Set Apart.

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. – John 17:16-19 ESV

John 17:1-26

As followers of Christ, we don’t belong here – on earth, that is. Yes, we have been required by God to remain here and He has assigned us a task to perform until He calls us home or His Son returns, whichever comes first. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation, telling others about the good news concerning Jesus Christ and His desire to restore men to a right relationship with God the Father. But our very presence and our God-given assignment do not sit well with the world in which we live. In fact, Jesus said the world hates us, just as it hated Him. They prefer darkness over the light. They are not particularly open to the message of the Gospel. And because the world is under the influence of Satan, the prince of this world, it is an atmosphere filled with lies, because Satan is the father of lies. Deception and deceit are common place. Falsehood masquerades as truth. And we are tasked with living within this less-than-friendly environment as salt and light, sharing the truth regarding Jesus Christ and salvation.

So Jesus, knowing that things would not be easy for us, asked His Father to set us apart in the truth, the truth as found in the Word of God. In the Scriptures, we have a big picture portrait of what is really going on in the world. We have a sin problem. It has been that way from the beginning. Well, almost from the beginning. Adam and Eve were created by God and placed in a perfect environment, free from sin, disease, and death. But because they had free will, they were capable of either loving God and serving Him faithfully or rejecting Him and deciding instead to serve themselves. They chose the latter. Rather than accept God’s authority and trust His will for them, they decided that they knew best. Rather than worship God, they listened to the lies of the enemy and decided to be like God. God had told them the truth regarding the one tree of the garden from which they could not eat. But Satan got them to doubt God’s word. He tempted them to question God’s authority. And they sinned. From that point forward, sin has had a dramatic impact on the lives of men. Sin separated man from God, creating an unsurpassable barrier through which man could not pass. Access to God was denied. Fellowship with God was broken. And the penalty for sin was death, both physical and spiritual, including eternal separation from God.

But God stepped in and provided a solution to man’s sin problem: His Son. Sin came with a price tag. The penalty for man’s rebellion against God was death. Either man must die or come up with a way to do the impossible and live a sinless life. Man couldn’t live up to God’s standard of perfection. Sin became unavoidable and, as a result, death was inevitable. But God sent His Son to pay the penalty for man’s sin. He became the means by which men might be restored to a right relationship with God. His death, because He was sinless, satisfied the righteous demands of a holy God. And all those who believe in Him as their Savior receive forgiveness of sin and freedom from condemnation – forever. But there’s still a sin problem. Because we have been left in this world, we find ourselves surrounded by sin, and we still find ourselves susceptible to our own sin natures. The lies of the enemy resound in our ears every day. He attacks us relentlessly. He seeks to destroy us. So Jesus prayed that we would be set apart in the truth. The truth of God’s love. The truth of our forgiveness. The truth of the reality of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. The truth of our redemption. The truth of our new nature and our capacity to sin less. The truth of our future glorification. The truth is, we need to be set apart each and every day to the amazing truth of all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Jesus died so that we might live. He gave His life so that we might never fear death again. The world would have us doubt all of that. The enemy would have us question everything we have been promised by God. Which is why we need to be set apart in the truth. We must immerse ourselves in the confidence-building, strength-producing, soul-fortifying truth of God’s Word. It tells us of the reality of sin. It reminds us of the impossibility of ever living righteously on our own. It teaches us of the holiness of God and the rebellion of man. It graciously reveals to us the wonderful solution God provided in His Son. It encourages us to place our trust in Christ’s righteousness and not our own. It provides us with the exciting news that holiness is not only possible, but normal for all those who place their faith in Jesus as their Savior. It is the truth that sets us apart. It is the truth that sets us free. It is the truth as found in Jesus, the way, the truth and the life.

Reordered Priorities.

Give us this day our daily bread. – Matthew 6:11 ESV

Matthew 6:9-13

What is it you really need? When you go to God in prayer, what is it that you typically ask Him for? Obviously, it is perfectly okay to make requests of God. In fact, we are encouraged to do so in Scripture. Paul writes, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6 ESV). John makes a similar statement when he writes, “we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him” ( 1 John 3:22 ESV). Of course, John adds an important caveat that we tend to overlook. He makes it clear that the answers to our prayers are tied to God’s will. He qualifies the promise of answered prayer with an acknowledgement that it hinges on our understanding of and relationship with God – “whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (1 John 3:22 ESV). A little later on in his letter, John makes this relationship between our knowledge of God and our answered prayers even more clear. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15 ESV).

When Jesus provided His disciples (and us) with His model prayer, He purposely began it with an acknowledgment of God’s holiness, sovereignty, and kingship. He is God, but He is also our Father. Because He is our King and our adopted Father, our desire should be for His righteous rule and reign in all things, including our lives. We should desire what He desires. We should want what He wants. His rule should directly impact our requests. His will should alter our wants. If we truly believe He is righteous, holy, just and fully in control as our King and loving Father, we will trust Him to provide for and protect us. Which is why Jesus transitions His prayer from asking that God’s will be done to a humble request for daily bread. It is well within God’s will to ask for our daily needs. But sometimes we confuse wants with needs. We get our will confused with His. But Jesus would have us remember that God’s will is always best. God always wants what is best for us. And when we start to think that the things of this world are what really bring us joy, peace, fulfillment and contentment, we miss the point. Which is why Paul told Timothy, “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8 ESV). Paul spoke from experience. He had learned to trust God for his needs. He had learned the secret of contentment. “for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT).

When we begin our prayers with an acknowledgment of God’s holiness, a self-reminder of our adoption as His children, an expression of desire for His kingdom and will to be done, our requests become much simpler. They become more focused on the essentials and less consumed with the peripheral issues of life. We will tend to ask God for what we need, not what we want. We will find ourselves praying for His will to be done, rather than our own. We will increasingly learn to trust God to give us exactly what we need, when we need it. So that “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8 ESV). But we will always be tempted to redefine what “food and clothing” means. Quality and quantity tend to become the measuring tools by which we define our needs. How much food? What brand of clothes? Does it include eating out three to four days a week? Just what does our “daily bread” cover? Is a house included? If so, in what neighborhood? What about cars? Income? Retirement account? Savings? It is not that any of those things are wrong. The issue is contentment and a confidence in God’s will. It is trusting Him to provide us with what we really need. It is a willful concession to His divine sovereignty over our lives. Because He is our all-powerful God and our all-loving Father, we can trust Him. We can ask Him for anything, but He will ultimately give us what we need. And the more we get to know Him, the more our prayers will line up with His will and our requests will reflect His desires for us. We will want what He wants. We will desire what He does. And we will be content.

As Right As Reign.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10 ESV

Matthew 6:9-13

What do you want more than anything in the world? What is it you dream about, worry about, obsess about, or think you just can’t live without? A good way to tell what is it we really want and desire is to take inventory of our prayers. You can tell a lot about a person by examining the kinds of things they ask God for or by simply figuring out what it is that motivates them to pray in the first place. Sometimes it is a tragedy or some kind of trouble that gets us on our knees. We find ourselves in a place of difficulty and suddenly we find the time and the motivation to take our problem to God. What we want is peace. We want deliverance from our trouble. We want God to do something to get things back to “normal,” whatever that is. There are other times when our desires are even more transparent. We come to God asking for good health, protection for our children, peace in the world, direction for life, healing for a friend, a promotion, a better marriage, or even the motivation to grow spiritually. But in Jesus’ model prayer, He would have us remember that there is something far more important than all of these things. In fact, it is essential to understanding where everything else fits in on the priority scale of life. Remember, Jesus said, “Pray then like this…” He wants us to use His prayer as an outline for making our requests made known to God, and one of the first things He encourages us to do is to ask for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done – “on earth as it is in heaven.” So before we begin making our will made known to God, we should desire that His will be done – in the world and in our lives.

The kingdom of God. The will of God. These two things have to do with rule and reign, power and authority, sovereignty and dominion. As the people of God, we should desire these things. We should want them more than anything else. Why? Because His kingdom is righteous, good, loving, just, and holy. In the same way, His will is perfect, good, righteous, holy and just. We should want what God wants. We should desire that God rule and reign in us and over us. Paul tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 ESV). Life in this world has polluted our minds, causing us to desire those things that, in the end, lead us away from God, not to Him. We need our minds renewed, our desires refocused – on God and His will. Later on in this same chapter in Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV). In other words, we are not to get wrapped up in and obsessed with the things of this world. Instead, we are to have a kingdom mindset. We are to see our lives as part of the greater kingdom of God. And when we find ourselves too wrapped up in the things of this world, worrying about what we’re going to eat or wear, Jesus gives us the antidote: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 ESV). We are to make the rule and reign of God our highest priority. We are to desire His righteousness, His will, His dominion over all things – including our very lives. Paul reminds us, “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17 ESV). In his letter to the believers in Thessalonica, he told them to “live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12 NLT).

When we come to God in prayer, we should do so with a desire to see His righteous reign lived out in us. We should want His will more than anything else. Our will takes a backseat to His, our kingdom is annexed by His, His rule reigns supreme – on this earth just like it does in heaven. Wanting the will of God is a game-changer. It impacts everything else. It should change the way we pray. It should alter our expectations and dramatically influence our petitions. When we want His rule and reign to be supreme, we will be able to focus on seeking His righteousness rather than worrying about all the stuff that sidetracks us and distracts us from what really matters. God’s will is always good and acceptable and perfect. Why would we ever want anything else?

Your Kingdom Come.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10 ESV

Matthew 6:9-13

Jesus gave His disciples an example of the kind of prayer they were to pray. It was to be done in humility, not for the praise of men. It was to be done privately, with an awareness that God was the primary focus. It was to be direct and to the point, not accompanied by an over-abundance of words or cleverly worded language. Prayer is not our attempt to tell God something He does not know. Jesus told His disciples, “For your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 ESV). When we pray, we are not bringing God up to speed on all that has happened in our lives over the last 24 hours. He already knows. We aren’t even informing Him of our needs. He knows those as well. So why pray? Because He has given us the privilege of coming into His presence. Because He is our loving Father and we should long to have a relationship with Him. To some degree, prayer is less about sharing information than it is about sharing our hearts. God wants to hear from us, and we should want to hear from Him. We should desire to know His heart and get His perspective on all that is happening in our lives. Prayer should be a two-way dialogue that includes both talking and listening. We are not there to tell God what to do. He is not some kind of cosmic genie who is obligated to grant us our wishes. He is the God of the universe and the creator of all things. He is sovereign, so He knows what is best and He knows what He is doing. Prayer is our opportunity to come before Him and realign our perspective, to refocus our attention on what really matters, and yes, share our personal cares and concerns.

But Jesus would have us remember something extremely important. It seems that this realignment of our perspective is essential to prayer. Jesus said, “Pray then like this…” (Matthew 6:9 ESV), and the second example He provided us was “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10 ESV). When coming before our heavenly Father, we are to do so with a focus on His kingdom, not our own. The tendency is for us to try and use prayer as a form of leverage to get what we want from God. We bring our well-thought-out lists of requests, expecting Him to answer every one of them according to our wishes and on our timeline. But Jesus would encourage us to come before God with a desire to see His kingdom come, His will be done. If nothing else, this conveys an attitude of worshipful submission to and trust in God’s wisdom, love, and power. Obviously, this does not mean we can’t bring our requests to God. Paul strongly encourages us to do so. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:5-6 ESV). We can and should share our requests with God, but always with an attitude of humble submission to His will. We are welcome to share with Him our needs and desires, but we should do so with an expectation that He will do what is best, because He knows best. When the apostle Paul prayed for others, his desire was that they would know the will of God – “we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9 ESV). There is no doubt that we spend a great deal of our lives devoid of an understanding of God’s will. We don’t know what He is doing. We can’t see what is happening behind the scenes. We have a limited perspective and are driven to conclusions by our immediate circumstances. We are also prone to focus on temporal solutions to perceived problems. If we are sick, we pray for healing. If we are in financial straits, we pray for a solution. If we’re out of work, we pray for a job. But what is God’s will in all of this. Why would we pray for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done? Because at the end of the day, there is something far greater going on than our individual lives and our tiny, temporary personal kingdoms. When we pray, “Your will be done,” we are acknowledging to God that we desire His will over our own. We are letting Him know that we trust His plans and submit our own to Him. So if what we ask for does not come in the form we requested or in the timing we desired, we don’t panic or get angry, we rest in His will. Martin Luther put it this way: “Grant us grace to bear willingly all sorts of sickness, poverty, disgrace, suffering, and adversity and to recognize that in this your divine will is crucifying our will” (Martin Luther, Personal Prayer Book, pg 33). There is a certain sense in which prayer is where we come to grips with God’s will. We bring our desires, requests, needs and aspirations to Him, but we walk away with a greater desire to see His will lived out in our lives. To pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done is to acknowledge or deep dependence upon Him. It is to desire His rule and reign to be evidenced in our own lives. It is to long for His will to be accomplished through our lives. When you begin your prayers that way, it will dramatically alter the manner in which you bring your requests to Him. You will hold them up to Him with loose hands. You will cling to them lightly, knowing that His will is best, and should He choose to say, “No” to your request, it is for a very good reason. And you will be okay with that.

Praying Like Jesus.

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” – Matthew 6:9

The Lord’s Prayer. Most of us are familiar with. Many of us can easily quote it. Some may even use it as kind of a stand-in or substitute for their own prayers. But how many of us actually use it in the way Jesus probably intended it – as a model for prayer? In the Gospel of Matthew, we have recorded what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount. Chapters 5-7 contain a series of teachings from the lips of Jesus that cover everything from the Beatitudes to the Golden Rule. As He sat on the mountainside, Jesus taught on a wide range of topics, dealing with anger, divorce, lust, fasting, love of enemies, judging others, and living as salt and light. This was radical stuff. And the controversial nature of what Jesus had to say did not escape his audience. Matthew records: “And when Jesus had finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29 ESV).

In a lot of ways, Jesus was the antithesis of the scribes, Pharisees and other religious leaders of His day. In fact, He would constantly expose them as hypocrites, accusing them of having exterior conformity, but lacking true hearts for God. So much of what He said was a direct attack on the legalistic and outwardly moralistic example of these so-called religious leaders. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was upping the ante. He was revealing that the Kingdom of God was about much more that outward adherence to a set of rules or some form of behavior modification. It was about heart change – something that men were incapable of on their own. The Lord’s Prayer lies smack dab in the middle of His sermon, tucked in with some rather harsh words regarding the hypocritical, self-centered motivation of so much of what the religious elite did in the name of spirituality. He exposed their prayer lives as little more than a poorly veiled attempt to get noticed by others. They were looking for recognition from men. They prayed to impress others, rather than to get to know God. So Jesus said, “Pray then like this…” And then He gave them a short, succinct example of what a selfless, God-centered, humble prayer looks like. And He did not provide this as a prayer to be prayed by rote. It was never meant to be a substitute for our own personal prayers. But it does give us a wonderful outline around which we can customize our conversations with our heavenly Father.

Jesus starts out His prayer with a focus of the Father. He sets the tone for prayer by reminding us that we are entering into the presence of our heavenly Father – a staggering reality that was made possible by His death, burial and resurrection. It is because Jesus gave His life that we have been made right with God. His death atoned for our sins. His sinless life made Him the perfect sacrifice – allowing Him to satisfy the just demands of a holy God. And as a result, we are now God’s children. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1 ESV). Paul takes it a step further. “And since we are his children, we are his heirs” (Romans 8:17 NLT). “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:5 NLT). So when we come to God in prayer, we must come to grips with the astounding realization that we are God’s children. He loves us. He desires to be with us. But Jesus seems to want us to understand that we must never forget that while God is our Father, He resides in heaven. There is a stark differentiation between God and man. He is spiritual in nature. He exists elsewhere, outside of time and space. He is divine and we are human. He is the great creator God of the universe. Which should make our position as His children that much more remarkable to us. We are children of God! And that designation is not shared by all mankind. While all men have been created by Him, only those who have placed their faith in Jesus as their Savior from sin can claim the unique designation as sons and daughters of God. John writes in his Gospel, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13 ESV). So when we come to God in prayer, we must remember that He is God. Yes, He is our Father, but that intimacy should always be tempered with respect and recognition of His majesty and glory. We should also recall that our entrance into His presence is a privilege, not a right. We enter by virtue of the blood of Christ, not our own self-worth or any intrinsic value. We have been adopted by God. That should blow us away. We can come freely, gladly, boldly, expectantly, but it should always be reverently, with a unwavering recognition of God’s holiness. But we’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

The Incarnation.

It has been interesting to see some of the responses to my recent posts concerning the book of First John. Much of what John was dealing with in his letter head to do with heresies entering the early Church. As Christianity spread, so did the variety and numbers of different interpretations of the gospel. The book of First John is a pastoral letter addressed to believers and designed to both warn and encourage them. His intention was to provide them with assurance concerning their beliefs in Christ. Throughout the letter John used the phrase, “by this we know.” He wanted them to know, without a shadow of doubt, that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. But He was much more than just a human savior, an earthly deliverer who would provide them with victory over their earthly enemies. He came to be their Savior from sin and their means for enjoying a right relationship with God. For generations, the Jews had believed that the Mosaic Law was the key to achieving a right relationship with God. Human effort had been the accepted means by which men could find favor with God. The sacrificial system, given by God, was used by men to have their sins cleansed and forgiven. The very fact that the sacrificial system existed was proof that men were incapable of keeping God’s commands. Paul writes, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21 ESV). The law revealed man’s sin, but could do nothing to remove it. The law simply exposed man’s inability to meet God’s holy standards. Which is why God provided a Savior.

But it is at that point that so many continue to stumble today. I have received comments from some who refuse to accept the deity of Christ. They argue that Jesus was nothing more than a man, created by God. This is not a new view. John battled the same errant belief in his day. One of the comments I received stated, “‘And the Word was made flesh’ talks about the Word or the Speaking which became a reality, namely a man of flesh and blood, who after his resurrection proved to his disciples that he was not a Spirit (though God is Spirit) and told them so.” It is subtle, but what he is saying is that Jesus was nothing more than a man into whom the Word or Spirit of God entered. He was flesh and blood. But the disturbing point about this teaching is that it rejects the deity of Christ. For John, the deity of Christ was a non-negotiable ingredient to the gospel. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…” (1 John 1:1 ESV). He was not speaking of some disembodied Spirit or force, but of Jesus Christ Himself. He was from the beginning. He was the eternal life. As John states in his gospel, “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:2-3 ESV).

There are those today who still reject the deity of Christ. They refuse to accept Him as God. This was the same problem Jesus ran into during His earthly ministry. On one occasion, as Jesus was walking through the temple in Jerusalem, the Jews demand to know if He is the Messiah. Jesus makes a simple, but direct comment: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). And the immediate response of the Jews was to pick up stones and kill Him. Why? They provided the answer. “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV). The Jews clearly understood Jesus’ claim to be God. He was not just claiming to be a man who had the Spirit of God within Him. He and God the Father were one. It is Jesus’ deity, miraculously blended with His humanity, that made Him a fitting sacrifice for the sins of man. To believe anything else is to believe another gospel. If we believe that we can simply emulate the life of Christ and share in the divine Spirit as He did, we miss the point of His life, death, and resurrection. The belief that God became flesh is essential to the gospel. Yet, as in John’s day, there are those who refuse to accept it.  Again, one of the recent comments I received put it this way: “Having come down in the form of a god, does not mean Jesus came down as the God of gods.” In other words, Jesus was NOT God, but a little god. And according to this teaching, we can become a little god by following His example. But this is NOT the gospel. And the apostle Paul had strong words for those who would attempt to explain away the true essence of the gospel message. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV).

Day 151 – Mark 16:19-21; Luke 24:50-53

Ascended, but Interceding.

Mark 16:19-21; Luke 24:50-53

And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them. – Mark 16:20 NLT

This is it. The end of the story of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. But is it really? While we will wrap up the closing moments of Jesus’ ministry here on earth, He is far from done. His impact is far from over. He work is not yet complete. He finished that portion of God’s plan for which He had come – offering Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind and dying on the cross as payment to satisfy the just demands of a holy God. But He rose from the dead “and was taken up into heaven and sat down at the place of honor at God’s right hand” (Mark 16:19 NLT). Jesus returned to His Father’s side. He rightfully took back His place of honor which had been reserved for Him while He was obediently accomplishing the will of His Father on earth. Paul reminds us that when He came to earth, “he did not think equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:6-7 NLT). And when Jesus had “humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on the cross” (Philippians 2:8 NLT), God “elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names” (Philippians 2:9 NLT).

But what is Jesus doing now? What is His role at this very moment? Paul tells us, “Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34 NET). He represents us before the Father. He is our representative before the very throne of God. And when God looks at us, He sees us through Christ’s righteousness. We are covered by His blood. Our sins have been paid for and forgiven because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf. He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven” (Hebrews 7:25-26 NLT). God listens to Him. He is like personal legal representative before the throne of God. When we sin, He speaks on our behalf. And we do sin. John writes, “My dear children, I am writing this to you to that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous” (1 John 2:1 NLT).

We can rest assured that Jesus is doing His job. He is not in retirement mode. He is far from done. In fact, He is preparing to return and fully complete what He began. But in the meantime, we have work to do – just as the disciples did. Mark tells us that after Jesus ascended, the “disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs” (Mark 16:20 NLT). They had work to do. They had a message to share and spread throughout the world. And Jesus was with them. He confirmed their words with miraculous signs. His Spirit accompanied them and empowered them. Jesus was busy continuing His transformative work in their lives through the ministry of the Spirit. As they obeyed His command to go and tell, His Spirit was busy transforming these men into powerful messengers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was molding them into the likeness of Jesus Himself. And that is what He wants to do in each of our lives today. Jesus is in the life transforming business. He is actively pursuing heart-change in the lives of His followers. He is continually saving us from sinful selves. He is praying for us. He is interceding with the Father on our behalf. He is preparing a place for us. And He is planning to return for us. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. The, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (NLT).

Thank You Jesus, that You are not done. I am so grateful that You are my representative before God Himself. You have a place seated right next to Him and, while I am stuck here on this planet, You are speaking to Him on my behalf. You pray for me and plead my case for me before the Father. And You are some day coming back for me. I don’t know when it is, but it gives me hope and confidence that helps me make it in this world. Your work of salvation is not yet complete. There is more to this story than just Your ascension into heaven. As the angel told the disciples on the day You left them, some day you will return from heaven in the same way they saw you go. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 150 – Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:44-49

Go!

Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:44-49

“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:15-16 NLT

The Great Commission. These are the last words spoken by Jesus to His disciples. So they carry a significant amount of weight. After three and half years of ministry together, a gruesome death and His miraculous resurrection, Jesus is now leaving His disciples, but He had one last thing to tell them before He departed. It was a commission or charge. He told them to “Go!” He was sending them out as His ambassadors and emissaries with the message of the Good News of salvation through belief in Him. And they weren’t just to go to their neighbor, they were to take this vital message to the ends of the earth. They were to preach to all the nations. Think about what Jesus said. Give some thought as to just whom He is speaking to. These are the same 11 men who He had chosen three and a half years earlier. They were common men. They were uneducated for the most part. They were slow to learn and had missed out on so many of His important messages to them. Even after His resurrection, they still struggled with belief. But He was giving them a commission to act as His spokesmen and to take His message of salvation to the world. I can’t help but think that they felt overwhelmed at His words. They could not have been brimming with confidence at the thought of pulling off His command, especially in light of all that had just happened to Him. But Jesus was giving them authority – His authority – and they had seen what they could do with that kind of authority. He had sent them out before with authority to heal diseases and cast out demons, and they had returned reporting, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!” (Luke 10:17 NLT). So they had first-hand experience regarding His authority and what they could accomplish with it. Jesus even suggests that their efforts on His behalf will be accompanied by miraculous signs, including the casting out of demons and speaking in new languages they didn’t know. Then He gave them two other “signs” that were a bit more spectacular or odd. He told them that anyone who believes will be able to handle poisonous snakes with safety and drink poison without ill effect. They will be able to place their hands on the sick and see them healed. Now we know that many of these signs took place shortly after Jesus ascended back into heaven and after the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. On the day of Pentecost, filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples proclaimed the Gospel in languages they didn’t know to the multi-cultural crowd who had gathered. Later on, they healed the sick. Paul, on one of His missionary journeys, was bitten by a poisonous snake and shook it off with no harm coming to him.

While there are those who want to use this verse as a proof-text to justify their believes in sign gifts and tongues, I believe Jesus is addressing two kind of belief in this passage. He said, “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16 NLT). At that point, Jesus is talking about anyone who responds to the Good News and believes. Their belief in the Gospel message would result in their salvation, and should be followed by water baptism. Refusal to believe the Good News would result in condemnation and eternal separation from God. Then I think Jesus addresses a different kind of belief. He looks at the disciples and says, “These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe” (Mark 16:17 NLT). At this point He is addressing the disbelief of the disciples. They can’t believe what He is asking them to do. They can’t comprehend how they are going to go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. It all sounds impossible and inconceivable. So Jesus reminds them that if they will believe in Him and His promise of authority, their going will be accompanied by miraculous signs, just as they had experienced before. Jesus is not necessarily telling them that these are the specific signs they will see, but the kinds of signs that will accompany their efforts. Speaking in foreign tongues makes sense because they are going to be going to all the nations, attempting to minister in languages they don’t know. They will need to cast out demons just as Jesus had done, because spiritual warfare was going to increase, not decrease. They would find themselves in situations, like Paul, where they were in remote places and exposed to dangerous circumstances, facing everything from poisonous snakes to enemies who might try to poison them. Whatever happened, they were not to worry, but believe. They would have the authority of Jesus on their side.

These words of encouragement were needed. Jesus was leaving and He knew that things were going to get difficult for the disciples. He wanted them to know that just as belief precedes salvation, belief would have to precede their efforts at global proclamation. What He was asking them to do was impossible. They were ill-equipped and under-educated for the task. But they simply needed to believe, then go. He would take care of the rest.

Father, it almost seems easier to believe in order to be saved, then it is to believe and obey Your Son’s command to go and tell. We find it so easy to justify our inaction due to inability or lack of training. But Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to go when they were ready or equipped. He simply said believe and go. He would take care of what they needed. He would be with them. We are to believe what Jesus told us to do and go and do it. Obedience requires faith. We have been given authority to go, so we must take Him at His word and do what He has called us to do. Faithfully. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 149 – Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-21:25

Believe.

Matthew 28:9-15; Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-35

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” – John 20:29 NLT

In the days following His resurrection, Jesus continued to appear to His disciples at various times. On one of these occasions, when Jesus had suddenly appeared in a room where the disciples had gathered behind locked doors, Thomas had been absent for some reason. And when he was told later by the other disciples “We have seen the Lord!” (John 20:25 NLT), he responded in disbelief and doubt. “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side” (John 20:25 NLT). Eight days later, he would get his wish fulfilled, when Jesus appeared to them once again. It’s interesting to note that they are meeting behind locked doors again, even though they have seen the risen Lord. They’re fearful of the Jewish religious leaders, who have accused them of stealing the body of Jesus. But Jesus appears to them yet again, and this time Thomas is there. Jesus knew what Thomas had said the last time and so He offers him a chance to satisfy his doubt. “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe” (John 20:27 NLT). Can you imagine the shame and embarrassment that Thomas must have felt as Jesus stood before him, offering him the opportunity to stick his fingers into the wounds in His hands and place his hand into the wound in His side? When Thomas had made his bold statement of doubt, it had been dripping with sarcasm. He refused to believe what the others had said. True to his nickname, “Doubting Thomas,” he could not bring himself to accept the fact that Jesus was alive. But now, the evidence was standing right in front of his face, and Jesus simple says, “Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe.” Jesus confronted his disbelief and lack of faith. He demanded him to become “Believing Thomas.” And as a result, all Thomas can say is, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 NLT). To which Jesus responds, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” (John 20:29 NLT). Jesus knew that there were going to be many who would never have the privilege and honor of having seen the risen Lord with their own two eyes. He was going to return to the Father and His physical presence would be removed from this earth. But there would be many who would hear the news of His life, death and resurrection – and believe. They would hear the Good News and respond in faith.

Jesus went out of His way to assure His disciples that He had risen from the dead. He addressed their doubts. He assuaged their fears. He gave them evidence in order to eliminate their lingering doubts. John tells us that they “saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name” (John 20:30-31 NLT). John recorded all these events so that those who came after him might know exactly who Jesus was and all that He had done. He shared his eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus. He gave detailed witness to the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection. He was given the benefit of seeing Jesus alive so that he might be motivated to tell others of the truth of Jesus’ claims. Jesus WAS the Messiah. He truly was the Son of God. He really had died on the cross for the sins of man. He did give His life and take on the sins of all mankind so that we might be restored to a right relationship with God. It was all true, and John went out of his way to put it in writing, so that we might believe. And Jesus calls to us today, just as He did to Thomas,
“Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

Father, it is so easy to doubt. It just seems to come naturally to us as human beings. Even after all Jesus has done for us, we can still so easily doubt the reality of who He is and what He had done. We can doubt that we have the forgiveness He died to provide. We can doubt we have the power He said He would make available to us through the Holy Spirit. We can doubt Your love for us, even though His death was the greatest expression of Your love. We can doubt He is with us, even though He constantly intercedes for us in Your presence. We can doubt He is ever coming back, in spite of the fact that He promised He would. Help us to not be faithless any longer, but believe. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 148 – Matthew 28:9-15; Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-35

Believe It or Not.

Matthew 28:9-15; Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-35

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.” – Luke 24:17-18 NLT

This is a wonderful story, full of irony, humor, and fascinating juxtapositions of sorrow and joy, defeat and victory, and tragedy and triumph. Jesus has risen from the dead and has begun revealing Himself to many of His followers. News about His resurrection has begun to spread, but it has been met with disbelief and incredulity. When the Jewish religious leaders were informed about what had happened at the tomb by the guards who were ordered to protect the body from being stolen, they couldn’t believe their ears either. This was the worst thing that could have happened. It was what they had feared would happen and they they had begged Pilate to post guards at the tomb in the first place. But rather than believe the guards’ stories and accept that Jesus had risen from the dead, they concoct a lie that accuses the disciples of stealing the body while the guards were sleeping. Think about that. While the guards slept, somehow the disciples rolled away a large stone from the face of the cave and then carried off the body of Jesus – all without waking the guards! And how would this admission of dereliction of duty look on the records of the Roman guards? Sleeping on the job would not be a career enhancer for these men. But evidently the story of an earthquake and an angel appearing and rolling away the stone sounded far too unbelievable too. And the fact that the guards fainted at the sight of it all would not exactly leave the guards looking good in the eyes of their superiors either. So they agreed to spread the lie, and it became the popular explanation among the Jews as to what had happened that day.

But meanwhile Jesus was living, breathing and walking about. He was revealing Himself to His followers. And Luke records His encounter with the two on the road to Emmaus. They were leaving Jerusalem and heading home. Their mood is one of sorrow, dejection, and disappointment. Their dreams have been shattered. Their Messiah is dead. And all their hopes of a restored Jewish kingdom and salvation from Roman rule have died with Jesus. Then suddenly, Jesus appears walking next to them, but “God kept them from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16 NLT). Here was the resurrected Jesus walking right beside them, but they didn’t realize it. So Jesus asked them what they were discussing and they respond with surprise at this individual’s ignorance of current events. “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days” (Luke 24:18 NLT). Unbeknownst to him, Cleopas was addressing his somewhat sarcastic remark to the very one to whom all “the things” had happened. So Jesus, playing dumb, asks, “What things?” Then they begin to tell Jesus all that had taken place. But notice what he says. “He WAS a prophet.” “He WAS a mighty teacher.” “We had HOPED he was the Messiah.” They had been told that His body WAS missing. These same individuals also told them that angels had appeared to them saying the Jesus was alive. But Cleopas and his friend hadn’t believed a word of it. Why? Because Luke tells us that when Jesus found them walking on the road, they had “sadness written across their faces” (Luke 24:17 NLT). Despite the fact that there was news that the body of Jesus was no longer in the tomb and that He had risen from the dead, they refused to believe. They were headed home in defeat and disbelief. So Jesus said, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26 NLT).

Then Jesus began to unpack the Old Testament Scriptures, from the writing of Moses to all the writings of the prophets, showing them all the things concerning the Messiah. This was a comprehensive Bible study taught by the Savior Himself, and the focus of the study was Jesus. Later, when they finally recognized who it was who had been walking and talking with them, they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn with us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32 NLT). Why did their hearts burn? What was it that lit a fire inside them? At that point they still didn’t recognize Him, but as they had the Scriptures opened up to them, they became convinced about who Jesus was and all that the Messiah had come to do. The written Word of God opened their eyes so that they could receive and believe in the living Word of God. Now, rather than going home, they returned to Jerusalem and found the disciples and told them about their encounter with the risen Lord.

The Word of God reveals the Son of God. The Old Testament gives us a vivid glimpse into the life of the Savior. He is represented throughout the writings of Moses and the prophets. His suffering, death and ultimate resurrection was prophesied. His crucifixion was predicted in vivid detail. His torture at the hands of the Romans was written about hundreds of years before it happened. His substitutionary death and sinless sacrifice were told clearly presented long before they ever happened. But all those things were overlooked or ignored by generations of Jews because they didn’t fit their concept of who the Messiah would be. But God’s ways are not man’s ways. He never does things the way we would. He had a plan that would make no sense to us. But it was the only plan that would work. It was the only plan that would satisfy His holiness and still allow Him to extend grace, love and mercy to those who had openly rebelled against Him. Jesus was the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament predicted. The writer of Hebrews tell us, “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven” (Hebrews 1:1-3 NLT). God had predicted the coming of His Son. Then He actually sent Him to do what He had to do. And one day He is coming back to complete God’s plan. And the Scriptures reveal that part of the Messiah’s assignment as well. Believe it, or not.

Father, Your written Word is full of insights into the life and ministry of Your Son, and it’s not relegated just to the Gospels. His life and ministry is found throughout the Scriptures. Give us a desire to know Him better. Give us a passion for Your Word because it is in Your Word where we discover the truth regarding Your Son and His ministry, past, present and future. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org