Revelation Meets the Great Commission, Part 1

I had the opportunity to preach yesterday (the link is here if you’re curious). Such opportunities are always exciting for me but come with a dose of nerves as well! But no such opportunity would exist except by the grace of God and the freedoms we enjoy in this country which inspires a hearty ‘thank you’ to Veteran’s that have served, are serving and will serve our country.

Revelation 21:1-7 speaks to a wonderful future for those saved in Christ.

‘And God will wipe away every tear; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, no crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. … Behold I make all things new!”

—Verses 3-5

This section of Revelation contains strong aspects of celebration and of destiny. And even though the Book of Revelation belongs to the genres of the prophetic and the apocalyptic, I believe there’s also a sub-text, or an undercurrent, to this section of Scripture. That sub-text is the sense of invitation. This a great party, who are we going to invite to come to it? And how do we invite them?

Recall that Jesus said, “freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8b). What we have freely received is the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:9-10). We can’t earn it, or buy it, or barter for it; it is freely given to us through faith because of the accomplished works of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Your'r invitedThis invitational aspect brings two questions to mind. Today, Part 1 will look at the first question, and Part 2 in my next post will look at the second question.

Question 1: “what is the first area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in?” The answer is in the question: the first area is in our lives, in the interior of our souls, the very depths of our being. Another way to phrase this question is asking if the Holy Spirit can move freely in our lives. If not, where are the barriers blocking the Holy Spirit’s movement, how and where are we quenching the Holy Spirit? And why are we quenching His movement?

Question 1, then, is asking us to honestly examine ourselves. But to what standard are we examining ourselves against? The answer is in Galatians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

—Galatians 5:22-23

Granted, we are all works in progress, so it is highly unlikely that we will see all the fruit of the Spirit working in our lives all the time. But we can explore to discover if certain fruit is missing altogether or “ripens” only rarely in our lives. The Holy Spirit will even guide us in this exploration.

Cultivation

A helpful key in this exploration of building the Kingdom in our lives is intentionally cultivating our relationship with God. Any meaningful relationship, whether with a spouse, or a child, or a friend, takes investment, it takes cultivation. Our relationship with God is no different.

One idea to assist in this cultivation is prayer. But maybe more prayer isn’t the answer as opposed to a new approach to prayer. For instance, if we are “laundry-list” pray-ers, that is we foist a list of requests up to God then move on with our day, we can instead shift our approach to a posture of more being with God in silence. Lists are fine, but there’s more to prayer than just that. We need to learn to listen and to be still before God.

Another idea is Scripture reading. Most of us think we need to read more Scripture daily; and maybe some folks do need this. But I think that sometimes a reading regimen places undo stress into our lives or orients us more toward checking off a to-do box on our daily tasks rather than actually absorbing what we are reading. Another approach for consideration is reading less Scripture daily and thinking about It more. Take small sections but think more deeply about them; meditate over them; perhaps even journal about them.

There are several other ideas as well; these two are merely to get our thinking started.

The Point…

The bottom line, though, is the Holy Spirit is attractive and enables us to be invitational people. But without the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are working in our own power and are not in sync with what God is wanting in our lives or the lives of the people around us.

Question 2: what is the second area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in? We’ll explore this question in the next post.   

Lessons from a Fourth Grader

Just last week I was one of several parent chaperones on an over-night field trip to the Oregon 4th_grd_3Coast for third and fourth graders. I was also invited to share the devotional after dinner and before s’mores. I chose to teach Psalm 139:13-16. Verse 16 reads:

Your eyes saw my substance; being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.

According to my research, the phrase “my substance” refers to an embryo; and “in Your book” connotes the idea that the life in the embryo is established, or purposed, by God. Therefore, I shared with the children that each life is intentionally purposed by God. And since each one of them was purposed by God while still unborn, they, each one of them, is significantly important to God.

How important? Important enough that when God came in the flesh in Jesus Christ, He sacrificed for them. But not only that, He then rose from the grave and ascended on high. And it doesn’t even stop there; ten days later He sent the Holy Spirit that all who place their faith in Jesus will receive salvation, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and thereby guaranteeing them to be with Jesus for evermore, amen!

So, the main theme I wanted them to understand is that they are purposed by God and therefore vastly important to Him. No matter what anyone ever says about them or to them, they are a daughter or son of the Most High God and loved dearly by Him.

After teaching this I asked them how they felt about being so important to God. Many hands went up with many different and wonderful answers. But one little girl’s answer arrested my attention so much that I just stood looking at her.

“How do you feel about being so important to God,” I asked.

“Speechless.”  

I was left speechless; so was everyone else. What an apt description from someone so young.

I get so busy trying to understand what I can of God and then preparing to explain it so others can share in that understanding, that I often forget just how awesome God really is. What wonder God presents to us. What wonder His creation presents to us. And what wonder our very bodies present to us.

Speechless.

Perhaps speechlessness is the essence of worship. We are in such awe of God we can’t even find words.  Speechless, or silence, may be one of the main postures to assume as we desperately desire to hear from God. Could it be that our hearts are more open to God and His work in our lives if we are in a speechless state; when we are quiet and in a posture of reverent awe? Such a posture quiets our minds, preparing our souls for God to do His deepest work in the darkest parts of our souls.

Yes, fourth graders have a lot to teach us if we just listen to what they have to say. I’m speechless!

More Thoughts: The Bodily Resurrection

Fleming Rutledge states that, “The preaching of the cross is an announcement of a living reality that continues to transform human existence and human destiny more than two thousand years after it originally occurred”[1]. I completely agree because the cross leads to the resurrection.

Sadly, however, it seems that large segments of Christianity do not.

Recently, I heard a startling statistic that over 40% of professing Christians in a prominent European country did not believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happened. How can this be? Are churches actually teaching this to their congregants? If so, I find this highly disturbing and theologically irresponsible.

If the resurrection did not happen, then why did Jesus ask Mary of Magdalene not to cling to Him; after all, you can’t cling to a thought or a spirit, but you can cling to a physical body (cf. John 20:17). Or what about the record of Jesus inviting Thomas the twin to touch the nail prints in His hands and to put his hand into the gash in His side so that seeing and touching he could believe (cf. John 20:27). And finally, what about His expression of “Peace to you” followed by His patient response to the disciples’ fear of Him by saying:

“Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:36-39, emphasis mine).

The resurrection did happen and it was a physical resurrection. Jesus was bodily raised from the dead; He even testified to it Himself.

Another thought for consideration is the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in the Apostle Paul regarding salvation found in Romans 10:9:

“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The word ‘Him’ is the Greek word αύτόϛ (autos) and it means: him.  We would use this word something like this: “Go ask him.” Most likely, when we say that, we’re pointing to: him. We’re not pointing to an ideal or a thought or a spirit; we’re pointing to a human being, a human being in their totality, their total being. Thus, when Jesus was raised from the dead, it was the totality of Jesus; not an essence of Jesus or some ethereal vapor of Jesus, it was the total Jesus, body and all. So, Paul’s statement takes on salvific significance because he is indicating a faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. He’s not saying believe in an idea about resurrection; he is testifying to the totality of Jesus being resurrected. That is, he is testifying to the physical reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So as we approach resurrection Sunday, let’s do so with complete confidence that when we trade traditional expressions of “He is risen,” followed by “He is risen indeed;” we are talking about the totality of Jesus—He is completely raised from the dead in complete victory over death, the satanic realm and even over false teachers of flimsy theology.

The resurrection is also the intersection of history; without the resurrection, there is no salvation; but with the resurrection, lives are not only saved from eternal death, but are being transformed into the likeness of Christ even now (Romans 6:5, Ephesians 4:22-24 and Colossians 2:9).

[1] The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015, Kindle location 213. I highly recommend this book. It is very readable yet highly profound.

“Anxious for nothing…,” Seriously?!

Over the years, I’ve heard many people say either from the pulpit or in conversation that worrying is a sin. The word ‘sin’ in and of itself, simply means missing the mark; as in an archer missing the bullseye with the arrow shot from his bow. Theologically, it can be rendered as intentional behavior that is outside the will of God (that’s my definition, anyway). Worrying, or anxiety, the word used in Philippians 4:6, is defined as “anxious care” (Wuest), or “disquieting perplexing care … and distracting thought in the wants and difficulties of life” (Henry), or to have “anxious or distracting care” (Bullinger).

Any of these definitions work for me, especially the distracting part. In fact, for professional worriers, distracting could also be obsessing.  Descartes is credited with saying, “I think, therefore I am.” Somewhere in the long line of my lineage, some wannabe philosopher changed this a bit to say, “I think, therefore I worry.” Worrying is one of the primary threads sewn throughout the tapestry of my heritage. I’ve successfully taken distracting care into obsessing care; so much so that I’ve nearly suffered from panic attacks involving hyperventilating with a strong sense of paralysis. Maybe you can relate.

Worrying has taken a toll on my health and on my relationships. And now I’m being told that it’s a sin to boot. Now I’m worried about that.

But how do I stop? Well, let’s read Philippians 4:6-7 and then I’ll explain what I’m discovering works for me.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

As McGee points out, this passage starts with anxiety and ends with peace. But notice what’s in the middle—prayer. It’s interesting to note that the mood of the passage is present, active, imperative; this means that it is akin to a command and that it is an ever-present command. It’s not just a command to stop worrying, but it is also an ever-present antidote to the worrying. In other words, anxiety is always crouching and waiting to pounce on us; whether at work, or home or school or with the doctor, anxiety is an ever-present reality in this life of ours. But so is the antidote, prayer.

 

Hands

Yeah, they’re my hands, but you get the point!

When we feel anxious, Scripture encourages us to specifically pray about our anxiety and ask for God’s help with it (this is basically the essence of the word ‘supplication’). And we do so with thanksgiving; we’re thankful that God not only willingly listens to our prayer, He actually invites us to pray about it; He welcomes it into His presence. Think of it as an always open invitation from God to lift our cares, concerns, and worries up to Him.  I often think of placing the anxiety, whatever form it’s in, into His hands; then I pray that God will empower me to leave it there; to leave this anxiety in His hands and thereby lift it off of my shoulders and out of my guts and into His always open hands.

 

But just how is this operationalized; how is this put into action in everyday situations? It’s taken me years to figure this out, and I am not 100% anxiety-free by any stretch of the imagination; but here’s what I’ve been learning lately.

As we just explored, this passage of Scripture is active, present, imperative. Yeah, yeah, techy-speak, but what it means is that I can recite this section of Scripture as a prayer as often as I need to. And that’s what I’ve been doing lately. When the anxiousness begins threatening me again, I lift the anxious thinking and the specific situation with a specific request to God. Rarely does the situation change, but my internal well-being changes. Slowly, and somewhat strangely, I start sensing God’s peace. I can’t really explain it, and perhaps that’s part of why God’s peace “surpasses understanding;” but the sense of peace is very real and has staying power. My thoughts become freer, I’m able to focus on the present more clearly and my heart slows its palpitations. This calmer state then enables the guarding of my heart and mind through Christ Jesus. This means that when I’m not distracted or filled with anxious thoughts, I am more capable through the indwelling Holy Spirit to keep more anxiety out of my thinking. The stronghold of worry in my life is slowly being uprooted as I spend more time in God’s peace through the ongoing prayer of supplication with thanksgiving.

But now back to the sin part. I don’t think my propensity toward worry or anxiety is sinful; what I think is sinful is refusing to acknowledge it as contrary to God’s will for my life and the subsequent refusal to partake of God’s antidote for it, prayer. But as I become more adept at recognizing the anxiety and quicker to lift it up to God in prayer, the less likely my propensity will turn to sin, and the happier and healthier my life will become.

Church Stew

There’s a misconception about church. Actually, there are several misconceptions; but today I want to deal with just one of them: church as the Great Melting Pot.

The United States was once referred to as a Great Melting pot. The idea became popularized by a 1908 play called The Melting Pot. The idea is one of blending a lot of different cultures into one, unified society; hence, the United States. However, the metaphor is also a referent to a fondue. A fondue is basically a handful of chesses thrown into a pot that is slowly brought to a high temperature to melt the diverse cheeses into one, homogenous goo. Done correctly, the cheese will be supple and silky, perfect for dipping vegetables, meats, breads and other food items to coat them in the unctuous goodness. If done incorrectly, it will seize up into a hard ball of cheesy grossness. But the basic premise is taking diverse elements and converting them into an indistinguishable new element.

Granted, it may be seen as taking separate elements and unifying them, which is not always a bad idea; but it can also be viewed as wiping out the unique aspects of each element in an effort to distill them down into some other pre-subscribed form. In other words, taking a unique aspect and forcing it to become something it is not to fit a specific, pre-conceived mold.

The Assumption

Church is often viewed in this fashion; as a melting pot requiring unique individuals to become something they are not. As McIntosh and McMahan state, “Scripture does not support an ethnic or cultural exclusivism that retreats into an inwardly focused, self-serving existence” (Being the Church in a Multi-Ethnic Community: Why it Matters and How it Works, 2012, p. 179). The erroneous assumption is based on the false premise that typical church leadership wants all the congregants to be like them, whatever the “them” is. As one of the leaders in our church, I pity the person that’s like me because I know better than anyone the rough edges and character flaws the Lord is still working with me on. Yes, I’m still a work in progress even in my mid-fifties!

Scripture shows a different picture, however. Here’s an ultimate expression of church, it is a church engaged in worship. Check this out:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

—Revelation 7:9-10

Wow! What a thrilling scene. It’s astounding for many reasons. First, all cultures, nations and languages are represented. Second, it appears that all present can understand the different languages. Third, all the different languages apparently bring a melodious harmony fitting for worship around the throne of God. And, fourth, the focus of worship is Jesus.

It’s Stew

That’s not a melting pot, ladies and gentlemen, that is a stew! Think about the best stew you ever ate. A carrot is still a carrot, an onion an onion, and a potato a potato; but they blend together not in a homogenous, indistinguishable goo; but into a flavorful expression of culinary goodness. Each element is easily distinguishable but is also a vital ingredient that, along with the other ingredients, contributes to a whole that surpasses anything each ingredient could do on its own.

So a church is community coming together with all of its faults, foibles and failures. We all bring our brokenness with us. But we also bring all of our uniqueness with us; all of that unique, individual beauty and gifting that God purposed for us even before our conception (see Psalm 139:13-16). God takes all our brokenness and all of our beauty and giftedness to build our communities into a stew where each element is easily distinguishable, but able to be so much more when paired together with others’ brokenness and beauty. Church isn’t perfect, but it also isn’t a homogenous goo of bland nothingness. It is instead a flavorful expression of God’s grace, mercy, patience and love for humanity.

The Great Calm

Following is the commentary I mentioned in my last post. It is my take on Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. I decided to go ahead and re-post it now because there’s so much rage in our country that we are in desperate need of calmed souls. Here it is:

The Great Calm

A word of comfort to us, that, be the storm of trouble ever so loud, ever so strong, Jesus Christ can lay it with a word’s speaking.

─Matthew Henry

 

great_calmIt’d been a busy day, but now, finally, they were leaving the multitude behind and sailing off in a small cadre of boats. They were heading to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to hopefully get a little quiet time with their Master and perhaps some sound sleep. But not even half way into their journey “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so it was already filling.” Jesus was, of all things, asleep on a pillow in the stern of the boat.

This may be a familiar record to some; it’s from The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 4, verses 35-41 (it’s also found in Matthew and Luke). Apparently, even today, it is not unusual for the Sea of Galilee to all the sudden have storms sweep over its surface due to its somewhat funky geography; it is 700 feet below sea level and is surrounded by mountains that reach as high as 4,000 feet above sea level.  When warm air from the lake rises to meet the cold air from the mountains it can sometimes produce sudden windstorms.  Here is just such an occasion. The disciples, in our vernacular, are freaking out, while Jesus, however, is unmoved and blissfully sleeping.

Fight Familiarity

Being too familiar with this record risks becoming jaded to it or blind to the reality of the situation. I’ve had the opportunity to white-water raft several times in my life. We go with a seasoned guide and always wear our life jackets. Still, there are times when hitting the rapids just right blasts a white wall of water right into my face and body. At the same time, I am of course, being soaked by cold water, being jostled by the turbulent river and smacking into my fellow raft mates as we all struggle to stay in the raft. And sometimes I fall out; that can be especially frightening. Most especially when trapped under the raft; but that’s another story for another time.

Through it all, the experience is exhilarating but at some points, terror does overtake the exhilaration, especially as the wall of water interrupts my ability to breathe or blinds my sight. The disciples in the boat were experiencing the same terror, but theirs wasn’t the kind of terror that would quickly dwindle as the rapid fell to their rear; their terror was a continual onslaught of strong winds and waves beating into their boat and into their faces; tearing their sails and tattering their clothes. If a wall of water smacked into one of their faces as he was trying to breathe, he could very well begin choking. If the water hit his eyes hard enough he could be rendered momentarily blind, just long enough to flip over the edge of the boat into the raging sea, most likely to a watery grave. Or he could blindly bump someone else off the boat to their watery demise. This was no summertime raft trip down the Deschutes or Rogue rivers. This was literally life and death.

No wonder they were so fearful; I would be as well, and most likely so would you.

Finally, they awoke Jesus.

Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the winds ceased and there was a great calm (v. 39, emphasis mine).

Great…Calm

There’s more to the record of course, but you’ll just have to read it for yourself. As many times as I’ve read this record, I’ve never stopped to ponder the words: great calm.  The word “great” comes from the Greek where we get our word mega. Mega, obviously means “great”, but a thesaurus will provide such synonyms as “mammoth”, “jumbo”, or “super”. The word “calm” comes from an unfamiliar Greek word that can also mean “tranquility” or “stillness”.

Putting ourselves back into the shoes of the disciples, we will undoubtedly notice the deafening cacophony of howling winds and roiling seas; and quite possibly the screams of terrified men. We’ll also feel the biting spray blowing like tiny darts flung off the tops of curling waves while our clothes whip against our bodies in slapping stings, leaving angry welts.

Piercing through this din is the voice of Jesus; somehow I don’t think his voice was high and squeaky with fear, but was deep and resonating—authority emanating from every fiber of His being. Suddenly what was chaotic cacophony is instantly super tranquil. All that is heard is the heaving chests of breathless men.

The juxtaposition of this record astounds my imagination: chaos to calm, rage to tranquility, terror to peace, all in an instant, and all at the voice of Jesus.

And as an exclamation point to this record, as soon as the boat finally makes land, they are immediately accosted by a violent man that is hopelessly tormented and untamable (see vv. 5:1-5). But when he encounters Jesus, his storms are equally calmed and he finishes the evening “sitting and clothed and in his right mind” (v. 15).

You see the similarities? The man went from raging insanity to being in his right mind; the storm went from chaos to calm. What is it that Jesus can do in the depths of our souls? It reminds of the lyrics from a song I can’t recall the name of that I think is from MercyMe; the line is something like this:

He calmed the raging sea/He can calm the rage in me.

There’s no great formula for entering this calm, or more aptly put, for having this calm enter into us. We simply invite Jesus into our heart as savior and Lord. If you’ve already done that, then lift your burden, your rage, up to the Him in prayer. It need be no more difficult than crying out in sincerity, “Jesus, I’m scared because _________________, please help me!” Or “I’m so angry and hurt because__________________, please calm this anger!” He may touch you with an unmistakable warmth or with chills, but He will touch you and lead you “beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:2).

Again, because He calmed the power of nature’s fury and the power of demonic fury (the man suffering from insanity), then He can certainly calm the storms in our souls as well.

 

Deity of Jesus, Part 4: The Wider Sacrifice

Today is the last installment of my four-part series on exploring the deity of Jesus Christ. J.17-5.jpgIt began four weeks ago, in reaction to the apparent lack of understanding of professing Christians in grasping Jesus as Emanuel, God with us; and the springboard was John 17:5:

And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5, NKJV).[1]

Obviously, this series has not been an exhaustive study, because I think it requires several lifetimes to begin grasping something so monumental. But you must start somewhere and this series is my attempt at ‘somewhere.’

Exchange of Glory

Pastor Jeremy Treat, Ph.D., in a recent article, connected John 17:5 as a “loving Trinitarian exchange of glory” at the cross where “we see the wisdom of the Father, the grace of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.”[2] I think this is a significant understanding of the verse because it implies that Jesus, the Creator, the Preexistent One, is allowing Himself to be treated in shameful and unjust fashions knowing that the end will result in glorification of God via the coming resurrection and the outpouring of salvation via the coming new birth in the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ earthly punishment will culminate with death on a cross through the horrible process of scourging followed by the crucifixion. What kind of God would do this? But Jesus endured in part because of His eternal vision of the ultimate result of such a gruesome sacrifice (cf. Php. 2:8 & Heb. 12:2-3); namely the salvation of humanity.

Only for a moment we need to put ourselves into the shoes of Jesus (cf. Mt. 5:14). While we are not being forced to do this, I think John 17:5 invites us to due to its intriguing concept.

The Wider Sacrifice

At some point in Eternity Past Jesus enjoyed a perfect existence in the Eternal Community (see my post from December 11, 2016). Within the Eternal Community, everything was well and beautiful beyond our understanding and expression and there was no threat to disrupting this bliss; except for His own willingness to step away from it and into humanity as the agent of salvation. All that was beautiful, comfortable and perfect was set aside so that Jesus could come and reside among us (cf. Phil. 2:1-5 and Jo. 1:1-18). So while the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is very tangible to the believer, we now need to stop and consider the sacrifice of Jesus at the moment of conception in Mary’s womb. Is this the point in time when Jesus “changed His situation?” I tend to think so because Jesus’ sacrifice did not begin in the Garden of Gethsemane; it began much earlier. His sacrifice began at the moment He left the Eternal Community, entering into Mary’s womb so that someday, those that call on His Name, may be saved and thereby destined to eternal glory forevermore with Jesus Christ. His great sacrifice began upon exiting the Eternal Community and, I would suggest, did not conclude until He ascended back into glory (cf. Mk. 16:19, Lk. 24:51 and Ac. 1:9). In other words, His entire life was, among many other things, a continued expression of sacrifice; a sacrifice that we cannot fully comprehend but are invited to at least try to comprehend what we can. Such effort on our part can only expand our faith while also perhaps humbling us a little more as well.

What I have hoped to inspire through this exploration is a deepening of our love and appreciation for Jesus Christ and all that He has done for us. Jesus is God and as such, carries all the powers associated with God. He could have easily eradicated the “human problem” through any means of annihilation but chose instead to come into our depraved condition to lead us out of it and into His glorious Kingdom. Only through Jesus Christ can we be eternally saved and only Jesus Christ could have been the agent of this salvation (cf. Jo. 14:6, Ac. 16:29-31 and Ro. 10:9-10).

Finally, I close with the words of McCready:

Knowing the Son of God has entered into our world in Jesus of Nazareth is transformative knowledge. If it is true, we who believe it can never be the same again. Such belief is not merely a matter of our intellect—it must affect our thoughts, words and actions as well. That Christ is the preexistent Son of God is the basis for believing God has loved us and given himself to us and for us without reservation.”[3]

 While a lengthy quote, I could not have summed it up any better. It is a joy to push the intellect deeper into the things of God, but the real gain is a further grasping of all that God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Such an exercise only deepens my own love for my Lord and Savior and increasing my desire to make Him known to others. I hope it does the same for you as well. May blessings be yours now and into 2017.

[1] New King James Version Study Bible, (Nashville, TN: Tommy Nelson, Inc., 1997), p. 1799.

[2] Jeremy Treat, “The Glory of the Cross,” Christianity Today, October 2013, p. 58.

[3] Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), p 308.

Deity of Jesus Part 3: Leaving the Eternal Community

Only when the time was right did Jesus come to earth in incarnate form. I return again to McCready where he reminds the reader that of the Godhead—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—“only the Son has changed his situation in such a way that the term preexistence is helpful.”[1] This is an astounding thought that Jesus “changed his situation.” Changing His situation was a sacrifice that is staggering to comprehend.

Expanding Understanding

The lofty and somewhat circular language is purposeful in reminding us that there are some aspects of God that we just can’t explain because they are beyond the scope of our intellect; the created cannot ever fully explain the Creator (cf. Is. 55:8 & Ro. 9:20-21). For instance, how can something exist before existence? What form was the pre-incarnate Christ in? Did His form change once Earth and Man were created (I ask this since there’s a strong possibility that “the angel of the Lord” was the pre-incarnate Christ)? All of these questions are fascinating and worth further exploration if for no other reason but deepening our love for Jesus and what He accomplished on our behalf.

But now I return to the significance of John 17:5 and grasping that Christ was indeed preexistent. Being preexistent means that He was God and He was no less God in His Incarnation. Therefore, Jesus being God in the form of man is Him truly coming into our world from a beyond-our-understanding-existence. Crabb, similarly struggling with trying to grasp the significance of Christ’s departure from His previous existence, once captured what he thought a conversation was like between Father and Son prior to the incarnation:

‘Father, what you ask is painful beyond description to even contemplate. I cannot imagine what the actual experience will be like of not seeing your face. And yet I am delighted with your plan. It will give me the chance to let people see how wonderful you are. The joy of seeing you glorified makes it worth it all. There is no other way?’

‘No.’[2]

The Eternal Community

Imagine the emotional upheaval Jesus went through to comply with the necessity of taking on the form of a Man. He had indescribable joy in what Crabb refers to as the “Eternal Community.”[3] Along with this joy is perfect harmony with the Father and the Holy Spirit; there was nothing disruptive, painful, or evil. That all changed when Jesus entered the world of Man. Here He was treated in shameful and unspeakable ways. Even today no name draws so much elation or hatred as the Name of Jesus Christ.

So often, and rightly, we recognize Jesus for the incredible sacrifice He gave on our behalf while on the earth, mostly focused on the Passion Week. We cite with pomp and ceremony what Jesus endured at the hands of men. Rarely, however, do we ever hear about the sacrifice Jesus made in leaving His ‘Eternal Community’ to enter humanity on our behalf. Not only that, but He entered humanity in the most vulnerable way: an embryo in the womb. I suggest this because we don’t really understand what Jesus sacrificed by leaving His eternal dwelling, so rather than trying to gain a further understanding of that it so we can teach it to others, we avoid it altogether. I don’t say this to be harsh toward anyone, I have spent much time in the pulpit myself, and I would definitely be intimidated by teaching something that is beyond my understanding; I don’t want to look or sound foolish, but even more, I would not want to say anything theologically inaccurate or dishonoring to Jesus. Still, people need to better understand that Jesus’ sacrifice began long before the Passion Week.

[1]Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), pp. 12-13.

[2] Larry Crabb, Connecting: A radical new vision (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 1997), p. 59.

[3] Ibid., p. 58.

Exploring the Deity of Jesus, Part 2

john-1

As we explored last week in Part 1 of Exploring the Deity of Jesus (actually titled Jesus and the Startling Stat, John 17:5 clearly speaks to the preexistence of Jesus Christ. Preexistence itself is a difficult concept to grasp. Since humans have a finite beginning we grope for some sort of previous knowledge or anchor[1] to hang the concept of preexistence from. The most likely and accessible anchor of previous knowledge is that of deity; only a deity or divine being could preexist. What’s more astounding is thinking of the word “world” in John 17:5 to mean “universe” as Mounts attests in his definition of the Greek word kosmos (see footnote #5 from last week). Jesus existed before the universe, which of course means that He existed before anything else ever did. Thinking deeply about this eventually derails our train of logic. Jesus is not below logic but rather the opposite, He defies logic, He transcends it, we could even say that logic resides in Jesus since all things come from Jesus (cf. John 1:3 and Colossians 1:17).

Such thinking either troubles or excites the mind that previously held Jesus as not being God. It was hugely exciting for me; and it still is, but why?

Still Exciting

As briefly explored above, only one “thing” or “power” could be in existence before anything else, and that is God. Nothing and no one created God; He has always been and always will be.  God is infinite. Lewis states that, “If anything is to exist at all, then the Original Thing must be, not a principle nor a generality, much less an ‘ideal’ or a ‘value,’ but an utterly concrete fact.”[2]

Here is where some struggle while others celebrate accepting God as a “concrete fact.” If we are to accept God as such a fact, then we now have a choice to accept Jesus on the same basis or not. Accepting Jesus on the same basis is to proclaim accepting His deity; or stated another way, accepting that Jesus Christ was indeed God in the flesh as Scripture attests to (cf. Is. 7:14 & Mt. 1:23).

After “discovering” this verse, I went back to the Wierwille book to see how he handled it. I was not surprised to find that he did not explore John 17:5 at all. Finding this verse absent in that work was the final exclamation point I needed to verify that I had indeed fallen for a great deception and that it was now time to finally move into accepting and even embracing the deity of Jesus Christ as a concrete fact.  Since then I have put a lot of energy into doing the best I can to properly teach Jesus to any I have opportunity to speak to, this includes to my children, pulpit messages, and coffee shop conversations.

Several other verses also attest to the preexistence of Jesus Christ. The more familiar prologue of the Fourth Gospel is the one most people refer to:

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-4a & 14, NKJV).

 McCready states that this lengthy introduction from the Gospel of John insists that,

 Jesus’ origin and nature are incomprehensible if seen solely in terms of this world. Only when we read it in the light of his pre-incarnate deity does Jesus’ story make sense. … Christ’s preexistence requires that it identify the Word with Jesus, which the prologue does.[3]

 The prologue of John is thick with theological significance. Walvoord comments on the first three verses of John 1 thusly, “If Christ is eternal, it also is obvious that He is the uncaused cause, the self-existent One. As the Creator of all things, He Himself must be uncreated.”[4] Johnson states that,

 The prologue in this case gives explicit expression to the constant assumption behind the deeds and words of Jesus: he acts and speaks as the incarnate expression of God’s speech. As word gives body to thought, so does Jesus give visible expression in the world to the invisible power and presence of God.[5]

 So while the human mind may struggle with the somewhat ethereal concept of preexistence, that is, existence before anything else existed; the same human mind can easily grasp the existence of another human being. The human being is “concrete” in that he is tangible, physical, and visceral; thus, Jesus as the Incarnate God now presents to humanity a tangible example of the “invisible power and presence of God.” Jesus not only embodies or personifies God, He is God.

Another interesting fact that McCready points out is how similar John 1:1 is to Genesis 1:1.[6] I had not thought about this connector before, but I find it profound because in John 1, as indicated above, we see Jesus preexistent and we see Him linked to the Word of God by in fact being the Word that became flesh. Here I’m tempted to dive into more quotes and references, but will instead attempt to coalesce this into my own thinking; after all, this started with my own journey of faith upon realizing my own gross theological error regarding the truth of Jesus Christ.

My Own Words

Only one being can be preexistent and that is God. Scripture clearly establishes that Jesus Himself was preexistent. Therefore, Jesus being preexistent makes Him God. He is God from before the beginning of the world, or of the universe, so He is in fact God and preexistent before time. I say this because I have heard many teachings state that God is either above or outside of time or perhaps both. But the concept of time seems to have been instilled more for Man than for anything else. We see time first expressed in Genesis by way of measuring the lights in the sky (cf. Gen. 1:5). I find this relevant because Jesus existed in some pre-incarnate/preexistent form even before time. The finite human brain cannot comprehend what existed before existence, but one thing we know from Scripture is that whatever it was, Jesus was there. In fact, the opening verses of John 1 indicate that all things were made through Him; so not only was He there but He was also apparently the initiator of it.

While it may sound somewhat confusing and a little circular, the point I’m trying to make is that Jesus was, is, and always will be; He is the same yesterday, today, and forever; He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (cf. Heb. 13: 8 and Rev. 1:11 & 22:13). He is not a god in time, but the God of time and all that came before it and all that will come after it.

In Part 3 next we’ll look a little more closely at the Incarnate Jesus.

 

[1] David P. Ausubel, The Acquisition and Retention of Knowledge: A cognitive view (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), pp. 8 & 101.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York, NY: Macmillian, 1960), p. 87.

[3] Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), p. 140.

[4]John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1969), p. 28.

[5] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, 3rd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010), Kindle loc. 8014.

[6] McCready, p. 141.

 

 

 

Jesus and the Startling Stat

According to a survey by LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries and referenced in the November 2016 issue of Christianity Today, 71% of professing Christians apparently do not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. The survey statement responded to is: “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” Respondents had three possible responses: 1) Agree, 2) Don’t Know, and, 3) Disagree. Seventy-one percent agreed. The article rightly refers to this as one of “our favorite heresies.” God is not a created being and therefore, Jesus as God with us, is God in the flesh (see Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14, Hebrews 1:3) and is not a created being but is instead, ever-existent.

This is a startling statistic; especially when the “un-deification” of Jesus is typically a common ploy of cults. To un-deify Jesus minimizes His entire ministry, including removing Him from the throne of Heaven and thereby from the throne of our own lives. Once this throne is vacated, anything can then move onto that throne. Such things as the cult itself can hop onto the throne as can materialism, greed, self-worship or something of even more depraved nature.

The main question, however, is why so many professing Christians are confused on the deity of Christ? Are church pulpits not teaching it? Or are pulpits filled with pastors that themselves teach against it? Is it rampant biblical illiteracy? It’s more than likely a combination of all of these elements; still, the statistic is sad and startling.

I’m sensitive to this because I ignorantly spent years as part of a cult (The Way International) that vehemently taught against Jesus’ deity. God worked through a lovely young woman to wake me up to my error in believing this heresy, and since then, I have strived to help people better grasp the truth that Jesus is God.

Now that the first day of Advent 2016 is here, my hope is that as we celebrate the birth Christ and eagerly await His return, and that we do so with a little deeper understanding who Jesus is.

Such a deeper understanding began for me with John 17:5.

“And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5, NKJV).[1]

This Scripture is very different than what the cult taught. Compare John 17:5 to what I had read in years past from Wierwille, “I am saying that Jesus Christ is not God, but the Son of God. They are not co-eternal.”[2] Thus was the crossroads of faith confronting me over a decade ago as I realized I had been part of a cult founded by Wierwille. These two quotes placed together evoke a profound sense of tension for the person that truly wants to follow and honor God, is Jesus Christ God or not?

I will assume as a basic tenet that the inerrancy of Scripture is held by both the writer and reader of this post and state that misunderstandings rest with wrong learning or poor personal interpretation. For instance, as in my case, a logical but ignorant person could be easily fooled by the often repeated Scriptural phrase of Jesus being the Son of God. Many can indeed conclude that a son and a father are two separate entities; they may share similar characteristics due to genetic connections and familial socialization[3], but the similarities do not indicate they are the same person. Hence, it is easy to see how a person unfamiliar with all references toward Jesus could confuse Him as being completely separate from God. Such was my case.

However, in the spring of 2002, after exiting the cult, I was fervently praying one Saturday morning for God to help me understand the truth about Jesus. In that same hour I “stumbled” across John 17:5. This verse was transformational for me primarily due to one word: world. The word in the Greek is kosmos and can be defined as “orderly arrangement … the world”[4] or “world, universe, humankind.”[5] That one word nested within the context of the entire chapter indicates that, “the whole verse is about a past-tense experience Jesus actually had.”[6]

The verse is not referring to some mystical foreknowledge, because Jesus would not have been aware of such foreknowledge because that foreknowledge would have rested solely with God and therefore would not be directly accessible via Jesus’ own memory. What’s more, “Jesus’ statement that he enjoyed divine glory before the creation certainly presumes a personal preexistence; it also implies an essential relationship with God, not merely a functional one.”[7] The Expositor’s Bible comments thusly:

The glory which He prayed for now was a conscious, living glory; He did not wish to become extinct or to be absorbed in the Divine being; He meant to continue and did continue in actual, personal, living existence. This was the glory He prayed for, and this therefore must also have been the glory He had before the world was.[8]

Walvoord even states that in John 17:5 “Christ speaks of His memory of the glory of heaven prior to His incarnation as an evidence for His preexistence.”[9] Finally, all this indicates that “Jesus Christ is, at the inmost principle of his being, true God, from whom he came as the eternal, not temporal, Son.”[10]

And, of course, there is much more information validating the deity of Jesus Christ. But that will have to wait until Part 2.

[1] New King James Version Study Bible, (Nashville, TN: Tommy Nelson, Inc., 1997), p. 1799.

[2] Victor Paul Wierwille, Jesus Christ is Not God (New Knoxville, OH: American Christian Press, 1981), p. 5.

[3] Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966), pp. 58-60.

[4] New Strong’s Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc, 1995), p. 51

[5] William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), p. 428.

[6] Craig Kuhn, From Cult to Christ (Maitland, FL: Xulon, 2007), p. 58.

[7] Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), p. 152.

[8] W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor’s Bible, Vol. V., (New York, NY: Wilbur B. Ketchcam, no date), p. 250.

[9] John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1969), p. 26.

[10] Samuel J. Mikolaski, “The Theology of the New Testament,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 1., ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), p. 464.