We Observed His Glory!

-That “Ah-Hah”” Moment!

One of my favorite movies is M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller, “The Sixth Sense” because it got me! If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t watched it yet; but, the story is about a troubled boy who believes he sees & speaks with dead people; and, an equally troubled child psychologist, played by Bruce Willis, who tries to help the boy even as he struggles to save his dying marriage. The movie takes several twists & turns; but, the biggest twist takes place at the very end when the truth is revealed to the child psychologist; and, you realize that the whole movie was not at all what it seemed. With that one vital piece of information, every scene, in the movie, is altered! It blew me away! It was that “ah-ha” moment!

-One Vital Piece Of Information!

In so many ways, that illustrates, to me, the way the majority of people, on this planet, live their lives— with one vital piece of information missing! And, that is that the most unique person to ever walk this planet was Jesus Christ; and, that the purpose for His arrival will alter the way you view everything about your life once the truth has been revealed & believed! It’ll be your “ah-ha” moment! Once you understand the implications of who Jesus is, it’ll change how you interpret & understand every event in your life. You’ll even begin to find meaning & purpose in the failures, the pain; and, the suffering in life.

-A Significant Scripture Text!

Chapter 1, of John’s Gospel, is one of the most significant texts of Scripture in the entire Bible. Inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, the Apostle John puts the entire world in its proper perspective in the person of Jesus Christ. If you start reading the Bible from the book of Genesis; and, continue reading through the entire Old Testament, you’re left with the feeling that the story is incomplete. You’re left waiting for the arrival of someone who would set the world right; like, a reboot! God’s Old Testament prophets wrote that a Messiah was coming; and, John’s Gospel announces that He’s here—His name is Jesus!

-So That You May Believe!

And, if you’ll flip ahead to chapter 20, of John’s Gospel, he announces his purpose for writing his Gospel:  “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name” (vs.30-31). John wrote his Gospel by divine inspiration to help people believe in Jesus so that they might have eternal life; so, God intended to use John’s Gospel to awaken faith in you! In essence, Jesus concealed the glory of His fame (that He was, in fact, God!) in the form of an earthly frame— He was a man! Jesus was the God-man!

-A Stunning Revelation!

What John says about Jesus is stunning; and, if it wasn’t factual; if it wasn’t verifiable by hundreds & thousands of witnesses, we would think it was the stuff of science fiction! That it was just a great story! But, when John confronts us with the description of Jesus, we cannot remain ambivalent toward Him. We’re forced to make a decision; because He reveals that Jesus was divine! He was deity! He was God incarnate; which means He was made flesh! John opens his Gospel with these words:  “In the beginning was the Word…” (v.1). Right from the start, we understand that this is no ordinary “Word.” It becomes obvious that the Word is a person; and, “…the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as of the One and Only Son from the Father…” (v.14).  And, even though he doesn’t mention Jesus by name until v.17, it’s clear that the “Word” is Jesus! Come back for more next week!

Radical Trust In Jesus!

-Entering The Kingdom!

Here’s the thing— entrance into the Kingdom of God requires radical trust in Jesus! Why do I say that? In Luke, chapter 5, Jesus is calling His disciples to Himself; and, He comes to Simon Peter, a fisherman; and, v.4 says:  “When Jesus had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’  ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing! But at Your word, I’ll let down the nets.’” Only Jesus could have convinced Peter to do it! And, then, v.6 says:  “When they did this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets began to tear. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man, Lord!’”

-Radical Transformation!

Now it seems to be Luke’s method of operation to use that term, “LORD”, whenever a radical transformation takes place in someone’s life. Peter was radically converted to Jesus Christ; and, from this point forward, he lived the balance of his life for God’s Kingdom in pursuit of God’s Kingdom! In the next chapter, of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus introduces a new kind of value system for entrance into God’s Kingdom. Living for this world’s values will not gain you entry into God’s Kingdom. His Kingdom value system is upside down; and, counter-intuitive when compared with this world. In other words, entrance into the Kingdom of God also requires a new value system! Jesus declares 8 blessings, in His “Sermon On The Mount”, that He says are necessary to enter into God’s Kingdom. Looking at His disciples, “…He said, You who are poor of spirit are blessed because the kingdom of God is yours. You who are now hungry are blessed, because you will be filled. You who now weep are blessed, because you will laugh. You are blessed when people hate you, when they exclude you, insult you, and slander your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note—your reward is great in heaven…”

-Kingdom Values!

Jesus’ Kingdom values fly in the face of the things considered of value here in this world. We live in an age of consumerism, narcissism; and, living for today. Those are not values in God’s Kingdom; and, all of it will pass away one day! It is the poor in spirit; or, the humble, that are blessed in God’s Kingdom. There’s deep joy, not the superficial, fleeting happiness that plagues this generation. There is a trade-off! If you desire God’s Kingdom, you have to give up the value system of this world; and, long for the eternal. And, once you enter the Kingdom by new birth; and, begin to follow Jesus radically, the things of this world will begin to lose their appeal. As Jesus changes your affections, you’ll feel the blessings!

-A Sacrificial Life Required!

Here’s one of Jesus’ most difficult sayings:  “As they were traveling on the road someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go!’ Jesus told him, ‘Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.’ Then He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘first let me go bury my father.’ But He told him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’ Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:57-62). There’s more going on here than meets the eye. Earlier, in v.51, it says, “Jesus set His face to Jerusalem.” He’s speaking of His mission as He calls some to follow Him. His mission would end on a cross! God’s Kingdom begins at the cross; and, Jesus calls us to a similar sacrifice!

God’s Kingdom Plans!

-An Eternal Throne!

If you’ve read of Israel’s rebellion & falling away from God in the Old Testament, you know that God’s Kingdom plans, for Israel, were never fully realized. But, God is still determined to place a descendent of King David on an eternal throne that will govern not just Israel; but, the entire world! And, we know that Jesus will ultimately be that fulfillment of God’s Kingdom prophecy! And, for us! His Kingdom will finally be achieved beginning with His return; or, His 2nd coming; followed, by a millennial reign on earth; and, then over a new heavens & a new earth, when the substance, of God’s Kingdom, will finally be realized.

-He Will Dwell Among Us!

And, then, for all eternity it’ll be the people of God living in God’s place under the authority of God. And, He will dwell among us the book of Revelation says. Literally, it says He’ll “pitch a tent” in our midst (21:3). But, where we struggle, in our understanding of the Kingdom, is with some of the teachings of Jesus. There’s a tension there! He speaks of God’s Kingdom as both present; and, still future. When He sent out the 70 He told them to preach, “The Kingdom of God has come near you” (Luke 10:9). That’s “has come”; present tense. To the crowds, in Luke 11, He said, “If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come to you.” Right now! It’s here! In Luke 17:21, He’s even more explicit:  “Behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

-Both Present & Future!

So, how can God’s Kingdom be both present & future? I tend to think that the best answer is that God’s Kingdom is in place right NOW! God IS; and, always HAS BEEN the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. But, the Old Testament was more prophetic; or, forward-looking toward the Messiah’s coming; and, His Kingdom. So, when Jesus came everything changed because the King had come! The Kingdom is in place, in other words. In Mark, Jesus preached the good news of God:  “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near (or, literally, it “has arrived”). Repent and believe the good news” (1:15). So, the Kingdom is both physical and spiritual. Repentance & belief are necessary.

-Spiritual Birth Required!

To enter it physically requires a spiritual rebirth. Look at John’s Gospel, chapter 3, v.1. This is where we begin when we talk about the spiritual aspects of the Kingdom: “There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.’  Jesus replied, ‘I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” You can’t see the physical Kingdom, Jesus told him, unless you’re born again spiritually!

-Reenter Your Mother’s Womb?

And, then, look at v.5. After Nicodemus asked Jesus if he needed to reenter his mother’s womb to be born again, “Jesus answered, ‘I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” To be born of water, many believe, relates to physical birth after living for 9 months in the womb of a mother’s amniotic fluid. And, to be born of the Spirit is easily understood as spiritual birth by the Holy Spirit. You cannot enter God’s Kingdom, Jesus tells him, unless you have BOTH a physical and a spiritual birth. And, in context, Jesus explains the spiritual birth to him in v.16, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Spiritual birth only comes through belief in Jesus; a belief that He is the Messiah; and, that His death on the cross was necessary for our redemption; and, our entry into God’s Kingdom!

We Are Accountable!

-Spiritual Watchmen To Unbelievers!

In the last couple of posts, we’ve talked about Israel’s “watchmen” as described by the Old Testament prophet, Ezekiel. We talked about how the “spiritual overtones” of the watchmen remind us of our responsibility to be spiritual watchmen to the unbelieving world! We’re called to warn the world that their sin has separated them from God; and, they’re in grave danger unless they repent & turn to Jesus! The parallels between being a watchman; and, being a disciple-maker, are unmistakable! God gave Old Testament Israel’s watchmen a precise message; and, as Jesus’ disciple-makers, we’ve also been given a precise message.

-A Precise Message!

To the watchmen, God said: “When you hear a word from My mouth, give them a warning from Me. If I say to the wicked, ‘Wicked one, you will surely die,’ but you do not speak out to warn him about his way, that wicked person will die for his iniquity, yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. But if you warn a wicked person to turn from his way and he doesn’t turn from it, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have saved your life. Now as for you, son of man, say to the house of Israel: You have said this, ‘Our transgressions and our sins are heavy on us, and we are wasting away because of them! How then can we survive?’ Tell them: As I live”—the declaration of the Lord God—“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked person should turn from his way and live. Repent, repent of your evil ways! Why will you die, house of Israel?” Ezekiel 33:7-11.

-The Good News!

What’s the watchman’s message? It’s “grace,” isn’t it? It’s the message of the Gospel; the Good News that God, “…takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked…”  If only Israel would “…repent of their evil ways…” God asks them, “Why will you die, house of Israel?” We’ve been given the same message to deliver everywhere we go, church! “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9.  “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16. That’s our message!

-God’s Ambassadors!

Paul wrote the Church of Corinth, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God’” 2 Corinthians 5:20. We’re God’s ambassadors, church! We’re His watchmen to the world! We’re commanded to plead with the world to come to Christ! To share the message that God loves them & welcomes them to repent and be saved! What a great message we have to share with loved ones, neighbors; and, co-workers! He is a good God! “He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses” Psalm 103:10 .

-A Notice Of Accountability!

Let me make one final point! In the same way that God made Israel’s watchmen accountable, He has made us accountable! In v.17 of Ezekiel’s 33rd chapter, God confronts Israel over their claim that God wasn’t “fair”! In v.20 He says, “You say, ‘The Lord’s way isn’t fair.’ I will judge each of you according to his ways, house of Israel.”  I cringe inside every time I hear someone judging God for the way He does things! What arrogance that a puny little man— one of 7 billion on this planet— would dare to call out God for anything! We don’t even know what we don’t know! “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and gracious in all His acts” Psalm 145:17. God is even willing to extend grace to us when we make rash claims against Him— “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” God says, “Why will you die?”  If you’re a follower of Christ then you have been served notice! You are accountable for making disciples! Are you doing it?

God Keeps His Word!

-A Compassionate & Gracious God!

Over the last couple of posts, we’ve talked about the Prophet Jeremiah; and, the words he wrote in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. What Jeremiah says about God, reminded me of the words of the Psalmist:  “But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” Psalm 86:15. And it was Jesus, the 2nd Member of the Triune Godhead, who manifested all of the Father’s attributes & character, in the flesh, throughout His 33 1/2 years He walked this planet He created! He showed great compassion and mercy!

-Moved With Compassion!

He wept with friends at Lazarus’ grave! He was moved with compassion by all of the suffering around Him; and, He healed many who sought His help! It’s because of Jesus that we can never doubt the Father’s mercy & compassion toward us! And, it was Jeremiah, who observed that God had an endless supply of mercy that He shared with the suffering Jewish people. Jeremiah also observed that we can have hope in our suffering because God is faithful to His Word. “…GREAT is your faithfulness!” Jeremiah exclaimed (Lamentations 3:23). God is great in faithfulness! We can trust His character!

-God Is Who He Says He Is!

We can trust Him to be who He says He is! “Lord, Your word is forever; it is firmly fixed in heaven. Your faithfulness is for all generations; You established the earth, and it stands firm” (Psalm 119:89-90). The Apostle Paul encouraged Titus with, “…the hope of eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised before time began” (Titus 1:2). And, remember, we’ve said previously that that word “hope”— in Scripture— means “confident expectation.” It’s not anything like the cross-your-fingers kind of “hope” that is common in our culture! So, Paul is reminding Titus about the “confident expectation” that we have, “…of eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.” When God makes a promise He keeps His word! He is faithful to keep His word because of His character— it’s impossible for God to lie!

-God Never Changes!

And, by way of the consistency of His character, we speak about God’s “immutability”; or, the fact that He never changes! He’s the same yesterday, today; and, forever! God will always be who He’s always been! He’s faithful! So, when Jesus told His disciples that He was going to prepare a new place for them; and, that He would come back for them, you can count on Him to deliver! And, the worst day in heaven will still be infinitely better than the best day here! Paul said that “…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). And, then, Jeremiah offers us another reason for hope:  “I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24). The Lord is our portion!

-The Lord Is Our Portion!

That word, “portion”, is often translated as “inheritance” in Scripture! I would paraphrase Jeremiah’s words like this:  “I may have lost everything because of Babylon’s invasion; but, I’m looking at gaining God, Himself, as an inheritance that’ll make all this pain & suffering a distant memory.” God is the portion or inheritance that Jeremiah longed for! I want to suggest that the modern church has misplaced infatuation with heaven! The real portion; or, the great inheritance we look forward to is NOT a “place”; but, a “Person”! Jeremiah doesn’t say, “…HEAVEN is my portion…” He says, “…The LORD is my portion…” When we leave this world, we get God if we’ve trusted His Son, Jesus, for our salvation! We inherit God! He is the treasure we seek! The book of Revelation says that one day, in that place that Jesus is preparing for us right now, that God, Himself, will pitch a tent and live among us (Revelation 21:3). He is our HOPE!

God Punishes Because He Loves!

-God So Loved The World!

The most well known verse, in all of Scripture, is John 3:16. It says, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” In this way, God proved His love— He sent Jesus to atone for our sin by His death on the cross! That’s really the end of the argument against God! For all the doubters of God’s love, mercy & grace there is the One & Only “Exhibit A”— His Name is Jesus! And, He bore God’s judgment against sin so we wouldn’t have to! So that we could be saved!

-Brokenness To Openness!

But, it’s only as we experience our brokenness that we become open to God’s overtures to save us! And, punishment is often the tool He uses to expose our brokenness! So, ultimately, it is because God is love that He punishes us to bring us to the place of brokenness; where, He can redeem us! And, there is perhaps no better Biblical example of that than God’s judgment of Judah & Jerusalem as they are overrun by Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar; and, taken into captivity & exile! The Biblical narrative reveals that God first warned them; then, punished them; and, finally, in love, He redeems them! To accomplish God’s purposes in our broken world, He first warns!

-A Skirmish You Can’t Win!

Disobedience to God & His Word will never turn out well for you! When you fight against God, it’s a skirmish you can’t possibly win! When I was young & very foolish I loved to get into fist fights out on the school playground! But, I always sized up the other guy first! There were some guys that I just knew I couldn’t take! So, I would find a way to wiggle out of that fight! I was foolish; but, I wasn’t stupid! I would do everything I could to avoid getting into a fight I knew I couldn’t win! So, why would anyone ever pick a fight with God! You can’t possibly win against a God who is all-powerful! You can’t outwit a God who knows everything there is to know! And, you can’t run away from a God who is everywhere!

-They Despised His Warnings!

And, yet, the Biblical account shows that Israel tried multiple times & lost! So, God warned them & warned them & warned them again! In 2 Chronicles, chapter 36, God reminds them of this:  “But Yahweh, the God of their ancestors sent word against them by the hand of His messengers, sending them time and time again, for He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising His words, and scoffing at His prophets, until the Lord’s wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy” (vs. 15-16)

-God’s Compassion Toward Us!

Did you notice why God said He sent them prophets? Look at the end of v.15. It says He sent messengers to warn them, “…because He had compassion on His people…” God warns because of His great compassion toward us! He warns because He is Love! When you  disobey God’s word you expose yourself to great danger! Sin lies to you! It promises pleasure! But, it always delivers pain! Sin is a destroyer! It destroys lives, families & nations! Just go back and read God’s 10 Commandments; and, consider the pain and suffering that comes to those who break them! The one who steals will be incarcerated! The one who lies will never be trusted! The one who sleeps with someone they’re not married to destroys relationships & families & brings hatred & disease upon themselves! Listen when God warns!

Is Every Believer A Disciple?

-What Does Scripture Teach?

The Church, here in the west, has often made a distinction between a “believer” in Jesus Christ & a “disciple” of Jesus Christ! It’s a distinction, however, that Scripture fails to make— that you can be a saved “believer” & just live your entire life for yourself! That, if you desire, you can become a “disciple” and live out your days as a “super saint” for Jesus. No where, in Scripture, does Jesus say anything even close to that! If you abide, in Jesus, you will produce the fruit of a disciple! That’s the outcome of genuine faith!

-Grape Vines Produce Grapes!

There will always be fruit where there is genuine faith. It’s as natural as a grape vine producing grapes. That’s what grape vines do! And, there is fruit that is naturally produced, by God’s Spirit, in the life of every genuine believer who abides in Jesus! In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus says! Fruitfulness is the proof that you’re a “believer” & “disciple.” “If anyone does not abide in Me,” Jesus said, “he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” John 15:6-8.  We bring glory to God when our lives produce fruit because it PROVES that He’s saved us! The PROOF is in the FRUIT!

-Love, Joy & Obedience!

Then, Jesus expands, on that, in the next several verses (v. 9-17). Fruitfulness, He says, is measured by our love, by our obedience, and, by our joy! “This is My commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” Loving others isn’t an option for anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus! If there’s no love, it’s because there is no spiritual life. Where there’s no love, there’s no “abiding in Jesus.” “You are my friends,” He said, “if you do what I command you.” We cannot pick and choose what we’re going to obey in God’s Word. Disobedience isn’t an option! If we truly abide, in Christ, we’ll repent when we disobey & realign our life accordingly with the Scriptures. And, there’ll be joy in your life— “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may full.” Our joy is linked to a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ! It’s not circumstantial!

-Even When Life Is Hard!

Abiding in Christ produces joy! Even when the rest of life derails, our joy is centered In Jesus. All those grumpy, mean-spirited, haters out there who claim to be followers of Jesus must have missed that Scripture! Or… they don’t really abide in Christ! This text presents a clear case that God, the Father, won’t stand idle while His children act up! He will prune— “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” John 17:2. He will discipline His own! He will spank! But, He doesn’t spank the Devil’s kids! Our response, to His discipline, will either confirm or deny that our “faith” is legitimate! We will confess sin & let His Spirit clean house!