Life Is Short – Love Well

You may be thinking that I should say “Life Is Short – Live Well“, but my friends, the key to living well is to love well. How many of us truly “love our neighbor as ourselves“? How many of us truly love our spouse and other family as ourselves? Do we REALLY place their needs and interests ahead of our own desires?

As someone who hasn’t always loved those dearest to me as myself, that is one of my deepest regrets in life. Unfortunately, I more often put my desires ahead of my family’s needs far too many times but I can’t live that way any longer. There is way too much at stake, and just because I lived that way for many years doesn’t mean that I am doomed to live that way for the rest of my life. I have the opportunity to love well, so I don’t want to squander that opportunity.

I am no stranger to death and dying. When I was five or six years old, the teenage son of my dad’s work partner was badly injured (burned) in an on-the-job accidents. The father was badly burned and had a very long recovery, but the son died of his injuries a few days later. My grandfather McFarland died on my eleventh birthday. We lost a dear family-friend in 1973 as they were prepping him for a surgery that would have given him a new lease on life and returned him to the tennis court. Since then, I lost a brother to cancer in 2011, my dad in 2013, and my mom this year.

I was a bagpiper for several years, and during that time, I played services for everyone from a 15-month-old baby, all the way up to people who were in their 80’s. Regardless of who I helped bury, I was affected by each one, not as a disconnected-observer, but as someone who identified with their grief. Death leaves an indelible-mark on our hearts, one that will never go away.

Yes, life IS short, even if a person lived along full life, because God didn’t design death into His original blueprint for mankind. We were meant to live, not die, but the Fall brought death into the human-experience.

Make no mistake about it, “loving-well” is NOT the “easy-path“. It is tough, it is costly, but it is supremely worth it in the end. Our supreme example, Jesus Christ knew from eternity-past what it would cost Him to show God’s love in this way. He knew, before He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, that a “cross-shaped-shadow” would follow Him from the moment He was conceived until He died on the Cross. Yet, “for the joy that was set before Him“(Hebrews 12:2), He did it all, for me, and for you. What was the “joy that was set before Him“? That “He would bring many sons (and daughters) to glory”(Hebrews 2:10). He could bear suffering as our sin-bearer more than He could bear eternity without His chosen-ones – us. How would YOU like to know your destiny before you were even born. Jesus did, and He carried out God’s plan anyway.

How did Jesus command us to love each other? 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13:34-35). “As I have loved you”… How did Jesus love His disciples (and us)? He gave His life for us. 12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13) “Lay down our life for our friends”? Yes, that is what true love means, putting their needs ahead of our own, and even being willing to lay down our lives for them.

How can you “love well“? Start by holding your money and possessions loosely. He who dies with the most toys does NOT win, he just dies, and leaves those toys to others. Live modestly and within your means. You do NOT have to go into debt for the latest goo-gaw or play-pretty, and trying to “keep up with the Jones” will only result in more headaches and grief. Use your “spare” money to help someone less fortunate than you, and do so gladly. The Jones don’t care, but God does. Do what you do out of love, not because you “have-to“.

Perhaps the hardest part of “loving-well” is “being-there“, and I mean really “BEING-THERE” for those you love. Being “present“, “in the moment“, is very difficult when what they need most is a “listening-ear“, someone who will truly LISTEN to them with understanding AND without judgement. What we think or what we believe is NOT their “reality“, so unless you are asked for your opinion, don’t offer it. Keeping our mouths shut is one of the hardest things in the world, but we have been given TWO ears to listen, but only one mouth, and it MUST be connected to our brain. Don’t speak before you think – a LOT about what you are going to say.

That is what it means to “love-well“.

In Christ,
Steve

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What Is Our Only Hope? – Why Jesus’ Humanity Matters…

What is our only hope?

We are faced with a crisis of hope in America today. Fewer people have true hope than at any time in the past. Two or three people have committed suicide since this service began, and before it ends, several more will have committed suicide. Someone commits suicide every fifteen minutes, twenty-fours a day, seven days a week, and one out of five is a Veteran. Suicide is the ultimate expression of hopelessness. Why are so many people living without hope?

We see hopelessness in divorce courts. Over fifty percent of the people who say “I do” will say “I don’t” sometime in the future. Those marriages may last for many years before they dissolve or just a few days as my most recent one did. Why do people say “I do” and then say “I don’t”? Why was there so much hope when they said “I do” and yet they are hopelessly broken when they say “I don’t“. “Til death do us part” has become “Til death or disconvenience do us part“. Why this epidemic of hopelessness? What has caused all this hopelessness?

Could it be that throwing God out of America has real consequences?

Could it be that when people say “I don’t want anything to do with God“, He gives them their wish and turns them over to the worst to torture themselves for all eternity.

The Bible will provide the answers people need, but only if they are willing to get acquainted with its Author. Are you living without hope? If so, I hope that you will stay tuned as we look at “What is our only hope? Why Jesus’ humanity matters“.

We are broken people, living in a broken world, and if we are truly honest with ourselves, there is far more brokenness in us than we would like to admit, which is why we act like we are “okay” even when we aren’t. We have learned to put on a “happy-face” even when we are crying inside because we don’t want those around us to know how broken we are. Only God can heal our brokenness and make us whole again, but we have to trust Him to do what we can’t do for ourselves. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, became a man so that He could bring us back into a right-relationship with God and with one another. He IS our ONLY hope.

We often ask “Where was God when…?“, and we can list a thousand-and-one events when God was seemingly-absent, but was He? If we don’t really know who Jesus is, we would be tempted to think of God merely as a detached observer, but we couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Four major traumatic events are etched deeply into my memory, and beg the question Where was God when…?

Where was God when the Space Shuttle Challenger became a ball of fire?

Where was God when the Murrah Federal Building was bombed?

Where was God when the Twin Towers fell?

Where was God during the Pulse Nightclub massacre?

While I was somewhat “detached” from those events, every one of them left grieving family and friends behind, and I was deeply-shocked by them. The Pulse Nightclub massacre struck way too close to home, since I live fairly close to Orlando. Where was God when those events took place?

Getting more personal…

Where was God when my wife committed suicide?

Where was God when my brother Darrell died of cancer?

Where was God when my mom died?

Whether it is a major-event or a personal-tragedy, our deepest desire is to know that God cares, that He understands our pain and suffering. While we might think that God was “detached” from those events, as we will see from John 11, God was very-much present during and after those events. This should give us hope, both for the present, AND for the future.

The Death and Resurrection of Lazarus
11 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” 16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:1-44)

In our era of instant-communications, we barely remember when all news from friends and loved-ones came by “snail-mail“, so it is hard for us to fathom that it could have taken several days for Jesus and His disciples to have found out about Lazarus’ sickness, but it did. At the end of John 10, Jesus had escaped Jerusalem with a price on His head and headed East to beyond the Jordan River where it was a bit “safer“. Jesus and His disciples were there when they heard the news that Lazarus was sick. “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.

Jesus was deeply-relational. Mary, Martha and Lazarus weren’t merely “friends“; they were virtually “family“. Jesus’ love for them transcended “friendship“; it was a deep, intimate love, which was reserved for those who were closest to Him, such as John.

I have no biological siblings, but I have a few dear friends who have become “family” to me. We care about each other on a far-deeper level than mere “friendship“. Maybe you have some of those too.

Mary and Martha had sent for Jesus, but He didn’t respond immediately. He stayed where He was for two more days. Oh, He could have spoken the word and Lazarus would have been healed immediately, but He didn’t. He waited until after the funeral. Jesus tells us why He waited in verse 4, But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

Lazarus being in the tomb for four days was proof-positive that he was actually DEAD. He also wasn’t in a coma or merely sleeping. He was stone-cold DEAD. Bethany was close enough to Jerusalem for her to have friends there, and many of them had come to console Mary and Martha, and while funerals happened very quickly, public-mourning continued for quite a while.

Martha was reeling from the death of her brother, but Jesus could have prevented his death. She expresses a curios mix of scolding and confidence. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

Jesus begins to show her that, while He was too late to prevent Lazarus’ death, it WASN’T too late for Him to do something about it. Jesus wanted her, and us, to realize that God doesn’t operate on our time-schedule. 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Martha, unlike the Sadducees who didn’t believe in a resurrection, DID believe that Lazarus would be raised when the final-curtain was dropped on this phase of our human existence. However, she still didn’t have any confidence that Lazarus would rejoin their family. It seemed that death had still gotten the last word…

This is where Jesus begins turning the tide. 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; Standing before her was the very Creator, the ultimate Author of life. He had breathed life into a pile of dust and given Adam life. He was also the ultimate Authority on resurrection, because if He could breathe life into mankind, He could also breathe new life into a man. He was also making an explicit-claim to Deity because only God could raise the dead.

His next claim either confirms His place in the looney-bin or completely-separates Him from the rest of humanity. “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” He is either who He says He is, the Incarnate Son of God, or the biggest fraud that ever walked the earth, because He is claiming that those who truly believe in Him WILL have eternal life.

Do you believe this?” This is the reality-check. Does Martha believe in Him? Her answer shows that she was willing to risk believing His claims and lay skepticism aside. She knew that, standing before her, was the ONLY person who could alter the course of history, who could make their family whole again. 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” She affirms that she believes that He is the long-awaited Messiah.

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him. Mary didn’t waste any time going back with Martha to where Jesus was.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

Two sisters, same exact statement to Jesus, but He gave two very-different responses. Why? Both sisters expressed confidence that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus from dying if He had been there. How could He confront Martha one moment and bawl like a baby with Mary the next? He was strong one moment and vulnerable the next. He was either a deluded, wacko nut-case, or He was who He said He was, the Incarnate Son of God. He revealed both His true Deity and His true Humanity by His responses to Martha and Mary. He is both fully God and fully human, the perfect God-Man. His favorite title for Himself was “Son of Man“.

When we look at Martha, she is almost angry at Jesus because He allowed Lazarus to die. Had He gotten there sooner, He could have healed Lazarus, rather than allowing him to die. Mary approached Jesus with pleading-humility, falling at His feet. Why did Jesus answer Martha rather harshly, while He entered Mary’s grief and broke out in tears?
Jesus demonstrated both “sides” of His personhood, that He is fully-God, and at the same time, fully-human. His deity allows Him to claim, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” , while His humanity allows Him to enter into our pain and grief.

33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” We may be wondering why Jesus didn’t know where Lazarus was buried, but that may have been in deference to His friends.

35 Jesus wept. This is the shortest verse in the Bible, and it should cause us to pause and rethink our doctrine of Christ. He was God, enshrouded in human-flesh.

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Jesus hurt with Mary, Martha and their friends as they came to Lazarus’ tomb, which was simply a cave with a stone rolled in front of the entrance. It was, in most cases, reusable, because in that desert climate, bodies dried out very quickly, leaving nothing but bones, allowing other family members to be buried in it also. Joseph was buried in Egypt, but he bound his family with an oath that they would take his bones with them when God liberated them from Egyptian domination. (Genesis 50:24-26). He didn’t want to be interred permanently in Egypt.

39 Jesus said “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Only dead bodies decay, proof that Lazarus was really DEAD. The stench of death was going to be replaced with the joy of resurrection.

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus, speaking as God Incarnate, was going to reveal the glory of God in a dramatic way.

Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” Jesus’ prayer may sound strange to us a first-glance, but it reveals something very profound about who He is, His intimate connection with His Father. He wasn’t just a man with an elevated “God-consciousness“; He was the Incarnate Son of God. He was God in human-flesh. He had a perfect “hotline” with His Father far beyond our wildest imaginations.

When Jesus walked up to the tomb, He didn’t have a look of glee on His face. No, He had tears in His eyes, and righteous-indignation in His heart, because Sin, the Fall, and the Curse had robbed Him of one of His dearest friends. As Creator-God, He never intended for Lazarus’ story, or anyone else’s story to end this way, in death. We are created to live, not to die.

Was He already starting to feel the icy-jaws of death close around Him? He knew that in order to raise Lazarus from the dead, He would have to die for the sins of His people. In order to interrupt Lazarus’ funeral, He would have to be buried too, and only by His own glorious resurrection would He be able to secure Lazarus’ resurrection. He was only a few days away from the cross…

We can almost hear the anger in His voice and see His rage as He bellowed-out “Lazarus, come forth.” Death was not supposed to claim the lives of those we love, but it had claimed the life of one of His dearest friends, Lazarus. They were virtually family. He was staring in the face of the vilest result of our fall into sin, death. Death wasn’t part of God’s original plan. Death came as the ultimate curse of the Fall. It wasn’t “natural“, it wasn’t “normal“, even though we have come to think of Death as being both “natural” and “normal“.

How many people have you known who have slipped the bonds of this life and entered into the next life without dying first? If you are like me, you have attended far too many funerals as you have lost far too many friends and loved-ones to death. I lost my “twin” brother in 2011. That was a tough memorial service, but I couldn’t have NOT been there. My dad died in 2013. My friend Liz lost her mother in 2015 and her father this year as well as her best friend. I lost my mother in April.

He, who was the Creator of Heaven and Earth, invaded the Dragon’s lair, bound the Dragon, grabbed the keys and released one of its captives. He, who had breathed life into the first man, breathed new life in Lazarus. The Dragon would not be finally slain until Jesus strode from His own tomb after His crucifixion.

Lazarus didn’t come out of his grave as a zombie; rather he came out of his grave struggling with his grave-clothes. Lazarus was, after he was relieved of his grave-clothes, buck-naked. When someone died, those who were close to them washed their body, and if spices were available, packed spices around the body as they wrapped it almost “mummy-style“. Since clothing was handmade and costly, there was no reason to bury them in their clothes.

We can imagine the jubilation of his friends and family when Lazarus walked out of the grave – ALIVE. That would have been an event to celebrate in style. Their family was whole again!

45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. (John 11:1-45)

Why does Jesus’ humanity matter? Only by becoming human, one of us, was He able to live the life we cannot live, die the death that we deserve in our place, and be resurrected that we may be resurrected. God had to become a man, so that man could be brought back into fellowship with God.

A prominent theologian, who is the son of a prominent theologian, recently had to resign all of his positions in disgrace because he was caught driving under the influence of alcohol, AND, he had a minor child with him. The arresting-officer wasn’t swayed by who he is and what he has done prior to that time, because in the eyes of the law, he had violated the law. The judge might be lenient on him, but he won’t get off Scott-free. Thus it is when we stand before God. Regardless of how “good” we may have been, we were born sinners, and regardless of how “minor” our sins may have been, we are guilty before God, and there is NOT any “plea-bargaining“. There is ONLY on plea that holds up in God’s court and prevails, and that is the blood and righteousness of Christ on our behalf. Had God not become human in the person of Jesus Christ, there would NOT be any acceptable plea. We would ALL be guilty before God.

That was the way it was with the Apostle Paul. Paul, then known as Saul, was a Pharisee who was zealous for the Law of God, yet he rejected the very Messiah he had longed for all his life. He also rejected and persecuted the very faith that had grown up around Christ and His teachings. When the risen Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus, He didn’t confront him about the “good” that he had done, but about the EVIL he was doing. Paul was guilty before God, and he needed a new heart and a new life-direction. Acts 9:1-7 recounts his conversion.

His humanity also matters because He experienced everything that we experience, pain, sorrow, loss and grief, so that when we experience those things, He can share in them with us. When I lost my mom, as painful as it was, my supreme-comfort was that she is in the presence of God, and that Jesus shares in my pain, sorrow, loss and grief. I don’t travel this road alone. Jesus is with me every step of the way.

The Apostle Paul gives us even deeper reason to believe in Jesus’ true humanity:
12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

If Jesus had not truly become a man, He could not have died on the Cross, and He couldn’t have been raised from the dead. All of these events are absolutely-vital to our salvation. Paul ends with these words; “we are of all men most to be pitied.”

The Heidelberg Catechism opens with these beautiful words:
Q. 1 What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul,
in life and in death — to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.

He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

For those who are in Christ, we are kept by the Lord and Creator of the cosmos. Jesus didn’t abandon His earthly-body when He ascended back into Heaven. He is living at the right hand of God the Father as the eternal God-Man, as fully-human as we are.

Is Jesus your Savior and Lord? I pray that He is, but if He isn’t your Savior and Lord, tomorrow is not guaranteed, nor are you even guaranteed your next breathe. We all have an appointment with death, but we don’t know when that will be. As I was working on this message, one of my elderly neighbors took her last breathe. I had seen her outside that morning. Only God knows her eternal-destiny. The only way for you to be certain that, when you die, that you will meet your Creator in peace, is by humbly acknowledging your need for a Savior and committing your life to Christ. He died that you might live, and He lives that you might live with Him forever. May this be your day of salvation. Jesus is waiting for you…

In Christ,
Steve

Studies in John’s Epistles – 1 John 5

John continues with his theme of “Love God and love one-another” which began earlier in this Epistle. He is no doubt recalling what Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

This is where “the rubber meets the road“…

Overcoming the World
5 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

This Is Written That You May Know
13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5)

Keep His Commands
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5)

As we begin the final chapter of John’s letter, John continues to tell us that we must love God and love each other. He’s been doing this for dozens of verses now; for some who read this, John is going to throw you another curve!

The curve is in verse 2: This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. I’ve never heard anyone argue with the loving God part; that seems easy, almost abstract, but carrying out His commands is often a sticking point. As we have stated many times going through this letter, God’s commands can be summed up very easily. We are to love God, and love one another.

John just gave us a way for us to do our own “spiritual-checkup“. You have probably heard the old axiom, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating“. It may look good and even smell good, but whether it actually IS good is if it TASTES good. It is easy for us to SAY that we love our brothers and sisters, even that we love our neighbor, but talk is cheap if we don’t actually demonstrate love for our brothers and sisters, and love for our neighbor. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Oh, hold on, did I forget one? Yes, thank you for reminding me, it is love God, love one another and make disciples. That’s the one many people get stuck on… There are all kinds of criticisms for this, as though I (or someone else) made it up or something, but that is simply not the case! What was Jesus’ overarching purpose?

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

What was Jesus’ final command?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

No, I didn’t make this up! Since we have talked about this many times, rather than to explain it again, let’s just try a new approach. First, how can we ever say that we love God, but we won’t follow His command to share that love with others? How can we say we love others, and not share the love of God with them? Come on now, that wouldn’t even make sense, would it? God first loved us, so He sent His Son to die for our sins, so if we don’t share God’s love with others who are lost, are we not sharing because God really didn’t love them as much as He loved us?

OK, fine. We share with the lost and they enter into relationship with Jesus Christ; now they are our brother or sister in the Lord. So what then? Will we just stand by and watch them struggle with their new faith, or will we help them along their way? Which choice demonstrates love in action?

Making disciples” isn’t just evangelism, although it includes evangelism. “Making disciples” involves “discipling” or training them. “Training them” for what? “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you“, which includes training them to become “disciple-makers” themselves. “The success of a church must never be measured by its “seating-capacity”, but by its “SENDING-capacity“. We aren’t called to make “pew-sitters“; we are called to make more “disciple-makers“.

Jesus didn’t train His disciples for over three years to be “Bible scholars” or “academics“. He trained them to carry-on the work which He had started. That must always be our goal.

John goes on to mention that obeying His commands isn’t burdensome because in Him, we have overcome the world. Ever wonder what that has to do with anything? What is it that would hold us back from making disciples? Go ahead and make a short mental list of what might hold you back. Got it? OK, good. Does it have things like being afraid they’ll say no? How about not wanting others to think you’re weird? Maybe you’re afraid that you won’t know all the answers. Yes, there are other possibilities, but in my experience, these are the kinds of things people usually say. In Him, we’ve overcome the world, and these are thoughts of the world, not His thoughts. Was Jesus ever afraid of rejection or embarrassment or afraid of anything this world could do to Him? No. Why would we be concerned about such things? We have overcome the world! We have overcome the world because of our faith! Sometimes, like you, I need to remind myself about that!

To carry out God’s commands is not burdensome, because it is a joy! I can tell you from my own experience that there is no greater joy in this life than to see a person I have mentored grow in their faith, and step up to serve God because of their love for Him. Yes, it is by far the greatest joy there is!

Haves and Have Not’s
This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:6-12

What an interesting text! Do you remember John’s warning about Antichrists in chapters 1 and 4? John was warning the people of his time against the false teachings of the Gnostics, who denied that Jesus came in the flesh, and that He was “from the Father.” John is taking aim at them again in this text when he speaks of the testimony of three witnesses. In our time, while this is still a very important point, we tend to get into arguments about the water and blood part, with various interpretations regarding John’s meaning. For our purposes, I’ll give you my idea on this point, but I’ll spare you the lengthy dissertation on it, since I’d prefer to focus on application rather than systematic theology, and you probably would as well.

One of the main points of contention between Christian teaching and that of the Gnostics was whether or not Jesus came in the flesh; in a human body. The Gnostic approach was that He came more in a spirit form and not in physical form, since everybody knows that the physical body is evil… or so they said. It is always interesting to me to hear Christians who maintain this, since the notion of the human body being evil or dirty is a Greek impulse, not a Biblical teaching… but alas, I digress! That the Spirit testifies that Jesus is from the Father is obviously a reference to the Holy Spirit who testifies about Jesus. The water, in my view, is a reference to His baptism. To be baptized is a physical activity, in which an actual body is needed; a spirit would be rather impossible to immerse in water. The blood, as I see it, is a reference to what Jesus did on the cross, since it would be a difficult thing to nail a spirit to a cross and have it bleed.

The water as a giver of testimony seems to me to refer to the baptism of a new follower of Jesus, who is immersed as a testimony of dying and raising again a new creation. The blood is declared when we partake of Communion, where we declare for all time the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When you put these three things together, you have an ongoing testimony about Jesus from the Holy Spirit, from millions of baptisms, and from our observance of Communion that Jesus came in the flesh from the Father. You might also note that the Old Testament Law requires the testimony of two or three witnesses, and John is providing three. If your reading of this is different from mine, that’s fine, for the larger point for us is what follows…

Let’s pick up John’s discussion here in verse 9:

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (9-11)

His point that we will readily believe a human testimony, but not God’s is a warning to all of us. There are all sorts of human teachings about Jesus, many of which are designed to convince us that He never even existed, and the difference between life and death is whether or not we will accept God’s testimony, given not only by his Word, but by the Spirit. Just think about how crucial this is!

Then comes the most important, bottom-line statement of all in verse 12:

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Please take a moment for this to sink in… and recall our discussion about keeping His commands.

Yes, this is what I think we need to consider. Some of John’s writings are a little cryptic; he has a way of meandering around in a circle, and his meaning is vague… until he drops the bomb at the end, and this is one of them. It’s one thing for us to say that life is in Christ, but the other side of the proverbial coin is that outside of Christ there is only doom!

Jesus has commanded that we make disciples, and that begins with leading the lost to Him. There is a great deal at stake with this process, and John has made that abundantly clear in verse 12, wouldn’t you agree? Maybe there was a time when you could share the peril and doom with a person who didn’t know Him, but if there was such a time, it is long gone. I am aware that many Christians have been impressed with this, and out of their misguided love, they have run out and shared the warning… and driven off those whom they had hoped to save. The world around us, our culture, and our society has picked up on this, and rather than be flattered that someone cared, they became enraged at the affront of it all, causing no end of trouble.

When Jesus Christ is involved, there is always hope! In this case, there is a simple, if not always easy, answer: Share His love in grace. In loving relationship, many will respond to His love. We must be sensitive to the fact that so many have a negative image of Christianity, whether it is fair or not. Approaching people in love means that we bother to actually care about them, it takes time, and it is a kind of investment in people, without judgments, without threats, without doom. Even the most hardened hearts can be mended by the love of God… and I think it is especially important to bear in mind that it is God’s love that we must display in sharing with others.

His Will
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:13-15

These three simple verses are encouraging ones, for they assure us of two wonderful things. First, we have eternal life. Second, anything we ask for in prayer will be done, if we ask in God’s will. This is our focus here: God’s will.

The whole idea of tacking “in Jesus’ name, Amen” has always struck me as trying to work the system just a little bit. Of course, we do that because Jesus is recorded three times in John’s gospel telling His disciples that anything they ask for in His name will be given them. Never mind that all three times were firmly within the context of doing God’s will, all we need to do is tack on the magic words… Only it doesn’t work like that!

Yeah, I hate to be the one who has to tell you that God thought of that one already.

Our prayers that are outside of God’s will aren’t guaranteed to be answered, because God is all about HIS purposes, and we are HIS servants, not the other way around. So, the question really is what is within God’s will? It isn’t always in God’s will that nice things happen, that the sick are always healed and that the bad guy loses the game. In fact, it can be quite difficult to discern His will in some situations, especially when we are emotionally invested. There are some things that are always within the scope of God’s eternal purpose, can you guess what they are?

Yep, that’s right, you got it! Things that pertain to saving the lost and making disciples are always within His will. Not things that just make it easier for us, or that make us look like heroes, but things that get those “Kingdom things” done. In this area, prayer is so powerful it can be scary… in a good way.

We must pray big prayers, with boldness, and with the sure expectancy that God will do great things with them, but we need to ensure that our prayers are to advance God’s priorities, according to God’s ways of doing things.

OK, here we go… big bold “God’s will” prayers and no more little “me” ones. Just watch and see what amazing things He can do!

Thrill-packed Ending
If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. 1 John 5:16-17

As we move along through this letter, we think we have John all figured out, and then we come to these two verses, so near to the end of the letter. At first, they don’t seem to belong, what is John talking about? Where did this come from?

So let’s see if we can follow him… if a brother sins, we are to pray for him, and God will give him life. OK, I think I get it; God will forgive the sin, and straighten the guy out. Hold on, that is if the sin isn’t a sin that leads to death; but I thought death was the price of all sin! John’s making it sound like any sin can be forgiven, except one; and this one sin can be committed by our “brother or sister.” Obviously old John needs to brush up on his Calvinism!

All kidding aside, John could have at least mentioned what that sin is… leaving that little detail out makes this hard to follow, at least for me. I wonder why he would do that. Maybe he didn’t think he needed to mention it, maybe he thought he’d already covered that somewhere; could that part have been lost over time or something? Let’s think.

What was the letter about? Oh, yes, it was about false teachers, in fact it was about a certain kind of false teacher, Gnostic false teachers, who claimed that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh. Hold on, John came up with a special word to describe them: Antichrist! Aha! Now this is beginning to make sense, the Antichrist is not to be forgiven; you don’t need to pray for this. When your brother stumbles, pray for him, when you stumble ask God and He will forgive. Stay away from the Antichrist.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:18-20)

John is winding up the letter now, as he recounts some basic facts of Christian life. A follower of Jesus is not to continue in the old ways. He or she has been buried with Christ, and arisen again as a new creation, leaving the old behind. The “One who was born of God“, which is to say the Lord Jesus, keeps us safe from the evil one. This is a pretty important statement for us to keep in mind, especially when we are looking for somebody to blame for our mistakes. John points out that the whole world is under the control of the evil one, and you will no doubt recall that he has already warned us not to love the world, now you know why.

Now, John drops in a comforting and powerful thought: Jesus has given us understanding so that we may know who is true; it is Jesus who is true. If we have the understanding to know who is true, we can also discern who is not. Maybe this is why the arguments and understanding of this world can be so attractive to the world, and appear so idiotic to a follower of Jesus… and vice-versa. Hmmm, might want to ponder that for a bit. God is the one who is true, and the giver of eternal life.

Idolatry
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

Idolatry is rampant and insidious in our society, and even though John wrote this almost two-thousand years ago, it is as valid today as it was when he wrote it.

Do you have an “idol” in your home? Do you have a shrine to your favorite “deity“? Do you have tributes to your favorite “idol” in your closet, dresser or on your hat-rack? Maybe you are wondering what I am talking about, because you would NEVER worship another “deity” besides God, and yet idolatry wasn’t just a problem in the Old Testament or when John wrote this letter, it is a real problem today, even among Christians.

Virtually every city or town in America has at least one shrine, and many major cities have dozens of shrines and grand temples to their favorite “deities“. Some of those temples have even been built with tax-payer money. Sometimes one of those “deities” will threaten to move somewhere else unless the city builds them a new temple.

Very few homes in America are without at least one altar to the family’s favorite “deities“, and many homes have one of those altars in every room in the house. Usually the biggest altar is in the living room or family room so the whole family can worship together, and the bigger the altar the better.

People spend hundreds, and even thousands of dollars to worship in their favorite temple, and many buy season-tickets to those temples so they don’t miss out on anything. They will stand in line for hours, and some have even been known to camp out overnight so they can get the best seats. Some people take expensive vacations to go worship in their favorite temple and bring homage to their favorite “deity“.

They throw elaborate parties to worship at the altars of their favorite deities, and it isn’t unusual for there to be lots of liquor involved also. People go crazy over their “deities“.

God said, in Exodus 20:3-6;
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Another “god”…
Yes, maybe I have finally lost my mind, or maybe I haven’t. The reality is that the vast majority of Americans spend way more time and money on entertainment than they do in the worship of God. That, my friends, is idolatry.

We have “American Idol” and “Dancing With The Stars“…

The shrines…
In most homes, their shrine is their entertainment-center, and the altar, and most important part of the entertainment-center, is their television. Feeding that altar is usually a satellite dish or cable-TV provider, and we can’t forget that DVD player and the Digital Video Recorder. People are paying some serious money for those “special packages” which include subscriptions to all their favorite “deities“. They can worship all their favorite “deities” right in their own home, in the comfort of their own living room or family room. I have a friend who used to pay her Direct-TV bill even if she didn’t have enough money for her rent and utilities. She goes ballistic if she can’t watch TV. She also thinks that I am “deprived” because, even though I have a TV, it isn’t hooked up to anything. A recent Red-box movie rental ended up costing her over $100 after she paid the late-return fee and the overdraft fees on her bank account. NO movie is worth that much to see.

How many towns don’t have a movie theater? Sometimes there is even a movie theater in one of those “one-horse” towns, because movies are big business. New-release movies will rake in a hundred MILLION dollars in just a few short days. That is insane.

The temples…
If there is a major sports franchise in your city, you have at LEAST one temple to the city’s favorite “deity“. If there are several major sports franchises in your city, there will be temple for each, because, heaven-forbid, they share temple space with each other. A nice sports-temple costs a half a BILLION dollars and up.

The grand-daddy…
The grand-daddy of all of the entertainment venues in my neck of the woods is Disney World. That place rakes in money so fast it would make your head swim. It may be the “happiest place on earth“, but it is also the greediest. Tens of thousands of people flock there every day to empty out their wallet and be entertained.

The tribute…
Virtually everywhere I look, I see someone wearing some item of tribute to their favorite “deity“, a jacket, a shirt, a T-shirt or a hat. People love to advertise their favorite “deities” and pay tribute to them. Regardless of which “deity” is on display, the item cost way more than it is worth.

The real problem…
We have become “children of a lesser god“, the “god” of pleasure, the “god” of entertainment, and while we spend BILLIONS of dollars on entertainment, many churches have trouble coming up with enough money to cover their bare-minimum budgets. Our Senior Pastor had to take a ten-week, unpaid sabbatical about three years ago because the church didn’t have enough money to cover its expenses. Our Associate Pastor was also paid way less than what he should have been for the same reason.

We have a serious problem with our priorities. “Self” has taken the place of God, and pleasure has trumped responsibility.

When was the last time you took vacation to go to a church retreat? Are you more faithful at your favorite sports venue than you are to your church? Do you skip church to watch the Superbowl, or are Sunday-evening church functions cancelled because of the Superbowl? Some churches even have Superbowl parties…

We have turned entertainment “stars” and sports “heroes” into our IDOLS and pay them millions of dollars a year, for what, while our REAL heroes can’t even make a decent living and they do their work largely-unnoticed. Our value-system has been turned on its head.

Many of these “stars“, “heroes” and “idols” are also horrible role-models, and it seems like the worse they are as role-models, the more they get paid. There is something seriously-wrong with that picture.

John admonishes us; “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”

How about you?
Are you a “child of a  lesser-god“? Do you worship the idols of entertainment and pleasure?

If you do, God has a few words for you:

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Bible Study – The Great Commission and Christ’s Ascension

We have already seen John’s account of the Great Commission in John 20:21-23, but we are going to look at the Great Commission in more detail from all four Gospels and Acts. While some of the Gospels place the Great Commission immediately-before Christ ascended back into heaven, others placed it as part of other discourses. The important thing is that God chose to have it included in all of the Gospels as well as in Acts 1. If the Great Commission was that important to God that must mean that it should be important to us also. This will also wrap-up our studies in John’s Gospel.

Jesus only came to earth for a brief time, and when His mission on earth was completed, He ascended back into Heaven where He rules and reigns at the Father’s right hand. While He could have done more here on earth, He had done all He needed to do. We have been given the mission of spreading God’s kingdom, of continuing the work Jesus began.

The Great Commission
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. (Mark 16:15)

44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44-49)

21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (John 20:21)

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Two recurring-themes should jump-out at us:
1) The disciples were called to be “witnesses“. They had spent over three years with Jesus before His crucifixion, and they had walked, talked and eaten with Him after His resurrection. None of this was “hear-say“. They had seen and heard it with their own eyes and ears. They were also given the task of recording what Jesus said and taught for us.

2) They weren’t to keep it to themselves, they were to GO and tell others. The Great Commission is so important that God saw fit to have it included in all four Gospels and Acts. Extending His kingdom in this world is very important to God, and He has given us a way for that mission to be accomplished.

There are four mandates in the Great Commission:
1) Go to all of the nations: Note that there is no exclusion-clause in “all of the nations“, and in order to further-explain what He meant by “all the nations“, Jesus expanded on this command in Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus also knew that there would be “push-back” about the “all” because His disciples were “red-blooded” Jews, and there was. Peter never became “comfortable” with ministering to Gentiles. The four facets of “all the nations” are:

a) Jerusalem: Our “home-town“, where we live, work, play and shop.

b) Judea: The surrounding-area, perhaps our county.

c) Samaria: Go to those who are “different” than we are. Nudist resorts are a “Samaria” to the mainstream church, thus the majority of ministry in Nudist resorts is done be fellow-nudists.

d) To the ends of the earth: There is no place too “out-of-the-way” or “obscure“. Five missionaries were murdered in Ecuador in 1956 as they attempted to contact a tribe of indigenous people (known as the Aucas) deep in the Amazon basin. Some of their widows and families subsequently were able to make peaceful contact with them and eventually established a mission in their village. The Bible has been translated into their language, and some of them are now faithful “God-followers“. That is going “to the ends of the earth“.

2) Make disciples: While part of the task of disciple-making IS teaching, the initial-step must be helping people come to faith in Jesus Christ, what we commonly call that “evangelism“.

3) Baptize them: While baptism isn’t “necessary” for our salvation, it is a means whereby a person publicly-identifies with the faith-community. Baptism must always be preceded by a person’s credible profession of faith.

4) Teach them: A new believer can’t be left to merely “fend for themselves“; they need to be taught the Word of God. The ultimate goal of disciple-making isn’t to make a bunch of “spiritual-consumers“, but to grow them in their faith and start equipping them to also become disciple-makers. Far too many churches are busy “getting people saved” (filling the pews) without teaching them, and far too few churches are diligent about equipping saints for serving the Lord.

One Bible teacher I read recently wrote, “The “success” of a church shouldn’t be measured by its seating-capacity, but by its SENDING-CAPACITY.”

Jesus Christ is the head of the church and He is the commissioning and sending authority. He promised to be by our side as we do His work in the world, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” There is also no evidence in the Bible that this Commission was only given to a “chosen-few“. No, it was given to ALL Believers. That includes ME, and that includes YOU.

The Ascension
50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising God. (Luke 24:50-53)

Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, left His glory in Heaven to be Emmanuel, God with us, and came as a baby, not born in a palace, but in a nasty, smelly stable. He grew up, not in wealth, but in poverty, to walk among us, to experience first-hand the depths of human misery and suffering. He ministered, not to the “holy” and “religious“, but to sinners, like me, and like you. Nobody who needed Him was ever turned-away. He was touchable, approachable, and His unfailing-love drew people to Him.

He was destined, not to earthly-glory to wear a crown of gold and jewels, but to suffer and die. The only “crown” He ever wore was a “crown of thorns“. He, who knew no sin, was judged and condemned by sinners, condemned to die the death of a common-criminal, on a cross. A cross-shaped shadow hovered-over Him from the cradle to the cross. He was here for a reason, to purchase our redemption, to satisfy God’s righteous-judgment on sin, and to live a sinless-life so that we may become sinless before God.

Death and the grave couldn’t hold Him, so He was gloriously-resurrected on the third day. Having fulfilled His mission on earth, He ascended back to Heaven, back to the glory He had had from all eternity, to become King of kings and Lord of lords, to sit at the Father’s right-hand.

Someday He WILL return, not as a baby in a manger, but as Conquering-King, when He will vanquish ALL of His enemies and reward those who have followed Him in spirit and in truth. Then we will join Him, not as servants, but as heirs of God’s kingdom. What He has earned for us will be ours for all eternity.

Final thoughts…
As we wrap-up our studies in John’s Gospel, it has been a long journey, covering almost a year, and I have learned a lot as I prepared each study. I have endeavored to be as thorough and accurate to the text as I can be, while keeping each study to a manageable-length. We took a few “side-trips” for Christmas and Easter during the appropriate times of the year. I pray that your walk with the Lord has been enriched, and that you have come to a deeper-appreciation of God’s holy Word.

We are moving on to Studies in Ruth for our next study-series. Please join us.

Sola Deo Gloria!!!

Moments…

What IS a “moment“? Moment: a) An indefinite, short period of time. b) A precise point in time.

We use “moment” in many ways in our daily speech and lives because it quantifies what we couldn’t quantify otherwise, periods of time or points in time. With that in mind, let’s explore some significant “moments“.

Just a moment…
How many times have you said; “Just a moment” when you were “indisposed” and couldn’t take care of something immediately? That “moment” may last from a few seconds to a few minutes, but it means that you will get to it when you can.

Our first moment…
We all had a first “moment“, and even though our lifespan is usually counted from the time of our birth, our “first moment” was nine months or so before that. God, in Genesis 2:24, said; “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” “One flesh” is far more than just sexual-union, its ultimate fulfillment is in conception, when the man’s sperm and the woman’s egg becomes a single, fertilized unit, able to grow and multiply into a living, breathing, human being. Each half of that conception-equation, the sperm and the egg, contain half of the genetic-blueprint for what the child will become. Either a boy is conceived, or a girl is conceived, and the baby will develop in accordance with that composite-blueprint. As marvelous and wonderful as child-birth is, it pales in comparison to conception, because conception is what makes child-birth possible.

The “hinge-pin” moment…
The birth of Christ was the “hinge-pin” of both human and redemption history; however, it was His conception in the womb of His mother which made it all possible. John the Apostle captured that moment in John 1:14; “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…

God, the Infinite, became a tiny speck, a single cell. God, the Omnipotent, became powerless and fragile. God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, became dependent on the nourishment of His mother, a young, peasant girl. God, the All-Glorious, became hidden in His mother’s womb, far from His glorious throne in Heaven. That all happened in a moment, when God took on human-flesh.

The Apostle Paul captured that moment in Galatians 4:4-5; “4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (NASB)

4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” (NIV)

The passage gives us the sense that God placed His finger on the timeline of human-history and said; “This is the moment when I will become human“. As with all things that God plans, this event happened right on schedule.

We aren’t quite that good at making things happen when we want them to. Robert Burns captured our inability to make things happen on time with; “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry“.

The most ignominious moment…
Jesus was born to die, and a cross-shaped shadow hovered over Him from the moment He was conceived in His mother’s womb, but that doesn’t make His crucifixion any less horrible, any less ignominious. John the Apostle captured that moment in John 19:28-30; “28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit”.

God’s plan for our redemption, which had been put in place before time began, was fulfilled in the ignominious moment.

The most glorious moment…
If the Crucifixion was the most ignominious moment, Christ’s resurrection was the most glorious moment. While the Crucifixion secured our redemption, His resurrection secured our own resurrection. It took all three “moments” to fully-secure our salvation. Thanks be to God for those “moments“.

Our final moment…
If the Lord tarries until after we pass from this mortal life, we will have a final moment, the moment when we take our last breath, the moment when our eternal-destiny is sealed. While we don’t like to think about our demise, it is a reality which awaits us. It will either become our “entrance-ramp” into God’s presence, or it will become our “exit-ramp” into Hell. There is no “middle-ground“. Either you accept Christ as your Lord and Savior and enjoy the glories of Heaven, or if you reject God’s offer of salvation, you will suffer His eternal punishment in Hell.

Our final glorious moment…
50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:50-57)

Think about that “moment” for a moment… In a moment, every person who has ever lived will be resurrected, given new life. Every one of those countless-millions of babies that have been aborted, miscarried, still-born, or died in infancy, will be resurrected, given the life that they were denied on Earth. I can’t claim to know the mind of God, nor can I speak from any real authority, but I believe, based on what I know from the Bible, that those babies will be ushered into the presence of God, to live in His presence for all eternity. Their untimely-demise may have spared them from the difficulties of this life and the tortures of Hell for all eternity.

Thank you for a few moments of you time. I hope you have gained a great appreciation of some significant moments in history and in your life.

Blessings,
Steve

Bible Study – Jesus Foretells His Death

As Jesus continues His relentless march to the Cross, He makes it very clear that He is going to die a gruesome death on the Cross. He also makes it very clear that dying on the Cross has been His ultimate-mission all along, that it isn’t some “gotcha” which has been sprung on Him at the last moment.

We also see the Jew’s false-perception that the Messiah will be an earthly-king who will reestablish the Davidic-dynasty in Israel. They weren’t completely-wrong, because that promise was given to King David by God, but it was not going to happen in the way they were anticipating.

Greeks Seek Jesus
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; 21 these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. 26 If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:20-26)

Passover was such an important festival that it brought in converts from all over the known world, so it should come as no surprise that there were Greeks present in Jerusalem. Bethsaida was an important fishing village which was on the east side of the Jordan River where it fed the Sea of Galilee. It was also at the intersection where those traveling down the Jordan River Road could easily connect with the roads which went down both sides of the Sea of Galilee. Thus, it is not unlikely that locals spoke enough Greek to be able to converse with travelers. Philip and Andrew both had Greek names, and may have adopted Greek customs and attire, so it would have been easy for the Greeks to pick them out as men who could lead them to Jesus.

They had a simple request, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” In this case, “see” was much more than just physically “seeing” Jesus. This is much like “the doctor will be in to see you shortly“. They wanted to talk to Jesus. Even though we can’t physically “see” Jesus, we can still “see” Him through His Word. Have you “seen” Jesus?

22 Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus. We first saw Andrew as an “introducer” back in John 1:40-42, when he found Peter and took him to meet Jesus. Jesus is always the “keynote speaker” or “center of attention“, but not everyone knows Him. We are called to be like Andrew. We are called to “introduce” people to Jesus, and leave the rest to Him.

23 And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Jesus is stating unequivocally that the final count-down has begun, and the next time He completely-leaves Jerusalem will be after His resurrection.

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Does a seed actually “die” when we plant it? No, but it must be planted for that “spark” of new life to begin doing what it is intended to do. Jesus, however, must die and be buried before He can rise again to accomplish our salvation (eternal life). Salvation without the Cross is no “salvation” at all.

25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. We can’t cling to our old life of sin and expect to gain eternal life. We must die to “self” before we can enter into God’s kingdom.

Dr. Rosaria Butterfield was a proud “leftist-lesbian-feminist“, a tenured college professor, and in a same-sex relationship with another woman when she encountered the God of the Bible. She thought she “had it ALL“. She was well-known in the LGBT community, she lived with “the love of her life“, and they seemed to be living the “good life“. That was, until a local pastor and his wife responded to an article she had written for the local paper. They showed her the love of Christ and started presenting her with the claims of the Gospel, which got her started reading the Bible, which she had previously despised. One night, it seemed as if all of her world came crashing down around her ears, because the truth of the Bible was unmistakable. If she was going to follow Christ, she was going to have to “lose-everything“, including her “identity“. She realized that following Christ was an “all or nothing” decision. If she clung to what she already had, she couldn’t follow Christ. If she was going to follow Christ, she had to leave everything behind. Salvation and eternal life required “radical-surgery” which was going to be painful. Was she going to “gain” more that she was “losing“? Was following Christ “worth it“? She describes her conversion as a “train wreck“. Yes, she DID lose a lot, but look at her bio now:

Dr. Rosaria Butterfield is a pastor’s wife, full-time mother, and speaker. She is author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, a book detailing the experiences of her journey to Christianity. A former tenured professor of English at Syracuse University, Dr. Butterfield started a college ministry upon her conversion to Christianity in 1999. Dr. Butterfield is a member of First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Durham, N.C., where her husband, Rev. Kent Butterfield, serves as senior pastor.

I can tell you, from experience that I still struggle with what I have “lost” in order to carry-out the commission I have been given to take the Gospel to the nudist community. I can relate to her feeling that her conversion was a “train wreck” because I have had many “train wrecks” in my life. I am far more “at peace” with my situation than I have been in MANY years. Why? Because, even though I have “lost” a lot, what I have been given is far-better than what I “lost“. God may yet bring the love and companionship of a wife into my life, but it will be in His way and in His time, not mine. I am far-more “fulfilled” than I have been in my years.

26 If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. Jesus is calling us into a relationship with Him, not just a casual “follow from afar” kind of “relationship“. Being a follower of Christ isn’t a “spectator-sport“. We must “get in the game“, and when we do, He has promised us not only eternal-life, but honor from God the Father.

There were many people who “believed in His name“, but they never became true “followers of Christ” and their “belief” made no lasting impact on their lives. They were “spectators” who liked what He had to say, may have eaten from His “table” or been healed by Him, but they went back home spiritually-unchanged. They may even have been part of the adoring-crowd during His Triumphal Entry, but they may have joined the jeering-masses that demanded His crucifixion.

Jesus Foretells His Death
27 “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him.” 30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. 31 Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” 33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. 34 The crowd then answered Him, “We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. 36 While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.” (John 12:27-36a)

Verses 27-28 reveal that Jesus was troubled by what He was about to face in going to the cross to die a horrible death. Remember that He is both Divine and human and had the same instincts of survival that we all have. How would you feel about things if you knew that you were soon going to be taken away for torture and death? I would be on my way out of town! Jesus has a different response, for this is the very reason He has been brought to this point. It is interesting that John tells us about this encounter that is begun with the arrival of the Greeks. Maybe Jesus was tempted to go off with them and take His message to a whole different audience to avoid His date with the cross… In any case, He will not be swayed from His purpose, and God confirms His approval with a rare vocal endorsement.

The people heard the voice and stunned, await some clarification. Jesus explains that the voice was for their benefit, so they would know that everything is going according to God’s plan. Then, He demonstrates the point in three amazing ways:

First, the time has come for “judgment on this world”. Since the Greek word rendered “judgment” is krisis, if we leave it un-translated, the statement would read “Now is the crisis of this world.” A crisis for this world would surely come when Jesus is murdered in front of everyone when all were aware of His total innocence. This would expose the sin that has the entire world in its grip for all of its stinking rottenness. Second, it is the time when “the prince of this world will be driven out.” Satan, who has the world in his pocket through their slavery to sin, will lose his grip on those who will follow Jesus, those who will be set free from bondage to sin. Third, that Jesus will die by being “lifted up” gives His listeners the method by which all of this will be accomplished; He will die on a cross. The result of this will be that all peoples who look to the cross in faith will see not merely a method of execution, but the means by which they can be saved from sin and death.

We reach a major turning point in Johns’ Gospel at this point. The crowd has come to discuss national liberation from Rome, and Jesus is talking about death and redemption. They object and refer to Daniel 7:14 which teaches that the Messiah will be with them forever. Jesus doesn’t engage. He does offer one last bit of advice: Darkness is about to descend, their only hope is to believe in Jesus (“trust in the light”) which will enable them to resist the oppressive spiritual darkness, for they will become “sons of light”. With that, Jesus slips away. The rest of the Gospel will describe Jesus’ answer to the question they have posed: “Who is this Son of Man?

These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them. 37 But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in Him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.” 41 These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. 42 Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. (John 12:36b-43)

Jesus performing many signs hadn’t translated into true faith for those who heard Him and saw the signs. They may have “Oooh’d” and “Awww’d” at the spectacle, but in many cases, they only followed Jesus around to see what He was going to do next, maybe even hoping to get a free meal out of Him. Isaiah had prophesied about their hard-hearts several hundred years earlier. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.” 41 These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.

42 Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. How strong was their “belief“? It obviously wasn’t life-changing, because they valued the approval of their peers over being accepted by God. I have to wonder how many of these “believers” were in the jeering-crowd screaming “Crucify Him!, Crucify Him!” just a few days later. Even demons, before Jesus cast them out, acknowledged who He is, the Son of the Living God, but that didn’t change what they were, demons hell-bent on destroying whoever they were in.

What if I was dissuaded from carrying out this ministry by people who have told me; “You can’t do that“, or “That’s just plain WRONG!“? I wouldn’t be doing it, but I don’t need man’s “approval“, since my commission and approval come from God.

44 And Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. 45 He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. 46 I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. 49 For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. 50 I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.” (John 12:44-50)

44 And Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. 45 He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. Jesus begins by tying belief in Him to belief in God the Father. His hearers can’t believe in Him unless they also believe in God the Father. He then makes an explicit-claim to deity, because unless He is God in the flesh, God incarnate, He can’t reveal or be the visible Image of God. This is one of the reasons the Jewish religious-leaders have been opposing Him, because He was making explicit-claims to being God.

46 I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. We have seen this “Light” metaphor many times before, going all the way back to the opening-verses of John’s Gospel. “Light” has been compared to “life“, and that is what Jesus is promising, eternal life through Him.

47 If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. Unbelief WILL be judged, but only when those unbelievers stand before God during the final-judgment. Jesus didn’t come to earth to judge people in the moment, but to provide the means for separating those who believe from those who don’t believe. We know that, when a person takes their last breath, their destiny is sealed for all eternity. There is no “universalism” and God doesn’t give any “second-chances” beyond the grave.

In the wake of the Orlando Massacre, a friend of mine posted “Heaven has some new angels” on Facebook, thinking that because they were “good” or “nice“, they automatically went to Heaven. Yes, Heaven may have gotten some new residents, but Hell claimed its fair-share of victims also. Only God knows their eternal-destiny.

49 For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. 50 I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.” Jesus Christ and His Father were unified in His mission on earth, such that the words He spoke were the very words of God. Jesus had never been separated from His Father until He bore our sins on the Cross, at which time, God the Father turned His back on His Son.

Which “camp” are YOU in? Do YOU have saving-faith in Christ-alone for your salvation, or are you an “unbeliever“? I pray that you seal your eternal-destiny in Christ before it is too late.

In Christ,
Steve

 

Do You Want To Be Humble? Emulate Christ!

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

He who is the eternal Word, very God of very God, entered into our humanity in much the same way we did, as a divinely-fertilized egg, a single cell, an embryo, totally-dependent on His young, teenage mother for His very existence. She wasn’t a princess, living in a fine palace; rather, she was a country-girl. He was born in the same manner countless babies have been born, through His mother’s birth-canal, not in a palace or even a hospital room, but in a stable. His incarnation began His descent from glory into the depths of Hell itself. He traded Heaven for a smelly stable. He traded His crown for a crown of thorns. He traded His throne for a cross, and ultimately He traded His life for ours, that we might be able to live with Him forever.

He was only eight days old when He experienced the pain of being circumcised. Circumcision wasn’t a clean, tidy hospital-procedure; rather it was done in the Temple with one of the crude cutting-implements of the day. He wasn’t dressed in cute little baby-outfits; rather, he was dressed in strips of coarse, hand-woven cloth. He wasn’t born walking and talking, potty-trained and able to feed Himself, rather, He was a baby with all its infant limitations. He and His parents became fugitives in Egypt from a ruthless king who had dozens of young boys slaughtered in hopes of “eliminating” Him. He grew and learned as any normal child does, and He experienced the trials of puberty as countless boys have since time began.

He was perfectly-obedient to His parents and to His Father, fulfilling all the requirements of the Law. A debate has been raging for centuries about whether Jesus could have sinned, and its answer has enormous-consequences on our salvation. If it would have been impossible for Jesus to sin, His righteous fulfillment of the Law would have been passive, because He could not do differently. If it was possible for Jesus to sin, His obedience was active and deliberate, which I believe the Bible supports. If Jesus could not sin, He has no righteousness to impute to us in our salvation, however, if He could have sinned, but didn’t, His perfect righteousness CAN be imputed to us in our salvation. We are the beneficiaries of His perfect righteousness, of His perfect obedience.

His humanity wasn’t just an “appearance“, He was, and is, as fully-human as you are, as I am. He had all the same physical “equipment” every male human has had or has. John the Apostle, in his Gospel, penned these beautiful words: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14a)

He felt all of our human-feelings and experienced all of our human-emotions. He hurt. He was hungry and thirsty. He felt anger, sorrow and even grief. He worked with His hands and didn’t have an entourage of Angels to cater to His every whim. He came not to be served, but to serve, and just before His crucifixion, He took upon Himself the lowliest position as a Servant, stripped naked and washed His disciple’s feet. Ultimately He served us by taking our sin upon Himself and taking the full-wrath of God for our sin on the cross.

Jesus didn’t just die-physically; He experienced the wrath of God, including being separated from His Father’s presence. He plumbed the depths of Hell, experiencing all of its horrors. As the first Adam began mankind’s descent into disobedience in a Garden, the Garden of Eden, so the second Adam, Jesus Christ, began His journey for our redemption in a Garden, the Garden of Gethsemane.

Before Jesus Christ was arrested, tried, tortured and crucified, God the Father gave Him a foretaste of what lie ahead. As He entered the Garden of Gethsemane, He started feeling the weight, the gravity of what was about to happen. He wasn’t just afraid, He was overwhelmed. As He clawed at the ground praying to His Father, He was staring into the gaping hole that is the abyss, Hell. He could see the never-ending flames, feel the heat, smell the acrid smoke, and hear the screams of those already trapped there. There was only one entrance, and there was no exit. That was where He was going, for you, for me.

His closest friends had all-but deserted Him, so He had no human moral-support. The question came down to whether He loved them, whether He loves us, enough to continue that journey. Had it been left totally up to Him, He might have avoided the cross, forsaking us and our salvation, but He had a job to do, a mission to accomplish. God’s whole plan of redemption was on the line. Ultimately, He never wavered. The mission went on final-countdown when He said Not as I will, but as You will“.(Matthew 26:39) The physical-agony of being tortured and crucified was a walk in the park compared to what He was going to endure in Hell, but He didn’t shrink back from those who came to arrest Him. He was totally-confident that He could, and would, accomplish His ultimate mission, our redemption.

As Jesus hung there on the cross, between Heaven and Earth, and saw the gaping-entrance to Hell open up, He cried out; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His Father had abandoned Him. He was utterly-alone. When He took His last breath, He fell head-long into Hell, the cosmic-incinerator of sin and evil, as the wrath of a Holy and Just God was poured-out on Him. He died, not for His own sin, but for OUR sin. 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 Corinthians 5:21)

Our response…
As we consider what our Lord has done for us, how can we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think? How can we not serve Him and those around us in loving, gentle humility? I’ll leave you with the passage we opened with:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

In Christ,
Steve

Bible Study – Raising Lazarus

A dear friend was sick, but Jesus was ministering somewhere else when He got the news. While Jesus could have chosen to speak the word and heal Lazarus, as He did in John 4:46-54, He chose not to. Jesus healed the sick quite frequently, but He was going to do something that had never been done before, raise someone from the dead. Jesus was also going to reveal both “sides” to His personhood, His deity and His humanity, in a dramatic-way. This event also occurs just a few days before Jesus was going to be crucified, when He will not only bind the Dragon of death, but by His resurrection, He will slay the Dragon, once and for all.

We may wonder WHY Jesus didn’t heal Lazarus from afar. After all, He could have come home to a hero’s welcome. He could have thumped His chest and said “See what I did“, but He didn’t. Jesus wanted to bring glory to God the Father, rather than just to Himself. Everything He did brought glory to God the Father. There is a lesson for us too. Whose glory are we working for, our own, or God’s.

The Death and Resurrection of Lazarus
11 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” 16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” (John 11:1-16)

Jesus was very relational, and some people were closer to Him than others. Mary, Martha and Lazarus were FAMILY, even if they weren’t related to Him, so when they sent word to Jesus, it was “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” I can certainly relate, because I have friends who are closer to me than anyone except my mom. They are FAMILY, and I will do anything I can to help them, resources-permitting.

4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. This was a curious response, considering how close He was to them, but He had a reason.

6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” Why did Jesus stay where He was for two more days? Had He started something that He wanted to finish before He left? We’re not told or even given a clue. He had slipped out of Jerusalem and Judea at the end of John 10, but to go see His friends, He had to go back into Judea because Bethany was close to Jerusalem.

8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” His disciples were justifiably concerned about His welfare in Judea, but they didn’t realize was that nothing could happen to Jesus until the appointed time. He was firmly in control of everything, including the time of His death.

9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” We see another contrast between Light and Darkness, day and night, God’s presence and the forces of evil. As long as Jesus was there, God’s presence was in their midst. There would come a time when Jesus would be taken from them and evil would have free-reign, but Jesus was still with them.

11 This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.”Fallen asleep” is a metaphor for dying, and it is used in many other passages throughout the New Testament. On the flip-side, “awaken” or “quicken” means to bring back to life.

12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead,” 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” Hey guys, wake up and smell the coffee. Oh well, they will eventually get the picture.

16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” Poor Thomas still didn’t understanding that Jesus was firmly in control. Maybe he is imagining them being turned into a very large pile of rocks.

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

Lazarus being in the tomb for four days was proof-positive that he was actually DEAD. He also wasn’t in a coma or merely sleeping. He was stone-cold DEAD. Bethany was close enough to Jerusalem for her to have friends there, and many of them had come to console Mary and Martha, and while funerals happened very quickly, public-mourning continued for quite a while.

Martha was reeling from the death of her brother, but Jesus could have prevented his death. She expresses a curios mix of scolding and confidence. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

Jesus begins to show her that, while He was too late to prevent Lazarus’ death, it WASN’T too late for Him to do something about it. 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha, unlike the Sadducees who didn’t believe in a resurrection, DID believe that Lazarus would be raised when the final-curtain was dropped on this phase of our human existence. She still didn’t have any confidence that Lazarus would rejoin their family.

This is where Jesus begins turning the tide. 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life”; Standing before her was the very Creator, the ultimate Author of life. He had breathed life into a pile of dust and given Adam life. He was also the ultimate Authority on resurrection, because if He could breathe life into mankind, He could also breathe new life into a man. He was also making an explicit-claim to Deity, because only God could raise the dead.

His next claim either confirms His place in the looney-bin or completely-separates Him from the rest of humanity. “he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” He is either who He says He is, the Incarnate Son of God, or the biggest fraud that ever walked the earth, because He is claiming that those who truly believe in Him WILL have eternal life.

Do you believe this?” is a reality-check. Does Martha believe in Him? Her answer shows that she has gone from skeptic to true-believer. 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” She affirms that she believes that He is the long-awaited Messiah.

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him. Mary didn’t waste any time going back with Martha to where Jesus was.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

Two sisters, same exact statement to Jesus, but He gave two very-different responses. Both sisters expressed confidence that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus from dying if He had been there. How could he confront Martha one moment and bawl like a baby with Mary the next? He was strong one moment and vulnerable the next. He was either a deluded, wacko nut-case, or He was who He said He was, the Incarnate Son of God. He revealed both His true Deity and His true Humanity by His responses to Martha and Mary. He is both fully God and fully human, the perfect God-Man. His favorite title for Himself was “Son of Man“.

We may be wondering why Jesus didn’t know where Lazarus was buried, but in His humanity, He wasn’t omniscient. His deity didn’t always inform His humanity. He also claimed to not know when He will return in Matthew 24:36.

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Jesus hurt with Mary, Martha and their friends as they came to Lazarus’ tomb, which was simply a cave with a stone rolled in front of the entrance. It was, in most cases, reusable, because in that desert climate, bodies dried out very quickly, leaving nothing but bones, allowing other family members to be buried in it also. Joseph was buried in Egypt, but he bound his family with an oath that they would take his bones with them when God liberated them from Egyptian domination. (Genesis 50:24-26). He didn’t want to be interred permanently in Egypt.

39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Only dead bodies decay, proof that Lazarus was really DEAD. The stench of death was going to be replaced with the joy of resurrection.

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus, speaking as God Incarnate, was going to reveal the glory of God in a dramatic way.

Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” Jesus’ prayer may sound strange to us a first-glance, but it reveals something very profound about who He is, His intimate connection with His Father. He wasn’t just a man with an elevated “God-consciousness“; He was the Incarnate Son of God. He was God in human-flesh. He had a perfect “hotline” with His Father far beyond our wildest imaginations.

We can almost hear the anger in His voice and feel His rage as He bellowed-out “Lazarus, come forth.” Death was not supposed to claim the lives of those we love, but it had claimed the life of one of His dearest friends, Lazarus. They were virtually family. He was staring in the face of the vilest result of our fall into sin, death. Death wasn’t part of God’s original plan. Death came as the ultimate curse of the Fall. It wasn’t “natural“, it wasn’t “normal“, even though we have come to think of Death as being both “natural” and “normal“.

How many people have you known who have slipped the bonds of this life and entered into the next life without dying first? If you are like me, you have attended far too many funerals as you have lost far too many friends and loved-ones to death. My dad died in 2013, and my friend Liz lost her mother last year (2015). I also lost my “twin” brother in 2011. That was a tough memorial service, but I couldn’t have NOT been there.

He, who was the Creator of Heaven and Earth, invaded the Dragon’s lair, bound the Dragon, grabbed the keys and released one of its captives. He, who had breathed life into the first man, breathed new life in Lazarus. The Dragon would not be finally slain until Jesus strode from His own tomb after His crucifixion.

Lazarus didn’t come out of his grave as a zombie; rather he came out of his grave struggling with his grave-clothes. Lazarus, after he was relieved of his grave-clothes, was buck-naked. When someone died, those who were close to them washed their body, and if spices were available, packed spices around the body as they wrapped it almost “mummystyle“. Since clothing was handmade and costly, there was no reason to bury them in their clothes.

I can imagine the jubilation of his friends and family when Lazarus walked out of the grave – ALIVE. That would have been an event to celebrate in style. Their family was whole again!

45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done. (John 11:1-46)

Yes, a few people believed in Jesus after He resurrected Lazarus, but the Pharisees had their “snitches“. As we will see next time, the Pharisees kicked their murder-plot into high-gear, even plotting to murder Lazarus as well. They had serious-concerns about Jesus getting too popular…

In Christ,
Steve

 

Debt-Free!

What does “debt-free” mean to you? Paying off your mortgage, car and credit-cards? Yes, those things are nice, but being “debt-free” before God is far-better. We owe a debt of sin to God which we could never pay, not in this lifetime, not in all eternity, but God has made a way for our debt to be paid, and for us to have a right-relationship with Him. That is what I want to explore in the next little bit.

As tempting as it might be to “sugar-coat” the message of the Bible, I would not be doing you any favors if I did, and I wouldn’t be true to my calling as a minister of the Gospel either. That leaves me no option other than to tell it like it is.

Our debt…
15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)

God’s command was unambiguous. If you eat it, you WILL die, but Adam and Eve ignored God’s command and brought death to mankind.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Restoration promised…
And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall crush you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

Even as God prepared to evict Adam and Eve from the Garden, He was already kicking His plan of redemption for mankind into action. God could have ended that phase of His human-project in that moment, but in His grace and mercy, He promised to redeem mankind instead.

Restoration accomplished…
4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

Jesus Christ is that Seed of the woman who was promised thousands of years earlier in the Garden, and He came to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves, reconcile us to God. Our reconciliation was NOT free, because God couldn’t just “forgive and forget” our debt without our debt being paid, so Jesus Christ “stepped-up-to-the-plate” to pay our debt for us. He took the full wrath of God for our sin for us, and He died the death we deserved, so that God could declare us “debt-free“.

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 Corinthians 5:21)

Debt-free…
13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

If you are in Christ, trusting in His shed-blood and finished-work ALONE for your salvation, your debt has been paid-in-full. Your debt was nailed to the Cross, and you are DEBT-FREE!

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

Are YOU debt-free? I pray that you are.

In Christ,
Steve

Death, Be Not Proud…

Death, be not proud,
For yours is not the final say,
You may claim our best, our dearest friends,
And even though we may lay them to rest today,
You, O Death, will be laid to rest some day.

On that grand and glorious day,
You, O Death, shall have no say,
Because you yourself shall have been put away,
And those we love shall be ours to stay,
On that grand and glorious day.

Death, be not proud.

I’m not a poet, and well I know it, but this is a wee tribute to a high-school classmate and to all of my friends and loved-ones who have gone before.

Steve