To Decide to Follow Jesus

December 21, 2019

There is no neutral position on Jesus of Nazareth. We may follow him as the Christ, or we may reject his claims, but there is no undecided point of view. We have either come to him in faith, or we are outside of Christ. We may be undecided as we investigate the claims of Jesus, but being outside of Christ is perilous spiritual position to be in. The relationship to Jesus Christ is binary: we are either in Christ or we are outside of Christ. So it is interesting reading in the gospels people’s responses to Jesus.

Jesus went up to the Feast of Tabernacles at about the middle of the feast, because the religious leaders were seeking to kill him. On the last day of the feast, Jesus cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37–38 ESV). This teaching as John noted is about the coming reception of the Holy Spirit.

John provided us with some responses to this speech. Some said, “This really is the Prophet.” This is a reference to the prophet like Moses found in Deuteronomy 18:15-18. Peter will later preach that Jesus is the prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22-23). Jesus is the Prophet, but he is more. Others said, “This is the Christ.” This confession was more on target, although one suspects that Jesus is different than their expectations. Some questioned, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee?” They knew the prophecy of Micah 5:2. However, their knowledge about Jesus was deficient. They were asking a good question, It would all depend whether they sought the answer.

John also recorded a conversation with the chief priests and Pharisees. Soldiers were sent to arrest Jesus, but they returned empty handed. Their defense was “No one ever spoke like this man” (John last 7:46)! Note the religious leaders response: (1) have you been deceived?, (2) have the authorities and Pharisees believed in him?, and (3) this accursed crowd does not know the law. When Nicodemus interjected, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” Their reply was a bit of a sneer, “Are you from Galilee too?”

Making a decision for Christ takes the right information and teaching about Christ. It also takes a willingness on our part to consider this message as true, and a heart willing to change. The journey to faith may not be smooth. Note the religious leaders were trying to intimidate the soldiers and Nicodemus. They were not engaged in a reasoned discourse about Jesus, a let’s consider the evidence for and against Jesus. They were attempting to keep the soldiers and Nicodemus in line by ridicule and intimidation. Don’t be surprised when those same strategies show up in the modern world.

We must be spiritual truth seekers. Because the most important decision you will ever make is to decide to follow Jesus.


“President/Owner”

July 20, 2018

Computers are wonderful machines, but one of their less desirable traits is the ability to generate tones of supposedly “personalized” mail. We recently received an envelope with the following:

PRESIDENT/OWNER
GRANDVILLE CHURCH OF CHRIST

No doubt we were on a mailing lists mainly of businesses for which the addressee of President/Owner was more appropriate, but with that title staring me in the face, I couldn’t help but think.

In a sense we do have a “President/Owner,” although the more familiar and biblical terms are “Lord” and “head of the church.” (Ephesians 1:22, 5:23) God is in fact the sole owner. No stocks were sold; no shareholders were invited to participate in the financing. Christ alone gave His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). That should say something about the kind of allegiance we owe him.

He has even given us inter-office memos and memorandums to follow. We call them the New Testament. He has set up an organization to provide for the proper training of people. “ And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11–12, ESV). And he has even been known to threaten closing down a “branch office” when it failed to live up to the task. “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5, ESV).

We are conditioned to give due respect to presidents, urgent memos, job training, and the like. When we turn from the world of business to the church, let us not loose reverence for our Lord, urgency for His word, dedication to his training, and respect for His warnings. He is after all our “President/Owner.”


Like a Thief in the Night

April 20, 2018

Yes, someone has predicted the Second Coming of Jesus for April 2018. No, I won’t give the details or promote the speculation. There will never seem to be a lack of those who have constructed elaborate time tables predicting the Second Coming of Jesus or the end of the world. Whether they be religious fanatics, scientific quacks, or a mixture of both, Christians should remain calm.

Apparently, the Christians at Thessalonica were upset over the coming of the end, and Paul reminds them:

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:1–2 ESV)

Thieves come suddenly without making appointments with us, and so shall the end be, the Day of the Lord.

Yes, I’m aware of the next verse: “While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3 ESV). Some will claim that pregnancy is a timed event. Doctors can calculate a due date, so if we can just search the scriptures for the appropriate times, we can know the due date of the Second Coming.

We should be suspicious of such thinking because it makes Paul immediately contract himself. The problem is how do we handle metaphors. We should not take every possible lesson from an image. We should use the lesson that the author intends. Paul is clear about the lesson he intends. The point is one of inevitability: “they will not escape.” Having taken Lamaze classes and been a birthing coach for my wife, I know that a woman in the midst of contractions may say: “I don’t want to do this.” It’s probably not the time to say to her, “It’s too late.” Rather, just let her squeeze your hand as she goes through the contractions. She already knows that it’s too late. The pregnancy image is not to get us to find a timetable but to realize the inevitable end.

Jesus instructs us in Matthew 24:36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (ESV). And then repeats himself in Matthew 24:42: “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (ESV). Again, it seems to me that date setters are contradicting Jesus’ own teaching.

How should Christians conduct themselves in a world that will someday come to an end? If we return to Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, maybe we can receive some clues as to how we should live our lives. They were people following the instructions on how they should walk and please God. They were to live moral lives. They were to love one another. They were to have as their ambition to lead a quiet life working with their hands and minding their own business. They were to behave properly to outsiders. They were people who lived with the hope that at the Lord’s return they would come to be with him always (1 Thessalonians 4).

My complaint with date setters is simple. Failed dates bring discouragement and doubt. I’ve known some people who were convinced of a date, dressed in white robes, and spent a night in a vigil, but the Lord didn’t come. I think they lost their faith in the process, which unfortunately was misplaced faith in a date setter, but led to loss of faith in Jesus. Failed dates also bring ridicule from unbelievers and may get in the way of the legitimate message that Jesus is coming again.

The end will come like a thief in the night, but we are not to live in panic, but rather in preparation. I don’t need it scheduled on my calendar to be ready. We should live in preparation as we lead lives of faith that honor God.


The Transforming Cross

March 30, 2018

The cross of Jesus refers to his crucifixion by the Romans, his burial in a rich man’s previously unused tomb, and his resurrection from the dead. Christians look back on this once for all event as permanently dealing with sins and gaining the victory over death. But Paul also uses the cross as a model for our lives as Christians.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

This daily crucifixion is a putting to death of myself so that Christ may live in me. The voluntary death to self is motivated by the great love that Christ and the Father have for us.

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24, ESV)

The above passage from Paul lets us know that this crucifixion of ourselves also has to do the flesh. Flesh in Paul is defined well by the descriptive phrase that follows “with its passions and desires.” In other words, it is a putting to death of sinful desires in our life. It is a life lived by faith (Gal. 2:16), “through the Spirit, by faith” (Gal 5:5), and involves faith working through love (Gal. 5:6). Although we may be engaged in an inner moral struggle for Christian maturity, it is love that motivates us and the Spirit who strengthens us (Romans 8:13, Ephesians 3:16). It is not an unaided struggle.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, ESV)

The model of the cross is also a model for putting to death the world on a daily basis. Paul’s use of “world” is not to evoke the beauty of creation around us. Rather it is the world system that is hostile to God. My death to self is to result in a new creation (Gal. 6:15). It will be because I’m walking by the Spirit which is the opposite of gratifying the desires of the flesh (i.e., worldly, sinful desires). I’m to be led by the Spirit (Gal. 5:18) which will produce the fruit of the Spirit, which is a very different lifestyle from the one lived by worldly values. And Paul offers a challenge to us: “let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).We must pay attention to what it means to let Christ live in us. We must be vigilant that we are not slipping back into worldliness for the new creation is in Christ, it is not in the world.

As you ponder the cross of Christ, also consider your daily crucifixion of self. The cross of Christ is to be a transforming cross.


The Interrupted Jesus

March 23, 2018

Jesus preached in the open where crowds would gather, so it is not surprising that he might be interrupted by someone in the crowd. Luke 11:27 depicts a woman shouting out this interruption: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” It’s a nice compliment to Jesus’ mother, but Jesus is quick witted and has the last word. He counters with this beatitude: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

The blessing of hearing God’s word is great. The Book of Revelation also begins with a blessing on the one who reads and the one who hears the words of “this prophecy.” It takes humility on our part to hear the word of God as we should. The challenge is expressed in Isaiah 55:8-9.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8–9, ESV)

God’s word convicts us. It makes demands on us.

I believe hearing and reading God’s word is a blessing. I’ve come to see it as “sweeter than honey” (Psalm 119:103) and as “a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). God’s commandments are for our good (Deuteronomy 6:24). But we have to become oriented to this library of books. It takes effort. We begin by understanding little, but with diligence the Bible becomes clearer to us, so that it becomes a source of comfort and strength.

So, if you believe that hearing God’s word is a blessing, what are you doing about it? Are you reading your Bible regularly? Are you a part of the Bible studies when the church assembles? It is an empty thing to say it is a blessing and then not partake of the blessing.

But notice that the beatitude Jesus gives is not just on hearing the word of God, the blessing only comes if we hear and keep it. In fact, the blessing in Revelation is the same: “blessed are this who hear, and who keep what is written in it…” (Revelation 1:3, ESV). Notice in Luke 11, it is not enough to be Jesus’ mother as great a privilege as that was. One needs to hear and keep. When his family came seeking him, he made the same point: “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35, ESV). James also warns about being “hearers only.” He compares being merely a hearer to looking in a mirror and then walking away and forgetting what we are like (James 1:22-25). Scripture is profitable to us only if we allow it to teach, reprove, correct, and train us in righteousness (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The interrupted Jesus is not gotten off track. He provides a wise beatitude for us to ponder: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”


My Wish for All

December 22, 2017

My generation had a wish book, the glossy, colored pages of the Sears-Roebuck toy catalog. Its arrival marked a season of dreaming about what you wanted. It was a time of making your wishes known. It was a time of eager anticipation.

My childhood desires have faded, but not my wonder, anticipation, and joy. I was never meant to stay in childhood; I was meant to mature to learn lessons from the gifts I received. The adults in my life found joy in giving. I was to learn from them to follow the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). As I grew older, I realized that for some the wish book was a hollow dream. That this season of the year could bring sadness as well as joy. It could unfortunately illustrate greed as well as exemplify generosity.

My adult desire is to be generous. In my gift giving for family, I have also learned to give to others. In this desire to go beyond my immediate circle, I’ve found the greater joy. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive.

My adult desire is also to appreciate and enjoy time with family. My family has many traditions that we have developed over the years. Traditions have a way of growing. You do something once, that’s nice. You do it a second time because you enjoyed it before, and you soon find yourself with a yearly tradition. But they function as ways of making lasting memories. My desire for everyone is to make memories with your family. The joy of family need not be expensive. Simple things can bring families together. The years fly by, but our memories are precious, and those memories are a part of the life of joy.

My adult desire is to know Jesus and to make him known to others. And here is the rub: the New Testament teaches us about the birth of Jesus and its importance. Without the incarnation, there could be no atonement. Yet, the New Testament never commands a celebration of Jesus’ birth, which is not likely to have been on December 25th, but does command a weekly celebration of his death and resurrection in the Lord’s Supper. If people feel pain by this season of the year, it is not from what Jesus or the New Testament teaches. They are the unintended consequences of human efforts.

The polls indicate that a majority of Americans celebrate Christmas now as a cultural holiday. Two-thirds believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, compared with 73% in 2014. 75% believe he was laid in a manger (down from 81%). Belief in the wise men guided by a star and bringing presents has also declined. (And for those who take the Bible seriously, the arrival of the wise men was likely months after Jesus’ birth, and not on the night of the shepherds’ visit.) Only 57% believe that all of these things actually happened.*

My wish for all is to know the blessings of generosity, family, and most of all Jesus. But we must go beyond the cultural trappings to the Jesus revealed in the New Testament. There are reasons for belief even if polls show a decline. For those who seek him, he can be found. And when he is found, he is Lord of lords and King of kings (Revelation 17:14, 19:16) which is not a seasonal occupation. With Jesus as the Lord of my daily life, I find an unfading joy: joy in giving, joy in family, but most of all, joy in Jesus Christ, my Lord.

*http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/12/18/5-facts-about-christmas-in-america/


Lamb of God

November 24, 2017

I love to sing Twila Paris’ “Lamb of God.” If you have a songbook handy, you may want to reread the words to this great hymn. It’s one of those songs that can send a chill up and down your spine because of the powerful lyrics. Out of 37 occurrences of the word “lamb” in the New Testament, 33 refer to Jesus.* The lamb of God is a major New Testament theme.

In John 1:29, John the Baptist announces “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (ESV)!” His words are certainly prophetic—pointing to what Jesus was going to do in dying on the cross. His words also resonated with the Old Testament. The Passover Lamb’s blood spared Israel from the last plague and led to the deliverance from slavery. Jesus is called our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). The words also contain reminders of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. As Hebrews notes, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22, ESV). So it is not surprising to hear Peter speak of being redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:19, ESV).

John’s words may also point back to the prophecy of Isaiah 53. A number of New Testament passages link this prophecy to Jesus (e.g., 1 Peter 2:22).

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. Isaiah 53:7, ESV

And it is clear that this one like a lamb brings about forgiveness for others.

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us

peace, and with his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5, ESV

In fact one of the most striking aspects of John the Baptist’s statement is that unlike the Passover Lamb and the Old Testament sacrifices, this lamb of God is for all—“the sin of the world.”

The greatest number of occurrences of the word, “lamb,” referring to Jesus is in Revelation. “Lamb” occurs 28 times in Revelation.* This brings an additional thought to the “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”—VICTORY. It is in Revelation that we see the Lamb in heaven receiving praise (5:12). The redeemed sing the song of Moses and the Lamb (15:3). We also learn about the “marriage of the Lamb” (19:7) and “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9), that is the church.

Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, fulfills the Old Testament prophecy and hope. He provides the once and for all sacrifice for sin, and He is the victorious Lamb who sits upon the throne. With the hymn, it is easy to exclaim in praise, “O Lamb of God!”

*Amnos meaning “lamb” occurs 4x with all of its NT occurrences referring to Jesus. Arnion, another Greek term for lamb, occurs 30 times with 28 of them referring to Jesus. Pascha is the Greek term for Passover. Of its 29 occurrences, three of them refer to the Passover lamb (with the word, lamb, being understood from context), and one of those three refers to Jesus (1 Cor. 5:7).

*Word count based on the Greek word, arnion. English word counts may vary because the word, Lamb, may be supplied where the Greek literally has “he” (e.g., 6:7, 9 and 8:1).