[Dec 31]—Meeting the Real Jesus: Worthy

            I've maintained this for several years: If the only reason—or even the main reason—why you’re reading the book of Revelation is to understand more about the End Times, then you’re missing out considerably. There's so much to gain from it which has nothing to do with whether you’re Pre-Trib or Post-Trib or Pre-Mill or A-Mill. As we finish this study on the nature and work of Christ, I wanted to take a look at today’s passage.
            The scene is Heaven. The previous chapter focused on God the Father as the Ruler of the universe, sitting on his throne and receiving worship from the redeemed and from angels and the rest of creation. Then a scroll is introduced.
            What does the scroll represent? Scrolls with writing on both sides were commonly used as legal documents, such as deeds and marriage contracts. For this reason, some have said that this is the title deed to all creation. Some others see this as representing the consummation of  God’s plan to end human history (as we know it) and the great war between him and the Adversary.  Seven is the number for completion, so with seven seals, this is locked up tight. No one in all creation is worthy to take the scroll and open it, thus bringing to pass God’s ultimate plan. However we interpret it doesn’t affect the point I’m trying to make about it, however.
            John was weeping because no one was worthy to take and open the scroll. But then a “mighty angel” consoles him and tells him that Someone can. What the angel calls Jesus is a great study in tension concerning the nature of Christ. He’s called the “Lion of Judah,” talking about his human heritage—he literally was of the tribe of Judah. But he’s also the “Root of David,” saying that he’s the One who produced David, referring to his divine nature.
            And John turns to see this "Lion," and. . . surprise!!! It’s a lamb! This Lamb had been slain, and he still carries the scars. But this is no ordinary lamb, all meek and powerless. No, it’s the opposite. Horns were symbolic of power, so since he has seven horns, that means he’s all powerful. He has seven eyes, which symbolize his omniscience. By the way, a much better translation of “seven Spirits” would be “sevenfold Spirit,” probably referring to the seven names of the Spirit in Isaiah 11.
He takes the scroll from the Father, and all Heaven bursts loose with song. They sing praises to the Lamb, a new song. According to the NIV Study Bible, in the Old Testament a “new song” was “new act of divine deliverance or blessing.” God is initiating a new age when his Son will reign openly and bring the War to a close.
             And what do they sing? What’s the focus? The Lamb is worthy to take the scroll because he died and purchased men and women for God with his own dear blood. If you’re redeemed, that’s what you were redeemed (bought back) with. And the angels join the chorus. They haven’t experienced salvation personally, but they know what it cost their Lord. And they sing that the Lamb is worthy to receive all “power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
            You see my friend, the focus of Heaven, the center of attention is the Father and the Son. We’ll receive praise and honor and reward for our service to him, but we’re not the center of attention.
            That’s the first purpose of Heaven—worship. Not to reunite you with your loved ones. Not so you can ask Jonah whether it was a whale or a great fish. It’s to worship the One who deserves it. We won’t want to do anything else.
            But how does this affect us here and now? As we end this year and stand on the brink of another one, there are a lot of fears to face. As I write this, there are a lot of people afraid of a rogue nation getting nukes, and others are really concerned about the next Presidential election.
Don’t be afraid. The Lamb who's all-powerful and all-knowing is in charge. No one else is in charge—not presidents or dictators or even Satan himself. All of them, whether they know it or not, are acting according to his ultimate purposes. And in the end, once we get to the other side of this, the result will be worship. Our part now is to trust and obey. May God richly bless you this coming year. The best is yet to come.

And to bring us all into a perfect attitude of worship, here's "Revelation Song" by Kari Jobe:

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! May my life be part of that inheritance given to you, Lord Jesus. Father God, I want to bring more honor, more glory, more praise to the name of your Son. Holy Spirit please lead me and guide me close and closer to my Savior. By your grace.

[Dec 30]—Meeting the Real Jesus: Inheritance

John 17:6; Ps. 2:7-12; 1 Cor. 15:20-28

How does God view you? Have you ever thought about that? Some people have real problems with seeing themselves as fully forgiven and adopted children of the Almighty. Others think waaaaaaay too highly of themselves (actually I think this is a more common problem than the first), and they’re encouraged to see themselves as doing the Almighty a favor by accepting Jesus as their Savior.

I’d like to introduce a new word into this study on Jesus’ exaltation after he ascended back to the Father, a word which can give us perspective on ourselves: Inheritance. Let’s take a look at what the three passages above have to say about this.

In a sense, you belonged to God before the first moment of time. Now, how you interpret such things as “predestination” and “election,” will affect how you interpret the sense in which we “belonged” to God in eternity past. But however you want to try to unravel such mysteries, the Bible clearly teaches it. Before the first moment when God said “Let there be. . .” and no longer was the only Being in the universe, he knew you and loved you and (in some sense) chose you.

And at the right time, the Father “gave” you to his Son. You were a gift to Jesus. And he claimed you as his own. There are lots of terms for this claiming: Salvation, adoption, redemption, etc. But he did.

But the inheritance didn’t stop there. According to the second Psalm, God the Father has promised a much larger inheritance to the Son. What’s this inheritance? Everything seen and unseen. As Abraham Kuyper put it, "There is not an inch of any sphere of life over which Jesus Christ does not say, 'Mine.'"

That includes all the nations of the world. It includes all the “people groups” within those nations, the sub-groups which you can distinguish by language, culture, etc. It includes all organizations, businesses, clubs, and households. Every person on this planet is claimed—in some sense—by Jesus Christ. That’s what the great spiritual war is all about, of course. As Lewis put it, every square inch of the universe is claimed by the Son and counterclaimed by the Enemy.

And it’s ongoing, every moment of every day. Right now, in some sense, Jesus is already ruling from Heaven over all creation.  But saying all creation belongs to him isn’t the same as taking possession of it, which is why the Father said to him “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” This turning of Jesus' enemies into footstools is not instantaneous, at least in some sense. It happened officially the moment Jesus sat back down on his throne after the Ascension, but large parts of creation are still in rebellion.

What do you think is happening when someone receives Christ as Savior and Boss? Why do you think the Enemy so viciously works against true evangelism? That’s where you and I step into the picture, onto the grand and glorious stage. There’s a civil war going on, and unfortunately we live in territory occupied by the rebels. And when we share the Good News about Jesus with someone and that person turns to Christ, we're invading Enemy territory and planting the flag of the Lord Jesus in the ground. That’s less territory that the Enemy owns. Talk about whacking the hornet's nest!

And it won’t stop until the end of human history. One day the Lord Jesus will physically return in power and glory, have one last struggle with the Great Dragon, and possess what he’s inherited. Once he’s won the last great battle, all creation will bow before him and acknowledge him as Lord over all.

And what will he do then? Hand it all back to his Father. That includes us.

In fact, we’re his most precious treasure. We’re the brightest jewels in his crown. We’re his most valued possession, his beloved children, bought and paid for by his blood. If you count value by what someone’s willing to pay for something, then we’re of infinite value. But let us not forget, we belong to him, not to ourselves. Please, let’s not forget.

Lord Jesus, once again I feel like imitating Job for a while. Words seem so inadequate sometimes. Thank you. I’m yours.

[Dec 29]—Meeting the Real Jesus: Go Between, Part Two

            We talked about this topic yesterday, but today’s passage has so much extra insight into our High Priest’s nature and work that I felt the need to spend an extra day on it.
            One of politicians’ favorite poses is that of “the common man,” that he’s “one of us.” He might’ve gone only to private schools and elite universities, and he might have a dad who’s a senator and multi-millionaire, but the last thing he wants is to have people think he’s “out of touch” and doesn’t understand their daily problems. In most Presidential elections, the one who's less rich has an advantage over the one who’s wealthier, even though both of them are white-collar and far more wealthy then 90% of the American public. It has a lot more to do with image than reality, like most issues in politics.
            Before we get to the passage, let’s back up for just a moment. Jesus left the glories and worship of Heaven, and most of the privileges of being God. He took on human flesh in joyful submission to the Father’s will. For 33 years he was not only 100% sinless but 100% righteous, always consciously choosing to obey the Father.
            So in what sense did he become perfect? That’s a good question. In another part of Hebrews it says that he learned obedience from what he suffered. How could he learn obedience? How does this comport with what we read in the last paragraph? Although he never rebelled against the Father’s will, it was during the Incarnation--culminating in the Cross—that he experienced obedience to the ultimate degree. He said “Yes” to the Father while in Heaven, but I’d expect that’s a very different prospect from saying “Yes” in the Garden moments before the soldiers arrived. When going through a mockery of a trial. When being whipped to the point of barely looking human anymore. When looking at the soldier positioning the nail above his wrist. That’s when his obedience was perfected.
            But this is where his humanity meets his divinity to our eternal benefit. The most amazing verse in this passage to me is vs. 11: “Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” I know with all the horrible things I’ve done in my life, he has every right to be just a little reluctant to acknowledge me publicly as his brother. But he’s perfectly fine with associating with the likes of me.
            But the best part comes in vs. 14: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” He had to become human so that he could die. By his death (for us) he broke the power of the one who held the power of death. All throughout history, we’ve been frightened of this universal enemy, this cold embrace which awaits all of us. But since his death and resurrection, our Lord now holds the keys to Death and Hades. He now owns them. His human nature and his divine nature did this.
            And there’s even more here: “For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Because of the Incarnation, he’s a merciful and faithful high priest, meaning he can sympathize and be compassionate with us when we’re tempted. And because of the Incarnation, he was able to make atonement for our sins. Only a fully human man could be our substitute, and only God could carry our sins.
            I know we observed Christmas a few days ago, but according to some calendars in the world we’re still in the Christmas season. That’s what we celebrate: God who squeezed himself down to a human embryo, which was just the first in a long line of humiliations—big and small—he endured. For you and me.

Father God, I’m in awe of your perfect plan which worked in perfect precision for your glory and my benefit. “Thank you” seems so inadequate. 

[Dec 28]—Meeting the Real Jesus: Go-Between

1 Tim. 2:5-6; 1 John 2:1-2; Heb. 4:14-16

Have you ever felt like God was distant, that he’s “out there" somewhere? When you pray, does it feel like you’re talking to the ceiling? When you sin, do you still struggle with unresolved guilt?

Then today’s passages and devotional are for you.

I think the ancient Hebrews spoke for the overwhelming majority of humanity when they begged Moses “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” The vast majority of people who’ve walked this earth knew two things: 1) There's an Almighty God who created everything, and 2) We’re separated from this God for some reason, and it probably has something to do with this sense of guilt we’re feeling. Why do religions have priests and sacrifices and other gods as go-betweens? Most believing Greeks didn’t even try to approach Zeus himself: They worshiped some lesser god who might be able to help them or maybe plead on their behalf. That’s because people don’t feel like they can approach the Almighty on their own.

Of course, this is in stark contrast with the typical American view of God as our buddy. We tend not to have a strong sense of our sin. But as a general rule, the more religious you are, the more you rely on some sort of go-between.

Enter Jesus. Paul tells us that as surely as there’s one God, there’s also one Mediator between God and mankind. Not more than one. If any man claims to be a priest who has direct access to God that you don’t, don’t listen to him. As I pointed out a few days ago, this is why a proper understanding of the Incarnation is so important. If Jesus isn’t God, then he’s not powerful enough to save us. If he’s not fully human, he can’t be our representative before the Father, nor can he be our sin substitute.

John calls him our “advocate.” This was a legal term, literally one “called to walk alongside” someone. Now, knowing how seriously God takes sin, we need to focus our energies on not sinning, on obeying our Father as best as we can. Sin is what nailed our Savior to the cross. But we still do it, and when we sin we have an advocate, sort of like a defense attorney.

And finally we come to the passage in Hebrews, one of my favorites portions of scripture in all the Bible. We have a great High Priest who’s gone into the highest Heavens. He’s sat down at the right hand of God the Father. And this High Priest is perfectly able to sympathize with our weaknesses, both physical and spiritual. He’s not some god like the ones on Mount Olympus who lived on high and who couldn’t relate to us. He was born into poverty in a backwater province of a nation that most people never heard of. He was a blue-collar worker, and he struggled with all the indignities, both small and great, which we do. And most importantly, he struggled with sin. He was really tempted, much more than we’ll ever experience.

Part of the good news, however, is the one way in which he can’t relate to us. He never sinned; he always obeyed the Father in everything, in matters small and great. If he wasn’t perfect, then again that would disqualify him to be our Savior. He couldn’t very well pay our debt if he was in debt himself.

So why is this truth about his priesthood so important? Because of this, our relationship is different from every other creature in the universe. To the rest of the universe, his throne is a throne of power and glory and judgment. And it's that to us too to some degree, but for us it’s primarily a throne of grace. We can approach this throne anytime, day or night, not with arrogance, but with full confidence. What’s the difference? The difference is that he invites us to do this.

When you need mercy and grace to help you in your time of need, approach his throne of grace with confidence, because you know that your High Priest is providing you with complete and immediate access.

He’s paid for it, so use it.

Here's "He Was Heard" by Michael Card

Lord Jesus, I’d never be foolish enough to approach the Father in my own merit. It’s only because of you, my Mediator, my Advocate, my High Priest, that I can approach the Father. Thank you.

[Dec 27]—Meeting the Real Jesus: Exaltation

Phil. 2:9-11

From the moment of his conception, our Lord Jesus’ life was one humiliation after another. Like the skin diver we mentioned a couple days ago, he dove from safety and his home into a cold and somewhat alien environment; He dove deeper and deeper into darkness and then touched bottom as he cried out his final submission to the Father: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

But there’s a reason why our message is called the “Good News”—you did know that’s what “Gospel” means, right? Just like the skin diver touching bottom, he then shot up to the top. He was raised from the dead three days later, demonstrating his complete victory and authority over death, hell, Satan, sin and any other forces arrayed against him. He appeared to his followers at various times--over a forty-day period--to his followers to prove it. He wasn’t a ghost or a spirit floating around: He offered to eat some food in front of them, and then did so.

And then came the best part: The Ultimate Hero’s welcome home. He reentered Heaven’s gates to the cheers of those assembled there, and he walked up to his Father’s throne. And he sat down on the right side, the place of greatest honor. Because now his work on earth was done. Our redemption was accomplished.

And he got a new title. Now please don’t misunderstand. He was God before the Incarnation, from eternity past. He was Co-Creator of everything seen and unseen. He enjoyed the worship of angels. But when he returned, the Father somehow bestowed on him greater honor than before.

Now, more than ever, his new title is “Lord.” That’s the “name that is above every name.” Have you ever “name dropped”? You just casually mention that you know someone in order to get better service or better treatment? Why do people do that? Because the name of an important person can carry a lot of weight. If I could credibly claim that I know the President of the United States personally, then that means something. Well, the name of “Lord Jesus Christ” is the name above every other name. That’s the name of ultimate, final authority, above the name of every king, past, present and future. There are other names which are perhaps “behind the scenes,” which you don’t see in many headlines, but which wield power and influence nonetheless. This Name is above those as well.

And one day we’ll see it all. Every knee will bow at that name. Hitler will bow at that name. Stalin will bow. Mao Tse-Dong will bow. Mohammed will bow. Confucius will bow. Buddha will bow. Bill Gates will bow. Steve Jobs will bow. The lowliest guy who held the job of shoveling horse puckey in stalls will bow. Every atheist and mocker who made fun at the name of Jesus, who dishonored his Bride in jokes, and who verbally spat on his word will bow.

And Satan will bow. The great Adversary will be forced to his knees. And with everyone else, he will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. He’s the Boss of Bosses. He’s the King before whom all other kings will bow.

And this is the best news possible for everyone who belongs to him. Why? Because we’re co-heirs with Christ! Everything he owns (which is everything), we have a piece of. When he comes in power and glory, we’re the ultimate “insiders” in the new Regime.

His victory is ours. In some sense, Paul says we share in his glory (see link above). We call God Father, and Jesus calls himself our brother.

But according to Scripture, your choice to bow is not “if,” it’s “when.” You can either bow to his name on this side of Glory, or on the other side. But as C.S. Lewis pointed out, we wouldn’t be very impressed with a Frenchman who totally collaborated with the Nazis and then switched sides just as the Allies were marching into Paris. The smart thing is to bow now. You think?

Lord Jesus, right here and right now I bow to you. In my heart and in my life.

[Dec 26]—Meeting the Real Jesus: Conquest Through Surrender

Col. 2:13-15

Our society has always a place of sympathy for the underdog. I mean, this nation started out as the underdog, taking on the greatest empire of the world and thumbing our nose at it. Even after Britain surrendered and recognized our independence, few people in Europe gave us any odds of surviving more than a decade. Movies and TV all love to tell us a story about a scrappy upstart who takes on the giant and triumphs against overwhelming odds. Imagine for a moment a movie about the New York Yankees: The coach at the end of the film tells his team “Well, we’re the richest team in major league baseball, we hired all the best players, everyone thought we would win the World Series in just four games, and here we are! We won, and it didn’t even come close!” Yeah, that’d be a real draw to the theaters.

So how can our story be an underdog story when the hero’s God Almighty? I mean, he’s God. He can do anything he pleases with a thought.

Today’s passage can give us a whole new perspective on this. Paul is talking about our redemption. He’s alluding to a common practice back then in which a notice was placed on prison doors once a convict was set free. Once his debt was paid in full, a paper to that effect was publically displayed for all to see. He forgave us all our sins and took the legal charges against us and nailed them to his cross.

Then he moves to another image. When a Roman officer or Caesar conquered an enemy, he took all the live prisoners of war and paraded them (usually naked) through the city streets. He made a living trophy of them. Everyone could look at the procession and laugh at the foolish would-be enemies of Rome, now reduced to lifetime slavery or death.

That’s the picture Paul wants to convey. Jesus conquered his enemies, which happened to be ours as well: Death, Sin, and Satan. He totally defeated them, stripped them of all power and authority, and led them in a victory parade before the universe. They’re utterly defeated and humiliated before the assembled creation.

But here’s where the supreme irony comes in. You might think Paul would say that Jesus conquered his enemies through his Resurrection. Or maybe when he returns one day. Of course there’s a sense in which his resurrection was the defeat of those adversaries. And naturally his return will be when his victory is completely manifested.

But that’s not what Paul is saying here. What was the victory he’s referring to? When did Jesus conquer these enemies, strip them and parade them like trophies? On the cross.

Let me tell you, my friend, if you were standing there on Golgotha and were a witness of those sordid events, that’d be the last thing you’d be thinking. The last thing going through your mind, as you watched Jesus bleed out and die on that execution stake, would be “Wow, he’s really got ‘em on the ropes now!”

But that’s totally in line with what Jesus said before this all started: “Now the prince of this world will be driven out.” He said this before the events of the Passion began, much less the Resurrection.

How can this be? I’m not totally sure. But I know that our Lord has a tendency to talk about things in our future as if they’ve already occurred. As far as God's concerned, for example, we’re already glorified, and we’re already sitting next to Christ in glory.

But there’s a deeper sense in which the cross was a victory. I wonder, I really wonder, when Satan realized that he was defeated—that each striking of a nail into Jesus’ body was a deadly blow to his own kingdom. As Jesus was nailed to the cross, Satan’s grasp on humanity was slipping more and more.

That’s the wonder of this story. It would be amazing enough if our Lord conquered the Enemy through the Resurrection. And we look forward to the day in which we get to see with our own eyes the final sealing of our Lord's victory as he casts Satan and all our foes into the Lake of Fire. But when Jesus made his final decision to follow the Father’s plan to the end, that was it.

He won through weakness. He conquered through surrender. And if that’s his weakness, what chance do you think his enemies have against his strength!

Here's Michael Card's "Crown Him."

Lord Jesus, you deserve it all: All power and honor and glory and praise and thanksgiving. You deserve it, and no one else.

[Dec 25]—Meeting the Real Jesus: In Very Nature

            Boy, this is an odd passage to read on Christmas Day, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we be reading about angels visiting shepherds and Wise Men bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh? Well, next year we’ll go into more traditional Christmas passages like Luke chapter 2, and we already took a look at the Magi a few months ago. Since we’re talking about the nature of Christ, this still falls into the Christmas season. And I think in some ways this passage can “fill in the blanks” on what we typically miss during this time.
            What do I mean? During the Christmas season, we tend to focus on what happened on our “side.” I’m referring to the physical events that are described in Luke 2 and Matthew 1 and 2. Starting with Gabriel’s visit to Mary, those are narratives which describe the physical events surrounding Christ’s birth. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that: The authors of the Gospels, under the inspiration of the Spirit, included those stories in their writings.
            But I think by exclusively focusing on the physical events surrounding this, we miss out.
            You see, there’s more to this world than the physical realm. While these things were happening on earth, something was happening in the Heavenly realm. And that’s what today’s passage is all about.
            When Christians have debated those who deny the deity of Christ, they tend to point to this passage, and rightly so. Paul here explicitly affirms the deity of Christ, and his thoughts are worth examining a bit more closely.
            He says that Jesus was “in very nature God.” It could also be translated as “in the form of,” but that by no means implies that he wasn't divine. As we said before, everything that God is in himself, Jesus is: Eternal from eternity past, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, etc. That’s what Paul is saying when he says that Jesus was “in very nature God.”
            But he didn’t consider his privileges as God something to be used for his own advantage or held on to, something to be grasped, as some translators render it. The Father asked him to give up some of these privileges, and he did so, joyfully.
            And I want to emphasize that he did so with full knowledge (being omniscient) of what that entailed. He didn’t walk into this with anything less than fully conscious and informed consent.  He knew about the indignities, small and great, he’d undergo, just by virtue of being human. He knew about the frustrations, the deprivations, the pain, the betrayal, the mockery, the torture, the ignominious death. And most of all, he was fully aware that carrying my sin on his back was going to—for a short time—separate him from fellowship with the Father, which he had had since eternity past. It would be Hell, quite literally.
           What does it mean, he “made himself nothing”? Literally he “emptied himself.” Now let’s be clear: He did not empty himself of his deity. When he took on human flesh, he was still fully God as much as he was fully man. No, once again this is talking about him emptying himself regarding his divine prerogatives and privileges. That’s why it says he “[took] the very nature of a servant.” Yes, that’s the same word as Paul uses in verse 6. He was as much a servant as he was God. He didn’t just take the “form” of a servant—that’s where I disagree with some translations. That makes it sound like he wasn’t really a servant. He was. His nature as God and his nature as a servant are inextricably linked.
            The picture Paul presents is like a deep-sea diver. He jumps off the cliff, hits the water, and then goes deeper and deeper and deeper into the dark depths below him. Jesus left Heaven behind, took on a human body inside the womb of Mary, and was born. And then his whole life was a series of small humiliations growing into bigger ones. And then finally—the greatest and ultimate humiliation, the humiliation of dying naked on the cross. Let me tell you: There’s a reason why this type of execution was reserved for the basest of criminals and slaves, and was never applied to a Roman citizen.
            Tomorrow we’re going to start talking about the victory of Christ. But I thought that this passage, moreso than maybe even the traditional Christmas stories from Matthew and Luke, is appropriate for this day that we celebrate. Yes, his birth was heralded by angels and shepherds and (eventually) Wise Men. That’s all good. But that falls short of what he deserved. If he was born into the grandest palace on earth to the most powerful king and was worshiped ecstatically by every single person on earth with unwavering loyalty, that still would not be all that he deserved.
            This passage gives us just a hint of what he did. For you. And for me.

Lord Jesus, what can I say? When I read passages like this, my faltering words seem so inadequate to capture just wonderful you are, and what you did for me. Thank you. I’m yours. 

[Dec 24]—Meeting the Real Jesus: So Why Is This So Important?

            So by now if I haven’t completely lost you, you might be asking “Keith, why is this so important? Why do you care so much that we believe exactly the right things about Jesus? Can’t we all get along with people who disagree with us on this?”
            Well, the easiest way to answer that first and foremost is that the Bible not only teaches this about him, it makes a very big deal about who he is. If the Scriptures don’t emphasize or aren’t too clear about something, then I don't tend to spend that much time on it in this blog. But the nature and work of Christ are really really important to the writers of Scripture, so it needs to be important to us too.
            There’s another reason: The honor of Christ. If he’s only a man, then we’re blaspheming by worshiping him. That’s precisely what the Muslims say, by the way. God himself takes this extremely seriously in the Old Testament: He says emphatically that he “will not yield [his] glory to another.” That’s why he made such a big deal about idols all throughout Israel’s history—not just because of what idolatry does to its followers, but because he deserves not to share worship with any creature. And on the flip-side, if Jesus really is God, then he deserves worship, and depriving him of something he deserves is just as sinful as giving worship to a creature.  
            And finally—and this is a big deal to us personally—only Jesus as the God-man could save us. Read today’s passage again. There’s only one Mediator between God and mankind—the Man Christ Jesus. He stands in the gap between God and us. As God he could take all the sins of the world upon his shoulders, and certainly no one else could bear that burden, either human or angel. And as the sinless, perfectly righteous Man he could stand as our substitute to take our punishment. Also as man he can stand as our High Priest and representative before the Father. He truly is “one of us.”  
            Keith, why are you talking about this on Christmas Eve Day? My friend, that’s what Christmas is all about. It’s the only way that God could reconcile us to himself and save us from our sin. We could never dig ourselves out of this mess. An angel couldn’t help us out of it: They’re not powerful enough, and they can’t stand as a representative for us. Only by him coming to earth and taking on human flesh could we be saved.
            He's God in human flesh. One of my favorite names for him is Immanuel. It means “God with us.” He's fully God, just as much as the Father is. But he’s God with us. Not just visiting us. He’s done that several times before. Abraham had that. Moses had that. The prophets had visions of him, visions of entering the very throne room of the Almighty. This was different. Jesus is as much human as he is God.
            And the Ascension didn’t change that in the slightest. It didn’t reverse the Incarnation. He still is fully God and fully man, just as much as when he was walking on earth.
            That’s the mystery of Christmas. And we need to appreciate it, because that’s an essential part of the Father’s plan to save us. When I say “essential,” I don’t mean “really really important.” I mean it’s part of the essence, like hydrogen is of the essence of water. No hydrogen, no water. 
            But that’s what he decided before the first moment of time. Whatever it took, he was going to save you and me. And he did.

Lord Jesus, all honor and glory and power and worship belong to you. In my heart with my lips, I worship you, right now. 

[Dec 23]—Meeting the Real Jesus: Submission and Equality

John 5:16-23; 14:28

So if Jesus is fully God, what’s his relationship with the Father? There are some verses that sound like he’s equal with the Father, while there are others that sound like he’s not.

For example, in today’s first passage, Jesus made some seemingly outrageous claims about his relationship with God. He made a parallel between himself and God: The Father works on the Sabbath, and so does he. He does the same work the Father does. And how did the Jews react? They were ready to stone him for blasphemy, because by calling God his Father, he was making himself “equal with God.” And notice that neither the author of this Gospel nor Jesus correct their basic theology: By calling God his own Father in this sense, Jesus was making himself equal with God.

But what about the other type of passage? For instance, Jesus said that he does nothing on his own initiative; he only does what he sees the Father doing. And then at the Last Supper (our second passage), he specifically says that the Father is “greater” than he is. So how do we reconcile this?

We can do it by distinguishing between essence and position. In essence, Jesus is exactly the same as the Father. Water is made up two Hydrogen atoms mixed with one Oxygen atom; that's the essence of water, and the basic essence of the ice cubes in my glass is the same as that of the water in my fish tank. In the same way, whoever and whatever God is in himself, Jesus is. As the creed we read yesterday put it, in substance he’s the same.

But as regards his position there's a great difference. Once again we’re approaching an ineffable mystery, but in eternity past, God the Father had his plan. And the Son freely submitted to this plan. Jesus did not come up with this plan, the Father did.

And what was this plan? The plan to redeem lost humanity. Jesus left Heaven, came down (so to speak), lived as a human for 33 years, died on a cross, rose again, and now reigns in power and glory back in Heaven.

That’s what Jesus is referring to in the first passage when he speaks about how the Son only does what he sees the Father doing. The Father raises the dead and gives life to the world, so does (or will) the Son. The Father works even on the Sabbath, and so does the Son.

For 33 years, it was the Father’s plan for the Son to humble himself. When someone was walking down the street towards him, the right thing to happen would be for that person to fall down and worship the Son. But as part of the Father’s plan, Jesus’ deity was hidden behind a veil of flesh, and the person could walk right past him and never know who he was. The Son experienced hunger, thirst, tiredness, frustration, pain and finally death.

And that submission to the Father didn’t end when Jesus ascended back to Heaven. He sat down at the right hand of the Father, which is the place of highest honor next to the person who’s at the center.

We’re going to examine this a bit more tomorrow, but I think this is a great stopping point for some practical application. The Son is equal in essence to the Father. This comes with privileges. But in submission to the Father’s plan, he gave those up. It’s the same principle with submission to each other as siblings in Christ. In essence we’re all equal to each other: In Christ "[there] is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." None of us is more important or has more dignity than the other, none of us need Christ more than the other, and certainly this forbids any bigotry based on race or any other background.

But just because we’re all equal in essence doesn’t mean that we all have the same position. The Lord has appointed leaders, both in the home and in the church and even in government. And if the Lord's placed a leader above you, you need to submit to that leader (inasmuch as they’re following God’s instructions). This is not a comment on anyone’s innate dignity (that’s handled by the Galatians verse) but on the position we’re called to take, that position might entail giving up some privileges.

Let me blunt here. The Son of God, considering who he is/was, was perfectly willing to lay aside his rights/privileges and submit to the Plan. So what right do any of us have to assert our dignity and say “That’s beneath me.”? Um, none. If my leader ask me to scrub toilets, I should do it with a smile on my face.

Do I have this attitude in my own life all the time? I wish. But I know what the standard is, and by God’s grace I’m reaching towards it. Who’s with me?

Lord Jesus, when I think about what you gave up, and compare it to what you ask me to give up, there’s no comparison. Take my pride, my self-love, my so-called dignity, and kill it. As ruthlessly as we need to, please kill it.

[Dec 22]—Meeting the Real Jesus: Fully Human

Matt 4:1-2; Luke 2:52; John 4:4-6; Phil 2:5-8

So I get it. Jesus was—and is—fully God. But what happened at the Incarnation? Was he really human, or did he just look human?

The reason I listed the Gospel passages above is that they unequivocally present him as having human weaknesses. Not sins—he was sinless and perfectly obeyed the Father in everything he did and said and thought. But he was hungry. He was thirsty. He grew in wisdom, meaning he learned things. He grew in stature—this is a fancy way of saying he physically grew from being a baby to a toddler to a child to a young man to an older man. He grew tired: He had a limited amount of energy in his body, and he could exhaust that.

So how is this compatible with him being God in the flesh? Once again I’d like to turn to a creed, specifically the Athanasian. Now, we need to understand that creeds are not the Bible. They aren’t infallible. But here’s what they are: The leaders and teachers of the Church saw that heresy was cropping up. They sat down with the Bible and hammered out their best explanation from the Scriptures as to who Jesus was (and is). And here’s what they came up with:

[Our] Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Essence of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Essence of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by assumption of the Manhood into God. One altogether; not by confusion of Essence; but by unity of Person.

You might be asking, “But that’s not Scripture!” That’s right, it isn’t. But it’s a good summary of what the Bible teaches about him. They looked at the Scriptures about his being Divine and also at the Scriptures like the ones above and tried to work out some sort of reconciliation. For around 1500 years we haven’t come up with anything better, and most of the attempts to do so fall into heresy.

But by trying to hammer out exactly how his Divine nature and his human nature interact(ed), we can easily get caught up in theological details and miss the important part of this. The Son of God took on human flesh—for me. He squeezed himself down to a human body—for me. He underwent all the indignities—both small and great—on my behalf. He certainly didn’t do all that because he was bored and had nothing better to do.

He’s just as fully human as he is fully God right now, this very moment. If you and I went to Heaven and came to the throne room of God Almighty, we'd see a Man there. He’s freely chosen to unite himself with human flesh permanently. That means he’s united himself to me—permanently. He’s the new breed of human being, but he’s still a human being.

To rescue you and me.

Lord Jesus, this is a mystery in which I’m seriously out of my depth. I want to know you better, but like David I won’t concern myself with things too wonderful for me.

[Dec 21]—Meeting the Real Jesus: Firstborn

Col. 1:15-20; 2:9

Part of the problem with working out our Christology (beliefs concerning Jesus) is that the Bible isn't a systematic theology textbook. If you’ve ever picked up one of those (a physically daunting task), you’ll likely see chapters with titles of different subjects: "God," "Jesus," "The Holy Spirit," "sin," "salvation," etc. Each chapter lays out for you what the Bible teaches about a certain subject. Most of the Bible itself isn’t like that. With the lone exception of the book of Romans, none of it lays out for us what we’re supposed to believe and do according to a subject in a tightly organized fashion. The Gospels in particular are really hard to outline: The narratives and Jesus’ teachings are all over the place as far as organization.

So when we look into a subject like Jesus Christ and what the Bible says about him, some skipping around is necessary. Having said that, today’s passage is one of the best about telling us about the nature of Christ, both before and after his excursion on earth. What does it tell us about him?

First, we need to carefully look at the term “firstborn” in order to avoid confusion. Arians (people who deny the deity of Christ) love to latch onto a word like this in order to bolster their case. “See? It says he’s the firstborn! That means he’s a created being!” This fits right into the Arian heresy (of which the Jehovah’s Witness cult is the foremost modern proponent) that says that Jesus is the first created being. No, that’s not what the word means. He’s the firstborn over creation, meaning that he’s the "Preeminent One," which quite frankly is a better translation (in my opinion). “Firstborn” in that culture referred to preeminence, not necessarily a literal birth order. If a king had an illegitimate son who happened to be physically born first, that son was not called “firstborn.” Now, it’s true that normally the physical firstborn and the one called “firstborn” (with all the privileges that entailed) were the same person. But based on what the rest of the Bible tells us about him, that isn’t the case here.

So what else does it tell us about him? He’s the image of the invisible God, referring to God the Father. When Jesus told us “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father," that’s what he was referring to. He made the invisible God visible to us.

Everything was created by him. And when we say “everything,” we mean everything: “things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” All the kingdoms of the earth? Created by him. All the kingdoms in the spiritual realm? Created by him.

What else? He's “before” all things, referring to the fact that he was from eternity past. There's never been a time in which Jesus was not. And in him all things “hold together.” I remember seeing this cartoon one time in which a student asked his atheist professor a question: “If protons are all positive and like charges repel each other, why do molecules stay together? Why doesn’t everything fly apart?” The professor answered “Atomic forces.” The student replied “And what exactly are those? How is that different from just saying ‘I just don’t know, so I’ll pull a name out from somewhere?’” When the professor finally admitted he didn’t know, the student said “Well, I do. The Bible says here that Christ ‘holds all things together.’ Do you have a better explanation?”

He’s also the head of the Church. The Church is a body, and he’s the head. That means he determines where the body goes and what it does. Also he’s the “firstborn from among the dead,” again proving that “firstborn” is not talking about a literal birth. There were other people who were raised from the dead before, in some sense. But each of these people died again. They got a reprieve from death. Jesus conquered death once and for all, and death no longer has any hold on him. And although he’s the first, he’s not the last of this new “breed” of human being: He’s the pattern for the new humanity, and each of his followers will one day have a new body just like his.

We’ll talk more about his work in a few days, but let’s finish up with 2:9. In Christ the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. Everything that God is within himself, Jesus is. Again, God is eternal (from eternity past), omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, and as God, Jesus is all of those things.

Once again, the primary point of this is not to make sure we have right doctrine concerning him. That’s really important, but it’s the means to ends: worship and trust and obedience. You can believe all these things about him—at least in your head—and miss out on the purpose for all this. As the old song says, to know him is to love him.

Lord Jesus, I feel like I’m stepping into very deep water here, deeper than I can swim in by myself. Take me by the hand, please, and keep me on sturdy ground. May my beliefs about you translate smoothly into worship, trust, and obedience.

[Dec 20]—Meeting The Real Jesus: The Word Made Flesh

John 1:14

I know we read this verse yesterday, but I want to focus on it alone for a day, because there’s more than enough here to keep us occupied. As I once read in a Bible Study about the Gospel, John’s writings are shallow enough for a child to swim in and deep enough for an elephant to drown in, and this verse is a prime example.

If you’re already familiar with what I’m about to say, then I apologize. John was a Jew, and his Gospel has a lot of Jewish and Old Testament allusions. The first three words of his Gospel evoke the first three words of the Torah. But he also had a Greek audience in mind as he wrote this. The key here in his prologue (which is verses one through eighteen) is the word "word" (sorry that I couldn’t phrase that better). The Greek word is Logos, and it has a breadth and depth of meaning. It can mean "word" like apple, and it can be used in the sense of “message” or “concept.” The suffix “–ology” which we attach to mean the study of something (like entomology) shows something about it. The Greeks (supposedly) believed in the Pantheon with Zeus and Apollo, but the philosophers believed in a concept they called Logos. Nothing John says about the Logos in vss. 1-5 would be that out of the mainstream of Greek thought. For example, when he says that everything was created through the Logos and it's from eternity past. “In the beginning. . .” means that there was nothing before it (actually him, as we’ll see).

They saw the Logos as the principle that oversaw the order of the universe. Now granted, they didn’t see it as a person with personality. But they were familiar with the term.

But verse 14 is where John says something about the Logos that would make them sit up and take notice: "The Logos became flesh and dwelt among us." Literally it says that he “pitched his tent among us.” Again, this uses verbiage which would be familiar with both Greeks and Jews.

“Became flesh” isn’t just in the sense of skin. The word is sarx, which is the crudest possible word the Greeks used for the human body. The term meant humanity and carried the connotation of all our frailties and stinkiness and bodily functions which we don’t talk about in polite company.

This would've horrified and scandalized the Greeks. They saw the body as something to escape from. They saw spirituality as the higher form of everything. Their dream and goal was to rise above human flesh and become more spiritual. That’s why some of the heresies of the 2nd and 3rd centuries tried to deny that Jesus was really human. He only “seemed” human, like the angels who visited Abraham. That’s not what John says. In fact, it’s quite the opposite of what John says. The term he picked means Jesus sweated. He burped. He did. . . the stuff in the bathroom that we don’t talk about in mixed company. If you think I’m being crude just for shock value, or that I’m being disrespectful to the Lord Jesus, take it up with John. His word is actually a lot more shocking than it sounds in English.

But don’t worry. John’s an equal opportunity offender, and he proves it with the other part of the phrase translated as “made his dwelling among us.” The “tent” referred to here is talking about the Tent of meeting. Remember Moses and his meetings with God? He met with God “face to face” in a tent called the tabernacle. That was where man and God talked together and fellowshipped together.

That’s what happened in the Incarnation. And John specifically used a term which would evoke that image of the Tabernacle, which would provoke either worship or violent anger from Jews.

The Word became flesh—with all its frailties and indignities and crudities--and set up his Tabernacle with us. The Logos that was in the beginning and made everything seen and unseen came down and lived with us. And “we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”


Lord Jesus, what words can I possibly add to that? I think I’ll follow Job’s example, and put my hand over my mouth for a while.

[Dec 19]—Meeting the Real Jesus: In the Beginning. . .

John 1:1-5, 10, 14

So we’re finished with the book of John, so let’s look at a passage from. . . the Gospel of John?! The reason for this is that for the rest of the year we're going to talk about my favorite subject—Jesus Christ. Specifically we’re going to focus on the nature and work of Christ. As you read today’s passage, you can see that John’s telling us a lot about him.

As always when we discuss a subject this heavy, I approach it with fear and trepidation. Actually I approach it with a lot more fear than normal.

Here’s why. After the 1st century A.D. and all the original apostles and their immediate associates died off, we depended on Scripture to help us understand. And as sure as night follows day, the Enemy always steps in to corrupt and pervert what God has done. A lot of self-proclaimed “teachers” came forward and taught heresies. One in particular was a guy named Arius, who claimed that Jesus was just a created being. To be sure, he conceded that Jesus was the highest and greatest of created beings, but not divine. But the church’s greatest leaders and teachers opposed him. So it went back and forth and back and forth for about two hundred years, until the church leaders got together in councils to figure out what the Bible teaches about the nature of Christ. They came up with the Nicene Creed, in which they hammered out—as best as they could—who Jesus is.

My point is that it took the church about two hundred years to work out who Jesus really is. That’s why I’m going to be veeeeerrrrry careful about what I say about his nature, who he is in his essence. We say that he’s divine and human. What does that mean? How are those two compatible? The Bible never lays out for us exactly how his divine nature and human nature coincided within one body. When discussing this, it’s way too easy to flirt with--and finally fall into--heresy.

So what does today’s passage tell us about the Lord Jesus?

• John very purposefully uses the term “In the beginning,” which brings to every mind familiar with the Old Testament the first verse of the Bible. That’s an intentional parallel to the creation story: Moses told us that the Lord created everything seen and unseen, and John makes it clear that the Son was Co-Creator at every step.

• John seems to make a contradiction or at least a paradox here. The Word is God, and the Word is with God. How can this be? Let’s focus on the first part: Jesus is, in himself, one in essence with the Father. Everything the Father is within himself, the Son is. The Father is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, and so is the Son. The Father is worthy of all worship and so is the Son. The Father has always been. There’s never been a moment ever in which the Father was not. That’s also true of the Son.

• But the Word is with God. This is referring to God as in God the Father. The Son is distinct from the Father. That’s why Jesus could pray to the Father and address him as “You.” The Father had a plan from eternity past, and the Son freely chose to submit to the plan. It was not the Father who died on the cross, it was the Son. They're one in essence, but distinct in personality.

• In him was life. What does this mean? This means he has life in himself. That’s something that nothing in all creation could ever claim. Each of us--from the mightiest angel and brightest star down to the smallest amoeba—derives our life from another, and ultimately all life is from God. But as God, he has life within himself, and he can give that life to whomever he chooses. All of us are dependent on him, and he’s dependent on no one else.

I really really really hope I haven’t made this boring for you. If I have, the fault rests entirely with me instead of the source material. The point of this, as with John’s prologue, is to inspire worship and commitment to Christ, not intellectual stimulation. Knowing more about him should drive us to our knees.

Lord Jesus, I praise you first and foremost as the eternal and all-powerful Son of the Most High God. Just like the Father, you deserve all worship and praise and thanksgiving. But it starts with praising you for who and what you are.

[Dec 18]--Nine Little Magic Words

            So we finally come to the end of John’s Gospel, and it’s exhibit “A” on how God’s word can squeeze a lot of meaning into just a few sentences. There are nine little words in this passage which, if you really will take their message to heart, will radically change your life as a believer.
            In the last verse of yesterday’s passage, Jesus told Peter to follow him. I think he meant this literally, but it’s also a great symbolic end to the Gospel. We place our faith in Christ, he saves and forgives and adopts us, and then he calls us to a lifetime of following him. In Peter’s case, this included a dark promise that this lifetime of following Christ would end in his untimely death.
            So Peter got up from his spot and literally (and figuratively) started following Christ as he slowly exited the scene. Peter turned and looked behind him, and there was John. The Lord had subtly promised that Peter would meet an untimely (martyr’s) end, and Peter asked Jesus about what would happen to the other apostle following them both.
            Let’s get the slightly more trivial part of this story out of the way, namely John’s end. Church tradition says—and again, we have no reason to doubt it—that John was the only one of the Twelve who died of natural causes. He outlived all of his fellow apostles, and apparently a rumor somehow started that Jesus had specifically promised that John would remain alive until the Lord's return. It seems that the whole reason why John includes this little passage (and possibly the entire chapter) was to clarify what Jesus had actually said and to dispel the misunderstanding concerning him in the church. Jesus never promised that John would remain alive until he returned. He said something quite different.
            Now, here we come to the nine words I mentioned, and I don’t think I can overestimate their importance and the impact they can make on your walk with Christ. After Jesus had predicted his death, Peter basically asked him “What about John? Is he going to undergo the same type of hardship and martyrdom?” Jesus replied, “"If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."
            Those are the words. We look at what’s going in another person’s life, maybe another believer. Maybe it’s something good that going on with them, or maybe we’re undergoing a really dark time in comparison with theirs. We might be jealous of what they have and we don’t. Maybe they have a great marriage, while ours is on the rocks, or maybe we're still single. Maybe they make more money than we do, or at least have more financial security. Maybe we’re going through extreme health problems, while they seem to be in the peak of health. And we ask our Savior "What's going on with him, Lord? You seem to have dealt me a rougher hand than him. Is that so?"
            And our dear, sweet Lord comes to us and says as gently as he can, “If I want to bless him with a million dollars, a perfect marriage, a wonderful job, and the health of an Olympic athlete, and I choose to bless you far less, what is that to you? In other words, how is that your business?  I love you dearly, but I think you need a reminder about who’s in charge here. Behind that very question lies an unhealthy curiosity or even envy about how I’m dealing with someone else.”
            “Would you like to know what you need to be concentrating on? Instead of worrying about how I’m blessing or not blessing someone else, you focus on following me. By even asking that question, you’re showing that you’ve put your eyes on someone else, and that means you’ve taken your eyes off of me.”
            I tell you, that one little sentence really changed my perspective when I really meditated on it. I’ve never been bitten by the “green monster” or “envy bug” regarding money. I guess it’s not in my nature to envy someone else’s financial wealth. I’ve never undergone a debilitating illness, so that wasn’t really an issue. My envy problem? Singleness. I was single for a looooooong time, or at least it seemed that way. The only girl I ever dated in high school ended up marrying my best friend, and their relationship blossomed under my very nose while I was still ostensibly dating her. Throughout my life I dated and got shot down again and again and again and again. I got to the point where I hated the very word “friend,” because that’s apparently what every beautiful girl I met wanted to be with me. You ever heard the phrase “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride”? I was “Always a friend, never anything more.” And all this time I saw brother after brother after brother of mine find a wonderful lady and marry her.
            And then I finally came to a realization that however the Lord chose to bless me wasn’t really my business. It really wasn’t a legitimate concern of mine. What I needed to focus on was following the Lord Jesus Christ. Then I could let him be concerned about whether or when to grant me a spouse.
            And then it happened. I met, courted, and married the most wonderful lady in the world. She complements my personality perfectly, and yes, she’s very physically attractive.
            But that’s beside the point. Whether it’s health or money or a spouse or any other blessing which we see around us, if we want to mature in our faith, we have to finally come to a decision point. We have to hear our Lord as he gently shushes us and asks us “What is that to you? You follow me.”

Lord Jesus, I still struggle with the envy bug sometimes. Dissatisfaction can be such an effective tool in the Enemy’s hands, can’t it? By your grace, I’ll focus my eyes on following you, and nothing else. 

[Dec 17]--Show and Tell

            The last two verses in chapter 20 make it sound like John's ending his story there, but for whatever reason he (under the Spirit’s inspiration) decided to add sort of an addendum. There are quite a few lessons we can glean from this chapter, but we'll wrap up the Gospel with tomorrow’s reading.
            Chapter 21 is taken up with one of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples, one which (as typical) is recorded in none of the other Gospels. The disciples, for whatever reason, decided to go fishing. I’ve heard preachers and others rail against this decision of theirs, as if this choice was somehow indicative of an abandonment of their following Christ. With all due respect, I don’t buy it. I’d agree that if they went back to their old lifestyle and livelihood, that would be a lack of faithfulness on their part, but there’s no sign that this was their intention. Jesus certainly didn’t condemn them for it or even mention it in any recorded conversation either that morning or afterwards.
            Jesus appeared to them on the shore, and once again you see A) The unique spiritual insight of John and B) The impetuousness of Peter.
            What I’d really like to focus on, however, is the conversation between Peter and Jesus on the shore. We know from Luke that at one point Jesus had a one-on-one meeting with Peter, but I don't think that this is what Luke was referring to. That was a private meeting, while this seems to be the official and public reinstatement of Peter as the leader of the disciples.
            Another area of slight disagreement I have with some interpreters is in the area of translating the word “love.” A lot of teachers and others place a lot of importance on the different ways in which Jesus and Peter use the word “love” in their conversation. The first time Jesus asks him “Do you love me?” he uses agape, which--as you might've heard--is a term for a selfless self-sacrificing decision to choose someone's well-being over your own. Peter responds with phileo, which is more of a strong affection. Jesus asks him again, “Do you agape me?” Peter again responds with “Yes Lord, I phileo you.” Finally, Jesus asks him “Do you phileo me?” and Peter says once again that he phileo his Lord.
            Now before we jump into reading all sorts of things into that, let’s please keep this in mind: Jesus and Peter were speaking in Aramaic. And now John is translating their conversation into Greek for us. Now, we know that John’s writings are just as inspired as Jesus’ own words. But John in his Gospel uses agape and phileo pretty much interchangeably in his Gospel, so it’s very possible that we’re reading waaaaaay too much into this.
            Another question we'll briefly consider is Jesus’ meaning when he asks Peter “Do you love me more than these?” There are at least three different ways to interpret that question. He could have meant A) “Do you love me more than these other disciples do?” or B) “Do you love me more than these things [i.e. the fishing career and old lifestyle]?” or C) “Do you love me more than you love these men?” I actually lean more towards the first one, since Peter had claimed unique devotion to his Lord. In any case, Peter didn’t ask for a clarification, and Jesus didn’t volunteer one.
            However, let's not lose sight of the main point of this conversation. Jesus three times asked if Peter loved him, one time for each denial, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. And each time when Peter reaffirmed his love (as best he could), Jesus then told him to feed his sheep. That was going to be one of the primary ways in which he'd show his love for his Master—by feeding his Master’s sheep.
            And Peter eventually got his chance to show his love for his Master in one final demonstration. One day someone would “dress” (prepare) him and take him to his death, and by this death he would get his greatest wish: To glorify his Lord. Church tradition, in case you didn’t know, says that he was crucified upside-down because he didn’t feel worthy of dying like his Master.
            It’s one thing to express all sorts of verbal declarations of devotion and love and commitment. It’s quite another to lay down your life. I hope that if it ever comes to that, I’ll be able to show, not not just tell, the same type of love for my Savior.
            Now here's "Stranger On The Shore" by Michael Card

Lord Jesus, my love for you, unlike your love for me, is weak and cold and faithless at times. By the work of your blessed Spirit, please change that. Please change me.

[Dec 16]--Thomas, Thomas, Thomas. . .

John 20:24-31

I’ve always felt a little sorry for Thomas. I know that there’s good reason to criticize him: He'd heard multiple predictions from his Lord that Jesus would be betrayed, arrested, handed over to the Romans, crucified, and then rise from the dead. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, the problem was that they had seen their Master do a lot of really amazing things and just couldn’t believe that he could do just one more. He’d raised the dead before, so obviously he had authority over life and death. And add on to all this the fact that his fellow disciples were all—without exception—testifying that he'd appeared to them just one week prior.

But do I think I’d do any better? I have to admit that when I hear stories about modern day miracles—and by “miracles” I mean real miracles, like healing the blind and raising the dead—my first instinct is skepticism. I believe that God performed all the miracles attributed to him in Scripture. I also believe that God still performs miracles today. But I also assert that there’s a quantitative, if not qualitative, difference between the miracles in biblical times and today. The vast majority of people who lived during those recorded events never saw an undisputable miracle. They seem to be concentrated around the time of Moses (and his immediate successor), around the time of Elijah (and also his immediate successor), and our Lord Jesus (ditto). Again, I believe that God does perform miracles today, but the vast majority of the time he works “behind the scenes,” not in a direct, unambiguous way. So without him working within me, I’d likely be just as skeptical.

But the Lord graciously decided to show up in front of his disciples, and this time Thomas happened to be there. Thomas had said that he wouldn’t believe until he saw the nail prints and put his finger into the scar on his side, and Jesus accommodated him. It’s not recorded whether or not he actually put his finger on the scar, but I kind of doubt it.

Just a little side note here? When Jesus appeared to him, Thomas called him “My Lord and my God,” and Jesus never corrected him. That’s because it’s true. People who assert that Jesus never claimed to be divine must really hate the Gospel of John, because that’s something the Apostle loved to emphasize repeatedly.

And did you catch the blessing placed upon us? Thomas had to see the resurrected Lord standing right in front of him in order to believe. I don’t. Of course, I contend that the Holy Spirit has to open our hearts; otherwise we’d never believe in Christ. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Lord Jesus places a blessing on us that Thomas missed out on.

Then we come to the stated purpose. John is the only author in the Bible who actually tells us why he’s writing to us. The slightly ironic thing is that this is the only one of the four Gospels which is explicitly written with an evangelistic purpose. He wrote “this book” so that we’d believe that Jesus is both Messiah and Son of God, and that by believing we’d have life in his name. Please don’t get me wrong. I love the other three Gospels. They’re greatly precious to me. And you can find statements in the other Gospels which you can use to share the Good News of Jesus with someone. But when I want to introduce a nonbeliever to the real Jesus (as opposed to our misrepresentations of him), I usually send them straight to John’s Gospel.

But let’s not miss out on the part that applies to us as believers, right here and now. John said he wrote these things so that we’d believe in Christ, but also that by believing we’d have life in his name. That’s not just referring to the eternal life we receive at the 1st moment of salvation. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, we receive life from him, just like a vine nourishes its branches. He's our life, and we’d best not forget that.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your blessing on me as my High Priest. You're my life, and I claim no other. I’d be foolish to look for any other.

[Dec 15]—“Peace Be With You”

John 20:19-23

In discussing the Resurrection of Christ, we need to keep in mind that this was completely unexpected on the disciples’ part. They saw him being led away by soldiers, one of them (John) actually watched him die, and they figured they were next.

So even though John believed in the Resurrection and the women testified to it, most of the remaining disciples were hiding in fear from the Romans. The last thing they were expecting was a visit from Jesus.

I’m really trying to definitively say nothing more and nothing less than what Scripture tells us. They were together in a locked room, and the Gospel says that "Jesus came and stood among them." This seems to indicate that he. . . what? Teleported in, to use a sci-fi term? Looks like it to me, but since John doesn’t give us any more details than that, I don’t want to go further into speculation.

Here’s the best explanation I’ve heard about this. When Adam and Eve were created, they had complete dominion over the physical creation on earth. That’d presumably include their physical bodies. Once they rebelled against their Maker, this control over creation was mostly removed. We still control it to some degree; we have dominion over the animals, but this control is—with a few notable exceptions like dogs--rule by fear and force.

I also believe this changed with Jesus’ resurrection. Paul said that "[We] know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him." He’s not subject to decay, or sickness, or infirmity, or tiredness. We know that he was subject to at least tiredness and thirst and hunger while on earth. Not any longer. For a more complete discussion on this, see here.

I remember this really touching story I once heard. A little girl came up to her pastor and said “Pastor, do you know what will be the only thing up in Heaven that's been made by men?” The pastor told her “My dear, there won’t be anything made by men up in Heaven.” She insisted “Yes, there will be.” He tried to correct her, and finally asked her “So what are you talking about?” She said, “There will only be one work done by men up there: the scars on Jesus’ body.”

I love what I call “throw away” lines: where an author just inserts a phrase or line that’s just casually mentions something I’d really like to examine further, and then just goes on without explaining it. Like when Paul says “Do you not know that we will judge angels?" Um, no Paul, we didn’t. We have something like that here: In order to prove that he is who they think he is, he shows them his “hands and side.” Apparently the wounds he had sustained in his hands (really his wrists, but they considered that part of the hand) and his side still bore the scars of his ordeal. For some reason, the Father has chosen never to erase them. Why? We’ll never know.

His words “Peace be with you!” have real authority when spoken by the risen Christ, don’t they? I can say “I hope you have peace in your life,” or “I really wish for world peace.” But the Risen One, the One who conquered Satan and Death, has the ultimate authority in this universe. And when he declares “peace” to our troubled hearts, he can actually do it.

Keep in mind the importance of context in regards to vs. 22. He breathed on them and gave a taste of the Holy Spirit, but the full, permanent, complete gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church would occur at Pentecost. But that is what Pentecost was: The breath of Jesus, breathing life into his followers.

OK, we have to tackle a slightly thorny subject, namely the last verse of today’s reading. Does this mean that if we don’t forgive peoples’ sins, God won’t forgive them either? If we look at the NASB’s rendition of this passage, it actually makes more sense. It’s completely compatible with the Greek—and makes a lot more sense theologically—to interpret it as “If you declare that someone is forgiven their sins, their sins will have already been forgiven.” We don’t forgive or not forgive anyone and thus control someone else's standing with the Lord. He promises that if anyone receives Christ, their sins are forgiven. Based on this, we can proclaim to the believer that their sins are already forgiven. He takes the initiative, and we follow his directions and tell forgiven people that they are, in fact, forgiven. Make sense?

But don’t miss the wonderful part of this. What an awe-inspiring privilege to be able to tell people that they’re forgiven, that their sins will never be brought up again. That’s something we should never forget.

And for your edification, here's "Known By The Scars" by Michael Card

Lord Jesus, what an awesome privilege to be able to tell people that they’re forgiven. Thank you.

[Dec 14]--Personal Touch

John 20:11-18

After the story of Peter and John’s run to the tomb, we have a very touching scene as Mary was left behind at the grave.

We can only imagine what was going through her mind. She'd watched her beloved teacher/rabbi crucified right in front of her. She'd watched him die a horrible death. She was there when they rapidly did the “preparation-lite” on his body because of the approaching Sababath and then watched as a stone rolled over his tomb. Now as near as she could tell, her beloved Lord’s body had been moved/desecrated (something far more important to them than us), and she was at a total loss as to what to do. The emotional storm she had weathered over the last few days finally overwhelmed her, and she sat down to weep.

This is when our Shepherd loves to step forward, isn’t it? When we’re at our lowest point, he makes his presence more “real” to us than ever before. First he sent some supernatural messengers. But as powerful and awe-inspiring as these creatures are, they weren’t enough to comfort her. What she needed was Jesus, and he obliged.

Why didn’t she recognize him? Maybe grief and a frazzled mind, or maybe it was supernatural work, like with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We don’t know. But for a moment, her greatest dream was standing in front of her, and she didn’t know it.

I’m fully aware that modern American Christians tend to overemphasize the intimate aspects of our relationship with Christ. Lots of people talk about Jesus as if he’s their buddy or Grandpa. I know that Scripture presents our Lord as sovereign over all creation, the Judge of the universe, and the One before whom angels dare not look in the face.

But he’s also our loving Savior and Shepherd, who gently leads those with young and who carries his weakest lambs close to his heart. In front of him stood one of his wounded lambs, and his heart went out to her.

I’ve been married for several years, and I know quite well how much hearing your name on your beloved’s lips means to you. There are over 6 billion people on this planet, but that special someone can speak your name in a way that no one else can. And that’s what happened here. Something in the way he said it made her heart skip a beat, and her eyes were opened to the Person standing in front of her.

I know that the preceding paragraph sounds like it comes out of a romance novel, and there’s a good reason for that. The Lord chose to include this episode to illustrate the intimate nature of our relationship. It’s the Divine Romance writ small.

Unfortunately, now we need to turn from the poignant reunion of Jesus and Mary Magdalene to a more mundane question of theology: What’s the meaning of verse 17? The older translations rendered it as Jesus forbidding her from “touching him,” which would seem a little strange in the circumstances. The more modern ones translate it as “don’t hold onto me” or some variant, and that actually makes more sense. Now that she had him, she never wanted to let him go (literally). But regrettably he had a mission to perform, the major portion of which would be initiated once he returned to the Father’s side. She’d love to be able to hold him forever, but God’s plan couldn’t go forward if that happened. And she had a part in his plan, however small: Go tell the disciples and give them a special message.

Quite frankly, if you aren’t moved by this passage, I don’t know how to help you.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your intimate loving concern for me. When I need it, you don’t hesitate to carry me close to your chest and tell me it’s going to be fine. That’s the type of Savior you are.

[Dec 13]—Run To The Tomb

John 20:1-10

We won’t go into the burial, since I’ve talked about it here. So we get to my favorite part of the whole story. I understand the necessity of the Cross, both in fulfilling God’s plan and for my benefit. It was the only way I could ever be saved. If there were any other way, I assure you, the Father would've done it. Having said all that, I’m always happy to move from talking about the Cross (at least its narrative details) to talking about the Empty Tomb.

I believe that all the accounts of the Resurrection from the various Gospels are true, and they can be reconciled. But they all tell the story in slightly different ways, with slightly different emphases. Luke tells us that Peter ran to the tomb, but he doesn’t mention John there. John almost makes it sound like Mary Magdalene went by herself, but we need to remember an important principle here: Just because a Gospel writer doesn’t mention someone or something, that doesn’t mean he’s contradicting another Gospel. None of the Gospels mention Jesus kissing his mother. Can we then safely assume that Jesus in all his 33 years never kissed his mother?

Another reason to count this as authentic is the strange description of the linens with which Jesus had been wrapped: "The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen." From John’s description, it sounds like the body linens were completely unwrapped, but the piece that had wrapped his head was still intact (at least intact enough to recognize). Why is this so? Why did Jesus unwrap the body linens but somehow intangibly take his head out of its linens? Beats me! But the reason I call attention to it is because this is a sign of an eyewitness narrative.

As C.S. Lewis pointed out, it’s little details in the Gospels which differentiate between a biographical narrative and a mythological story. Ever notice in a TV program or movie how every little detail relates to something later? If someone just casually mentions that they know CPR, that character will be called upon to perform mouth-to-mouth before the end of the story. It’s not that way in the Gospels. Take for example Jesus writing in the sand when confronted with the adulteress. Theologians debate and forth as to why he did it. The Gospel just adds it in without any explanation for it. That’s the sort of thing an eyewitness would include, while somebody making up a story wouldn’t.

I’d like to focus on one more thing before we move on. John, speaking of himself in the third person, contrasts himself with Peter. Verses 8-9 have an interesting take on John’s interpretation of the events. It says that neither of the disciples (and presumably nobody else) “[understood] from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead." But John believed anyway. He didn’t know his Bible as well as he should have. But he'd heard Jesus say—multiple times—that he was going to rise from the dead. And when he saw the empty tomb and what lay therein, he believed that Christ had risen.

This is an important point about getting the right priorities. John had a very incomplete understanding of God’s plan as outlined in his word. It’s there for all to see, at least everything we need to know. But if you don’t understand everything that’s written there, that’s fine. This isn’t to discourage in-depth study. This is to encourage you that if you’re trusting in the plain and simple words of Christ, you’ll end up where you need to be. Certainly it’s true that simple trust in him is better than full understanding with deficient trust.

Father God, I want to understand your word as best as I can, but more than that—MUCH more than that—I want to trust you better.