Friday, November 20, 2015

Redefining Blessing



Matthew 5:1-12 NAS95 1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

This passage is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, because of the location of Jesus’ teaching venue. Jesus announced a total of nine blessings, each opening with “Blessed are.” Jesus is fulfilling the role of Prophet by providing a series of blessings, a word which means “happy.” This passage is full of contrasts and surprises, but since many of us are familiar with these verses, the content often loses its shock-factor. The introduction of Jesus as a prophet who blesses contrasts with the usual depiction of the Old Testament prophets who announced a series of curses and woes against those who refused to follow God. Jesus came to announce that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and this is what the kingdom looks like. Therefore, it is important to recognize that the Sermon on the Mount is not a list of new things that people have to do in order to be right with God (shocking?), but rather it is a list of defining qualities of people who have been transformed by God. This passage reveals Jesus’ upside-down value system of what is truly blessed.

Jesus redefines the blessed life. In America, we have a subtle (or not so subtle) internal paradigm of “the good life.” Think about how these traits contrast how the world defines “the good life” or what the Bible calls blessing. Someone living the blessed life:

  1.  Is poor in spirit. Any sort of poverty in the world’s eyes is seen as an obstacle to overcome, a blight to eradicate. But a poverty of spirit allows one to be humble, leading a person to recognize his/her spiritual need for God.
  2.  Mourns, meaning that he or she recognizes that this world is not their home and looks to God for comfort.
  3.   Exhibits gentleness, meaning a Christ-follower doesn’t have to be aggressive to get things done because the true identity and validity of one’s life is established in Christ’s power.
  4.   Hungers and thirsts for righteousness, meaning he or she prioritizes eternal things over finite and temporary satisfaction in the ways and things of this world.
  5.  Shows mercy, because he or she was offered mercy, and through the forgiveness received, grace can be extended to others.
  6.  Is pure in heart, meaning he or she is not entangled with the evil ways of the world. The child of God lives with an undivided heart. 
  7.  Is a peacemaker, not just someone who tries to keep the peace at all cost. They actively seek peaceful solutions even in difficult situations which forces them to rely upon God more deeply.
  8.  Endures persecution with a vision toward eternity knowing that it is better to suffer than to succumb to the temptation to compromise one’s loyalty to the true King.
  9.   Endures insult because of the proclamation of truth (Word of God) just like happened to the prophets. We are in good company.

In summary, Jesus raised the bar of understanding to show us that righteousness was not a bunch of behaviors that came by trying harder, but rather were qualities of the heart that were only possible to display through God’s transforming power. These nine traits are the result of being born from above (John 3:3). Instead of being depressed that we can never be this good, Jesus delivered this sermon in order to invite us into a new way of life. But the invitation can be a bit of a jolt, for our paradigm of blessing does not include poverty, mourning and persecution. We have a lot to learn. And He can teach us.

 He is the One who transforms us from the inside out, so that we can reflect His Kingdom’s value system.

Questions for Personal Reflection:

How do you respond internally when you read the Sermon on the Mount? Does it feel like another list of impossible feats that you must accomplish in order to win God’s favor? Or, have you responded to Jesus’ invitation to life in the kingdom (where He is the King of your heart), and the Sermon on the Mount is a reflection of the work that He is doing in your life? If your response is more the former, that this is another list of impossible feats, you can turn to God in prayer and ask Him to give you His life from above and so be born anew.

Take a look at the list of what Jesus’ categorizes as “blessing.” Which traits has God been working on in your life (whether you had recognized it or not)? How is Jesus inviting you into a new way of life that reflects these Kingdom values?


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Fixing our thoughts on Jesus, the Apostle

Hebrews 3:1 says, "Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, FIX YOUR THOUGHTS ON JESUS, THE APOSTLE and high priest whom we confess" (NIV).

I have often heard of Jesus being our high priest, but thinking about Jesus being the apostle was a new concept. Maybe that is the case for you. Apostle means "sent out one." Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He called his disciples around him and sent them out, giving them the status of apostleship. Even Paul, called himself an apostle, as though he was born late, since Jesus appeared to him after the ascension (Acts 9, 1 Cor. 15:8).

But what does it mean that Jesus is the apostle and how can we fix our thoughts on this aspect of Jesus?
We must go to the book of John to get Jesus' version of His "apostleship" from the Father:
John 7:16 So Jesus answered them and said, "My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.
John 13:16 "Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.

John 14:6-10 Jesus *said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him." Philip *said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Jesus *said to him, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.

John 17:3, 6-8 "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. . . I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me”

Jesus had a strong sense of His apostleship, being sent out from the Father. He did not speak on his own behalf, but on behalf of the Father. I think of apostleship in much the same way we think of ambassadors. An ambassador is sent out from one country to another, representing the heart of those who have sent him or her. In this way, Jesus was an ambassador, or apostle, sent from the Father to show us the heart of God. In fact, Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus is the radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact representation of God’s nature. So whatever we see Jesus doing, we can be assured that this is what the Father is up to. How Jesus interacted with people, how He had compassion on them, and how He fought against the hypocritical religious elite was all an exact representation of the very heart of God.

It is interesting that the writer of Hebrews uses a title for Jesus as “apostle” that Jesus used for those He sent out. What could this mean for us? While we no longer have the office of apostle (that was reserved for the 12 disciples—with Judas replaced by Matthias— and Paul), we do have the role of apostle to which all of Christ’s followers are called. Second Cor. 5:17-20 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

It seems pretty clear that Christ’s apostleship (being sent out from the Father God) has huge implications for our lives. As Jesus was sent out, so He sends us out (John 20:21). May we fix our thoughts on Jesus, the APOSTLE . . . whom we confess.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Preparing our Hearts for Holy Week: Meditation on the Messiah’s First and Second Coming


Many times, Easter sneaks up on me. It's not like Christmas, where there are so many marketing ploys to get us to recognize how many days are left until the big day. No, Easter is a little more subtle, which can be good, but it can also be bad. My heart is often unprepared to enter into this high point in the Christian calendar, commemorating what Jesus has done for us. May this post start the preparation of your own heart to worship our Lord this coming Easter season.

Mark tells of the preparation for Passover supper and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As you read, imagine that you were a believing Jew among the crowd and spread your own palm branches on the road for the King.

Mark 11:1-10 NAS95 1 As they approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, 2 and said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. 3 "If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' you say, 'The Lord has need of it'; and immediately he will send it back here." 4 They went away and found a colt tied at the door, outside in the street; and they untied it. 5 Some of the bystanders were saying to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" 6 They spoke to them just as Jesus had told them, and they gave them permission. 7 They brought the colt to Jesus and put their coats on it; and He sat on it. 8 And many spread their coats in the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. 9 Those who went in front and those who followed were shouting: "Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!"

The time around Passover was a season of messianic expectancy, and there were many pilgrims in the city for the celebration. One of the issues that was fresh in the mind of the people was Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead just shortly before this last Passover. This would have played into His sudden popularity and for the people’s desire to see Him.  In messianic form, Jesus directed His disciples with exact precision, and when they followed His orders, everything worked out exactly as Jesus had said. Jesus asserted His authority over Jerusalem by riding into the city on a colt (v. 4), not a mighty stallion as would have been done by kings. This was in fulfillment of a prophecy from Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9).

The procession of the palms dealt with Jesus’ first coming. As we look forward to the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday, let’s look briefly at Jesus’ second coming.  The Book of Revelation revealed some of the details about Jesus’ physical return to the earth at the end of the Great Tribulation period.  Jesus entered Jerusalem during His First Advent on a donkey. Read what the Scripture says about how He will return the second time.

11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." (Revelation 19:11-16).

Jesus came the first time as a humble, unblemished Lamb (Revelation 13:8). However, Jesus will return the second time as the glorious Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5). He will return as the Almighty Warrior on a white horse, not a donkey as happened the first time. At His First Coming, many people missed His appearance.  According to John, at His Second Coming He will not be missed. John said, “BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen” (Rev 1:7).  When the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (v.16b) returns, He will come in judgment to a people living “as in the days of Noah” (Matthew 24:37) expecting things to continue as they always have in the past. Since God has given us this warning, we must ask ourselves “How now shall we live?” While ignorance seems to be bliss, it does not lead to eternal life.

On Palm Sunday, as we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entrance in Jerusalem at His First Advent, we can celebrate that we are among those that did, in a sense, welcome Jesus to Jerusalem as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We can celebrate that we are not among those who missed His first coming. As we hold our palms, we can proudly celebrate our belief that King Jesus will one day return to the earth he created.  In our waving of the palms, we can lift them up as white flags of surrender to the King who deserves our whole lives.

Another passage that helps to develop this running contrast between Jesus’ first and second coming is found in Philippians 2:6-11.

Philippians 2:6-11 NAS95 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. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This passage continues the sharp contrast that the Bible portrays between Jesus’ first Advent and His second coming. The first advent He came as a humble servant. In this act of the incarnation and His death, He not only served His Father, but he served us. Humankind was in desperate need of a Savior, owing a sin debt beyond the ability to repay. So He became the suffering Servant “for the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2), paying our debt on the cross. By being obedient to the Father, He will come again in exaltation and power (as we saw in Revelation earlier). The second coming will be very different from the first Advent. In addition to every eye seeing his second coming, this passage informs us that every knee will bow, voluntarily or involuntarily. The choice is ours to make. We can voluntarily bow our knee to the Messiah now, or we can harden our hearts against Him, only to involuntarily bow when He returns.

Questions for Reflection:
1.  The week before Jesus’ crucifixion, the people applauded Him as their Messiah. They probably thought that Jesus was going to overthrow the Romans and set up His earthly Kingdom. When He was arrested and tried, the people rejected the concept of a Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53). They had no idea the importance of His death as the payment for their sin. Instead, they wanted a Messiah who would give them political deliverance. We need to learn from their mistake, and ponder whether we want the real Messiah that God sent (the One who acts for our spiritual deliverance) or do we want a Messiah of our own making (a powerful ruler who makes our circumstances more comfortable)? He will one day set the record straight and deliver us from physical oppressors, but now He is working on our hearts to deliver us from spiritual oppressors.

The question is, will we let Him do this good work in us, or will we reject Him, as the people did before Pilate, not recognizing His rightful place in our lives? How may Jesus be working in your life, even if it is not what you expected from God?


2.  What is one thing from these readings that helps you to trust in how Jesus is working in your life?


3.  Scripture portrays a running contrast between Jesus’ first coming and His second coming. His first Advent already came, but His second coming is yet to happen. How can bowing your knee to King Jesus now prepare you for the Second coming? What areas of your life need to reflect His kingdom values in order for people to see Christ in you?

 


Mark records the preparation for Passover supper and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As you read, imagine that you were a believing Jew among the crowd and spread your own palm branches on the road for the King.

Mark 11:1-10 NAS95 1 As they approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, 2 and said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. 3 "If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' you say, 'The Lord has need of it'; and immediately he will send it back here." 4 They went away and found a colt tied at the door, outside in the street; and they untied it. 5 Some of the bystanders were saying to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" 6 They spoke to them just as Jesus had told them, and they gave them permission. 7 They brought the colt to Jesus and put their coats on it; and He sat on it. 8 And many spread their coats in the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. 9 Those who went in front and those who followed were shouting: "Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!"

The time around Passover was a season of messianic expectancy, and there were many pilgrims in the city for the celebration. One of the issues that was fresh in the mind of the people was Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead just shortly before this last Passover. This would have played into His sudden popularity and for the people’s desire to see Him.  In messianic form, Jesus directed His disciples with exact precision, and when they followed His orders, everything worked out exactly as Jesus had said. Jesus asserted His authority over Jerusalem by riding into the city on a colt (v. 4), not a mighty stallion as would have been done by kings. This was in fulfillment of a prophecy from Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9).

The procession of the palms dealt with Jesus’ first coming. As we look forward to the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday, let’s look briefly at Jesus’ second coming.  The Book of Revelation revealed some of the details about Jesus’ physical return to the earth at the end of the Great Tribulation period.  Jesus entered Jerusalem during His First Advent on a donkey. Read what the Scripture says about how He will return the second time.

11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." (Revelation 19:11-16).

Jesus came the first time as a humble, unblemished Lamb (Revelation 13:8). However, Jesus will return the second time as the glorious Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5). He will return as the Almighty Warrior on a white horse, not a donkey as happened the first time. At His First Coming, many people missed His appearance.  According to John, at His Second Coming He will not be missed. John said, “BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen” (Rev 1:7).  When the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (v.16b) returns, He will come in judgment to a people living “as in the days of Noah” (Matthew 24:37) expecting things to continue as they always have in the past. Since God has given us this warning, we must ask ourselves “How now shall we live?” While ignorance seems to be bliss, it does not lead to eternal life.

On Palm Sunday, as we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entrance in Jerusalem at His First Advent, we can celebrate that we are among those that did, in a sense, welcome Jesus to Jerusalem as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We can celebrate that we are not among those who missed His first coming. As we hold our palms, we can proudly celebrate our belief that King Jesus will one day return to the earth he created.  In our waving of the palms, we can lift them up as white flags of surrender to the King who deserves our whole lives.

Another passage that helps to develop this running contrast between Jesus’ first and second coming is found in Philippians 2:6-11.

Philippians 2:6-11 NAS95 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. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This passage continues the sharp contrast that the Bible portrays between Jesus’ first Advent and His second coming. The first advent He came as a humble servant. In this act of the incarnation and His death, He not only served His Father, but he served us. Humankind was in desperate need of a Savior, owing a sin debt beyond the ability to repay. So He became the suffering Servant “for the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2), paying our debt on the cross. By being obedient to the Father, He will come again in exaltation and power (as we saw in Revelation earlier). The second coming will be very different from the first Advent. In addition to every eye seeing his second coming, this passage informs us that every knee will bow, voluntarily or involuntarily. The choice is ours to make. We can voluntarily bow our knee to the Messiah now, or we can harden our hearts against Him, only to involuntarily bow when He returns.

Questions for Reflection:
1.  The week before Jesus’ crucifixion, the people applauded Him as their Messiah. They probably thought that Jesus was going to overthrow the Romans and set up His earthly Kingdom. When He was arrested and tried, the people rejected the concept of a Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53). They had no idea the importance of His death as the payment for their sin. Instead, they wanted a Messiah who would give them political deliverance. We need to learn from their mistake, and ponder whether we want the real Messiah that God sent (the One who acts for our spiritual deliverance) or do we want a Messiah of our own making (a powerful ruler who makes our circumstances more comfortable)? He will one day set the record straight and deliver us from physical oppressors, but now He is working on our hearts to deliver us from spiritual oppressors.

The question is, will we let Him do this good work in us, or will we reject Him, as the people did before Pilate, not recognizing His rightful place in our lives? How may Jesus be working in your life, even if it is not what you expected from God?


2.  What is one thing from these readings that helps you to trust in how Jesus is working in your life?


3.  Scripture portrays a running contrast between Jesus’ first coming and His second coming. His first Advent already came, but His second coming is yet to happen. How can bowing your knee to King Jesus now prepare you for the Second coming? What areas of your life need to reflect His kingdom values in order for people to see Christ in you?