The Value of Jesus

August 28, 2015

The aroma of very expensive ointment filled the house. While Jesus reclined at table, a woman had poured the ointment on Jesus’ head. It was a lavish gift. The anointing of a guest’s head with oil was customary, but not like this. The expense was extraordinary. One gospel placed the value of the ointment at 300 denarii – the pay of a common laborer for 300 days (Mark 14:5).

The objections came. It could have been sold and given to the poor. But Jesus said it was a beautiful thing. She had prepared Jesus for burial. We don’t usually sit at the dinner table, while the undertaker prepares us for our funeral. Jesus’ words would have struck them just as odd. The cross unspoken lingered like the aroma of the expensive ointment. Yet, he said to them that her deed would be told to the whole world wherever the gospel is proclaimed.

Judas, one of the Twelve, plotted with the religious leaders, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” The price was thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave (Exodus 21:32). The betrayal price set in motion the events that led to the cross. It was a large amount, but not nearly as large as the expensive ointment. How odd those thirty pieces of silver gained was a terrible loss, and “wasted,” expensive ointment was a wondrous gain!

It is as if the woman in the story said, “Jesus, I love you so much that I give you this ointment and so much more, I give you myself.”

It is as if Judas said, “Jesus, I don’t love you enough to pass up thirty pieces of silver.”

Two juxtaposed stories (Matthew 26:6-13, 26:14-16) both contain something of value. In both the valuable things say something about the participants and reveal spiritual priorities. Both stories foreshadow the cross.

Wherever these stories are told, an uncomfortable truth follows. We must make the same sort of decision. We will either be like the woman and say, “Jesus, I love you so much that I give you this and this and even my very life,” or we will be like Judas and say, “Jesus, I don’t love you enough to pass up this or that” as we name our price: jobs, family, possessions, pleasures, or thirty pieces of silver.

We all put a price tag on Jesus either to follow or reject. In your life, what’s the value of Jesus?


Come and See!

August 21, 2015

John the Baptist came to bear witness about the Light. He claimed to be the voice crying in the wilderness: make straight the way of the Lord. After baptizing Jesus, John testified that he saw the Spirit descend like a dove from heaven and remain on Jesus. This was to indicate that Jesus was the one coming after John.

John didn’t fail to prepare people for the coming of Jesus. He even pointed his own disciples to Jesus. John upon seeing Jesus said: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, ESV). The next day, John repeats the words “Look, the Lamb of God” to two of his disciples, and they follow Jesus and spend time with him.

One of these is Andrew. He immediately finds his brother Simon and tells him: “We have found the Messiah!” One of the great spiritual accomplishments of Andrew’s life is summed up in simple words about his sharing with Simon: “He brought him to Jesus.”

Jesus also finds Philip and commands him: “Follow me.” Philip goes out immediately and finds Nathanael. Philip announces: “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). Now this encounter with Nathanael is instructive for us. Nathanael objects: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV)

I don’t think Nathanael means that Nazareth was a bad place. Nazareth was a village of about two thousand in population. I suspect it is similar to when we describe a place as being a Podunk. We mean it is small and insignificant. But I love Philip’s response to Nathanael: “Come and see!”

Grand thoughts are found in this section of the Gospel of John. Jesus is the lamb that takes away the sins of the world. The saying prefigures Jesus’ atoning death. Andrew calls Jesus the Messiah, which means he is a king in David’s line. But I suspect that none of them understand the kingdom very well. Jesus alludes to Jacob’s ladder in his statement to Nathanael: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51 ESV) Jesus will bridge heaven and earth, but I doubt whether any of these early disciples grasped all of this.

They know they have good news, and they are excited to share it. They don’t necessarily have all of the answers, but they are willing to seek. May we capture a bit of their boldness, so that we too can say to others: “Come and see!”


“The Messianic Mosaic”

August 7, 2015

Messiah means “anointed one” and comes from Hebrew; Christ also means “anointed one” and comes from the Greek language. Although a number of figures in the Old Testament were anointed with olive oil as part of appointing them to their ministry (like priests and prophets), the term when applied to Jesus has to do with the anointed king.

When I speak of messianic prophecies, I’m talking about the prophecies that Jesus fulfills in his role as king and savior. I find these prophecies convincing, but one of the questions that is asked is how could the Jews or any one else miss the point of the prophecies. I like the explanation of Michael S. Heiser:

By God’s design, the Scripture presents the messiah in terms of a mosaic profile that can only be discerned after the pieces are assembled.1

The point is straightforward: Only someone who knew the outcome of the puzzle, who knew how all the elements of the messianic mosaic would come together, could make sense of the pieces. Jesus had to enable the disciples to understand what the Old Testament was simultaneously hiding and revealing.2

Why was it necessary to reveal and hide at the same time? Paul gives us insight into the mission:

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7–8 ESV)

If everything had been straightforward and clear, Jesus would not have been crucified, and the plan would have failed.

I think mosaic is a helpful way of thinking about the messianic prophecies. In them, you find the seed of woman who will bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15), the seed of Abraham who will bless all the nations (Genesis 12:3), and David’s dynasty that will last forever (2 Samuel 7:16). You find the suffering servant who dies an atoning death for others (Isaiah 53) and “one like the son of man” who receives an eternal kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14). And the list could go on. As separate pieces before the coming of Christ, it would be difficult to know whether these go together or not. After the coming of Jesus, we see how the pieces fit together to form a picture of Jesus’s person and work. The prophecies present a compelling messianic mosaic.

1Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm, p. 241.
2The Unseen Realm, p. 242.


Baptized In the Name of Jesus?

July 17, 2015

Recently, someone asked me what the proper thing to say at baptism is: “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” or “in the name of Jesus”? Both phrases are used in the New Testament. First, let’s examine what the phrases mean, and then deal with the question.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) uses the phrase “baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The New Testament was originally written in Greek. The Greek word, eis, that I have rendered “into,” is probably translated as “in” in your Bible, although the ESV and NIV give a footnote citing “into.” The phrase, “eis to onoma/into the name,” was used in the Greek business word to indicate entry into an account bearing the name of its owner. Cottrell commenting on this phrase writes:

Its use in Matthew 28:19 indicates that the purpose of baptism is to unite us with the Triune God in an ownership relation; we become his property in a special, intimate way. (Baptism: A Biblical Study, p. 17)

The same kind of construction is also used in Acts 8:16 and Acts 19:5, where it is “baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” with the same ownership kind of meaning.

The phrase, “baptized in the name (en to onomati) of Jesus Christ,” is used in Acts 10:48. The Greek word “en” is often translated as “in.” This phrase can mean while naming or calling on the name and in some cases, at the command of, by the authority of someone. The standard Greek lexicon (BAGD, p. 572) suggests in these verses the idea is to be baptized while naming the name of Jesus Christ. Baptism is a calling upon Jesus. Ananias says to Paul, “And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16, NASB). Most people confess Jesus prior to their baptism, and so call on His name. If the meaning is by the authority of someone, then it means that someone is baptized by the authority of Jesus (that is at his command).

Each of these phrases reveals aspects of baptism. Baptism is an appeal. Baptism is the place where we enter into a new relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—we become His. Baptism is done at the command of Jesus. These two phrases do not contradict each other. They reveal aspects of baptism.

But what should we say at baptism? The truth is that nowhere in the New Testament are we instructed to say certain words while baptizing someone to make the baptism valid. The baptizer could be silent, although most of us choose to say something that reveals the meaning of baptism. It is the purpose and meaning of baptism that is important and not the formula of words spoken. Both phrases are biblical. It is only the familiarity of traditional usage that makes one phrase seem more appropriate than the other. But we need to understand that Matthew 28:19 and Acts 10:48 are not proscribing a spoken formula. The phrases do not contradict one another; they both reveal aspects of baptism.

BDAG = A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2000)


Drunkenness and Debauchery

July 10, 2015

The headline was sensational: “Help! I Just Accidentally Slept with 25 Men and I Don’t Know Who the Father Is…” Although I grieve for this young woman and her unborn child, I can’t help notice the word, “accidentally.” It is hard to learn from moral failures, if you don’t accept moral responsibility. I’m reminded of Theodore Dalrymple’s book, In Praise of Prejudice. No, Dalrymple is not a racist, and the book is not about that kind of prejudice. He notes that many people in our culture seem to lack the ability to prejudge certain actions as leading to bad consequences. They live in a moral fog, and they suffer painful consequences because they lack prudence — the ability to see moral danger ahead.

What was this young woman’s story? She became drunk. She watched porn with these men. She fornicated with these men. She became pregnant.

Scripture warns against drunkenness and calls it sin:

“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Corinthians 5:11 ESV, emphasis added)

“… nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:10 ESV, emphasis added)

“…envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:21 ESV, emphasis added)

But scripture also gives us a clue as to why drunkenness is bad. It is linked to debauchery: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery. . .” (Ephesians 5:18, ESV). This term probably doesn’t communicate with us very well unless we look it up. It means recklessness. Several translations attempt to convey the sense to English readers: “leads to reckless actions” HCSB, “ruin your life” NLT, “don’t destroy yourself by getting drunk” CEV. Drunkenness is wrong because it leads to a loss of inhibitions, which means a loss of moral judgment. Bad things tend to follow.

Although our culture attempts to stigmatize drunk driving, it seems over the past few decades there has been some loss of stigma attached to drunkenness. One piece of evidence is the fact that FaceBook is working on a filter to determine whether your posted picture is of someone drunk or sober. Drunk photos are getting people in trouble with their employers. Don’t be fooled. Salvation does hang in the balance. These two things do go together — drunkenness and debauchery.


Age of Accountability

June 26, 2015

For those of us who practice believer’s baptism, there is a corresponding belief that children are safe until they reach an age of accountability. Admittedly, the phrase, “age of accountability,” does not occur in scripture, but I believe the concept does. Age may also be a misleading word. It may imply that I can pick a number — say age 12. Rather, I think it indicates a period of maturity when discipleship, belief, and repentance can take place, and there may be some who never reach this stage in life.

First, I reject the idea that we bear the guilt of Adam’s sin. Ezekiel 18:20 makes this clear: “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (ESV). This means we are not sinners at birth. For a full discussion, other passages would have to be examined, but I think the point of Romans 5:12-21 is to say that Adam’s sin had consequences for all, so that Paul can also say, Jesus’ one act of righteousness can have consequences for all.

Second, children grow in all aspects of life including spirituality. This was true even for Jesus: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52, ESV) Just as I cannot expect fine motor skills in small children, there are some intellectual and spiritual abilities that have to grow and mature as well.

Third, the Bible gives an example of children not being accountable. Out of the adults only Caleb and Joshua were going to enter the Promised Land because of the response to the spies’s report, but note what is said about the children: “And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.” (Deuteronomy 1:39 ESV)

Fourth, Jesus says the kingdom belongs to children, which would indicate their acceptance by God: “but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 19:14 ESV)

Fifth, the Bible indicates an innocence that is awakened to sin and guilt: “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died” (Romans 7:9, ESV). See also Ezekiel 28:15 and Isaiah 7:14-15.

Finally, even those who practice infant baptism have some concept of an age of accountability in that they do not expect the same participation as an adult until the child reaches “the age of reason,” to borrow a phrase from the Council of Trent. This is evidenced by confirmation.

I think it is more consistent with the evidence of scripture to maintain a believer’s baptism and acknowledge that children are spiritually safe until they mature to where they can do the things of conversion: discipleship, belief, and repentance.


“Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers”

June 19, 2015

The book, The Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers by Ken Canfield, suggest seven “secrets” or aspects of a father’s role. Effective fathers raise spiritually and emotionally mature children. If we want to be effective fathers we need to think about these and act on them.

  1. Commitment. Fathers need to commit to the role of husband and father and recognize its importance. Our society faces a great deal of fatherlessness. In 1950, 3.9% of all births were by unmarried women. In 2005, that number has risen to 36.8%. 70% of juvenile delinquents are from fatherless homes. In a practical way, fathers must plan time with the family and balance busy priorities.
  2. Know your child. We need to know developmental stages of children, but we also need to know our children as individuals. Who are their friends? What are their interests? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What are their days like? We do this to protect them, encourage them, and show affection to them.
  3. Be Consistent. Children need to see strong character in their father. He should practice what he preaches. He should demonstrate emotional maturity being able to govern his own moods and behavior. He should be consistent in his word. In other words, he keeps the promises that he makes.
  4. Protect and Provide. If there is a noise in the middle of the night, who gets up to check on it and who stays under the covers by the phone? I suspect that in most two-parent homes, Dad is the one who gets up to check, and protection is a good masculine trait. Providing for our families is an important spiritual truth. Consider the following passages: Genesis 2:5, 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10, Ephesians 4:28, 1 Timothy 5:8, and Matthew 7:9-11 (an analogy between human fathers and our Heavenly Father).
  5. Love Their Mother. Paul stresses the importance of husbands loving their wives. The husband should love his wife as Christ loved the church. He should love and care for his wife as he loves himself (Ephesians 5:25-33).
  6. Listen Actively. Children want attention from their father. Misbehavior sometimes is directed at getting attention any way they can. Fathers need to be reminded to listen actively. We need to put down our phone or tablet, turn off the TV, and rid ourselves of distractions so that we can listen.
  7. Equip Spiritually. Bringing a life into the world is a big responsibility, but it pales in comparison to the fact that this life also has an eternal destination. Fathers should be spiritual leaders equipping their children spiritually. See Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Psalm 78:1-8, and Ephesians 6:4.

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