Jesus And Jerusalem


Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for one final Passover. Christians refer to the commemoration of this as Palm Sunday, and it marks the beginning of Holy Week.

The thing most noteworthy about this arrival—and thus the name—is that His followers preceded Him with palm branches and shouts of praise. They believed they were ushering in the promised Messiah. And they were. But they understood the Messiah to be a king who would free Israel from their enemies (Rome) and establish a new kingdom without end.

Jesus’s expectations were entirely different. He came to Jerusalem knowing full well that the people He had come to save would turn their backs on Him, would falsely accuse Him, try and convict Him, beat Him, and finally crucify Him.

Oh, sure, at the end of His life people would still identify Him as king of the Jews, but the words would be inscribed on a board at the head of the cross where He would be nailed—the place where a criminal’s accusation would typically be placed.

His expectation was not that of a triumphal king. He was coming to Jerusalem to fulfill His role as suffering servant.

Ironically, after the people stopped cheering, after they began to be swayed by the Pharisees who regarded Jesus as a danger to them, to their way of life, Jesus accomplished the very thing they had hoped for. Just not in the way they expected.

In those first moments on His way up to the City, despite the palm branches and the cries of Hosanna, Jesus expected to die in Jerusalem. In dying, He would fulfill the very role His followers had wanted for Him. He would defeat their enemy and free them from the shackles they had been held by. But the enemy was death and the shackles were sin.

Jesus’s brief stay in Jerusalem and the nearby villages was marked by controversy. He would say things that put the Pharisees in their place. He would weep over the city because of their rejection of Him.

He would face betrayal and denial and desertion. He’d be lied about and misunderstood. Romans, who hated the Jews, would spit on Him and mock Him as the king of that backwater Roman province.

And Jesus walked into it all, headlong. He knew what was coming. He expected every insulting, cruel action and word directed His way.

The praises showered on Him that first day as He rode the donkey into the City, were a result of His miracles, according to Luke. The people knew Him to be the person who performed wondrous deeds, including the resurrection of Lazarus. Perhaps they’d witnessed one of the healings. After all, just outside of Jericho He gave sight to the blind beggar Bartimaeus. Perhaps word of this miracle had traveled ahead of him. Or certainly with the group of followers who accompanied Him.

But Jesus hadn’t come to Jerusalem to do more for those people’s physical condition. What they really needed, they didn’t realize. So they came looking for one thing, and Jesus came intending to give them something far greater.

That they missed it, grieved His heart, and He cried over the city.

What must the people have thought, this figure they wanted to crown as their king, pausing on the ride into the city . . . to cry? Maybe that’s when the seeds of disaffection were first planted. But Jesus crying for the lost was the truest picture of His heart and the motivation for what He intended.

He went to the cross—He wasn’t dragged there against His will—to be the ultimate Passover Lamb for Israel and for us Gentiles, too. We who didn’t even know we needed a Passover Lamb. Jesus knew what we needed above all else—peace with God, victory over sin and death—and that’s what He intended to give us, no matter what it cost.

Advertisements
Published in: on April 10, 2017 at 5:56 pm  Comments Off on Jesus And Jerusalem  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Signs And Wonders


As Thanksgiving approaches here in the US, I want to keep perspective. God’s greatest gift to His creation is His Son. He is the ultimate evidence of God’s love, and He, really, should be the focus of our thanksgiving. All the other things are peripherals. They serve a purpose, but they mainly point to the main thing—Jesus Himself.

In light of this fact, below is a reprise of an article first published here in June 2012.

God is powerful and does amazing things, never more clearly demonstrated than when He sent Jesus, God incarnate, to live on Earth with those He created. God’s greatest feat, yet this is the one that a great many people deny. Here is the line of demarcation that divides humanity.

The thing is, Jesus came with proof.

Recently as I read the book of John, I noted how many times that gospel referred to the signs Jesus did. And yet, you know what the Pharisees asked for as proof He was the Messiah? Yep, signs.

As I look at it, Satan seems to be most concerned with calling into question Jesus’s identity. I’ve studied and analyzed the record we have of those three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, comparing them to the classifications of sin mentioned in 1 John (“the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life,” – 2:16), and to the specific doubts Satan stirred in Eve (“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise” – Gen. 3:6, emphasis mine).

But more recently I began to see these temptations as a direct challenge by Satan demanding that Jesus prove His deity–(“If you are the Son of God…,” “If you are the Son of God …,” and then turning it on its head, “If you worship me…”) This “prove it” demand was the same one the Pharisees hounded Him for, all the way to the end. Even as He hung on the cross, they were saying, If you’re the Christ, get yourself down from there.

The real issue with Jesus throughout history is whether He is who He said He is.

Toward the end of his gospel, John gave a clear statement of his purpose for writing–an explanation for his preoccupation with signs:

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)

John also recorded Jesus’s own statement about the witnesses He had. In the Jewish context no fact was established without two or three witnesses. Jesus came in with three several times.

The point is this. The signs and wonders in Jesus’s day had a specific purpose. They established His identity.

They also served a definite purpose in the early Church—they established the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. First in the disciples, then in the other Jewish converts, and later in the Gentile believers.

So what about signs and wonders today?

I have no doubt God can do signs and wonders today. He can multiply bread, move mountains, heal the blind, raise the dead. He is still God, after all.

But what’s the point?

Part of me thinks, Well, need, for one thing. There are people who need food and who can’t see and who have died. But just like the fact that Jesus didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom, He didn’t come to set up a utopia either. All the people Jesus healed eventually died of some other cause. They didn’t stay cured. Not physically, anyway.

The signs and wonders, though, point to the real reason Jesus came. He conquered death. He defeated sin. He triumphed over Satan. His signs and wonders were the precursor to the ultimate victory He enjoyed, breaking the bonds of sin and establishing the Way to reconciliation with the Father.

Signs and wonders are not the gift. A magician named Simon discovered that. He of all people, who presumably had trafficked in the dark arts, was amazed at the power of the Holy Spirit, released when the apostles laid hands on people. Simon wanted that power.

But it wasn’t for sale. The power was nothing more than the evidence of that which Simon could have–the indwelling Holy Spirit who would seal him for salvation.

Signs and wonders? They aren’t the big thing. They are merely the evidence of He who is Bigger, Grander, Mightier than we can imagine, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He’s given us all the signs we could ever want to believe that He is who He says He is.

Published in: on November 20, 2015 at 6:29 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Grace That Is Greater


Rose-on-music-book-on-pianoThere’s a hymn entitled “Marvelous Grace” that ends with the line “Grace that is greater than all my sin.” It’s a good reminder. No matter what sins I might see, whether in my culture, my church, or my heart, God’s grace is greater.

The Old Testament books of Isaiah and Jeremiah seem to put the spotlight on sin a good deal of the time, and as I said in my last few posts, there seem to be more and more parallels between what the people and nations did those ages ago and what we are doing today.

God was clear about His response to such things as greed and self-righteousness and neglect of the poor and helpless. He condemned those who turned their backs on Him.

But Isaiah is also full of Messianic passages. I can’t help but imagine that when Jesus was explaining the law and the prophets to the two men on the Emmaus road, He spent a significant amount of time explaining Isaiah.

After all, the Jews believed in the coming Messiah, but they didn’t understand He would be a suffering Servant, the sacrificial Lamb who would take away the sins of the world.

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And he will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.
– Isaiah 53:11-12

The disciples, in turn, taught others what Jesus had taught them. And the Holy Spirit guided them in all truth, so the four writers of the Gospels recorded the ways in which Jesus fulfilled prophecy by His death, and the Apostle Paul wrote such things as “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

When I see the pieces all start to fit in place, I am amazed by what a great God we have. On one hand He shows us how egregious sin is, how offensive it is to Him, then He turns around and shows us the extent of His love. Not by changing His mind and overlooking sin or pretending it really isn’t so bad after all.

He simply trumps it with His grace. Grace that is greater, and will always be greater. No one can out-sin God’s grace simply because He who knew no sin became sin for us. Sin requires death, and He died. My debt is paid by His greater grace.

So, yeah, I might be perturbed by my culture and even by many who call themselves Christians, but rather than being disheartened, I see the need as greater for those of us who know the truth about God’s grace to broadcast the good news. Because in these days, we all long to hear good news, and the truth about God’s grace is the best.

This post first appeared here in March 2009

Published in: on June 23, 2015 at 6:53 pm  Comments Off on Grace That Is Greater  
Tags: , , , ,

Signs And Wonders


Feeding_the_5000009God is powerful and does amazing things, never more clearly demonstrated than when He sent Jesus, God incarnate, to live on Earth with those He created. God’s greatest feat, yet the one that a great many people deny. This miracle is the line of demarcation that divides humanity.

The thing is, Jesus came with proof.

Recently as I read the book of John, I noted how many times that gospel referred to the signs Jesus did. And yet, do you know what the Pharisees asked for as proof He was the Messiah? Yep, signs.

As I look at it, Satan seems to be most concerned with calling into question Jesus’s identity. I’ve studied and analyzed the record we have of those three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, comparing them to the classifications of sin mentioned in 1 John (“the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life,” – 2:16), and to the specific doubts Satan stirred in Eve (“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise” – Gen. 3:6, emphasis mine).

But more recently I began to see these temptations as a direct challenge by Satan demanding that Jesus prove His deity—(“If you are the Son of God…,” “If you are the Son of God …,” and then turning it on its head, “If you worship me…”) This “prove it” demand was the same one the Pharisees hounded Him for, all the way to the end. Even as He hung on the cross, they were saying, If you’re the Christ, get yourself down from there.

The real issue with Jesus throughout history is whether He is who He said He is.

Toward the end of his gospel, John gave a clear statement of his purpose for writing—an explanation for his preoccupation with signs:

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)

John also recorded Jesus’s own statement about the witnesses He had. In the Jewish context no fact was established without two or three witnesses. Jesus came in with three several times, one being the signs and wonders He performed—things like feeding the five thousand from a few loaves and fish or walking on water, healing a blind man and raising a child from the dead.

The point is this. The signs and wonders in Jesus’s day had a specific purpose. They established His identity.

They also served a definite purpose in the early Church—they established the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. First in the disciples, then in the other Jewish converts, and later in the Gentile believers.

So what about signs and wonders today?

I have no doubt God can do signs and wonders today. He can multiply bread, move mountains, heal the blind, raise the dead. He is still God, after all.

But what’s the point?

Part of me thinks, Well, need, for one thing. There are people who need food and who can’t see and who have died. But just like the fact that Jesus didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom, He didn’t come to set up a utopia either. All the people Jesus healed eventually died of some other cause. They didn’t stay cured. Not physically, anyway.

The signs and wonders, though, point to the real reason Jesus came. He conquered death. He defeated sin. He triumphed over Satan. His signs and wonders were the precursor to the ultimate victory He enjoyed, breaking the bonds of sin and establishing the Way to reconciliation with the Father.

Signs and wonders are not the gift. A magician named Simon discovered that. He of all people, who presumably had trafficked in the dark arts, was amazed at the power of the Holy Spirit, released when the apostles laid hands on people. Simon wanted that power.

But it wasn’t for sale. The power was nothing more than the evidence of that which Simon could have–the indwelling Holy Spirit who would seal him for salvation.

Signs and wonders? They aren’t the big thing. They are merely the evidence of He who is Bigger, Grander, Mightier than we can imagine, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He’s given us all the signs we could ever want to believe that He is who He says He is.

This post originally appeared here in June 2012.

Published in: on April 23, 2015 at 5:30 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,

Grace That Is Greater


A_young_lamb_amongst_the_bracken_fronds_-_geograph.org.uk_-_287551There’s a hymn entitled “Marvelous Grace” that ends with the line “Grace that is greater than all my sin.” It’s a good reminder. No matter what sins I might see, whether in my culture, my church, or my heart, God’s grace is greater.

The Old Testament books of Isaiah and Jeremiah seem to put the spotlight on sin a good deal of the time, and I notice more and more parallels between what the people and nations did those ages ago and what we are doing today.

God was clear about His response to such things as idol worship and greed and self-righteousness and neglect of the poor and helpless. He condemned those who turned their backs on Him by following their own path and neglecting His.

But Isaiah is also full of Messianic passages. I can’t help but imagine that when Jesus was explaining the law and the prophets to the two men on the Emmaus road, He spent a significant amount of time explaining Isaiah.

After all, the Jews believed in the coming Messiah, but they didn’t understand He would be a suffering Servant, the sacrificial Lamb who would take away the sins of the world.

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And he will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.
– Isaiah 53:11-12

The disciples, in turn, taught others what Jesus had taught them. And the Holy Spirit guided them in all truth, so the four writers of the Gospels recorded the ways in which Jesus fulfilled prophecy by His death, and the Apostle Paul wrote such things as, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

When I see the pieces all fit in place, I am amazed by what a great God we have. On one hand He shows us how egregious sin is, how offensive it is to Him, then He turns around and shows us the extent of His love. Not by changing His mind and overlooking sin or pretending it really isn’t so bad after all.

He simply trumps it with His grace. Grace that is greater, and will always be greater. No one can out-sin God’s grace simply because He who knew no sin became sin for us. Sin requires death, and He died. My debt is paid by His greater grace.

So, yeah, I might be perturbed by my culture and even by many who call themselves Christians, but rather than being disheartened, I see the need as greater for those of us who know the truth about God’s grace to broadcast the good news. Because we all long to hear good news, and the truth about God’s grace is the best.

Apart from some minor editing, this post originally appeared here in March 2009

Published in: on March 12, 2015 at 6:31 pm  Comments Off on Grace That Is Greater  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Peace On Earth


Red_Christmas_candlesWeek two of the Advent season, and my church is focusing on Peace.

When Jesus was born, an angel appeared to a group of shepherds and announced that a Savior, Christ the Lord had been born that night. A host of angels then joined him saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14).

The KJV skewed the angelic praise by translating it, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to men.” The logical conclusion was that Jesus would bring an end to conflict on earth, that God would treat humankind with good will. And of course, history is filled with war and any number of “not good will” kinds of circumstances.

The hope of the Jewish people at the time was that the Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom and rule as David had during the golden age of Israel’s history. He conquered their enemies and brought peace. He brought the ark of the covenant to his city, Jerusalem, and set in motion the construction of the great temple, the house of God. He instituted sacrifices and the appointed feasts before the LORD, in accordance with the law, blessed his subjects, and gave them each a gift.

When David had finished offering the burnt offering and the peace offering, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts. Further, he distributed to all the people, to all the multitude of Israel, both to men and women, a cake of bread and one of dates and one of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed each to his house (2 Samuel 6:18-19).

This was the kind of Messiah the Jews were looking for.

People in more recent times haven’t done much to change the false idea perceived about the angels’ blessing. Granted, we recognize that Jesus didn’t come to establish His kingdom in the here and now. Instead we either ascribe His peace to the future or to an internal peace each person can achieve in the midst of the turmoil around us.

I do think God wants us to have peace in our hearts regardless of the circumstances that can throw life into confusion, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the peace to which the angels referred.

The peace inside us depends to a degree on us, as we’ll see later in the week, but the peace the angels announced came as a result of the birth of this Messiah. So what peace did Jesus bring, what peace does He give?

The peace of Jesus is the result of reconciliation with God. Without Jesus, a person is in rebellion to God. But Jesus rescues us from the dominion of darkness. He makes possible peace with God—not just a truce, but full-blown peace. We are no longer at enmity with Him if we have become those with whom He is well pleased.

Yikes! What do we have to do to please God? Well, nothing.

This well-pleased position is also something that comes to us from Jesus. In fact, the word used in Matthew 3:17 translated “well-pleased” which God declared about Jesus at His baptism is the same word used here for those God will favor with peace.

It is Jesus with whom the Father is well-pleased. Through Jesus we are reconciled to God—brought into relationship with Him, afforded peace with Him.

That above all else is the peace of Christmas. Yes, there’s more, but without that life-changing peace that ends our determination to go our own way and puts us in right standing with God, there is no peace, only temporary truces.

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 6:24 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Hope And Disappointment


AdventSome things we hope for and they don’t pan out. For example, I hoped the Denver Broncos would win the Super Bowl last year, but they lost in an embarrassing fashion.

Some things we hope for and they don’t happen right away, but they eventually come about. After I graduated from college, I hoped to get a teaching job. I didn’t one that first year, but the following year I got the job I would stay in for over thirty years.

Some things we hope for but we learn they will never happen. I had a friend who lost three babies. Eventually the doctors discovered she had trouble carrying infants to term because of a drug her mother had taken when she was pregnant with her. No matter how much my friend hoped for her own child, she was not able to give birth.

And then there are the things we hope for and we are still hoping. They haven’t happened yet, but we have every reason to continue hoping. We’ve been hoping for rain here in SoCal. All last year we hoped but received little precipitation. This year we again have hopes we’ll at least see a normal amount of rainfall. It’s reasonable to think this drought will come to an end, so we hope.

In the first instance and in the third, hope dies. In the first, we hope for a single event, a specific something—Mr. Tall and Charming will ask me to the prom, or I’ll get both Christmas Eve and Day off of work. There’s a definite period of time when we know if what we hoped for has happened or not.

In the third, a door closes. The divorce is finalized and the spouse remarries; the university you hoped to go to doesn’t accept you. These are the ends of dreams.

The second and fourth scenarios are hope that doesn’t disappoint. Many, many writers hope to find an agent and hope the agent will sell their manuscript. They may wait for years and years, but eventually, these writers see their hopes come to fruition. These are people who fall into the second category.

What about the fourth? These are people still waiting. They have done their job faithfully, waited for an opening for promotion, and are still waiting. For some reason, they have been passed over a time or two, but they have no reason to believe it is a situation that won’t change. Their time will come. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers was in such a situation when he waited behind Brett Favre for his chance to start.

But here’s the thing about hope. If you’re in scenario number two or four, it’s easy to think you’re headed for scenario one or three. It’s easy to think you’ve hoped in vain and that you’d be foolish to keep on hoping.

The Jewish people were in that situation in the first century. They’d been hoping for the coming of their promised Messiah. They looked at the political arena, and they knew they needed Him to come and set them free from Roman rule. He’d come, they were sure, and put Israel back on the map as an independent nation. He’d rule in justice and righteousness.

And they waited. And waited. And waited.

At some point you’d have to begin to question. Did he come and we missed him? Was the promise nothing but a lie? Did God change his mind?

That’s where Christmas comes in. God fulfilled His promise . . . sort of. He fulfilled it and He is fulfilling it. The Messiah came and He is coming.

Right up to the point of the resurrected Christ’s ascension into heaven His followers were still wondering about the completion of their hope:

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

Not for you to know when your hope will be complete, Jesus answered them. Then He gave them another promise—one they would see fulfilled immediately which would give them assurance while they waited for that for which they hoped. He promised them the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit came.

Consequently Paul could write to the church in Rome

and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom. 5:5)

There are so many passages in the Bible about hope. Together they paint an exciting picture—one of assurance yet longing, of joy and love about to be experienced in their fullest some day soon.

This kind of hope—God’s gift to us through the process of tribulation which brings about perseverance and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope—does not disappoint.

We’re not hoping we go to heaven. We have God’s assurance. We are reconciled with God, we do have everlasting life, we have been saved. But salvation is just not something we have taken possession of yet—not completely.

We hope for what we know we have, reserved in heaven for us. Though we do not see it now, we hope for that which the Holy Spirit confirms is ours.

And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Rom. 8:23-25)

Advent season is one of those memorials that help us in the waiting. We remember Christ’s birth and we hope for that day when He will come again in power and glory. It’s a stepping stone that reminds us our hope does not disappoint.

Published in: on December 1, 2014 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,

When Christ Shall Come


sunburst-in-cloudy-sky-1395122-mI realized when I was writing posts about inclusivism some weeks ago that the position of the Christian today is not so different from that of the Old Testament saints. They waited for the coming of Messiah and we wait for the return of Messiah.

They had God’s promises, given to His prophets, assuring them that their Redeemer King and that their Suffering Servant would come. We have God’s sure written word telling us of the arrival of our Suffering Servant Savior and the promise of His return as King eternal.

So we wait today, much as Daniel and Micah and Joel did.

The cool thing is, as the people of Israel looked back to how God rescued them from Egypt, we now look back to how Christ rescued us from sin and death. They looked forward to Messiah coming to establish His kingdom, and we look forward to His coming again in power and glory to reign supreme.

One of the best loved hymns, certainly of the twentieth century, “How Great Thou Art,” captures the jubilation of Christ’s return in the fourth stanza.

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home—what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art!

I wonder if Christ’s return will be similar to the really big earthquakes which you hear at the same time you feel them. Maybe those shouts of acclimation will rend the heavens as we see Christ with His entourage of angels.

As an aside, this particular hymn, was written by Stuart K. Hine, an English missionary to Ukraine. From time to time something would occur which inspired him to write another stanza. Here’s the story behind the third stanza:

It was typical of the Hines to inquire as to the existence of any Christians in the villages they visited. In one case, they found out that the only Christians that their host knew about were a man named Dmitri and his wife Lyudmila. Dmitri’s wife knew how to read — evidently a fairly rare thing at that time and in that place. She taught herself how to read because a Russian soldier had left a Bible behind several years earlier, and she started slowly learning by reading that Bible. When the Hines arrived in the village and approached Dmitri’s house, they heard a strange and wonderful sound: Dmitri’s wife was reading from the gospel of John about the crucifixion of Christ to a houseful of guests, and those visitors were in the very act of repenting. In Ukraine (as I know first hand!), this act of repenting is done very much out loud. So the Hines heard people calling out to God, saying how unbelievable it was that Christ would die for their own sins, and praising Him for His love and mercy. They just couldn’t barge in and disrupt this obvious work of the Holy Spirit, so they stayed outside and listened. Stuart wrote down the phrases he heard the Repenters use, and (even though this was all in Russian), it became the third verse that we know today: “And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.” (“How Great Thou Art”)

But back to Christ’s return, of course we don’t know the day or hour, but we do know a few things about it. For one, He’ll come to rule. That’s the great and ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and the New Testament promise.

But there’s more:

Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him
And His recompense before Him. (Isaiah 40:10)

He’s coming to give His reward. Hard to imagine what that will be like. Jesus used the analogy of a banquet. David also talked about our Shepherd preparing a table for us. The idea here is lavish abundance, provision beyond our means. This is fare fit for the King of Kings, yet He seats us at His table.

Without a doubt, Christ’s return is going to be the pivotal moment in all of history. Again from Isaiah 40:

Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

The event will be worldwide, it will be dramatic, even cataclysmic, but mostly it will reveal God’s glory. This is the Shekinah glory which Moses experienced in a secondary way at the giving of the Ten Commandments and which the people of Israel experienced as a pillar of fire at night. This is the glory Paul likely saw and wrote of in 2 Corinthians that outshines what those in the Old Testament experienced:

But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. (3:7-11, emphasis added)

OK, here’s the real shock, at least to me. I don’t know what this will look like:

When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Col. 3:4)

It just dawned on me that this may be why God wants to involve us in His work. I’ve wondered why He bothers giving us fallible, weak humans the important task of preaching His word and proclaiming His truth and even of loving our neighbor when obviously God could miraculously care for each one in a far better way than we can. But repeatedly He has given us work to do. Maybe that’s because, in His love for us, He wants to shower us in glory. What a concept! What a God!

Maranatha, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!

Gone Fishing


Peter015You’d think once Peter and the other disciples really grasped the fact that Jesus was alive, they’d be ecstatic. Plans back on. Messiah about to plant His kingdom. Disciples next in the chain of command.

Except, apparently the crucifixion had done a number on their thinking. Maybe the fact that Jesus had not stood up against the Romans but actually, in His dying hours, called on God to forgive them—maybe that did a number on their old plans. This rule of Messiah, if it was even going to be a rule, would be different from what they expected.

And if truth be told, Jesus was different from what they expected. I guess death and resurrection can do that to a person. But apparently at some point, Peter said he’d had enough. He’d done the evangelist/healer thing and it hadn’t worked out. Not the way he wanted. So it was time to get back to what he knew best–fishing.

Since Peter apparently had some natural leadership ability tucked inside him, the other disciples did a “yeah, me too,” and off they all headed for the boats. Except the great return to fishing didn’t go so well, at least at first.

The disciples spent all night fishing and caught nothing. I can imagine what Peter was thinking:

Wouldn’t you know it? First the Great Teacher I recognized as the Messiah, the Son of God, gets arrested, but then I deny I even know Him. Not once, but three times! Which maybe kept me from dying that night, but instead I had to stand helplessly by and watch the Romans crucify my Lord.

For three days I couldn’t think of anything except how I wish I could take back those awful words that separated me from Him, that I didn’t know how I could go on because my purpose in life no longer existed. And then the women came back from the tombs with a crazy story about the rock rolled to the side, men in white, grave clothes in place, and no body. Jesus, they said, is risen.

John and I decided to check it out and the women were telling the truth, but none of it made sense until that day Jesus stood in front of us. He didn’t knock or walk into the room. He was just suddenly there. I couldn’t believe my own eyes, but it was Him. He had the nail-print scars from His crucifixion, and . . . He knew Scripture. Like old, He started teaching what the Law and the Prophets actually said about Him. Not what people thought they said, but what they really said.

For a few days, I thought things would be like they had been before–except, I could hardly look Him in the face. I’d let Him down. After I’d claimed I’d follow to death, I swore I didn’t know Him–the very thing Jesus told me ahead of time I’d do. Later He’d told me to stay awake and pray. Three times. Each time, I fell asleep.

But now Jesus was back. Except, not like before. He pretty much came and went in a blink of an eye, when and wherever He chose. No following Him now. I couldn’t hang around doing nothing, so fishing seemed like a good idea. After all, I’m a good fisherman. Or used to be. All night we stayed out and fished. In the end, we caught nothing. Figures.

How gracious and kind of Jesus to come to Peter when he had to be at his lowest point. By His omniscience He directed the men where to find a catch–or perhaps it was by His omnipotence that He supplied the fish for them to catch. At any rate, He’d done that once before, and John immediately recognized Him. As they brought in the fish, Jesus sat before a fire cooking them all breakfast. They sat with Him and ate, then Jesus singled Peter out for some one-on-one time.

He asked Peter three times, do you love Me: Do you love Me more than these, do you love Me with self-sacrificing love, do you love me with brotherly affection? The declension grieved Peter, but he had at least learned one lesson–no more was he going to inflate his devotion to Jesus. He faced the truth that of himself all he could claim was a fond affection for this man He knew to be the Son of God.

Yet Jesus persisted in telling Him to shepherd His sheep and feed His lambs. He brought it home and said as He had three years earlier, Follow Me (see Matthew 4:18-20). This time, though, Peter knew what Jesus was asking and what it would cost him.

It all may have seemed like an impossible task. The one thing Peter didn’t yet know was that God would fill him with His Holy Spirit, and in His power he’d be able to do what heretofore he’d been incapable of doing. He was just beginning to learn about this gracious Christ he served.

Published in: on April 1, 2013 at 6:28 pm  Comments Off on Gone Fishing  
Tags: , , ,

Signs And Wonders


God is powerful and does amazing things, never more clearly demonstrated than when He sent Jesus, God incarnate, to live on Earth with those He created. God’s greatest feat, yet this is the one that a great many people deny. Here is the line of demarcation that divides humanity.

The thing is, Jesus came with proof.

Recently as I read the book of John, I noted how many times that gospel referred to the signs Jesus did. And yet, you know what the Pharisees asked for as proof He was the Messiah? Yep, signs.

As I look at it, Satan seems to be most concerned with calling into question Jesus’s identity. I’ve studied and analyzed the record we have of those three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, comparing them to the classifications of sin mentioned in 1 John (“the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life,” – 2:16), and to the specific doubts Satan stirred in Eve (“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise” – Gen. 3:6, emphasis mine).

But more recently I began to see these temptations as a direct challenge by Satan demanding that Jesus prove His deity–(“If you are the Son of God…,” “If you are the Son of God …,” and then turning it on its head, “If you worship me…”) This “prove it” demand was the same one the Pharisees hounded Him for, all the way to the end. Even as He hung on the cross, they were saying, If you’re the Christ, get yourself down from there.

The real issue with Jesus throughout history is whether He is who He said He is.

Toward the end of his gospel, John gave a clear statement of his purpose for writing–an explanation for his preoccupation with signs:

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)

John also recorded Jesus’s own statement about the witnesses He had. In the Jewish context no fact was established without two or three witnesses. Jesus came in with three several times.

The point is this. The signs and wonders in Jesus’s day had a specific purpose. They established His identity.

They also served a definite purpose in the early Church–they established the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. First in the disciples, then in the other Jewish converts, and later in the Gentile believers.

So what about signs and wonders today?

I have no doubt God can do signs and wonders today. He can multiply bread, move mountains, heal the blind, raise the dead. He is still God, after all.

But what’s the point?

Part of me thinks, Well, need, for one thing. There are people who need food and who can’t see and who have died. But just like the fact that Jesus didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom, He didn’t come to set up a utopia either. All the people Jesus healed eventually died of some other cause. They didn’t stay cured. Not physically, anyway.

The signs and wonders, though, point to the real reason Jesus came. He conquered death. He defeated sin. He triumphed over Satan. His signs and wonders were the precursor to the ultimate victory He enjoyed, breaking the bonds of sin and establishing the Way to reconciliation with the Father.

Signs and wonders are not the gift. A magician named Simon discovered that. He of all people, who presumably had trafficked in the dark arts, was amazed at the power of the Holy Spirit, released when the apostles laid hands on people. Simon wanted that power.

But it wasn’t for sale. The power was nothing more than the evidence of that which Simon could have–the indwelling Holy Spirit who would seal him for salvation.

Signs and wonders? They aren’t the big thing. They are merely the evidence of He who is Bigger, Grander, Mightier than we can imagine, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He’s given us all the signs we could ever want to believe that He is who He says He is.

Published in: on June 22, 2012 at 6:45 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , ,