to them the everlasting, eternal truth of the gospel and the love of the resurrected Savior Jesus Christ! Burning with the fires of Pentecost they would return home to their communities throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond to share this revelation of love and hope and power of the Holy Spirit. No one who experienced or witnessed what took place that day could have gone on to do what they did in their power. They needed the active burning flame of the Holy Spirit to change, direct, teach and empower them so they could become witnesses to the world of what they had personally seen with their eyes and heard with their ears of Jesus Christ Himself. They would need the comfort and power of the Holy Spirit to endure the physical and social persecution of the hate-cultures who would pro-actively do anything to stop them from preaching the gospel of the resurrected Jesus. The fires of Pentecost burned. Within twenty-five years this is where those Pentecost fires took the Gospel of the resurrected Christ.
- Paul - to Cyprus, Asia Minor and Greece, Rome and more than likely Spain.
- Peter (Cephas) - to Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.
- Andrew - to Sinope and Paphlagonia which is modern day northern Turkey.
- Simon - to Egypt, Cyrene, Northern Africa, and to modern day Britain.
- James (Alphaeus) - to the Palestinian regions and on to Spain.
- James (the brother of Jesus) - to Jerusalem.
- Thomas - to Parthia which is modern day Iran and Afghanistan.
- Bartholomew - to Asia Minor which is modern day Turkey.
- Jude (Thaddaeus) - to Assyria and Mesopotamia which is modern day Syria, Kuwait, and Iraq.
- Philip - to the regions of Scythia which is modern day Iran and Turkey and further north into Ukraine and southern Russia..
- Matthew (Levi) - to Parthia which is near the modern-day borders of India.
- Matthias (Judas’s replacement) - to Dacia which is modern day Romania.
- John the Beloved - to Gaul which is modern day France and back.
There is ample historical evidence to show that within just twenty five years after "the Fires of Pentecost" these twelve and a handful others took the message of Jesus and His resurrection to the following countries (modern day): Algeria - Spain - Libya - Egypt - Saudi Arabia - Iraq - Iran - Jordan - Syria - Turkey - Azerbaijan - Georgia - Russia - Ukraine - Moldova - Romania - Bulgaria - Serbia - Greece - Albania - Austria - Slovakia - Germany - Great Britain - Switzerland - Croatia - Bosnia - India - Afghanistan - Pakistan - Oman - Yemen
Fires of Persecution - Polycarp
To speak today of the fires of persecution there is none more representative than Polycarp, the Bishop and pastor of the Christian church in the ancient city of Smyrna. Ancient Smyrna is the modern city of Izmir, Turkey. Today, Izmir is a coastal metropolis of about 3 million Turkish Muslims and interestingly enough about a half million (and growing) Christians. Our connection to Polycarp will be an interesting one - definitely one you didn’t see coming. The ministry and mission of Polycarp represent the fires of persecution of the first, second and third century Christian Church. Most do not know that Polycarp’s murder in February of 155 AD within the great arena of Smyrna in front of twenty-thousand pagan unbelievers set off a revival of epic proportions that has not been duplicated even in the modern age of high-speed travel, communications, and technology. Polycarp was born a slave, but was adopted by a Christian woman named Callisto, who taught him to love the Scriptures of the apostles and to memorize them. This led him to believe and confess his faith in God through Christ Jesus, and to baptism. We know this because Ignatius of Antioch, another martyr in the early church, who had passed by Smyrna on his way to Rome where he would be put to death for his confession Christ. After his visit with Polycarp and he later wrote a letter reminding him of his commitment to faith at his baptism. “Through your baptism,” Ignatius said, “you have enrolled in the militia Christi, the army of Christ, the army that sheds no blood. So, let your baptism endure as your arms, your faith as your helmet, your love as your spear, and your patience as complete panoply.”
There is not an exact date for when Christianity came to Smyrna. Most likely it was during the two-year ministry of Paul in nearby Ephesus. But we do know this - the fires of the resurrection of Christ began to spread first from Ephesus then to Smyrna, and then out into the countryside. Although Polycarp himself never met Paul, he knew Paul’s writings, quoted them often, and later himself wrote a letter to the church at Philippi, as Paul himself had written the book of Philippians in our New Testament. Polycarp was also closely connected to John the apostle of Christ. In fact, he had a personal relationship with him. How do we know this? Irenaeus, the influential teacher and bishop of Lyon (modern day France), was also a native of Smyrna. He grew up there in the very shadow of Polycarp, sitting under his teaching just as Polycarp himself had earlier sat under the teaching of John. As an old man, Irenaeus,would reflect on his formative years in Smyrna, and he remembers something of the visage and the personality, of Polycarp. He recalls Polycarp sitting in a chair, and how he would tilt his head, the sound of gravel in his voice when he spoke, and the weight of his hand on his shoulder when he blessed him. So, Polycarp brings together in a unique way these two great fires of apostolic Christianity and New Testament Christian Church: the great apostle Paul and John the Beloved disciple of Jesus. From Paul, Polycarp heard Jesus say, “Will you teach and preach the Gospel of Christ?” From John, he heard Jesus say, “Do you love me enough to show the world you are my disciple?” These two questions would shape the life and the ministry of Polycarp and give great meaning and influence to his life and martyrdom.
Polycarp was not just a “hero of the faith” - there was a Christ-like depth, a disarming tenderness and devotion to the courage he expressed through his faith. The ideology and false stoicheia of men and this world did not influence Polycarp - but the substance of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were there from the moment he publicly confessed his faith in the resurrected Savior. His righteous courage could be seen in his opposition to Marcion, the heretic who actively taught against the Old Testament, as well as the validity of the emerging apostolic manuscripts of the New. Marcion preached a gospel with no Christmas. Meaning that Jesus was not born of Mary. He may have passed through her like water through a pipe, but he had no natural, human birth at all. In modern theology, the doctrine of the virgin birth has become the sign of believing in the supernatural birth and deity of Jesus Christ. But in the early church, it arose as a testimony to His humanity. Alethos Dias (Christ was truly born). And, truly born of the Virgin Mary.
Polycarp gave his life to give witness to that truth. According to the best traditions we have, the only time he traveled far away from his hometown of Smyrna is when he went to Rome, and there on the streets of Rome he encountered Marcion. Marcion asked, “Do you know who I am?” That’s always a dangerous question. Do you know who I am? Polycarp replied, “I know you. You are the firstborn of Satan.” There were no more questions from Marcion. In Polycarp's world to proclaim the God of the Bible, the God of both creation and redemption, was to invite conflict with the dominant power structures of the day. And so the fires of persecutions came. We shouldn’t get the wrong idea that these Christians were violent revolutionaries, freedom fighters out to overthrow the government and start their own. They worked diligently to be good citizens, and they repeatedly told those in authority, “We are willing to pay our taxes, we gladly pray for those in authority, including the emperor. We will pray for the emperor, but we will not pray to the emperor, for we are citizens of another realm. We belong to the ‘ecclesia,’ the church. And we worship another king who sits on a different throne.”
It wasn’t revolution that the Christians were declaring, not in the secular sense of that word ‘revolutionary.’ But it was subversive. It was a way of saying that Caesar is something, but Christ is everything. Because the Christians had embraced the Old Testament, they knew the Ten Commandments, especially the first one, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” The state is ordained by God, Paul taught in Romans 13, but it is not God. It is not sacred in itself. The fires of persecution found Polycarp. Eventually if true believers won't bow - they burn.
The wildly popular "Day of Games" in Smyrna, was a holiday. Twenty-thousand bloodthirsty fans of torture and violence had turned out to see the shows. This violence was by design. Smyrna was the epicenter of the Roman spectacle. Up in Pergamum, just a few miles to the north, there was the school for training gladiators. The program of the day went like this: In the morning, the wild animals were let loose into the arena, hunted down and killed. Later in the day, the gladiators themselves would fight. But in the afternoon, with the sun high in the sky, it was time for the execution of the criminals. There were a lot of them: slaves, war captives, arsonists, murderers, and those like Polycarp who had committed sacrilege by refusing to honor the godhead of Caesar and who would not take the easy way out. So the Proconsul said to Polycarp, “Take the oath. I will let you go. Just revile Christ.” Polycarp answered, “For eighty and six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. And how can I now blaspheme my king who saved me?” He offered a prayer in the name of God the Father, Son and Spirit, and then he was bound. The wood was lit. But when they saw that his body would not be burned by the fire, an executioner was called to stab him with a dagger. And so he was killed by fire and sword. The believers gathered the charred bones of Polycarp as a reminder of his faithfulness unto death. Every year on the anniversary of his martyrdom, they would gather to pray and to remember, not his death, but his “birthday.” That’s what they called it: his birthday. They did not mourn but rejoiced, for martyrdom is the place where sacrifice and joy become inseparable. As the actual account of Polycarp was circulated among the Church’s there were thousands upon thousands came to belief in Christ and made a public confessions of faith in the face of their persecutors. The persecution of the Church will never put out the fires of the Resurrection - Persecution only fans the flame.
St. Patrick - Fires of Revival
In 432, Saint Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, arrived on the Emerald Isle to begin his work of evangelizing the Irish. Upon his arrival, he discovered that his competition for the souls of the people would come from the pagan druid religion and their priests. St. Patrick's struggle with the existing pagan priests truly began with one rebellious and bold act that reverberates throughout history.
During the Druid springtime fire festival known as Beltane, there was a ritual where the pagan priests commanded that all fires in the land be extinguished under threat of death. The pagans would then light a fire called the High King's Fire, from which all the other fires would be relit. When Patrick learns the fire and the festival are to take place that night, he boldly decides to light a fire to rival the king's.
Because this pagan festival occurred at the same time as Easter, Patrick learns the fire and the festival are to take place that night, he boldly decides to light a fire to protest and rival the king's.
St. Patrick seized the opportunity and climbed the Hill of Slane and built an enormous Easter bonfire that could be seen for miles around. The infuriated High King sent soldiers and chariots to kill Patrick and put out his fire. Patrick's faith keeps the fire burning-even when the soldiers try to douse it! The soldiers were unable to extinguish it and the light of Christ truly dawned on Ireland. The king is intrigued by Patrick and his fire. He grants Patrick permission to preach about God to the people after Patrick uses a shamrock to show the king how God is one God in three persons.
In thanksgiving to God for this initial victory in his mission, Saint Patrick wrote an amazing prayer called the “The Breastplate of Saint Patrick,” also known as “The Lorica.”
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. I bind to myself today, the song virtue of invocation and the Trinity, I believe the Trinity, in the unity the Creator of the Universe…
Patrick’s fires began a revival for an entire illiterate and pagan nation. That revival certainly was a pre-cursor to the great reformation revivals of Europe which were to come and helped to preserve written Word of God for the entire western civilization.
Fires of the Truth Reformation
The fires of the truth reformation are for today. I believe that you and I are living in one of the most remarkable times in history. The American Church will indeed experience revival, but it will not be an evangelistic revival like the ones its high profiled and heretical personalities have often manufactured in the past. These are the fires of a genuine truth reformation coming to the Church of Jesus in America. There will be a purging and pruning of the present day Church and its leaders, preachers, and teachers. The pruning and purging will be decided between the lines of Biblical heresy and Biblical truth. The fires of the truth reformation have been lit, and will not be spread only by leaders, teachers, and preachers but will be spread by the influence and passion of the Body and community of Christ - who are even now receiving by the power of the Holy Spirit a revelation for the need for God's Word and the knowledge of Biblical truth in their lives. It is a burning hunger and overwhelming desire.
The only Church leaders who will remain relevant will be those who are willing to disciple and teach the foundational and unwavering truth of Bible - God's Word. These fires of revival have already been burning around the world and at the center of its flame is the Bible - the everlasting Word of God. At stake is God's Word of eternal truth for the Church, delivered to all humankind in its fullness through the resurrected Savior Christ Jesus. China, India, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Russia, Israel, North and South Korea, the Continent of Africa... and so on. America is next - the Church is the target. This the fires of the Resurrected Christ getting His Church ready. The tip of the flame is the Word of God.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
1 Peter 1:22-25
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is t