Thursday, December 27, 2012

What Changes Us?, Part 3

In studying the biblical letter, 1 John, I began wondering how the Apostle John turned from what appears to be a rather immature guy into a godly man who would write a powerful Gospel account, key letters, and a phenomenal Revelation, all while being a key leader in his early, local church. Through his ministry and Scriptures, John still speaks and still leads.

So what changed him? We looked at some key events here and here. Although many things happened to John that changed him, this final part includes the last two that I'll mention for now.

John observed the agony of Jesus.

John witnessed the suffering of Jesus. He was actually there. When we view movies that depict Christ's death, few even come close to showing what that kind of deep agony must have been. We sometimes forget that Jesus suffered even in the garden of Gethsemane. He suffered as He talked with his Father about what would soon happen. So much so that it was as if He were sweating blood. It was intense. And John was there.

Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and He told His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and horrified. Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow—to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake.” (Mark 14.32-34, HCSB)

They were so exhausted that they eventually fell asleep. But they would not forget this dramatic event that changed them. Don't you think that would have changed you?

John took responsibility for the family of Jesus.

In a sweet gesture just before His death, Jesus wanted to ensure care for His widowed mother. So in one act of love, He took care of His mom and at the same time brought John into the family. Jesus was of course the firstborn among His brothers. Why He did not at some point assign the care of His mother to the next oldest brother is a mystery to me. Perhaps it was because John was maturing. He was changing. And Jesus trusted him. In this remarkable move, from the cross, He accomplished so much. Here is the story:

Standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple He loved standing there, He said to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (John 19.25-27, HCSB)

That final sentence says so much. John completed his assignment well. From that day forward, he knew that Jesus had entrusted the care of His mom to him, and he faithfully provided care. Don't you think that would have changed you?

In both of these instances, and all of the others we have seen, it is a sweet reminder for me to see all that happened to John the Apostle in changing him.

But then I remember that in various ways, these things have happened to you and me as well. I've come to a point of belief in Jesus through a personal encounter. I've seen, in some ways, the supernatural power of God at work. I've been appointed by Jesus in a special connection. I've come to appreciate the approval of Jesus by God the Father. I've come to understand the suffering of Jesus. And Jesus has brought me into His family. In a spiritual way, I've experienced these episodes just like John.

And so have you.

And when it's real, it changes us.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Changes Us?, Part 2

Last time, we asked the question, essentially: What does it take for a man to change from a selfish, perhaps wimpy guy into an influential leader among Christians in the first century and beyond? John the Apostle was such a man. He became a great leader who wrote Scripture and helped lead the church into a new era.

So what changed him? We looked at two events previously. Here are two more life-changing episodes.

John was appointed in a special connection with Jesus.

The Gospel writers give lists of the Twelve Apostles, but Mark's list includes something interesting. It lists two examples of the nicknames that Jesus gave among the specially appointed team:

He appointed the Twelve:
To Simon, He gave the name Peter;
and to James the son of Zebedee,
and to his brother John,
He gave the name “Boanerges”
(that is, “Sons of Thunder”)…
(Mark 3.16-17, HCSB)

Perhaps we shouldn't read too much into this. But over the years, the folks who have chosen to give me a nickname are often those who have known me best, or worked with me the closest. I have many times done the same. A nickname is often a term of endearment, or a way to show a special connection. We know that Jesus began calling Simon by the name of Peter because of a special connection. And that's just what John the Apostle also had with Jesus. No one knows (now) exactly what Jesus meant by calling Zebedee's sons the Sons of Thunder—or however we should translate that! But my guess: it was a loving term of closeness.

I think, That sure would have changed me.

John's was certainly a special connection, but have you realized how special a connection you have with God? God knows your name, He knows your days, and even the number of hairs on your head. He may even have a nickname for you (okay, I made that part up, but it sounds just like His loving self to do something like that).

John witnessed the approval of Jesus by God the Father.

In one of the intriguing stories of the unfolding revelation of who Jesus really was and is, He allowed three of the Apostles to come to a very unique mountaintop prayer service. We call it the Transfiguration because Jesus' body and even clothes apparently began to glow! He was glorified right in front of them.

About eight days after these words, He took along Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became dazzling white. (Luke 9.28-29, HCSB)

He spoke with Moses and Elijah, and then a cloud overshadowed them and the voice of God the Father said, "This is My Son, the Chosen One; listen to Him!" (v. 35). John and the others were able to be there when God the Father personally spoke on behalf of His Son to say that they should listen to Him. It's as though He was saying: The Law and the Prophets (represented by Moses and Elijah) are good, but this One—He is My Son! Be sure to pay attention to Him! Others had seen something similar at Jesus' baptism, but not this. This was a special revelation from God reserved for Peter, James and you guessed it—John.

I think, That sure would have changed me.

We may not have seen this transfiguration live, but what was once kept to themselves (v. 36) has now been told to the world through the Scriptures. And many of us have experienced God the Father's most significant approval…that of Jesus' sacrifice in our place.

More next time.

Monday, December 10, 2012

What Changes Us?, Part 1

As we began a new series at our church about What We Know from the letter called 1 John, I began thinking about the dramatic changes that clearly took place in the Apostle John's life. This is the fellow who at one point asked Jesus if he could sit in authority next to Jesus once His kingdom was in place. And apparently on another occasion, John allowed his mom to go to bat for him and ask Jesus the same basic question.

What kind of mature man stands idly by while expecting (or at least allowing) his mother to ask a selfish question about a promotion?

But, John did ultimately mature. He became the man of God that would write a powerful Gospel account, key letters, and a phenomenal Revelation that would be talked about for centuries to come (and still is).

So I wanted to remind myself of some of the significant events and experiences that John had during his earlier days. There were several instances in John the Apostle’s life that must have altered the rest of his life. What changed him (and what changes us)?

I'm going to point out six events that shaped John. Here are the first two.

John came to a point of belief in Jesus through a personal encounter.

I've always been intrigued by the way the Gospels tell the story of the first disciples' initial steps of faith in Christ. They must have known who Jesus was. But when He encountered them, in person, something began to change inside them. They believed in Him.

Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him. (Matthew 4.21-22, HCSB)

Can you imagine what that must have been like? Jesus Himself called John to follow. And John did. Surely that personal encounter began to change John into the man he would later become. It must have been quite a feeling to have been directly and personally called by Jesus.

But then, aren't each of us directly and personally called by Jesus? Absolutely.

John saw firsthand the supernatural power of Jesus.

As the stories in the Gospels unfold, it is amazing to think about being there! But John didn't have to imagine it. He was there for some of the most significant miracles of Jesus. Here is one particular example.

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went into Simon and Andrew’s house with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law was lying in bed with a fever, and they told Him [Jesus] about her at once. So He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she began to serve them.
When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all those who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. The whole town was assembled at the door, and He healed many who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. But He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him. (Mark 1.29-34, HCSB)

Then another time, John was present as Jesus raised from death a little girl. Very few got to see such a glorious sight. But look who was included:

After He came to the house, He let no one enter with Him except Peter, John, James, and the child’s father and mother. (Luke 8.51, HCSB)

It seems that the Apostle John was blessed to be able to witness in clear view many of the more well-known works of the Savior. He was there. And in some cases, he was given direct and special access. Certainly this up-close and privileged access to the supernatural work of Jesus would end up shaping John's life!

But then again, haven't there been times when you have seen God work in incredible ways? You may not have thought of them as miracles, but if it was God working in a specific way that you witnessed, didn't He grant special access? Absolutely.

To be continued.

Monday, December 3, 2012

From the Beginning

How do you start off your day? It seems many people contend that what you do first in the morning has a great impact on the rest of your day. Thus it follows that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day." Not sure who came up with that one; I would fail that test.

How do you begin a new year? Or any new phase? Certainly there is something powerful about starting well so that you can end well.

This all makes sense when we remember perhaps the three main inherent desires that each of us has. We all long for a sense of significance/value, we all need relationship/community, and we all desire an understanding our destiny (where we're going) and origin (where we came from; how we began). We Christians would contend that these desires are satisfied in Christ.

So it's not ironic that the Apostle John would focus on this third element: the origin, the beginning.

It's obvious to see what appears to be a parallel between how John starts the letter now known as 1 John, and how he starts the Gospel that bears his name. And both of those remind us of the first words in the Bible:

What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we have observed
and have touched with our hands,
concerning the Word of life—
(1 John 1.1, HCSB, emphasis added) 

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
(John 1.1-2, HCSB, emphasis added)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1.1, HCSB, emphasis added)

Regarding the parallels, some have said that in 1 John, he is talking about the eternality of Jesus, the "Word of life." They might cite 1 John 2.13-14: "the One who is from the beginning."

Others say that John is referencing the beginning of the proclamation of the gospel message, the "word about the Life." They might quote 1 John 2.7; 2.24, or 3.11: "For this is the message you have heard from the beginning."

I believe that John was smart enough to do both at the same time. Listen to how he continues chapter one, after the first verse:

…that life was revealed,
and we have seen it
and we testify and declare to you
the eternal life that was with the Father
and was revealed to us—
what we have seen and heard
we also declare to you,
so that you may have fellowship along with us;
and indeed our fellowship is with the Father
and with His Son Jesus Christ.
(1 John 1.2-3, HCSB)

The beautiful way in which John works in both the eternal nature of God and the consistent message of His grace is the starting point of a short letter in which he reminds us of all the things that we can and should know.

On Sunday mornings at Fellowship we are working our way through the letter of 1 John this Advent season. It may not be at the top of everyone's list of obvious Christmas texts of Scripture, but maybe it should be. John starts off with the genuineness of the incarnation of Jesus. That is Christmas—the miracle of the birth of the Messiah.

If you live in our area, we hope you can join us. If not, you can listen to our podcasts. And we'll be sharing some thoughts here along the way.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Long Time

It has been quite a long time since I have been on the blog. Even though I have reasons, I won't waste your time with justifications for my lag.

I will say, however, that I have missed the extra writing immensely.

In the coming days, I will be making a few changes as I reboot. First, I will be removing the comments feature. The only reason for this action is that I know I have done a dreadful job keeping up with approving and responding to blog comments and questions in a timely manner. I think I even offended some folks in the process.

Second, there are some thematic changes that will probably be taking place. Among them, I will be using this blog as one of several means of communication with our church membership. As a pastor, if I have something worth sharing with my folks, I may also post it here as a way of communicating with larger communities beyond.

Finally, there will still be some publishing of teaching notes via the blog, although it may not parallel what I am preaching and teaching on Sundays and Wednesdays. If you are interested in hearing the Sunday sermons, they are available for free as streaming audio or for download by visiting the media page on our church website, or by going to iTunes.

For those who have been readers or feed subscribers over the past few years, thank you for your patience. I look forward to once again using this online space as an opportunity to advance the gospel and God's mission through His church, as we the church grow in grace. That's the progress we're looking for.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Jesus—Better Than Moses

The Bible affirms Moses in so many ways, and it is obvious that to Jews throughout history, he is not merely a forefather, but a hero. Moses is one of the most prominent, respected leaders in Jewish heritage. So when the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews first mentions Moses, it is with a clear level of respect.

In fact, in Hebrews 3.1-6, the letter commends Moses in several ways. But it is even clearer that although Moses is good, Jesus is better. Jesus is the greatest, and He is certainly far superior to Moses.

Simply put, the writer says that they should “consider Jesus.”

In this text, there are a couple of immediately noticeable comparisons between Jesus and Moses. The writer says that both of them were faithful to God the Father who appointed them in their roles. Another implied comparison is that both are worthy of glory and honor. But that is where the distinctions become clear.

First, he refers to Jesus as the apostle and high priest of their confession as Jewish believers. Then Jesus is described as having more glory or honor than Moses (v. 3). He is saying that Jesus is greater than Moses. But how, specifically?

There are two metaphors used. The first is that although Moses was instrumental in the household of faith, Jesus built the house. As the builder, Jesus is greater and worthy of more glory. The second metaphor is that although Moses was like an amazing servant in the house, Jesus is a Son over the household. And a son is greater than a servant.

There is a glowing example of this comparison of glory in what Paul says to the Corinthian church about the ministry of Moses and the ministry of the Holy Spirit:

Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the Israelites were not able to look directly at Moses’ face because of the glory from his face—a fading glory—how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness overflows with even more glory. In fact, what had been glorious is not glorious now by comparison because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was fading away was glorious, what endures will be even more glorious. (2 Corinthians 3.7-11, HCSB)

Moses’ glory eventually faded. Jesus’ glory has not. The Bible is clear in several instances that Moses’ law is good and has its place, but that the work of Jesus fulfilled the law. The writer of Hebrews will make that abundantly clear, later in his letter.

Listen to this amazing indictment by Jesus:

For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me. (John 5.46, HCSB)

All of the Scriptures point to Jesus. Including the Book of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy—the Pentateuch). Moses was looking ahead, to Jesus.

A trust in one’s religious heritage or heroes, rather than Jesus, is a dangerous thing. Jesus is greater.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Best Brother Anyone Could Have

Growing up with a brother or sister or both can be quite a competitive venture. Most of us don’t even mean for competition to happen; it just develops naturally. Some sibling rivalries are legendary.

For those who are blessed to have a brother or sister, often it seems that there is not much middle ground: Either you have a wonderful relationship, or you struggle to have a good relationship with your sibling. Imagine having the best possible brother you could have. What would that look like? Well, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you have just that.

We often think of God as our perfect Father, and we should. But do we realize how vibrant is the picture of Jesus as our brother? The Scriptures say this in several ways. Jesus is the best big brother anyone could ever imagine.

We have previously seen that the basic idea throughout the book of Hebrews is that Jesus is better than everyone and everything. In Hebrews 2.10-18 the writer shows that Jesus is the best brother anyone could have. You can see the family theme in this text in these words:

  • Verse 10: “sons”
  • Verse 11: “one Father…brothers”
  • Verse 12: “brothers”
  • Verse 13: “children God gave Me”
  • Verse 14: “children”
  • Verse 17: “like his brothers”

With this backdrop of a spiritual family in view, we see Jesus on display as the best possible older brother, and that principle has its effect in a few ways.

Having the Son of God as my brother means that I have an eternal family. (vv. 10-13)

As Jesus’ perfection was shown to be complete through His suffering, God’s word says that He brings many sons to glory, and they are tied together with Him not only in His suffering, but also in His future glory. Jesus isn’t ashamed to call them brothers, the spiritual and eternal family who God the Father gave to His Son. This is also reminiscent of Ephesians 3.14-15:

For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. (HCSB)

We have been adopted into the family of God by grace through faith. And because of His suffering for us, He calls us His brothers and sisters in the eternal family.

Having the Son of God as my brother means that I have a powerful representative. (vv. 14-16)

Growing up, it was always a relief when my older brother represented me before others. I knew he would look out for me. Imagine, though, what it’s like to have the Son of God as your big Brother. He always looks out for you in ways that you haven’t even imagined. Verses 14-15 say that He looks out for us so much that He even destroyed the Devil on our behalf. He didn’t do this for angels—He did it for His brothers and sisters (v. 16). Paul says in Romans:

For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8.29, HCSB)

He is not ashamed to call us family, and as the firstborn Brother, he is pleased to look out for us in every way.

Having the Son of God as my brother means that I have the ultimate advocate. (vv. 16-18)

What if your brother not only looked out for you, but also even stood in your place before a holy God? And took the punishment that was due you? That’s what Jesus did for His brothers and sisters. He took our place, and took on Him the wrath that we would have had to take (propitiation). He became like us and was then tested and suffered, so that He would be able to help us. If we trust in Him and do His will, He calls us family:

Whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and mother. (Mark 3.35, HCSB)

What an amazing Brother that Jesus is to those who believe!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Danger of Drifting Away

Have you ever gone to one of those gift shops in a vacation destination that sells fancy driftwood? I’ve seen those pieces of wood in many places. What amazes me the most is how expensive some of them are. Some cost hundreds of dollars. For a piece of wood. A piece of wood that is dead.

Via: WikipediaGranted, some of the pieces look very cool. They are quite interesting. But let’s be honest: Where else but in America would we pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a piece of wood that died and drifted far away?

In Hebrews 2.1-9, the writer discusses the grave danger of drifting away from God by neglecting the great salvation He has made available. Drifting away involves death, whether a slow death or not. Notice how serious the warning is in these verses. He tells us some things to beware of.

Beware of drifting away from the word of God. (v. 1)

The writer is helpful to begin by specifically stating what we must beware of drifting away from: Beware of drifting away from what we have heard. And what had they heard? God’s word. So he says they and we must “pay even more attention” or “pay much closer attention” to His word. Why? Because God’s word is truth, and God’s word is power.

James also highlights the problem with someone who hears the word of God without really listening and acting on it. He says:

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1.22, HCSB)

So the first thing he tells us to beware of is drifting away from God’s word. That leads to the second one.

Beware of falling away from the salvation of God. (vv. 2-4)

Having stated the place from which our drifting begins—from the word of God—now the writer tells us that neglecting “such a great salvation” will cause us to fall away from it. He questions how we can escape our due punishment if we neglect His salvation. And he says we have all the proof we need: Jesus spoke it; those who heard Him confirmed it; signs, wonders, miracles and spiritual gifts testified to it. How much more evidence do we need?

The Bible graciously warns of a great falling away, and it comes after people have been deceived and have drifted from the truth:

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the apostasy [rebellion, falling away] comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. (2 Thessalonians 2.3, HCSB)

Sadly, it seems that many will be deceived by the false signs that will be on display (see 2 Thessalonians 2.9-12), and they will believe the lies of the adversary instead of the truth of the cross of Jesus. Many in our day think that this kind of talk is foolishness, but God graciously predicted that, too (see 1 Corinthians 1.18).

Beware of missing out on the glory of God. (vv. 5-9)

If drifting away from the word of God can make us fall away from the salvation of God, the worst part is missing out on the glory of God. The writer here is saying that Jesus was subjected to suffering and death so that we don’t have to face the due and just punishment described in verse 2 if we trust in Him and do not fall away. What is that just punishment? Eternal death…separation from the glorious God. He then says that because He was subjected to death, He has been crowned with glory and honor—glory and honor that we get to experience when we are with Him. In addition to being with Him, which we don’t deserve, look at what else happens:

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of the Messiah, and they will reign with Him for 1,000 years. (Revelation 20.6, HCSB)

Missing out on God’s glory happens because we fall away from His great salvation. And falling away from faith happens when we drift away from His word. There’s a terrible pattern of regression here. God desires that you know Him through His word so that you can delight in His great salvation and begin to share in His true glory!

A dead piece of driftwood may appear beautiful and have value to many people. But it’s still dead.

Monday, May 7, 2012

For Marriage

There are times when certain issues require our attention. For North Carolinians, this is one of those of those times.

At the end of our worship gathering at Fellowship yesterday, I shared with our congregation why I will be voting for the marriage amendment to our state constitution. While we do not endorse candidates, and carefully choose when we make any public comment on political matters, in my view this amendment is far greater than any merely political action.

Simply stated, I will vote for the amendment because marriage matters to God. He created marriage in the first place, immediately after He created Adam and Eve. And although there were cultural shifts throughout biblical times, it is clear that God’s purpose and design for marriage never changed. I have briefly written previously on marriage here and here.

To me, the greatest principle, coming from Ephesians 5 (see links above), is that we as husbands and wives, in one-man, one-woman covenant relationships, have a great privilege in sharing the gospel of God through the picture of marriage. It’s as simple as that.

Some have argued that it is not loving for us to keep marriage as defined as being between one man and one woman—that this excludes other types of relationships and is therefore unloving. To that, I would say that the most unloving thing that I can do is to have what I believe is the truth and grace for all cultures, and yet not share it. Not to give the truth, in loving and caring ways, is unloving.

These are the primary reasons why this vote is necessary and critical.

Some interesting and helpful commentary has been offered by JD Greear and David Horner.

If you live in North Carolina, I encourage you to vote for marriage, and for the marriage amendment, tomorrow on May 8.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

An Angel…or Jesus?

I don’t think I ever watched a full episode of the nine-year CBS television series Touched by an Angel.

I haven’t missed it. But I do remember seeing snippets of the show. It seems the good angels always show up at just the right time, and do just the right thing.

If someone were to ask me who is better, Jesus or an angel, the question would be an obvious moot point. But for those who accept a vague spirituality, or who just have an exaggerated view of angels, that question is a challenging one that they must get right.

This is why the section in Hebrews 1.4-14 was written. In the first century, those who were God-fearing Jews had a very high view of angelic beings. Some of them also had not yet committed to being followers of Jesus, and were essentially riding the fence on that decision. It was into this context that the writer says emphatically: Jesus is superior to angels. But why, specifically?

The writer of Hebrews simply makes basic points about the claims of Jesus. And he wisely uses texts from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) to prove a few points. Take a look at Hebrews 1.4-14, and note these important distinctions.

Jesus Christ is better than angels because He is the Son of God. (vv. 4-5)

In verses 4-5, when he quotes from the Psalms and 2 Samuel, he is saying that Jesus automatically has a higher rank simply because He is the Son of God. It’s a very basic, but important argument. Look at how God the Father is blessed by and pleased with His Son:

…and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in a physical appearance like a dove. And a voice came from heaven:
“You are My beloved Son.
I take delight in You!”
(Luke 3.22, HCSB)

Jesus Christ is better than angels because He is the object of worship. (v. 6)

Next the writer again quotes older Scriptures and points out that even the celestial beings are to worship Jesus, showing that He is better and more important than they are. Paul writes that one day every single creature will worship Jesus:

For this reason God highly exalted Him
and gave Him the name
that is above every name,
(10) so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
(11) and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2.9-11, HCSB)

Jesus Christ is better than angels because He is the Ruler of creation. (vv. 7-12)

Then the writer describes the distinction between Jesus and the angels as vast due to His remarkable power over all creation. He rules it with a “scepter of justice.” He has been anointed as the one who established the earth and heavens. Again, note how Paul reiterates this:

For everything was created by Him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created through Him and for Him.
(17) He is before all things,
and by Him all things hold together.
(Colossians 1.16-17, HCSB)

Jesus Christ is better than angels because He is the King of glory. (vv. 13-14)

Simply put, verses 13-14 declare that Jesus is better because He deserves the glory, since the angels work to point people to Jesus and His saving gospel. He is the King of Glory:

Lift up your heads, you gates!
Rise up, ancient doors!
Then the King of glory will come in.
(10) Who is He, this King of glory?
The Lord of Hosts,
He is the King of glory.
(Psalm 24.9-10, HCSB)

I know Someone who showed up at just the right time and did just the right thing, once and for all.

Jesus. And He’s better than all the angels.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Greatest of All, Part 2

Last time we began by talking about being the greatest, or at least knowing the greatest. And we looked at the biblical book of Hebrews, since its main theme is that Jesus truly is the greatest, and it was written as an encouragement and warning to keep trusting and progressing in Jesus.

In short, Jesus is better. He’s the best. He’s the greatest of all. So trust in Him.

It all begins with an amazing intro that essentially summarizes the book.

Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. (2) In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him. (3) The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1.1-3, HCSB)

The writer of Hebrews says that although God spoke to humanity at different times and in various ways, in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son.

God spoke to us in a Son. His unique, amazing Son.

He really is the Greatest. Let’s look briefly at why Jesus is supreme over all, according to these first verses in Hebrews.

1. Jesus Christ is superior over all because He is the perfect messenger. (vv. 1-2)

In the first two verses the Holy Spirit inspired writer tells us that God the Father spoke in God the Son. So we see all three members of the Trinity at work here. And we are told that although the Father spoke to and through the forefathers and prophets, He has now ultimately and finally spoken in a Son. He sent the perfect messenger. Jesus perfectly fulfills and replaces the work of the forefathers and prophets since among things He is infinitely more personal and authoritative, being Himself the divine Son of God. Jesus, the perfect messenger, actually said that He only said what the Father wanted Him to say:

“For I have not spoken on My own, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a command as to what I should say and what I should speak. I know that His command is eternal life. So the things that I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.” (John 12.49-50, HCSB)

2. Jesus Christ is superior over all because He is the perfect message. (vv. 2-3)

In addition to being the perfect messenger, Jesus is Himself the perfect message. No other supposed religious leader can even try to make this claim. Jesus is the perfect messenger of the gospel—the good news. But not only that, Jesus is Himself the good news. He is the perfect messenger and message: He Himself is the Word of God, and He came here to reveal Himself to us. John’s Gospel describes Him this way:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning. …
The Word became flesh
and took up residence among us.
We observed His glory,
the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father,
full of grace and truth.
(John 1.1-2, 14, HCSB)

3. Jesus Christ is superior over all because He is the perfect model. (v. 3)

Here is yet another reason is the greatest: since He is a Son, Jesus is the best example for us to see what God the Father is like. The writer of Hebrews says He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature….” If you want to see and know God, then look no further than Jesus, since He is the perfect model for us. Jesus is God, who took on skin and bones, so He gives perfect clarity for us to understand God. Notice how clearly the Apostle Paul describes Him in Colossians:

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.
(Colossians 1.15, HCSB)

4. Jesus Christ is superior over all because He is the perfect mediator. (vv. 3-4)

Even though in Jesus, the Son, we have the perfect messenger, message and model, we still cannot be with God unless He makes us clean. We need purification from sins, and verse 4 says that Jesus, our perfect mediator, does just that. He bridges the gap between God and us. He died in our place. He was raised for our justification. He brings us to God. Look at these amazing truths:

But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises. (Hebrews 8.6, HCSB)

For there is one God
and one mediator between God and humanity,
Christ Jesus, Himself human,
who gave Himself—a ransom for all,
a testimony at the proper time.
(1 Timothy 2.5-6, HCSB)

Since He is the perfect messenger, message, model, and mediator, Jesus Christ really is the Greatest.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Greatest of All, Part 1

At times, you just have to wonder what our obsession is with being the greatest. The greatest at anything, really. As a child of the 1970s, I remember famed boxer Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) being referred to as The Greatest. He is quoted as saying: “I knew I had him in the first round. Almighty God was with me. I want everyone to bear witness, I am the greatest! I'm the greatest thing that ever lived.” He later acknowledged he wasn’t the greatest thing, “just the greatest boxer.”

Still, we like to dream about being really good at something, and perhaps becoming the greatest. If we can’t be the greatest, maybe we can know the greatest. So we tend to worship the stars in Hollywood. Or the very best athletes. Or top government leaders.

In the Scriptures there are many ways that God is set apart as truly the greatest of all. And when it comes to people who have walked the face of the earth, one Man stands out above all else. He has first place in everything. He is Jesus. Look at how the Apostle Paul describes Him in the letter known as Colossians.

…He is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
so that He might come to have
first place in everything.
(19) For God was pleased to have
all His fullness dwell in Him,
(20) and through Him to reconcile
everything to Himself
by making peace
through the blood of His cross—
whether things on earth or things in heaven.
(Colossians 1.18-20, HCSB)

That idea is all over the Bible, and it certainly is on display in the letter to the Hebrews. This book of the Bible is rich in helping readers to see the connection between the Hebrew Scriptures, otherwise known as the Old Testament of the Bible, and the New Testament. Originally addressed primarily to Jews who had joined the Christian faith community, the letter offers gracious warnings regarding falling away from faith in Jesus alone, by pointing out how much better Jesus is than anyone or anything.

In short, Jesus is better. He’s the best. He’s the greatest of all.

It all begins with an amazing intro that essentially summarizes the book.

Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. (2) In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him. (3) The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1.1-3, HCSB)

The writer of Hebrews says that although God spoke to humanity, and to His people, at different times and in various ways, in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son.

Did you catch that? God spoke to us in a Son. His unique, amazing Son.

In the next post we’ll look briefly at how and why Jesus is supreme over all. He really is the Greatest.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Facing Rejection with Resolve

Rejected. It’s a term we sometimes hear basketball commentators use when a guy driving to the basket gets pushed back, regardless of whether a foul is involved, misses the shot, and sometimes eats a little bit of the floor. And his pride.

But rejection in real life is far more painful.

Maybe a few of you faced a deep rejection recently. Each of us has faced rejection at some point.

  • Perhaps it was a boyfriend or girlfriend who left you feeling completely jilted
  • It may have been a wife or husband who deserted you and their covenant with you
  • Maybe it was an employer who let you go in a company downsizing, and even though you know it wasn’t personal, it sure feels like it

These rejections—or what feels like rejection—are common to almost all of us. We can relate to them. We wonder if God knows what we feel like. But did you know that Jesus faced rejection? Actually, He still faces rejection by millions of people…people He created.

Luke 4.14-30 gives a specific account of Jesus being rejected. We see that Jesus faced what must be among the toughest types of rejection—being scorned by your own folks.

What happened to Jesus could not happen in the same way to us. We’ve never been rejected as the Messiah. But to a degree, many of us experience a type of what happens in this part of Jesus’ story.

  • Outsiders accept us sometimes because they know less about us—they don’t know all the details, including our past
  • However, insiders, or our closest personal friends and family members, will sometimes not be able to overlook our past, and so they cannot see the potential for good in us

Again, while this is not the same thing that happened to Jesus in Luke chapter 4 (for starters, He had no sinful past to overcome!), the general principle—that those who know you best question you the most—is still at play. They simply knew Him as the town carpenter who lived a respectable, humble life. To them, making a messianic claim would have to be substantiated by action in their midst. They would want proof.

He was almost accepted. But then He told them that soon they would expect a show (or sideshow) of miracles and healings. He was calling them out, showing their true hearts. It points out a few realities:

Present praise is no guarantee of future followers.
National notoriety does not always make a hometown hero.
External excitement is no sign of internal investment.

The fact that Jesus was being praised (v. 15), gaining notoriety (v. 14), and stirring excitement (v. 22) was not enough for people to place a genuine heart faith and trust in Him as the Messiah. His own people, those who knew Him best, ran Him out of town, and even tried to kill Him. Almost unbelievable. But Jesus was able to stay on mission because He was living in the power of the Spirit (v. 14), and He was resolved (see Luke 9.51).

Having lived in Raleigh for several years, I know the region was honored to have two of the American Idol winners hail from the area, and each has received near-hero status. People have gone bonkers for Clay Aiken and Scotty McCreery. After winning these competitions, they received instant celebrity status.

Some folks in Nazareth wanted a rock star like that. But Jesus knew they needed a Savior, a Rescuer.

You need Him, too. And you can live with His resolve.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bible Reading Encouragement

On Sunday, my wife and I began a Bible reading strategy that I thought might be helpful to you as well. As a pastor, I find it relatively easy to stay on course when studying a paragraph of Scripture for a sermon or working through a Bible book as I teach or write, but consistency in reading outside of specific study is sometimes not easy. I really appreciate when the ease of technology puts together the best of the Internet’s abilities to do something that can actually help you grow in character.

Of course, with any Bible reading plan, if the only reason you are doing it is to say you’ve done it, or to check off boxes on a reading plan, it won’t change your life. But if you’re sincerely looking for a way to aid you in your reading, keep you on track, and even help to hold you accountable to a real-life person, this can be a super assistant, and may even be beneficial in your Godward progress.

YouVersion.comIt’s a free tool from YouVersion.com, which offers a series of Bible reading plans. You can simply read any paper and ink Bible and check off the day’s scheduled reading, or you can have the Bible delivered to you in a variety of ways. You can have YouVersion send you a daily email with the first part of your reading embedded, so that you’re encouraged to start there and then click through to the site where you can complete your reading and check off the day’s plan. Or you can simply go to your main login page, where the plan automatically (if you stay signed in) pulls up where you’re supposed to start for the day. If you’re on your smartphone a lot, YouVersion has free apps available (iPhone, Android, others) that will let you read on your mobile device, and then whatever your read on mobile will sync with the full Web version so that you don’t have to keep checking in both places.

The service helps keep you on track, gives the ability to share Scripture on Twitter and Facebook, and it uses real friends, if you wish, to help hold you accountable. If you opt in to accountability, it will send reading progress reports via email to whoever you assign as an accountability partner. So my wife and I will be helping each other in this way. We chose the same reading plan, in part so that we can talk about what we’ve read together.

I look forward to coming back to the blog and posting how this has been a blessing in our walk with God—and even in our marriage.