Confirming The Messiah!

-An Authentic Messiah!

So, how can we know if someone, claiming to be God’s Messiah, was authentic? Historical records reveal a 3-step process that the Scribes and Pharisees used to investigate every Messianic claim. Just explore Matthew’s gospel— written specifically to a Jewish audience— and observe how this process played out with Jesus’ claims. First, they would begin to observe the Messianic claims from afar! That’s precisely what we see in Matthew’s gospel. A delegation was assembled, by the religious leaders; and, they simply observed Jesus. Their only purpose, at the first, was to put together as much information as they could to determine if the claim was legitimate enough to advance to the 2nd step.

-Examination By Interrogation!

The Messianic examination would continue with interrogations. At this point, the delegation was permitted to interview all bystanders; as well as the leaders in the movement; and, even the one claiming to be the Messiah.  We know, from the Jewish writings of the time, that the sages of Israel believed the Messiah would perform 3 specific miracles to validate His identity. Based on their understanding of certain Old Testament texts, it was believed that the Messiah would heal a leper; cast out a dumb demon; and, restore eyesight to a man born blind. So, when it was reported that Jesus had performed these miracles, the Sanhedrin sent the delegation to begin the interrogation process.

-Leprosy Had Never Been Cured!

From the time that Moses had received the Law, there had been no record of any Jew being cured of leprosy. God had cured Miriam of leprosy before the Law was given; and, Naaman, who was healed of leprosy, was a Gentile. So, the power to cleanse a Jew, of leprosy, was viewed as an act of God alone. So, when Matthew records Jesus’ healing of a leper, in chapter 8, there’s a reason Jesus says what He says:  “Reaching out His hand Jesus touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be made clean.’ Immediately his disease was healed. Then Jesus told him, ‘See that you don’t tell anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses prescribed, as a testimony to them.’”  This was nothing less than Jesus claiming to be the Messiah.

-Go To The Priest For Confirmation!

The Law of Moses instructed anyone cured of leprosy to go to the priest to verify it. Jesus was responding to their interrogation by showing them the confirmation that they needed. In Matthew, chapter 12, it’s recorded that, “…a demon-possessed man who was blind and unable to speak was brought to Him. He healed him, so that the man could both speak and see” (v.22). Notice, from the text, how Matthew says Jesus found this man. It says he was “…brought to Him…” Many Bible scholars believe that it was the religious delegation themselves that brought this blind and mute man to Jesus as part of the observation & interrogation process.

-Is This Truly The Messiah?

They were working to determine whether Jesus truly was the Messiah. That would also explain why the next verse says, “…the crowds were astounded & said, ‘Perhaps this is the Son of David’”; which, was a term the Jews used to reference the Messiah. The crowd would have been aware that Jesus was being examined by the religious leaders; so, they were taunting them, “Hey, did you see what He just did? Maybe this really is the Messiah.” So, Matthew records all three of Jesus’ Messianic miracles— He healed a leper; He cast out a dumb demon; and, He gave sight to a man born blind. But, despite all the evidence, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, the Scribes & the Elders, of the people, reject Him as Messiah. They concluded that “This man drives out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” You and I must also come to a decision about Jesus! He is the spiritual lightning rod! The evidence is there! Will you believe it?

Messiah; Or, Not?

-Messiah’s Everywhere!

Because of the times, it wasn’t at all uncommon for “Messiahs” to pop up all over Israel before and after Jesus’ arrival on the scene! Many were “military Messiah’s” claiming the ability & power to overthrow the Roman occupation of Israel. And, because so many of the O.T. descriptions, of Messiah, depicted a conquering king, the hopes of the people would rise each time it appeared that one of these “Messiahs” could deliver them from their oppression; and, make Israel great again!

-Protocols To Confirm Legitimacy!

So, because of all the anticipation & hope, of a coming Messiah; and, because of all the failed “Messiahs”, the Jewish religious leaders developed specific protocols to follow whenever anyone came on the scene claiming to be the Messiah. Historical records reveal a 3-step process that the Scribes and Pharisees used to investigate every Messianic claim. Just explore Matthew’s gospel— written specifically to a Jewish audience— and observe how this process played out with Jesus’ claims. Like the Scribes and Pharisees, you need to consider the evidence; and, make your own decision about Jesus Christ. You cannot remain neutral about Jesus!

-Liar, Lunatic; Or, Lord!

As C.S. Lewis put it, Jesus was either a liar (and, therefore not a good person); or, He was a lunatic (and, therefore to be pitied); or, He was Lord, the Messiah, God in the flesh and worthy of all our devotion & worship! So, let’s suppose that we were part of the religious contingent when Jesus came on the scene. Here’s how they would have responded as the claims of miracles & Messiahship began to come to their attention. First, they would begin to observe the Messianic claims from afar! That’s precisely what we see in Matthew’s gospel. A delegation was assembled, by the religious leaders; and, they simply observed Jesus. They asked no questions; and, they raised no objections.

-Observing Messianic Claims!

Their only purpose, at the first, was to put together as much information as they could to determine if the claim was legitimate enough to advance to the 2nd step. They would report back to the Sanhedrin where the religious leaders would determine, from the observations, what the next step would be moving forward. Was it a legitimate movement? Was it significant? If not, they’d call off the investigation; and, the so-called “Messianic” movement would just die a slow death! That’s most likely what was happening, in Acts chapter 5 when Gamaliel made his comments about the followers of Jesus. He warned them to be careful what they did with these followers. Let them go; and, they may just scatter over time! “But if it is of God,” he said, “you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be fighting against God.” Jesus was still being debated after His death.

-If The Messianic Claims Were Legit!

If the Sanhedrin determined the Messianic claims were potentially legitimate, they’d move to the next stage. The Messianic examination would continue with interrogations. At this point, the delegation was permitted to interview all bystanders; as well as the leaders in the movement; and, even the one claiming to be the Messiah. They would interact with His teachings; they’d raise objections; and, even attempt to trap him in such a way as to break him out of his “Messianic” character. From their studies in the Old Testament, the Jewish Rabbis; and, religious leaders knew that the Messiah would fulfill prophecy & complete certain tasks that only God would be able to perform. We know, from the Jewish writings of the time, that the sages of Israel believed the Messiah would perform 3 specific miracles to validate His identity. And, we’ve run out of time & space! So, we’ll pick it up there at our next post!

God With Us!

-Proof He Is Who He Says He Is!

Try and imagine, with me, what it would be like to be a spy working undercover for the CIA. Imagine you’re in a hostile country; and, your assignment is to discover enemy secrets and send them to the home country. Imagine you’re approached by a man you’ve never met; and, he claims to also work for the CIA; and, he’s received new information from the U.S. government and your new assignment is to take orders from him. What do you do? You’re going to demand proof that he really is who he says he is; and, confirm that headquarters really did send him! 

-Can We Believe Jesus?

As you open the Bible to the start of the New Testament, you’re introduced to a man named Jesus; who claims to be the Jewish Messiah; the Son of God! How do we know we can believe Him? How do we know He’s not a fraud? Well, let’s return to our spy story! But, this time let’s imagine that before you left for your assignment, that you were given Top Secret instructions that you would meet a new contact; and, it included his picture and described him as 6’5” tall with one blue eye & one brown eye; that he walked with a limp; and, he would identify himself as “the mongoose.” He would give you all the necessary information you need to complete your assignment. With that kind of detailed information, you could easily identify the true agent, couldn’t you?

-Confirming Jesus Was The Messiah!

In a very similar way, God the Father has given us all the detailed information necessary to confirm who Jesus Messiah would be! And, only God is capable of formulating a plan, from the past, for the future; and, then implementing it & making it happen! Every other religious leader was born into this world unannounced, making claims about new information or revelations from God, with no way of verifying their claims! Think through that! Whether it’s Mohammed or Joseph Smith or Krishna or Mary Baker Eddy or Charles Taze Russell or Sun Myung Moon or Buddha; all of these were born first; and, then came up with their own religious movement they claimed to have come from God. It was the exact opposite for Jesus!

-Unique Details About The Messiah!

Long before He entered the world, God shared with the world, through His prophets, all the  unique details about the Messiah who would come so there could be no missing Him. The Old Testament; or, the Torah, contained all the necessary proof to either confirm or deny the one claiming to be Messiah. The only difference between Christianity & all other religions is Jesus Christ. It is the absolute uniqueness of Jesus that sets Him apart; and, makes Him distinct. Was Jesus the Messiah? That was the entire purpose for the first four books of the New Testament— the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

-Testimony That Verifies Jesus’ Claim!

Each writer describes a different facet of Jesus’ ministry; so, together they provide a complete testimony to verify His claim that He was the Messiah. Matthew, especially, records the way the Jewish leaders— especially the Scribes & the Pharisees— examined the claims that Jesus was the Messiah; and, how they came to the negative conclusion that they came to. As Jesus became more & more popular, with the people, He also came under more & more scrutiny and disapproval by the religious leaders; especially, as He began working miracles & claiming that He was ONE with YAHWEH. And, by way of background, these were difficult times for Israel. Once again, as happened in the O.T., Israel had been invaded by a foreign power— this time the Roman Empire. As God promised, in the O.T., their sin had led to judgment & their hope was deliverance through God’s Messiah! We’ll pick it up from there next week!

God’s Purpose For His Laws!

-The Most Important Command?

Jesus reveals God’s intent, behind the law, when he answered a Pharisee’s question, “What is the most important command?” Jesus answered, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest & most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” Matthew 22:36-40.  What Jesus calls “…the Law and the Prophets…” is the whole of the Old Testament. He’s referring to the “Torah”; or, the 1st 5 books of the Law. And, the “Prophets” was a reference to the rest of the Old Testament.

-Summarized By Two Commands!

So, Jesus was saying that everything, in the Law & the Prophets (or, the Old Testament) could be summarized by these 2 commands— Love GOD & love your NEIGHBOR! The 10 general commandments; and, the 613 specific commands, that follow, can all be encapsulated in Jesus’ answer to the question, “What is the most important command?” His answer? Love GOD & love your NEIGHBOR! Just look up Exodus 20 in your Bibles.  The first 4 commandments all focus on a loyal LOVE for God:  “no other gods”, “no idols”, “no using God’s name in vain” and “no work on God’s Sabbath.” The last 6 commandments all focus on the way we ought to LOVE our neighbor; or, our fellow human beings:  “honor mom & dad”, “don’t murder anyone”,  “don’t commit adultery”, “don’t steal”, “don’t lie about your neighbor” and “don’t covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.” So, here’s the big picture—  God is teaching Israel how to live now that He’s redeemed them from Egypt! That’s the context in which the 10 commandments were given!

-Redemption First! Then Commands!

He’s “redeemed” or “bought out” Israel from their slavery; and, He introduces the commands like this:  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” Exodus 20:2.  So, He redeems them; and, now He’s giving them the Law to direct them in the way they needed to live in a broken, sin-cursed world. Never did God intend to use the keeping of the Law as the means to being redeemed! That’s reversing the order! God redeemed them FIRST! He saved them from slavery; now, here’s how redeemed people live! Get it? This is incredibly important as it relates to salvation! God’s law was given TO a redeemed people; not, TO redeem people! God didn’t give Israel the Law to save redeem them! He’d already done that!

-Here’s How God’s People Live!

The principle is the same in the New Testament. James says “good works” FOLLOW our salvation! They don’t save us! So, I think it’s fair to ask what New Testament believers can learn from the Old Testament law? I would start by saying that the law reveals God’s character. It speaks to who He is. For example, He says He is “…a jealous God…” Exodus 20:5. That word “jealous” is used differently, in reference to God, then when we express “human” jealousy. We use it in the sense of being envious of someone because they have something we want. In context, God says He’s jealous when people make idols & worship them instead because He alone is God. It’s like a husband who has a right to be jealous when another man flirts with his wife because he alone has that right.  We’ll pick it up right there on next week’s post!

Worship God Rightly!

-Not All Worship Is Truly Worship!

It’s been my experience that many, who claim to be followers of Jesus, do not worship God rightly! I’ve found many who claim to be worshipers; but, their worship fails to resemble what God commands worship to look like in Scripture.  A great example, of Biblical worship, can be found in King David’s Holy Spirit inspired message, to Israel, about proper worship. Just open your Bibles, to 1 Chronicles 16; and, you’ll see what I mean.

-Worship God With Offerings!

Among other things, David commands the congregation to worship God with their “offerings”—“…ascribe to Yahweh the glory of His name; bring an offering and come before Him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness” (v.29). Don’t come to worship God empty-handed! Remember that we are “stewards” and “managers” of God’s stuff, not OWNERS! God owns ALL of our stuff! We’ve been given the responsibility to manage a portion of “God’s ESTATE.” God is the owner of it all! And, worship has always included an offering!

-Worship God For His Creation!

David also led Israel to worship God for His creation—“…the world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord is King!’ Let the sea and everything in it resound; let the fields and all that is in them exult. Then the trees of the forest will shout for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth”(v.30-33).  ALL of creation—the HEAVENS, the EARTH, the SEA & everything in it; the FIELDS and all that is in it; the TREES of the forest—ALL worship Yahweh, David says! At Jesus’ triumphal entry, into Jerusalem, when the Pharisees told Him to rebuke His disciples for giving Him honor as Messiah, Jesus told them that “…if they kept silent, the very ROCKS would cry out…”  We are called to worship God for the wonder of His creation AND for the wonder that all creation worships Him!

-Worship God Now!

And, then, David instructs Israel to worship God NOW because they’ll be worshiping God for all eternity—“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever. And say: “Save us, God of our salvation; gather us and rescue us from the nations so that we may give thanks to Your holy name and rejoice in Your praise. May Yahweh, the God of Israel, be praised from everlasting to everlasting” (v.34). We don’t know a lot about heaven; but, worship will be part of it!

-Worship Beyond Imagination!

It’s a clear sign that a believer hasn’t spent a lot of time in prayer & the Word—seeking after God—when they express fear that an eternity in heaven may get boring!  After a BILLION years, we’ll still not know our God completely! But, I’m certain I will find Him more fascinating than all the Super Bowls & Star Trek reruns I’ve ever watched! As David finished his sermon, the text says that all the people said “Amen” and “Praise The Lord” (v.36).  And, there was great joy as God dwelt with His people. The disciples also had great joy as God, the Messiah, dwelt with them during his 3 1/2 year ministry leading up to the cross. And, in heaven, Revelation reveals that “God will dwell among us”; and, forever we’ll worship Him!

 

More Like Jesus & Less Like You!

-So, How Are You Doing Spiritually?

At a recent Small Group meeting I asked this series of questions: “How are you doing Spiritually? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” I’ve found when I just ask the 1st question—“How are you doing spiritually?”—that everyone says, “Good! Good!” Have you noticed that? I mean, that’s MY typical response to that question! It’s a question that needs qualifying! It needs those follow-up questions. On what basis can I say, “Good! Good!” when someone asks me how I’m doing spiritually?

-Is It About What We Do?

Do we measure our spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & say that, “…it’s only what’s in the HEART that matters.” If our HEART is right with God it WILL impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said: “If you love Me, you WILL KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can do things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-Practicing The Spiritual Disciplines

Several months back I received a call from a young man who got saved in my youth group, in Colorado, several years ago. He asked if he could interview me for a seminary class he was taking. The interview included a line of questions based on how I lived my life according to the so-called “Spiritual Disciplines”—or, practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth. They’re habits of devotion—like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation, making disciples—and, they’re all activities that Jesus’ followers are commanded to do! In fact, Jesus practiced most of them Himself! In answering the question, for the interview, I prefaced my answer with this caution—we are NOT godly just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees

That was the great error of the Pharisees, wasn’t it? They believed that they were godly BECAUSE they practiced certain things!  You cannot separate what you’re doing on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE. What you DO matters! But, who you ARE matters even more! Here’s what I’m trying to say—Spiritual growth happens, in your life, as you become MORE like Jesus & LESS like you! That’s what’s expected if you’re truly His disciple!

-Where Spiritual Growth Happens

Based on several NT passages, I believe that our spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a “faith community”; or, a church! Being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something WE do; but, with something that Christ DID! That’s the Gospel! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His substitutionary atonement on the cross! He took away our sin! He paid the penalty we should have paid so that the Father might grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love! He adopts us into His “family”; and, it’s His family that makes up the church!  That becomes our new identity! We’re no longer citizens of this world; rather, Scripture says we’re “temporary residents” here! And, it’s within the “family” atmosphere, of the “church”, that God prunes us so that He might accomplish our sanctification!

 

More Like Jesus, Less Like Me!

-Measuring Spiritual Progress!

Have you ever tried asking someone, “How are you doing spiritually?” They always say, “Good, Good,” right? Probably not a very good question. It’s not likely to get the real answer you’re looking for! Next time, try this instead: “So, where are you at in your walk with the Lord? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” When we enter into that kind of conversation with someone, we need those “qualifying” or “follow-up” questions too! On what basis can we say we’re doing “good” when someone asks us how we’re doing spiritually?

-Does It Matter What We Do?

Do we measure spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & SAY, that, “it’s only what’s in the heart that matters!” If our heart is right with God, it will impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can DO things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-What About “Spiritual Disciplines”?

I received a phone call, some time ago, from a young man who was saved years ago in my youth group in Colorado. He was on the pastoral staff of a church in Oregon; and, he called to ask if he could conduct an interview with me for a seminary class he was taking! The interview was based on how I lived my life according to the “spiritual disciplines.” If that’s a new term to you, suffice it to say that “spiritual disciplines” are practices found, in Scripture, that can promote spiritual growth. They are “habits” of devotion, like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation & making disciples—all activities that we’re commanded to do, right? Jesus practiced them! But, I prefaced my answer, in the interview, with this caution: “We are NOT GODLY just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees!

That was the great error of the Pharisees! They believed they were godly BECAUSE they did certain things! You can’t separate what you’re DOING on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE! WHAT you do matters! But, WHO you are matters even more! Here’s the point—spiritual growth happens as you become more like Jesus; and, less like you!

-Become Like Your Teacher!

It is our goal, as a local church, that our community of believers would become mature disciples of Christ in their personal spiritual development. That’s a core value! That we’d all grow in spiritual maturity! As disciples of Christ, that we’d all become more like Him! That’s what a disciple does! He becomes like his Teacher! And, it is our belief that individual spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a local church! Faith grows best where it is challenged, not isolated! And, crucial to that is the realization that being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something we DO; but, with something that Christ already DID! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His death on the cross! He took my sin! And, He paid the penalty that I should have paid so that I might receive forgiveness! That’s the Gospel!