The Power of God

Today is Easter Sunday (also known as Resurrection Sunday), and I’m reminded of what Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 1:18:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

In an article published on April 12, 2020, titled Resurrection Power,” by Jim and Janean Reish, published on their ministry blog, A Deeper Word: Going Beyond Surface Christianity,” they open their article with the following words:

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection… Philippians 3:10 (KJV)

Jesus said that He is the resurrection and the life. To know Jesus is to know resurrection and life, because that is what He is. Because He is the resurrection and the life, He can raise us up and give us life. The resurrection of Jesus shows that there is no case that is hopeless and no problem that God cannot and will not fix…. (Click here for the quote source, along with the rest of the article.)

In an article published by Rick Renner Ministries titled, The Cross–Foolishness or the Power of God,” it opens with the following:

Since Jesus rose from the dead, different people have responded differently to the preaching of the Cross. Some reject it, while others receive the message by faith and thus experience the power of God. Paul referred to this dichotomy of response when he wrote, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto we which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The word “foolishness” in this verse is from the word “moria,” which means “foolish, stupid, or unintelligent” and describes “unacceptable behavior, thought, or speech.” From this word “moria,” we derive the word “moron.” To the Greek and Roman mind, to believe in Christ and in His Cross alone as the way to salvation was the belief of a moron. This kind of exclusive and “narrow” behavior, thought, or speech was simply unacceptable. When confronted with the message of the Gospel, a pagan of that time would have forthrightly exclaimed, “It is stupid, unintelligent, and unacceptable to believe that Jesus is the only way to God.”

Paul continued in First Corinthians 1:18, saying, “…Unto we which are saved it is the power of God.” The word “power” is the Greek word “dunamis,” which is most often used in ancient literature to depict “military might or the ability to conquer.” In fact, it is used 210 times in the New Testament to denote “strength and conquering ability.” For those who don’t believe in Jesus and have never experienced the delivering and conquering power of the Gospel, this message may seem to be foolishness. But those who have repented and have entered into covenant with Jesus Christ know the delivering, conquering power of these mighty words. It is no foolishness to the redeemed—it is the lifesaving power of God! (Click here for the quote source, along with the rest of the article.)

So what is “the power of God” and how can we rely on it? GotQuestions.org gives us the answer to that question:

We often hear about the power of God, and Scripture is full of examples of His power in action. He is “the great God, mighty and awesome” (Nehemiah 9:32). We are taught to rely on His great power to get us through trials such as a job loss, a sticky divorce, bankruptcy, hateful persecutions, a debilitating illness, or the loss of a loved one. Learning to rely on the power of God is part of living the Christian life.

The apostle Paul gives us a glimpse of the power of God when he writes of “his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority” (Ephesians 1:19–21). The Greek word translated “great” is “megethos,” which means “strong” or “great,” and it appears only here in the New Testament. This word obviously wasn’t sufficient for Paul to express God’s great power, so he adds the word “incomparably” or, in Greek, “hyperballon,” related to a verb that literally means to “throw beyond the usual mark” or to “excel or surpass.” So, the full idea of the expression “hyperballon megethos” is that of a power beyond measure, a super-abounding or surpassing power, power that is “more than enough.”

Greek authorities tell us that, because the term “megethos” is found only here in all the New Testament, this reflects the outreach of Paul’s mind when he sought to describe the power of God. Paul was “stretching at the seams” as he tried to describe the power of God and pour more meaning into his words. What Paul is really telling us is that God’s power exceeds or surpasses everything—it is unimaginable power. God spoke the universe into existence, raised Jesus from the dead, and “placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Ephesians 1:22), and He has power far beyond any possibility of being measured. Paul simply could not say enough about the greatness and majesty of God, and he had difficulty finding the words to express his thoughts about the power of God.

How can we learn to rely on the enormous power of God? First of all, we choose to remember the things that God has done: “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced” (Psalm 105:4–5). Every miracle recorded for us in the Bible should give us encouragement that His strength is more than enough for our need.

Also, to rely on the power of God, we must learn to cease trusting in our frail efforts and hand our resources over to the One who can do anything. God’s power is perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). The disciples were at their wits’ end trying to figure out how to feed the 5,000; it was not until they brought the small amount of food they had to Christ that anyone was fed. Joshua stood helpless before the walls of Jericho, but he learned to trust the Lord’s battle plan. Zerubbabel faced the daunting task of rebuilding the temple, and God reminded him that the work would be done “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6).

Prayer is a vital part of relying on the power of God, as we pray,Thy will be done” (Luke 11:2, KJV). Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8). It was after a prayer meeting in the early church that “the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). It was during a prayer meeting that Peter was miraculously released from prison (Acts 12).

The resurrection of Jesus certainly demonstrates the great power of God and is the great hope of all believers. Because He lives, we will live also (John 14:19). Peter said we have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away” (1 Peter 1:3–4, NASB). No matter what happens in this world, we have the power of God and Jesus’ resurrection; the Lord will grant us an inheritance and sustain us through eternity. We “through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (verse 5). As Martin Luther sang during the Protestant Reformation, “The body they may kill; / God’s truth abideth still.”

No matter how weak or ill-equipped we may at times feel, we can rely on the power of God. We have the assurance that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). We have confidence that ultimately God will accomplish His good in our lives: “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). (Quote source here.)

Austen C. Ukachi, pastor and contributor at The Guardian/Nigeria, writes the following in his article published in their Sunday Magazine titled, The Power of His Resurrection,” on April 12, 2020:

Christianity was founded on power and has thrived thereafter through the display of God’s power (Gen.1:1-3). Hebrews 1:3 states that God upholds all things by the word of his power. On this Easter Sunday, it is very appropriate we reflect on the place of God’s power in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Timothy 2:8 enjoins us to remember that Jesus was raised from the dead. Why is this necessary that we remember that Jesus was raised from the dead?

One, remembrance strengthens our faith. At communion we remember his death (1 Cor.11:23-26). In Matthew 28:6, when Christ rose from the dead, an angel testified to the women who came to the tomb thus, “He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:6 NKJV). This means there was evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. When we remember his resurrection we are celebrating the power that raised him from the dead.

Two, remembrance gives us hope. Remembrance reminds us of the victory of Calvary. 1 Corinthians 2:8 reads, “which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (I Corinthians 2:8 NKJV). The death and resurrection of Jesus gave birth to the Church and its two billion adherents today. His resurrection brought unquantifiable blessings to the Church and the world.

Three, remembering the resurrection of Christ gives us hope that we shall be raised with him in future even after our death. Paul wrote, “knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you” (II Corinthians 4:14; 1 Cor.6:14; 1 Cor.15:20)

Four, his resurrection reminds us that he was raised by the Spirit of the Father, and that same Spirit dwell in us and would give life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:11).

This Easter Sunday, we cannot but reflect on the mystery behind the power that raised Jesus from the dead. That power is the same today and forever, it has not lost its power. Let us consider some of the outworkings of this power over time.

God displayed his power at creation, and the whole of creation attest to the power of God (Gen. 1:1-3; Romans 1:20).

God challenged Abraham to believe in his power to give him a son from his wife Sarai. God eventually gave Abraham a son even when they had passed the age of child-bearing (Gen.18:13-14; Jer.32:17).

God delivered Israel from Egypt by his awesome power (Exodus 7:3-5; 14:31; Psalm 78:42-50).

God demonstrated his power to Israel in the wilderness through supernatural provisions (Num. 11:21-23).

God displayed his power at the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:34-35).

Jesus grew up demonstrating the power of God through signs and wonders (Acts 10:38; Matt.11:4-6).

The resurrection of Jesus was the greatest display of God’s power (Matt. 12:38-40; Rom. 1:4). The list of God’s power on display down the ages is endless…. (Quote source here.)

What wonderful reminders regarding the power of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ on this Easter Sunday! I’ll end this post with the words of Paul found in Philippians 3:10

That I may know Him . . .

And the power . . .

Of His resurrection . . . .

YouTube Video: “Jesus is Coming Back” by Jordan Feliz ft. Jonathan Trailor & Mandisa:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Easter is Coming

Easter Sunday is less than two weeks away, and the topic of forgiveness hangs heavy in the air. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” Jesus said from the cross where he was crucified at Calvary (see Luke 23:34). And still even today, we often don’t know.

In my last blog post published on March 27, 2022, titled, Mere Christianity,” I mentioned a conference titled, Celebrating 70 Years of Mere Christianity,” that I attended the previous week. During one of the two “break out” sessions at the conference, I attended a session titled, “Forgiveness Beyond Platitudes,” as the titled piqued my interest. So many times in the movies that have come out over the past several decades, the themes of revenge and justice take center stage when someone has wronged the main character, but the subject of forgiveness is nowhere to be found.

The professor who presented that session titled, “Forgiveness Beyond Platitudes,” mentioned that she had undergone a very serious personal violation of sorts that had occurred in her life a dozen years ago, and how she struggled for a very long time regarding the issue of forgiveness towards those involved in the severe breach (she didn’t mention any details). She mentioned a book titled, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve,” by Lewis B. Smedes, Ph.D., (1921-2002), professor emeritus of theology and ethics at Fuller Seminary, and a pioneer in forgiveness research; and she stated that it was instrumental to her understanding of extending forgiveness, and she highly recommended it. The book was originally published in 1984, and it is available for purchase at Amazon.com, Christianbook.com, Thriftbooks.com, and at other book sellers.

Before I get to that book which I ended up purchasing after the conference was over, see if you can relate to the opening paragraph of an article published on April 5, 2015, titled, Forgiveness and Platitudes,” by Rachel (no last name mentioned). She states:

Have you ever wrestled with the area of forgiveness? I have. I know it’s not always the most popular word. There have been two situations in my life where forgiveness was particularly challenging for me. Neither of those are stories that I intend to publish on the World Wide Web! Suffice to say that on both occasions, no apology had been offered, and the situations had enormous repercussions and caused me emotional turmoil that was long-lasting and not easy to let go of. I wrestled with the desire to forgive, and the attempt to do so while trying to process the anger and hurt… (Quote source and the entire article is available at this link.)

We’ve all been there… or at least I know I have been there. And also like Rachel, the details of my situation are not something I would publish on the Internet. But the struggle to find complete forgiveness has taken more then a decade, mostly because what happened back then changed the entire direction of my life in a way I never expected and that I didn’t want (and that’s putting it mildly).

When I received the book, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve,” in the mail this past week, I read a brief opening section before the chapters in the book start that is titled, “An Invitation,” written by the author, Lewis Smedes. It is found on pp. xv-xvi and it states:

Somebody hurt you, maybe yesterday, maybe a lifetime ago, and you cannot forget it. You did not deserve the hurt. It went deep, deep enough to lodge itself in your memory. And it keeps on hurting you now.

You are not alone. We all muddle our way through a world where even well-meaning people hurt each other. When we invest ourselves in deep personal relationships, we open our souls to the wounds of another’s disloyalty or even betrayal.

There are some hurts that we can all ignore. Not every slight sticks with us, thank God. But some old pains do not wash out so easily; they remain like stubborn stains in the fabric of our own memory.

Deep hurts we never deserved flow from a dead past into our living present. A friend betrays us; a parent abuses us; a spouse leaves us in the cold–these hurts do not heal with the coming of the sun.

We’ve all wished at one time or other that we could reach back to a painful moment and cut it out of our lives. Some people are lucky; they seem to have gracious glands that secrete the juices of forgetfulness. They never hold a grudge; they do not remember old hurts. Their painful yesterdays die with the coming of tomorrow. But most of us find that the pains of our past keep rolling through our memories, and there’s nothing we can do to stop the flow.

Nothing?

The great Jewish philosopher Hanna Arendt, toward the end of her epochal study on “The Human Condition,” shared her discovery of the only power that can stop the inexorable stream of painful memories: the “faculty of forgiveness.” It is as simple as that.

Forgiveness is God’s invention for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. He began by forgiving us. And he invites us all to forgive each other.

Virtually every newspaper in the Western world told the story of how, one January dawn in 1984, Pope John Paul walked into a dank cell of Rebibbia prison in Rome to meet Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who had tried to kill him. The Pope took the hand of the man who had fired a bullet at this heart, and forgave him.

But the Pope is a professional forgiver; and it may be easy for such a highly placed professional to forgive when he knows ahead of time that the whole world will be watching.

It is ten times harder for an ordinary person, whom nobody is watching, to forgive and forget.

Forgiving is love’s toughest work, and love’s biggest risk. If you twist it into something it was never meant to be, it can make you a doormat or an insufferable manipulator.

Forgiving seems almost unnatural. Our sense of fairness tells us people should pay for the wrong they do. But forgiving is love’s power to break nature’s rule.

Ask yourself these questions: What do I do when I forgive someone who has done me wrong?

Who is forgivable? Have some people gone beyond the forgiveness zone?

How do I do it?

Why should I even try? Is there a pay-off? Is it fair?

I invite you to come with me in search of the answers I have found along my own journey. (Quote source: “Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve,” 1984, 1996, HarperCollins, pp xv-xvi.)

This book is written in four parts. Part 1 is titled, “The Four Stages of Forgiving”; Part 2 is titled, “Forgiving People Who Are Hard to Forgive”; Part 3 is titled, “How People Forgive”; and Part 4 is titled, “Why Forgive?” It is a valuable resource for those who are struggling with forgiveness.

In an article published on April 14, 2014, titled, The Wardrobe of Easter–Forgiveness,” by Dale Cooper, Resource Specialist for Liturgical Spirituality at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, and chaplain emeritus and adjunct faculty in the department of Congregational and Ministry Studies at Calvin University, he writes:

Forgiving: it’s a challenging practice—perhaps no other command of Jesus is more difficult to obey. And it’s so counter-intuitive. Why give anyone a fresh start after he’s hurt you deeply? Why not just retaliate by knocking his block off?….

The act of forgiving involves letting the other person go free when she or he doesn’t deserve it.  Note that the Gospel of Jesus never calls one to do an end-run around justice when forgiving another. The Christian ethic calls for forgiveness to pass through justice and to go beyond it. That same Gospel does require Jesus’ followers to set their hearts toward not holding a grudge against another, not harboring ill-will, not desiring anything other—or less—than God’s best for the other.

So let’s be clear unequivocally clear: Jesus does require his followers to forgive their wrongdoers. When one of his disciples, Peter, asked Jesus about the proper limits of forgiving in the new kingdom—should we perhaps forgive up to more than twice as often as the standard three times recommended by the Jewish rabbis?—Jesus was adamantly and outrageously generous.

His reply: “I tell you, not seven times, but 77 times.” (Matthew 18:22). In other words: Don’t even think about how often to forgive. Forgive others always, and without limit.

No exceptions

Nor does Jesus allow any wiggle room about who’s worth forgiving and who’s not. He doesn’t wade into the murkiness of when and under what circumstances it’s warranted to forgive or not forgive.

He didn’t say, for example: “Usually it’s your moral duty—and prudent, too—to forgive. But not always. Some wrongs are so great and the hurts they cause so grievous that forgiveness isn’t called for. So weigh carefully when to forgive and when to revenge.” 

Jesus simply said in Matthew 6:14-15: “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Heavenly Father will not forgive your sins.”

Period.

No exceptions allowed. No extenuating circumstances considered.

Three reasons to forgive

Why would Jesus call us to do something as preposterous as to forgive another, the very opposite of what we feel like doing when we’ve been wronged and hurt badly? Why does he ask us—no, commands us—to let go of tightly held grudges, to, in mercy, turn toward others rather than away from them? The Gospel suggests at least three reasons. She who forgives:

1.  Imitates God.

Find a person—or even a community of persons—who has flushed away the last, foul-smelling trace of animosity and ill-will from their heart, and you’ll see one who looks a lot like Jesus. For Jesus, while enduring at the hands of enemies a brutality and aggression he didn’t deserve, prayed: “Father, forgive them.” (Luke 23:34) That person looks a lot like the Father of Jesus Christ, too, who, when humanity rebelled against him, resolutely chose still to call them his children, to show them his mercy, to continue to lavish his goodness upon them. (cf. Ephesians 1:7)

2. Shows Christ-like care for others.

When the act of forgiving takes place in human relationships, remembered hurts, though perhaps not forgotten, are treated as not counting any more. Thus, when a follower of Jesus, as the Lord himself did, determines to forgive another who has done him wrong, that act creates space for fellowship between the two to sprout and blossom again. It gives the wrongdoer a gift he doesn’t justly deserve.

3. Frees herself [or himself].

Three options—three only—are open to us when another has hurt us:

a. To hurt back, but harder. It’ll be our contribution to escalating the tension and lengthening the distance between us.

b. To give the other the dreaded “silent treatment.” It’ll become like a beachball shoved under the waters of our own heart. Eventually it’ll pop to the surface again and always with disastrous consequences.

c. To forgive the other. It’s the only route open to ridding ourselves of the ravenous anger and hate that otherwise keeps gnawing us from within and eventually devours us.

Rehearsing in the sanctuary

Our heart’s natural inclination being otherwise, again and again we need to hear our Lord’s call to forgive and then to set our heart’s intention toward doing so. Our Lord rehearses us in this life-giving pattern and drill every Sunday morning “in the sanctuary.” There we plead for him to forgive us, and there, in turn, we make our pledge to forgive others.

There, too, amid the thronging worshippers, we sing:

“Breathe on me, Breath of God. Fill me with life anew,
That I may love the way you love, and do what you would do.”

To obey Christ’s call to forgive is not easy. It’s nothing short of a miracle when a follower of Jesus does, in fact, forgive a fellow human being. But, with God’s Spirit to empower us and the Christian community to encourage us, we can forgive.

And when the miracle does happen, it’s a wonder to behold.

Theological Reflection

“Let us go to Calvary to learn how we may be forgiven. Let us linger there to learn how to forgive.” (Charles Spurgeon) (Quote source here.)

So, how do we recognize when we have extended forgiveness to those who have hurt us? That answer is found on page 29 in the book, Forgive and Forget,” and I will end this post with that quote: You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall…

Those who hurt you . . .

And feel the power . . .

To wish them well . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by Matthew West:

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Photo #2 credit here

He Lives

Easter Sunday (also known as Resurrection Sunday) is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, which is the key event upon which the Christian faith is based. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christianity would not exist.

In an article published on February 28, 2021, titled What’s the Big Deal?” by at Cornerstone Community Church, he writes:

Why is the history of Easter such a big deal to Christians? Even if Jesus did get raised from the dead, so what? How does that have any impact on us two thousand years later? How could the apostle Paul write,And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied,” (1 Cor. 15: 17, 19)? To answer these questions, we can look to the history of Easter.

Jesus was not just some random Jewish moral teacher who showed up out of nowhere, said radical things, died, and then came back to life. He existed in a rather unique cultural context. Throughout their history, the Israelites experienced cycles of oppression and redemption. They endured vicious periods of exile and enslavement where they could not meet with God’s presence in the temple. In these times, the people cried out to God that He might save them from their exile so that they could be with Him again. God rescued them from their physical oppression, but they eventually were conquered again. In His infinite lovingkindness, God came up with a plan to allow all people, not just the Israelites, to dwell with Him, the source of all life, forever.

For hundreds of years, God sent prophets to the people of Israel to tell them that He was sending a savior to them who would permanently free them from their endless cycle of oppression and redemption. This promise sat in the background of Jewish culture for centuries upon centuries. Every Jewish man, woman, and child longed for the day God would save them permanently. Fast forward to about 30 A.D., when Jesus began His ministry. The Jewish people were engaged in a bitter conflict with the Roman Empire. Rome, being the world’s greatest super power at the time, was winning that conflict. When Jesus started performing miracles and speaking of God, people began asking Him if He was the promised Messiah. When He responded, “I who speak to you am He,” (John 4:26), the Jewish people understandably assumed He was going to save them from the Roman Empire and reign as their king.

Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God finally arriving on earth. This kingdom would be one of peace and unity, where people of all nations could become one multicultural family, united with God on a restored earth, with Jesus as our king. All of the talk about a new king threatened the existing political and religious structures of the day, and the Jewish leaders set out to have Jesus put to death. They got the Roman governor on board with this plan, and had Jesus unjustly executed through false testimonies and illegitimate legal processes.

With their leader dead, Jesus’ disciples were crushed. How could God’s chosen Messiah, sent to rescue them from the Romans (so they thought), be executed? Had God lied to them? May it never be! God’s plan for salvation went beyond rescuing His people from an oppressive regime (though throughout the Old Testament, He has a lot to say about how He will punish the oppressor). The Kingdom of God does not operate according to the ways of the world. God’s kingdom is one of peace, one that does not advance through conquest. How then would He deliver on His promise of everlasting salvation?

The answer came on the morning of the third day after Jesus’ resurrection: God, through Jesus, is remaking all of creation! Jesus is the first fruits of this new creation (1 Cor. 15:20), a sign for us of what is both happening now and still yet to come. Instead of the temporary salvation offered by political rescue, God invites us to become a part of His heavenly kingdom, where we have the promise of bodily resurrection and eternal peace with God and with each other. This is why the history of Easter Sunday is so important to Christians: it is the day we celebrate the single most important event in human history. If Jesus really did rise from the dead, then the things He said about God’s kingdom coming to earth and inviting us to become a part of the new creation are all true.

Since then, spreading the news that Jesus is alive is the primary task of the church. Missionaries traveled far and wide throughout the world to share the fact that Jesus is alive and explain how God’s kingdom is open to all people. In order to spread this news more effectively, missionaries would communicate the history of Easter to people using their own cultural symbols. We can still see some of the artifacts of these cultural adaptations in the eggs and bunnies we see around Easter time. The message of Jesus’ resurrection is just as relevant today as it was in 33 A.D. The recreation work of God is still happening and the invitation to join God’s kingdom is still open to any who will take it today. (Quote source here.)

This past week among the many articles published on the topic of Holy Week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, I also ran across several articles noting the decline of religion in America today. Bill O’Reilly‘s “Message of the Day,” for today (April 3, 2021), titled, A Decline in Religion,” sums up what the other articles noted:

I have taken notice of the decline in religion occurring in the USA. A new survey says just 48% of Americans actually participate in an organized religion–that is the lowest number ever recorded in this country.

Now, there are a number of reasons why. Number one, secular values are heavily promoted in the entertainment and news industries. In fact, often traditional religious Americans are openly mocked. We all see it. And that filters down particularly to younger people whose lifestyle and belief systems are not fully formed.

Number two, more and more people do not want to be held accountable for their behavior. Religion does that–the concept of sin. There’s always an excuse for wrongdoing, a rationalization.

And third, it’s all about me these days, is it not? Nothing higher. Whatever is good for me is good in general. Well, that’s not what theology says. Theology says on the Judeo-Christian front, you got to look out for your neighbor. You got to treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s not all about you. (Quote source here.)

I’d like to add a fourth reason to that list which is found in 2 Timothy 3:5. It has to do with those who show an outward display of religion or godliness but there is no real power behind it, which could actually fall under the second and/or third reasons in Bill O’Reilly’s list.

GotQuestions.org answers the question,“What does it mean to have a form of godliness but deny its power in 2 Timothy 3:5?” as follows:

In 2 Timothy 3, the apostle Paul describes the nature of people in the last days. In his description, he warns of people who are characterized as “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (verse 5). Paul then issues this command: “Have nothing to do with such people.”

Paul often uses contrast to emphasize an attribute he wishes to highlight. In 2 Timothy 3:1–4, he gives Timothy a long list of sinful behaviors and attitudes that are contrary to God’s will. In verse 5 he tells Timothy to avoid those who state they are Christians with their mouths—they have a “form” of godliness—but who act as unbelievers—they deny the power of godliness.

Those who have a form of godliness are those who make an outward display of religion. They present themselves as godly, but it is all for show. There is no power behind their religion, as evidenced in the fact that their lives are unchanged. They speak of God and live in sin, and they are fine with that arrangement. As commentator Charles Ellicott wrote, “These, by claiming the title of Christians, wearing before men the uniform of Christ, but by their lives dishonoring His name, did the gravest injury to the holy Christian cause” (Ellicott’s Bible Commentary for English Readers, entry for 2 Timothy 3:5).

These false Christians are destructive. Paul warns that they will “creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts” and that they are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:6–7, NKJV). He compares them to the wicked magicians who opposed Moses and warns that their folly and corrupt minds will be revealed to all eventually (verses 8–9).

The power of God, which should accompany the form of godliness, is shown through the Holy Spirit and results in the transformation of our lives. The Holy Spirit indwells the believer (1 Corinthians 6:19) and enables him to bear certain fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). These are the attributes of a true Christian, as opposed to Paul’s list of sins in 2 Timothy 3:1–4.

Paul’s exhortation to Timothy falls in line with James’ explanation how to identify a true faith (James 2:14–26). True faith will be evidenced by good works, which will occur naturally. If a person says he is a Christian but shows no evidence in his life by bearing the fruit of the Spirit, we have to make a judgment about him and avoid that person. He may have a form of godliness, but he is denying God’s power by not letting himself be controlled by the Spirit. In fact, if his faith is not genuine, he cannot be controlled by God’s power, because the Holy Spirit does not dwell in him.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The natural person may have a form of godliness, but he denies God’s power in the way he lives. Only faith in Jesus Christ can bring justification and the transformation he so desperately needs (Colossians 1:21–22Romans 5:1–2). (Quote source here.)

Second Timothy 3:2-5 lists the type of people to watch out for:

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

We would be hard pressed, if we are honest, to not find something in that list that includes us starting right off with “lovers of themselves.” How about “proud” or “boastful” or “without love”? How about “unforgiving” or “slanderous” (gossip is a big one) or “treacherous”? There is no point in going through the entire list. The picture is pretty clear.

So what does a genuine seeker of God look like?

In an article titled, A Seeking Heart,” by Dave Butts, chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee and the co-founder and president of Harvest Prayer Ministries, he writes:

What are you looking for in life? Be careful what you look for. The Bible tells us that those who seek will find. But you might be seeking wrong things. If you are looking to be rich, you may well end up rich, but also tremendously unhappy and burdened down by the things of this world. You may be looking for fame, for recognition of your accomplishments. In the process of finding that recognition on earth, you may well lose the praise of heaven.

Many have just quit seeking. Living lives of quiet desperation, they simply hope to avoid disaster or pain. Sometimes even Christians can find themselves in the rut of everyday life, with the only thing they are looking for being heaven some day. The pressures of life have stifled desire of any significance, and life is just something to be endured.

Did you know that God never intended for us to live this way? God is actually looking for the discontented. He is looking for seekers, those whose desires are always going beyond the confines of daily life. In 2 Chronicles 16:9 the Word says, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” The same concept is expressed in Psalm 14:2, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.” I don’t know about you, but I want to be found by the God who is looking for seekers.

What does it mean to be a seeker after God? Does it have any real meaning for us? After all, if we are Christians, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. The Lord has promised to be with us always, even until the end of the age. So, is it necessary for a Christian to be a seeker after God?

I believe that King David gives us a wonderful understanding of what it means for a man of God, experiencing the presence of God, to still be a seeker after God. In Psalm 27:4 we read this passionate prayer of a man after God’s own heart: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” If we try to analyze this verse in spatial, literal terms, we find ourselves confused. If David were in God’s temple, gazing upon His face, why would he still be seeking Him?

That’s because seeking God is much more than having one experience and calling it “finding God.” It is much more than believing a certain set of doctrines. It is even much more than having a good prayer life. God is too big to be confined to any one person’s experience or belief system. Seeking God is an attitude, a way of life, a journey that is never complete in this life.

The vastness of God makes the task of seeking Him the journey of a lifetime. Let me give a totally inadequate illustration, but one that may be helpful nonetheless. I always enjoy visiting the Smithsonian Institute when I go to Washington D.C. As you might know, the Smithsonian is made up of dozens of buildings, each housing a particular aspect of man’s knowledge or achievement. So you could go to the Air and Space Museum or the American History Museum or the Portrait Gallery and still say of each, “I went to the Smithsonian.” What would be totally inaccurate would be to go to one of those museums and return home saying: “I have experienced the Smithsonian in its entirety.”

God, of course, dwarfs the Smithsonian, but we sometimes feel like or say, “I know God. I have experienced God. Others need to seek Him, but I have found Him.” That’s like going to one building of the Smithsonian and thinking you have experienced all that the Smithsonian is.

David didn’t fall into that trap. His desire was to spend all of his days in the presence of God, gazing upon His beauty. Yet he also realized with humility, that he would still need to have that seeking heart for the rest of his life.

I believe that to live this life, we must start with prayer. Ask God to give you a seeking heart. Repent of any spiritual lukewarmness or self-satisfaction. All that we have comes from God, even a heart that seeks God. But we must ask Him. We do not just become seekers because we are naturally good and spiritual. We are not! We must ask and receive that gift from God.

Seeking also requires effort. When we have asked and received of the Lord a seeking heart, there will be required of us an earnestness and effort that emerges from the longing for intimacy with God, that God Himself has placed within our hearts.

The path to God is always Jesus. He is the way! There is no other path to God. Seeking God successfully only happens along the pathway that is Jesus. It is in intimacy with the Lord and walking daily in His ways that we find ourselves with a seeking heart that pleases God and draws His eyes and favor upon us.

Here is the good news! Jesus said that all who seek will find. God is not hiding. He longs to be found and known. But His very character and vastness demand a life of seeking. No matter how long we have known Him and walked with Him on this planet, we will still find ourselves learning and experiencing new aspects of who He is. “Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage” (Psalms 84:5). (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words given by an angel to the women who came to Jesus’ tomb after he was buried (found in Matthew 28:5-6): The angel said to the women–Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified…

He is not here . . .

He has risen . . .

Just as he said . . . .

YouTube Video: “Easter Song” sung by the Worship Team at Northland Church:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Road to Pentecost

Two days ago I posted a blog post on my new blog site, Reflections,” titled The Road to Pentecost.” I decided to go ahead and post it here on my regular blog, too, since the readership is wider here, and Pentecost is two days away. Here is that blog post:

The Road to Pentecost

“One of the great metaphors of the Bible is “the journey.” The Bible is filled with journey upon journey. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture is full of people on the move”. . . .

The quote above is taken from a Holy Week sermon in 2009 titled, Three Journeys,” given by The Reverend Michael Seiler, Managing Associate Rector, at The Parish of Saint Matthew in Pacific Palisades, California. Here is more from that sermon:

In the beginning of the Old Testament, Abraham journeys from Ur of the Chaldees to the Promised Land. Many generations later, Abraham’s descendants journey from slavery and oppression in Egypt into the land of Israel. Many generations after that, they journey back to their Promised Land after the tragic downfall of their civilization and their forced exile in Babylon. In the New Testament, Jesus himself journeys through Palestine, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God. As he journeys, he shows people what that Kingdom looks like by his deeds of love and power. After the Resurrection, Paul and the apostles journey all over the Roman Empire, and their message reaches to the ends of the earth – and here we are, millennia later, with our journeys touching theirs.

It makes sense that the concept of “the journey” would be so central to Scripture, because we human beings are journeying people. We make sense of our lives by understanding them as journeys, as the unfolding story of who we are and what we do in the world. We think and talk and worry about our career arcs, or our family histories, or our financial forecasts, or our estate plans. In our better moments we think and talk and pray about our spiritual journeys – all ways of thinking about our lives, our stories, about the journey that has been, and the journey that will be. In some deep way, journeying is an elemental part of who we are as human beings.

This image, this metaphor of the journey has been very helpful to me over the past week or so, as I’ve tried to understand the deeper meaning of this morning’s reading from the twelfth chapter of John’s Gospel. John tells us in this passage about the moment when several different journeys intersect, and he tells us something about what it means that those journeys come together.

The first journeyer in John’s Gospel is, of course, Jesus himself. From its very first words, John’s Gospel makes it clear that Jesus is on a journey – a journey that is far more than just a walking tour of Palestine. The pre-eternal Word of God, who is with God and who is God, has journeyed into this world, has chosen to be with us, to become flesh, to reveal his divine being and nature and love to us by becoming a human person in the man Jesus of Nazareth. For John’s Gospel, this is the first and greatest journey – the cosmic journey of Christ from the Father into this world, through suffering and death and then back to the glory of the Father. Every other journey in John’s Gospel, all of the lives and experiences of all the other people in John’s Gospel, only make sense in the light of that great journey of Christ. John’s Gospel wants to tell us that apart from the great journey of Christ, our lives don’t really get anywhere.

Apart from the grace and power and love of Christ, our lives are just a kind of going in circles. But, John wants to tell us, in the light of the great journey of Christ, our lives can be a journey into God.

There are other journeyers in this morning’s Gospel. John doesn’t tell us their names – all we know about them is that they aresome Greeks.” They are the only Greeks – the only non-Jews, that is – in John’s Gospel [see John 12:20-33] who encounter Jesus during his ministry. They have somehow heard of Jesus, they have learned something about him, and what they’ve learned has given them a desire to be with him. They have journeyed to be with Jesus, perhaps over a very long distance. That distance may be geographical, or spiritual, or both. They seek out the follower of Jesus who has the most Greek-sounding name – Philip – and they ask Philip to arrange a meeting with Jesus. And in this moment, their lives, their journeys, and the cosmic journey of Christ from God and to God, suddenly and dramatically intersect.

And that, Jesus says, is precisely the point. The journey of Jesus, the journey of destiny and salvation and healing that he is traveling, now starts to touch not just Jews but non-Jews. The Greeks have arrived. “The hour,” Jesus’ decisive moment of glory and revelation that will climax in the Cross, has come. This is the moment, in John’s Gospel, when the full meaning and power of Jesus’ journey begins to be revealed. This is the moment when the saving journey of Christ begins to be revealed as the work of God that will heal and save and transform not just the covenant people of Israel, but the whole human race. “The hour has come,” Jesus says, “and when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

These mysterious, unnamed Greeks become the sign that all human journeys, all human lives, find their meaning in Christ. These mysterious, unnamed Greeks are the people through whom Jesus demonstrates that he is drawing every person, bending every journey, toward himself. Christ, now that he is lifted up from the earth by his crucifixion and his resurrection, has become the pole star, the magnetic north, for every journey, for every person, for the meaning and destiny of every individual and of the whole human race. All our journeys are destined to find their meaning by intersecting his great journey. Until our journeys are caught up in the journey of Christ from God and to God, we really are just going around in circles of our own making. Once we make Christ’s journey our own – or rather, once Christ makes our journey his own – then and only then are we are safely on the road to God. . . .

But there is one last detail about this Gospel passage that has puzzled me for years. What happened to the Greeks? Do they get to see Jesus? Doesn’t Jesus ever talk to them? Do they ever get what they came for? John’s Gospel doesn’t say. It just leaves them – and us – hanging. And for years, that loose end in the story drove me crazy.

But now I think I am starting to understand. I think the Greeks did see Jesus. I think John’s Gospel is suggesting to us that the Greeks did see everything they needed to see of Jesus – because they had come to Jerusalem, and they were going to see his suffering and his death and perhaps even be eyewitnesses of his Resurrection. It’s as if they came seeking an interview, but what they got was to SEE the cataclysmic, earthshaking events that were going to unfold in Jerusalem over the next few days. If they showed up, they would see. If they saw, and let the cosmic journey of Christ fully intersect theirs – if they saw, and understood what they were seeing, and if they believed – they would find what they were seeking. They just needed to show up for the next few days. They needed to show up – for Holy Week. They had to be brave enough to take it all in, and to believe what they heard and saw. (Quote source here.)

This coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, and it marks the end of the seven week Easter Season also known as Eastertide which is the time between the resurrection of Jesus Christ celebrated on Easter Sunday and the filling of the Holy Spirit in his disciples and followers in the Upper Room fifty days later (known as Pentecost–see Acts 2). In an article titled, What is Pentecost? Why Does It Matter?” by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts, pastor, author, leader, speaker, blogger, and Executive Director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Seminary, he states:

On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those followers of Jesus who had gathered together in Jerusalem. What happened on the first Pentecost continues to happen to Christians throughout the world today, though usually not in such a dramatic fashion. We rarely get a heavenly wind and tongues of fire anymore. Nevertheless, God pours out the Spirit upon all who put their faith in Jesus Christ and become his disciples (see Romans 8:1-11).

Christians are meant to live in the presence and power of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to confess Jesus as Lord (1 Cor 12:3), empowers us to serve God with supernatural power (1 Cor 12:4-11), binds us together as the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13), helps us to pray (Rom 8:26), and even intercedes for us with God the Father (Rom 8:27). The Spirit guides us (Gal 5:25), helping us to live like Jesus (Gal 5:22-23).

Personal Implications: Pentecost presents us with an opportunity to consider how we are living each day. Are we relying on the power of God’s Spirit? Are we an open channel for the Spirit’s gifts? Are we attentive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Is the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) growing in our lives? Most Christians I know, including me, live in the presence and power of the Spirit, but only to an extent. We are limited by our fear, our sin, our low expectations, not to mention our tendency to be distracted from God’s work in us. Pentecost offers a chance to confess our failure to live by the Spirit and to ask the Lord to fill us afresh with his power.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on individual followers of Jesus as they were gathered together in Jerusalem. This gathering became the first Christian church. New believers in Jesus were baptized as they joined this church. They, along with the first followers of Jesus, shared life together, focusing on teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They shared their belongings so that no one was hungry or needy. As these first Christians lived out their new faith together, “the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Thus we speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the church.

In theory, the Spirit could have been poured out on the followers of Jesus when they were not gathered together. There are surely times when the Holy Spirit touches an individual who is alone in prayer, worship, or ministry to others. But the fact that the Spirit was given to a gathering of believers is not incidental. It underscores the centrality of the church in God’s work in the world. The actions of the earliest Christians put all of this in boldface. The Holy Spirit is not only given to individuals, but also, in a sense to the gathered people of God. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 3the Apostle Paul observes that the church is God’s temple and that the Spirit dwells in the midst of the church (3:16-17in 1 Cor 6:19-20 we find a complementary emphasis on the dwelling of the Spirit in individual Christians). (Quote source here.)

GotQuestion.org adds the following information on Pentecost Sunday:

Today, in many Christian churches, Pentecost Sunday is celebrated to recognize the gift of the Holy Spirit, realizing that God’s very life, breath and energy live in believers. During this serviceJohn 20:19-23 may be the core of the message about our risen Savior supernaturally appearing to the fear-laden disciples. Their fear gave way to joy when the Lord showed them His hands and side. He assured them peace and repeated the command given in Matthew 28:19-20, saying, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then He breathed on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-23).

The celebration of Pentecost Sunday reminds us of the reality that we all have the unifying Spirit that was poured out upon the first-century church in Acts 2:1-4It is a reminder that we are co-heirs with Christ, to suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him; that the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7); that we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13); and that the Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives inside believers (Romans 8:9-11). This gift of the Holy Spirit that was promised and given to all believers on the first Pentecost is promised for you and your children and for all who are far off whom the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:39). (Quote source here.)

The road from Easter to Pentecost is one of the many roads we as Christians take in our journey of faith. It is crucial that we remember what Jesus said in John 15:5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit . . .

For apart from me . . .

You can do . . .

Nothing . . . .

YouTube Video: “Which Way the Winds Blows” by the 2nd Chapter of Acts (1974):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Jesus–Then, Now, and Forever

Christians around the world celebrated Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead last Sunday which we celebrate every year on Easter Sunday. Right now we are in the seven-week period between Easter and Pentecost, a holiday in which we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2) on the early followers of Jesus (source here), which will be celebrated this year on Sunday, May 20th.

First, a little background on Easter Sunday even though it has already passed for this year. GotQuestions.org provides background information on how Jesus’ resurrection came to be celebrated on Easter Sunday (it may surprise you):

There is a lot of confusion regarding what Easter Sunday is all about. For some, Easter Sunday is about the Easter Bunny, colorfully decorated Easter eggs, and Easter egg hunts. Most people understand that Easter Sunday has something to do with the resurrection of Jesus, but are confused as to how the resurrection is related to the Easter eggs and the Easter bunny.

Biblically speaking, there is absolutely no connection between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the common modern traditions related to Easter Sunday. As a background, please read our article on the origins of Easter. Essentially, what occurred is that in order to make Christianity more attractive to non-Christians, the ancient Roman Catholic Church mixed the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection with celebrations that involved spring fertility rituals. These spring fertility rituals are the source of the egg and bunny traditions.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week, Sunday (Matthew 28:1Mark 16:2,9Luke 24:1John 20:1,19). Jesus’ resurrection is most worthy of being celebrated (see 1 Corinthians 15). While it is appropriate for Jesus’ resurrection to be celebrated on a Sunday, the day on which Jesus’ resurrection is celebrated should not be referred to as Easter. Easter has nothing to do with Jesus’ resurrection on a Sunday.

As a result, many Christians feel strongly that the day on which we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection should not be referred to as “Easter Sunday.” Rather, something like “Resurrection Sunday” would be far more appropriate and biblical. For the Christian, it is unthinkable that we would allow the silliness of Easter eggs and the Easter bunny to be the focus of the day instead of Jesus’ resurrection.

By all means, celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Christ’s resurrection is something that should be celebrated every day, not just once a year. At the same time, if we choose to celebrate Easter Sunday, we should not allow the fun and games to distract our attention from what the day should truly be all about—the fact that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and that His resurrection demonstrates that we can indeed be promised an eternal home in Heaven by receiving Jesus as our Savior. (Quote source here.)

Jesus remained on the earth for forty days after his resurrection appearing to many people and teaching his disciples before his ascension into heaven (see Acts 1:1-11). Ten days after his ascension the promise that Jesus made to his followers in John 16:7-15 regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit (counselor/advocate) after his death occurred in the filling of the Holy Spirit in the upper room where his followers were assembled (see Acts 2). For a complete timetable of events that occurred between Jesus’ resurrection and the Day of Pentecost, view this list on Spotlight Ministries.

Got Questions.org gives an explanation of the identity of the Holy Spirit as follows:

There are many misconceptions about the identity of the Holy Spirit. Some view the Holy Spirit as a mystical force. Others understand the Holy Spirit as the impersonal power that God makes available to followers of Christ. What does the Bible say about the identity of the Holy Spirit? Simply put, the Bible declares that the Holy Spirit is God. The Bible also tells us that the Holy Spirit is a divine person, a being with a mind, emotions, and a will.

The fact that the Holy Spirit is God is clearly seen in many Scriptures, including Acts 5:3-4. In this verse Peter confronts Ananias as to why he lied to the Holy Spirit and tells him that he had “not lied to men but to God.” It is a clear declaration that lying to the Holy Spirit is lying to God. We can also know that the Holy Spirit is God because He possesses the characteristics of God. For example, His omnipresence is seen in Psalm 139:7-8, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” Then in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11, we see the characteristic of omniscience in the Holy Spirit. “But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”

We can know that the Holy Spirit is indeed a divine person because He possesses a mind, emotions, and a will. The Holy Spirit thinks and knows (1 Corinthians 2:10). The Holy Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). The Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27). He makes decisions according to His will (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). The Holy Spirit is God, the third Person of the Trinity. As God, the Holy Spirit can truly function as the Comforter and Counselor that Jesus promised He would be (John 14:162615:26). (Quote source here.)

The Day of Pentecost is a celebration each year of the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell believers as Jesus promised in John 16:7-15. “The main sign of Pentecost in the West is the color red. It symbolizes joy and the fire of the Holy Spirit. Priests or ministers, and choirs wear red vestments, and in modern times, the custom has extended to the lay people of the congregation wearing red clothing in celebration as well. Red banners are often hung from walls or ceilings to symbolize the blowing of the “mighty wind” and the free movement of the Spirit” (quote source here.) It is a very festive celebration.

The role of the Holy Spirit in our lives today is crucial. GotQuestions.org states the gifts that come through the Holy Spirit to us today:

Of all the gifts given to mankind by God, there is none greater than the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has many functions, roles, and activities. First, He does a work in the hearts of all people everywhere. Jesus told the disciples that He would send the Spirit into the world to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7-11). Everyone has a “God consciousness,” whether or not they admit it. The Spirit applies the truths of God to minds of men to convince them by fair and sufficient arguments that they are sinners. Responding to that conviction brings men to salvation.

Once we are saved and belong to God, the Spirit takes up residence in our hearts forever, sealing us with the confirming, certifying, and assuring pledge of our eternal state as His children. Jesus said He would send the Spirit to us to be our Helper, Comforter, and Guide. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (John 14:16). The Greek word translated here “Counselor” means “one who is called alongside” and has the idea of someone who encourages and exhorts. The Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence in the hearts of believers (Romans 8:91 Corinthians 6:19-2012:13). Jesus gave the Spirit as a “compensation” for His absence, to perform the functions toward us which He would have done if He had remained personally with us.

Among those functions is that of revealer of truth. The Spirit’s presence within us enables us to understand and interpret God’s Word. Jesus told His disciples that “when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). He reveals to our minds the whole counsel of God as it relates to worship, doctrine, and Christian living. He is the ultimate guide, going before, leading the way, removing obstructions, opening the understanding, and making all things plain and clear. He leads in the way we should go in all spiritual things. Without such a guide, we would be apt to fall into error. A crucial part of the truth He reveals is that Jesus is who He said He is (John 15:261 Corinthians 12:3). The Spirit convinces us of Christ’s deity and incarnation, His being the Messiah, His suffering and death, His resurrection and ascension, His exaltation at the right hand of God, and His role as the judge of all. He gives glory to Christ in all things (John 16:14).

Another one of the Holy Spirit’s roles is that of gift-giver. First Corinthians 12 describes the spiritual gifts given to believers in order that we may function as the body of Christ on earth. All these gifts, both great and small, are given by the Spirit so that we may be His ambassadors to the world, showing forth His grace and glorifying Him.

The Spirit also functions as fruit-producer in our lives. When He indwells us, He begins the work of harvesting His fruit in our lives—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These are not works of our flesh, which is incapable of producing such fruit, but they are products of the Spirit’s presence in our lives.

The knowledge that the Holy Spirit of God has taken up residence in our lives, that He performs all these miraculous functions, that He dwells with us forever, and that He will never leave or forsake us is cause for great joy and comfort. Thank God for this precious gift—the Holy Spirit and His work in our lives! (Quote course here.)

However, the most crucial function of the Holy Spirit is to always point us back to Jesus. I’ve just started reading a fascinating book titled, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why It Matters (2011), by N.T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and one of the world’s leading Bible scholars. Here is a excerpt from Chapter 1 titled, “A Very Odd Sort of King” in a subsection titled, “The Challenge to the Churches,” pp. 4-6:

With Jesus, it’s easy to be complicated and hard to be simple. Part of the difficulty is that Jesus was and is much, much more than people imagine. Not just people in general, but practicing Christians, the churches themselves. Faced with the gospels–the four early books that give us most of our information about him–most modern Christians are in the same position I am in when I sit down in front of my computer. My computer will, I am reliably informed, do a large number of complex tasks. I only use it, however, for three things: writing, email, and occasional Internet searches. If my computer were a person, it would feel frustrated and grossly undervalued, its full potential nowhere near realized. We are, I believe, in that position today when we read the stories of Jesus in the gospels. We in the churches use these stories for various obvious things: little moralizing sermons on how to behave in the coming week, aids to prayer and meditation, extra padding for a theological picture largely constructed from elsewhere. The gospels, like my computer, have every right to feel frustrated. Their full potential remains unrealized.

Worse, Jesus himself has every right to feel frustrated. Many Christians, hearing of someone doing “historical research” on Jesus, begin to worry that what will emerge is a smaller, less significant Jesus than they had hoped for find. Plenty of books offer just that: a cut-down-to-size Jesus, Jesus as a great moral teacher or religious leader, a great man but nothing more. Christians now routinely recognize this reductionism and resist it. But I have increasingly come to believe that we should be worried for the quite opposite reason. Jesus–the Jesus we might discover if we really looked!–is larger, more disturbing, more urgent than we–than the church!–had ever imagined. We have successfully managed to hide behind other questions (admittedly important ones) and to avoid the huge, world-shaking challenge of Jesus’ central claim and achievement. It is we, the churches, who have been the real reductionists. We have reduced the kingdom of God to private piety, the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience, and Easter itself to a happy, escapist ending after a sad, dark tale. Piety, conscience, and ultimate happiness are important, but not nearly as important as Jesus himself.

You see, the reason Jesus wasn’t the sort of king people had wanted in his own day is–to anticipate our conclusion,–that he was the true king, but they had become used to the ordinary, shabby, second-rate sort. They were looking for a builder to construct the home they thought they wanted, but he was the architect, coming with a new plan that would give them everything they needed; but within quite a new framework. They were looking for a singer to sing the song they had been humming for a long time, but he was the composer, bringing them a new song to which the old songs they knew would form, at best, the background music. He was the king, all right, but he had come to redefine kingship itself around his own work, his own mission, his own fate.

It is time, I believe, to recognize not only who Jesus was in his own day, despite his contemporaries’ failures to recognize him, but also who he is, and will be, for our own. “He came to what was his own,” wrote one of his greatest earlier followers, “and his own people did not accept him” (John 1:11). That puzzle continues.

Perhaps, indeed, it has been the same in our own day. Perhaps even “his own people”–this time not the Jewish people of the first century, but the would-be Christian people of the Western world–have not been ready to recognize Jesus himself. We want a “religious” leader, not a king! We want someone to save our souls, not rule our world! Or, if we want a king, someone to take charge of our world, what we want is someone to implement the policies we already embrace, just as Jesus’s contemporaries did. But if Christians don’t get Jesus right, what chance is there that other people will bother much with him?

This book is written in the belief that the question of Jesus–who he really was, what he really did, what it means, and why it matters–remains hugely important in every area, not only in personal life, but also in political life, not only in “religion” or “spirituality,” but also in such spheres of human endeavor as worldview, culture, justice, beauty, ecology, friendship, scholarship, and sex. You may be relieved, or perhaps disappointed, to know that we won’t have space to address all of these. What we will try to do is to look, simply and clearly, at Jesus himself, in the hope that a fresh glimpse of him will enable us to gain a new perspective on everything else as well. There will be time enough to explore other things in other places. (Quote source: “Simply Jesus,” pp. 4-6.)

Want to know more? Get the book! Here’s a link to the Amazon.com page. I’ll end this post with Jesus’ words found in John 8:32 . . .

Then you will know the truth . . .

And the truth . . .

Will set you free . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Truth Will Set You Free” (1977) by The Mighty Clouds of Joy:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here (it’s also a link to Barnes & Nobles for the book)

Come and See

He is not here
he has risen,
just as he said. 
Come and see
the place where he lay.
~Matthew 28:6

On the Road to EmmausLuke 24:13-35:

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Jesus is risen . . .

He is risen indeed . . .

What will you do with him . . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire

Lately I’ve been noticing some differences between general “Christian living” type books publish today and those published two or three decades ago (not often but sometimes). Many of the authors of those past books are still writing today along with a plethora of Christian writers who have arrived on the scene since then. Over this time span postmodernism has had a major influence on the church, and it is sometimes apparent when comparing some of what is being written today from what was written twenty or thirty years ago. The following brief description of postmodernism as it relates to the church is found at GotQuestions.org:

Postmodern Christianity is just as difficult to lock down in a concise definition as postmodernism itself. What started in the 1950s in architecture as a reaction to modernist thought and style was soon adopted by the art and literary world in the 1970s and 1980s. The Church didn’t really feel this effect until the 1990s. This reaction was a dissolution of “cold, hard fact” in favor of “warm, fuzzy subjectivity.” Think of anything considered postmodern, then stick Christianity into that context and you have a glimpse of what post-modern Christianity is.

Postmodern Christianity falls into line with basic post-modernist thinking. It is about experience over reason, subjectivity over objectivity, spirituality over religion, images over words, outward over inward. Are these things good? Sure. Are these things bad? Sure. It all depends on how far from biblical truth each reaction against modernity takes one’s faith. This, of course, is up to each believer. However, when groups form under such thinking, theology and doctrine tend to lean more towards liberalism.

For example, because experience is valued more highly than reason, truth becomes relative. This opens up all kinds of problems, as this lessens the standard that the Bible contains absolute truth, and even disqualifies biblical truth as being absolute in many cases. If the Bible is not our source for absolute truth, and personal experience is allowed to define and interpret what truth actually is, a saving faith in Jesus Christ is rendered meaningless.

There will always be “paradigm shifts” in thinking as long as mankind inhabits this present earth, because mankind constantly seeks to better itself in knowledge and stature. Challenges to our way of thinking are good, as they cause us to grow, to learn, and to understand. This is the principle of Romans 12:2 at work, of our minds being transformed. Yet, we need to be ever mindful of Acts 17:11 and be like the Bereans, weighing every new teaching, every new thought, against Scripture. We don’t let our experiences interpret Scripture for us, but as we change and conform ourselves to Christ, we interpret our experiences according to Scripture. Unfortunately, this is not what is happening in circles espousing post-modern Christianity. (Quote source here.)

What initially got me thinking about this difference came from a book I found yesterday at Goodwill that was originally published back in 1997. The book is titled,Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” by Jim Cymbala, pastor at The Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City and author of numerous books. The full title of the book is Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: What Happens When God’s Spirit Invades the Hearts of His People,” originally published 21 years ago, and coauthored with Dean Merrill, former magazine editor, editorial director, and a former vice president at International Bible Society (now Biblica). He is also an author of numerous books.

In a 1998 book review on Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” written by Michael J. Dies, reviews editor for Pneuma Review, he states the following:

Jim Cymbala is the pastor of  the Brooklyn Tabernacle, New York, NY. Pastored by Cymbala since 1972, the Tabernacle has, as of 1996, began holding four services a Sunday, each with at least 1,600 per meeting. This is despite the fact that they have been sending groups out to plant churches since 1985, seventeen as of the printing of his book. In the inner city, a church isn’t likely to grow due to transference of members from other churches, or slick programs. Churches grow in dark places when they meet the deep spiritual needs of the people. Clearly then, Jim Cymbala has something to say.

The first part of the book shows the struggle Jim and his wife Carol endured when they took on a small dying church in Brooklyn, that could not even pay it’s bills. A young man with no formal training in ministry, he heard all manner of church growth advice (p. 24). Finally the Lord spoke to him, saying that if he would lead the people to pray and call on his name, that they would never build a building large enough to accommodate the crowds God would send. On that word from the Lord, Cymbala instituted Tuesday night prayer in his church and, as they say, the rest is history.

Cymbala told his church that the Tuesday prayer meeting would become the barometer for the church, the gauge by which they would judge success or failure (p. 27). By this measure Cymbala sees the church in America sadly lacking. In Brooklyn, broken lives were healed, from prostitutes to drug addicts, not because of polished sermons, or better teaching, but because of love birthed in prayer.

“Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” is a plea to the church in this country to return to prayer. “Pastors and churches have to get uncomfortable enough to say, ‘We are not New Testament churches if we don’t have a prayer life’” (p 50). Many pastors have come to him and told Cymbala that they would be embarrassed to have a prayer meeting in their church because nobody would come. “Does the Bible say anywhere from Genesis to Revelation that  ‘My house shall be called a house of preaching?’” (p. 71). He is bold enough to say that he is embarrassed that religious leaders in America talk about having prayer in public schools, when we do not even have prayer in our churches (p. 72).

Cymbala rounds out the book with an assessment of the church’s penchant for novelty (chapter 7), marketing (chapter 8), and doctrine without power (chapter 9). This includes a sober and refreshing look at fads, and “new” doctrines. . . . (Quote source here.)

From the Parable of the Persistent Widow (click on pic to go to Luke 18:1-8)

The Church was born shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, and the Book of Acts in the New Testament tells the story of its beginning and its complete dependence on God for everything–literally everything. When I stated above that I sometimes noticed a difference in the writings of Christian authors from two or three decades ago compared with today, that statement isn’t made as if I’m pining for some type of “good old days.” God and Jesus Christ don’t change from generation to generation or culture to culture (see Hebrews 13:8). However, our focus over time has shifted in ways we might not even notice or recognize.

In the 21st Century we are constantly inundated with new information that molds our thinking and our choices through social media, advertising, peer pressure, and the constant 24/7 flow of information. And there are forces at work that are detrimental to us that we don’t even recognize. Read the description again on postmodernism and the church stated above and see if you don’t agree. We are being molded in a myriad of ways that might seem normal when they aren’t. And they are leading us astray from the only Source of real life that there is. For example, money and materialism has a massive hold on many Christians, yet we fail to recognize the danger it presents to us.

Cymbala’s book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” is primarily a book about prayer and how powerful it has been in his church and among those attending Brooklyn Tabernacle over the years. In Chapter 3 titled, “A Song for the Desperate,” he states (on pp. 49-51):

Prayer cannot truly be taught by principles and seminars and symposiums. It has to be born out of a whole environment of felt need. If I say, “I ought to pray,” I will soon run out of motivation and quit; the flesh is too strong. I have to be driven to pray.

Yes, the roughness of inner-city life [where Brooklyn Tabernacle is located] has pressed us to pray. When you have alcoholics trying to sleep on the back steps of your building, when your teenagers are getting assaulted and knifed on the way to youth meetings, when you bump into transvestites in the lobby after church, you can’t escape your need for God. According to a recent Columbia University study, twenty-one cents of every dollar New Yorkers pay in city taxes is spent trying to cope with the effects of smoking, drinking, and drug abuse.

But is the rest of the country coasting along in fine shape? I think not. In the smallest village in the Farm Belt there are still urgent needs. Every congregation has wayward kids, family members who aren’t serving God. Do we really believe that God can bring them back to himself?

Too many Christians live in a state of denial: “Well, I hope my child will come around someday.” Some parents have actually given up. “I guess nothing can be done. Bobby didn’t turn out right–but we tried; we dedicated him to the Lord when he was a baby. Maybe someday . . .”

The more we pray, the more we sense our need to pray. And the more we sense a need to pray, the more we want to pray.

Prayer is the source of the Christian life, a Christian’s lifeline. Otherwise, it’s like having a baby in your arms and dressing her up so cute–but she’s not breathing! Never mind the frilly clothes; stabilize the child’s vital signs. It does no good to talk to someone in a comatose state. That’s why the great emphasis on teaching in today’s churches is producing such limited results. Teaching is good only where there’s life to be channeled. If the listeners are in a spiritual coma, what we’re telling them may be fine and orthodox, but, unfortunately, spiritual life cannot be taught.

Pastors and churches have to get uncomfortable enough to say, “We are not New Testament Christians if we don’t have a prayer life.” This conviction makes us squirm a little, but how else will there be a breakthrough with God?

If we truly think about what Acts 2:42 says–“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”–we can see that prayer is almost a proof of a church’s normalcy. Calling on the name of the Lord is the fourth great hallmark in the list. If my church or your church isn’t praying, we shouldn’t be boasting in our orthodoxy or our Sunday morning attendance figures.

In fact, Carol [his wife] and I have told each other more than once that if the spirit of brokenness and calling on God ever slacks off in the Brooklyn Tabernacle, we’ll know we’re in trouble, even if we have 10,000 in attendance. (Quote source: “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” 1997, pp. 49-51.)

In Chapter 6 titled, “A Time for Shaking,” Cymbala writes (on pp. 97-98):

Whether we call ourselves classical evangelicals, traditionalists, fundamentalists, Pentecostals, or charismatics, we all have to face our lack of real power and call out for a fresh infilling of the Spirit. We need the fresh wind of God to awaken us from our lethargy. We must not hide any longer behind some theological argument. The days are too dark and too dangerous.

The work of God can only be carried on by the power of God. The church is a spiritual organism fighting spiritual battles. Only spiritual power can make it function as God ordained.

The key is not money, organization, cleverness, or education. Are you and I seeing the results Peter (in Acts) saw? Are we bringing thousands of men and women to Christ the way he did? If not, we need to get back to his power source. No matter the society or culture, the city or town, God has never lacked the power to work through available people to glorify his name. 

When we sincerely turn to God, we will find that his church always moves forward, not backward. We can never back up and accommodate ourselves to what the world wants or expects. Our stance must remain militant, aggressive, bold.

That is what characterized General William Booth and the early Salvation Army as they invaded the slums of London. It characterized the early mission movements, such as the Moravians. It characterized Hudson Taylor in China as well as revivalists on the American frontier. These Christians were not bulls in a china shop, but they did speak the truth in love–fearlessly.

In the familiar story of David and Goliath, there is a wonderful moment when the giant gets irked at the sight of his young opponent. “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” he roars (1 Samuel 17:43). Goliath is genuinely insulted. “Come here, . . . I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!” (v. 44).

Does David flinch? Does he opt for the strategic retreat behind some tree or boulder, thinking maybe to buy a little time?

Absolutely not.

“As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him” (v. 48).

That is the picture of what God wants for us today: running towards the fray!

David’s weaponry was ridiculous: a sling and five stones. It didn’t matter. God still uses foolish tools in the hand of weak people to build his kingdom. Backed by prayer and his power, we can accomplish the unthinkable. (Quote source, “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” 1997, pp. 97-98.)

Easter is just two days away. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is about new life, and the power available to us to live this new life–fresh wind, and fresh fire. God never asks us to sit on the sidelines but to enter the battle, just like David did in the story above. But we should never enter that battle alone. Prayer is our vital link and the source of our power (through the Holy Spirit). In fact, Paul commands us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray without ceasing” (see article titled What Does It Mean to Pray Without Ceasing? at this link).

A statement in that article linked above states: “As we go through the day, prayer should be our first response to every fearful situation, every anxious thought, and every undesired task that God commands. A lack of prayer will cause us to depend on ourselves instead of depending on God’s grace. Unceasing prayer is, in essence, continual dependence upon and communion with the Father” (quote source here). So with that in mind, this Easter let’s not just dress up nice to go to church, but learn to lean on God as our source for everything all the time, and . . .

Pray . . .

Without . . .

Ceasing . . . .

YouTube Video: “Because He Lives (Amen)” by Matt Maher:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Our Own Emmaus Road

There is a well known story tucked away in the Gospels about a couple of disciples of Jesus Christ who didn’t realize they were talking with Jesus on a road they were traveling to get to Emmaus, which was about seven miles away from where the crucifixion of Jesus had very recently taken place. It was the morning of the resurrection, but very few knew about it (or believed it was possible) at that point. The story is recorded in Luke 24:1-12:

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Apparently, the eleven disciples [Judas Iscariot, the twelfth disciple, has already hanged himself after betraying Jesus] did not initially believe the women and thought they were talking nonsense. Only Peter got up and ran to the tomb to see if what they said was really true, and when he saw that it was true, he wondered what had actually happened.

That very same morning two of Jesus’ disciples were traveling on the road to Emmaus when Jesus came up to them and began talking with them, but they did not recognize him as he had just been crucified and they witnessed his death. Here’s that story immediately following the passage quoted above in Luke 24:13-35:

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Jesus said I AM the Resurrection and the Life John 11v25

As noted on GotQuestions.org regarding their experience:

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus gave a lesson on the prophecies of the Old Testament which were fulfilled in His death and resurrection. What a lesson that would have been! The Author of the Book explains His work, making connections from Scripture to the events they had recently experienced.

The disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ lesson was one of deep conviction of the truth of what He was teaching. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked?” they ask each other (verse 32). Their physical eyes were blinded to the identity of Jesus, but their eyes of faith were being opened as Jesus opened the Scriptures to them.

Following this account, Jesus appears to His other disciples, removing all doubt that He was alive. Jesus had promised that He would show Himself to those who love Him (John 14:21), and this is exactly what He does on the road to Emmaus.

The story of the disciples on the Emmaus Road is important for many reasons. It provides an emphasis on the Old Testament prophecies related to Jesus, evidence regarding an additional appearance of Jesus, and a connection regarding the many eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus. Luke 24 is often seen as a model of the journey that Jesus makes with many of us today, as He opens our eyes, points us to the Word, and reveals Himself along life’s walk as the resurrected Savior and Lord. (Quote source here.)

“Jesus had promised that He would show Himself to those who love Him (John 14:21), and this is exactly what He does on the road to Emmaus.” Faith sees what the eyes cannot see. In this life, we all walk down our own road to Emmaus, and we all make our own decisions about who Jesus Christ is and who He claims to be. We either reject Him, or believe in Him. And while that may sound a bit too “cut and dried,” it’s the truth.

Unfortunately, there are many obstacles put in our way that send us on various detours, and unbelief is at the core. It is, indeed, the greatest obstacle that has to be overcome. We can show a form of pseudo faith by showing up at church on a regular basis (and there is nothing wrong with attending church), learning to speak the Christian “lingo,” and thinking we’ve got our “ducks in a row”; however, when it comes the rest of the week we pretty much live however we want to live until next Sunday morning rolls back around. And that’s not faith.

That is not to discount that many people claim to believe in Jesus Christ as many millions have believed in Him down through the centuries and many millions do today, too; however, there is a caveat to believing in Jesus Christ (or rather, the type of belief one has in Jesus Christ). As stated in James 2:19-20:

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

In context, that passage in James states the following (James 2:14-26):

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.

Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.

The “actions” (or “works”) originate from within us, and are not done with the intent to have others see how “good” we are or to gain some type of approval from others (or, as the case may be if we are trying to impress God–as well as others–with our good deeds). For example, being genuinely kind to strangers is a type of action that comes from faith, from the heart, from the core of what and who we believe in (whether it is ourselves or God). Being nice on the surface while seething inside or pretending to be nice with ulterior motives has nothing to do with faith. In fact, it is the opposite. Faith does not look out for itself, first and foremost. It looks to Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith. In fact, after the Hall of Faith chapter found in Hebrews 11 (a review of this chapter will shine a very bright light on our own definition of “good works”), Hebrews 12:1-4 state:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith [see Hebrews 11], let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.

It is Jesus who initiates and perfects our faith. So as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on this Easter Sunday, perhaps it is the perfect time for us to do some reflecting and resurrecting of our own faith and what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. We can look good and act great on the outside and fool a whole lot of people, but God knows our heart, and He is not fooled. A religious game is easy to play, but it has nothing to do with a genuine heart of faith.

As 1 John 5:1-4 reminds us:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith.

Faith is the victory . . .

That overcomes . . . 

The world . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Easter Song (1974)” by The 2nd Chapter of Acts:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Significance of The Last Supper

The Last Supper is one of the most significant events that took place during the last week in the life of Jesus Christ. It was also Jesus’ last meal that he shared with his twelve disciples just hours before his arrest and crucifixion. It is commemorated by Christians around the world on Maundy Thursday which is the fifth day of Passion Week (also known as Holy Week) and “the day on which Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples” (source here).

The Last Supper is recorded in the Gospels in Matthew 26:17–30, Mark 14:12–26, and Luke 22:7–30, and Jesus washing the feet of his disciples just prior to this “last supper” is found in John 13:1-17. The significance of the Jesus washing his disciples feet cannot be underestimated. GotQuestions.org gives us the significance of this act:

Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:1–17) occurred in the upper room, just prior to the Last Supper and has significance in three ways. For Jesus, it was the display of His humility and His servanthood. For the disciples, the washing of their feet was in direct contrast to their heart attitudes at that time. For us, washing feet is symbolic of our role in the body of Christ.

Walking in sandals on the filthy roads of Israel in the first century made it imperative that feet be washed before a communal meal, especially since people reclined at a low table and feet were very much in evidence. When Jesus rose from the table and began to wash the feet of the disciples (John 13:4), He was doing the work of the lowliest of servants. The disciples must have been stunned at this act of humility and condescension, that Christ, their Lord and master, should wash the feet of His disciples, when it was their proper work to have washed His. But when Jesus came to earth the first time, He came not as King and Conqueror, but as the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. As He revealed in Matthew 20:28, He came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The humility expressed by His act with towel and basin foreshadowed His ultimate act of humility and love on the cross.

Jesus’ attitude of servanthood was in direct contrast to that of the disciples, who had recently been arguing among themselves as to which of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24). Since there was no servant present to wash their feet, it would never have occurred to them to wash one another’s feet. When the Lord Himself stooped to this lowly task, they were stunned into silence. To his credit, though, Peter was profoundly uncomfortable with the Lord washing his feet, and, never being at a loss for words, Peter protested, “You shall never wash my feet!”

Then Jesus said something that must have further shocked Peter: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8), prompting Peter, whose love for the Savior was genuine, to request a complete washing. Then Jesus explained the true meaning of being washed by Him. Peter had experienced the cleansing of salvation and did not need to be washed again in the spiritual sense. Salvation is a one-time act of justification by faith, but the lifelong process of sanctification is one of washing from the stain of sin we experience as we walk through the world. Peter and the disciples—all except Judas, who never belonged to Christ—needed only this temporal cleansing.

This truth is just one of several from this incident that Christians can apply to their own lives. First, when we come to Christ for the washing of our sins, we can be sure that is permanent and complete. No act can cleanse us further from our sin, as our sin has been exchanged for the perfect righteousness of Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). But we do need continual cleansing from the effects of living in the flesh in a sin-cursed world. The continual washing of sanctification is done by the power of the Holy Spirit, who lives within us, through the “washing of water by the Word” (Ephesians 5:26), given to us to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

Further, when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He told them (and us), “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). As His followers, we are to emulate Him, serving one another in lowliness of heart and mind, seeking to build one another up in humility and love. When we seek the preeminence, we displease the Lord who promised that true greatness in His kingdom is attained by those with a servant’s heart (Mark 9:35; 10:44). When we have that servant’s heart, the Lord promised, we will be greatly blessed (John 13:17). (Quote source here.)

During the Last Supper while they were eating, Jesus stated to his disciples that one of them would betray him and this news saddened them, making them wonder about themselves and their loyalty to him. The disciple who betrayed him was Judas Iscariot. As to why Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (see previous blog post titled, Thirty Pieces of Silver,” GotQuestions.org states the following:

While we cannot be absolutely certain why Judas betrayed Jesus, some things are certain. First, although Judas was chosen to be one of the Twelve (John 6:64), all scriptural evidence points to the fact that he never believed Jesus to be God. He even may not have been convinced that Jesus was the Messiah (as Judas understood it). Unlike the other disciples that called Jesus “Lord,” Judas never used this title for Jesus and instead called him “Rabbi,” which acknowledged Jesus as nothing more than a teacher. While other disciples at times made great professions of faith and loyalty (John 6:68; 11:16), Judas never did so and appears to have remained silent. This lack of faith in Jesus is the foundation for all other considerations listed below. The same holds true for us. If we fail to recognize Jesus as God incarnate, and therefore the only One who can provide forgiveness for our sins—and the eternal salvation that comes with it—we will be subject to numerous other problems that stem from a wrong view of God.

Second, Judas not only lacked faith in Christ, but he also had little or no personal relationship with Jesus. When the synoptic gospels list the Twelve, they are always listed in the same general order with slight variations (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16). The general order is believed to indicate the relative closeness of their personal relationship with Jesus. Despite the variations, Peter and the brothers James and John are always listed first, which is consistent with their relationships with Jesus. Judas is always listed last, which may indicate his relative lack of a personal relationship with Christ. Additionally, the only documented dialogue between Jesus and Judas involves Judas being rebuked by Jesus after his greed-motivated remark to Mary (John 12:1-8), Judas’ denial of his betrayal (Matthew 26:25), and the betrayal itself (Luke 22:48).

Third, Judas was consumed with greed to the point of betraying the trust of not only Jesus, but also his fellow disciples, as we see in John 12:5-6. Judas may have desired to follow Jesus simply because he saw the great following and believed he could profit from collections taken for the group. The fact that Judas was in charge of the moneybag for the group would indicate his interest in money (John 13:29). (Quote source here.)

GotQuestions.org also states the significance of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus:

Being in Jesus’ “inner circle,” Judas had a closer relationship to Jesus than most people during His ministry. Judas betrayed the Lord to the Jewish authorities. The pre-arranged signal was that the person Judas kissed was to be arrested and taken away (Mark 14:44). In this way the Son of Man [Jesus] was betrayed with a kiss (Luke 22:48).

In the culture of first-century Israel, a kiss was not always a romantic expression of love; rather, a kiss on the cheek was a common greeting, a sign of deep respect, honor, and brotherly love (see Luke 7:45; Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). For a student who had great respect for his teacher, a kiss fell well within the healthy expression of honor.

What really stands out in the mode of Judas’s betrayal is that Judas used such an intimate expression of love and respect to betray Jesus. Judas’s actions were hypocritical in the extreme—his actions said, “I respect and honor you,” at the exact time he was betraying Jesus to be murdered. Judas’s actions illustrate Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Often, foes disguise themselves as friends. Evil often wears a mask to conceal its true purpose. . . .

When Jesus was betrayed by a kiss, He identified with the troubles of David, who wrote, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers” (Psalm 55:12–14). Job’s emotional pain also foreshadowed Jesus’ sorrow: “Those I love have turned against me” (Job 19:19).

Once Judas gave the kiss, the deed was done. Jesus was betrayed into the government’s hands to be crucified. Judas was “seized with remorse” (Matthew 27:3) over what he’d done. He gave the money back to the temple authorities and hanged himself out of guilt (verse 5). (Quote source here.)

It was also during the Last Supper that the service of Communion (also known as the Lord’s Supper) was established. GotQuestions.com states:

The Last Supper brought the Old Testament observance of the Passover feast to its fulfillment. Passover was an especially holy event for the Jewish people in that it commemorated the time when God spared them from the plague of physical death and brought them out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 11:1—13:16). During the Last Supper with His apostles, Jesus took two symbols associated with Passover and imbued them with fresh meaning as a way to remember His sacrifice, which saves us from spiritual death and delivers us from spiritual bondage: “After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:17–20).

Jesus’ words during the Last Supper about the unleavened bread and the cup echo what He had said after He fed the 5,000: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. . . . I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. . . . Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (John 6:35, 51, 54–55). Salvation comes through Christ and the sacrifice of His physical body on the cross. . . .

The Last Supper today is remembered during the Lord’s Supper, or communion (1 Corinthians 11:23–33). The Bible teaches that Jesus’ death was typified in the offering of the Passover sacrifice (John 1:29). John notes that Jesus’ death resembles the Passover sacrifice in that His bones were not broken (John 19:36; cf. Exodus 12:46). And Paul said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, including the feasts of the Lord (Matthew 5:17). . . .

The Last Supper was rooted in the Old Covenant even as it heralded the New. Jeremiah 31:31 promised a New Covenant between God and Israel, in which God said, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). Jesus made a direct reference to this New Covenant during the Last Supper: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). A new dispensation was on the horizon. In God’s grace, the New Covenant applies to more than Israel; everyone who has faith in Christ will be saved (see Ephesians 2:12–14).

The Last Supper was a significant event and proclaimed a turning point in God’s plan for the world. In comparing the crucifixion of Jesus to the feast of Passover, we can readily see the redemptive nature of Christ’s death. As symbolized by the original Passover sacrifice in the Old Testament, Christ’s death atones for the sins of His people; His blood rescues us from death and saves us from slavery. Today, the Lord’s Supper is when believers reflect upon Christ’s perfect sacrifice and know that, through our faith in receiving Him, we will be with Him forever (Luke 22:18; Revelation 3:20). (Quote source here.)

From the Last Supper Jesus gave us three important things to remember and live by: (1) faithfulness (in the example of Judas’ betrayal); (2) taking the role of a servant and not expecting to be served (by washing the feet of his disciples); and remembering his death that atones for the sins of his people forever (by celebrating communion in remembrance of what he did for us). And may the Last Supper inspire us to live by faith . . .

In Jesus Christ . . .

And to serve others . . .

And not ourselves . . . .

YouTube Video: “Remembrance” by Matt Maher:

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Thirty Pieces of Silver

Perhaps one of the saddest and most telling stories to come from the last week of Jesus’ life was his betrayal by one of his own disciples, who was not only the treasurer for the group (and a dishonest treasurer at that), but he also witnessed Jesus’ miracles and healings, and he heard Jesus’ parables and his teachings. In fact, he followed Jesus along with the other eleven disciples during Jesus’ three-year ministry on earth. And in the end, this disciple sold out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16):

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus. ~Matthew 26:14-16 NLT

Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, and a New York Times bestselling author, notes the following about Judas Iscariot in his book, All In: You Are One Decision Away From A Totally Different Life (2013):

He [Judas Iscariot] couldn’t keep his hand out of the cookie jar. He didn’t just sell out by betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Judas never bought in. And it’s evidenced by his lack of integrity from the get-go.

He was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. ~John 14:6

The betrayal of Jesus by Judas wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment mistake. He betrayed Jesus each and every time he pilfered the money pot. And while most of us can’t imagine pickpocket Jesus, we shortchange Him in a thousand different ways. We rob God of the glory He demands and deserves by not living up to our full, God-given potential.

No matter how we slice it, sin leaves us with the short end of the stick. Sin always over-promises and under-deliver, while righteousness pays dividends for eternity. Yet we sell out . . . now instead of holding out for . . . later.

Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stew.
Samson sold his secret for a one-night stand.
Judas sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver.

What were they thinking? And the answer is, they weren’t. Nothing is more illogical than sin. It’s the epitome of poor judgment. It’s temporary insanity with eternal consequences. And we have no alibi, save the cross of Jesus Christ.

It’s not worth it, and we know it.

Yet we do it.

We sell out for so little instead of going all in for so much. . . .

Thirty pieces of silver. That was Judas’s price point. Jewish readers would have recognized it as the exact amount to be paid if a slave was accidentally killed under Mosaic law. Judas sold his soul for the replacement value of a slave.

The silver coins were most likely sanctuary shekels, since he was paid off by the chief priests. And while some estimates range higher, each coin may have been worth as little as seventy-two cents! So in today’s currency, Judas betrayed Jesus for $21.60.

We know very little about Judas from Scripture, but theories abound. Some scholars suggest Judas was a weak-willed coward with a manipulative wife pulling the strings. Others believe Judas betrayed Jesus out of pure greed. And some suggest he had revolutionary aspirations. He wanted a political savior, and when Jesus didn’t meet his expectations, he went AWOL.

And we do the same thing, don’t we? When God doesn’t conform to our expectations, we’re tempted to betray what we believe in. Like Judas, we’re in it for what we can get out of it. So when God doesn’t grant our wishes like a divine genie in a bottle, we are tempted to turn our back on Him.

This is what separates the boys from the men. Our maybe I should say the sheep from the goats! How do you react when God doesn’t meet your expectations? If you truly accepted the invitation to follow Jesus, you’ll keep going on through hurricanes, hail, and hazardous conditions. If you have simply invited Him to follow you, you’ll bail out at the first sign of bad weather.

As I’ve said before, it’s difficult to psychoanalyze someone who lived thousands of years ago, but it’s safe to say Judas was spiritually schizophrenic. And so are we. Our lives are mixed with lies. We steal from the One we have supposedly surrendered our lives to. And we betray Him in our own unique ways.

There is a little Judas in all of us. And any of us are capable of betraying God if we allow the fear of people to erode the fear of God, selfish ambition to strong-arm godly ambition, or sinful desires to short-circuit God-ordained passions. (Quote source: “All In,” pp. 149-151).

Batterson makes a valid point when he states that there is a little Judas in all of us. A longer explanation of “the Judas in us” is found in an article titled, You’re Probably More Like Judas Than You Think,” by Ed Cyzewski and Derek Cooper, and published in Christianity Today. The two authors state the following:

We all want a Messiah whose plans mirror our own. But a true disciple surrenders to the Master’s will.

When Judas Iscariot, the disciple of Jesus, mouthed the Lord’s Prayer, especially when it came time to say “Your will be done,” perhaps he voiced this prayer with the tacit assumption that God’s will paralleled his own. We have probably all been guilty of that sin before.

But what happens when God’s will differs from my own? What happens when the fulfillment of the prayer, that is, the part when God’s will is accomplished, flies in the face of my will?

Judas may be the most intriguing of Jesus’s disciples. He is certainly the most elusive. Over the centuries, Christians have characterized him, some maliciously so, in any number of ways. He was a heartless miser, a power-hungry schemer, or a green-eyed apprentice overshadowed by a more talented master.

Maybe, but maybe not.

Perhaps we should more modestly characterize Judas as a man who initially latched onto the magnetic personality of Jesus but eventually became disillusioned as Jesus’s vision for the Messiahship began to contrast considerably with Judas’s vision. And when Jesus the Messiah failed to fulfill the obligations Judas had imposed on him, he craftily bailed out when there was still time.

There is good reason to believe that Judas was the most perceptive—”shrewd as a snake,” we might say—of Jesus’s disciples. He may have been the first one to recognize that Jesus’s intentions for the Messiahship embraced nothing pertaining to physical rebellion or military rule.

During their last week together in Jerusalem in celebration of the Jewish festival of Passover, on which occasion Jesus brought his ministry to crescendo, Jesus aggressively unpacked his teachings and did not mince words. As Jesus did so, he openly defied—in fact, condemned—the religious establishment to such an extent that he made his death inevitable. Jesus made enemies when he was in Jerusalem, and Judas, as astute as he was, knew it. It’s possible that some of Jesus’s other disciples also flirted with betraying their Master after their stint in Jerusalem. Within a few hours of Judas’s betrayal, in fact, practically all of Jesus’s disciples—even Peter—scattered like sheep without a shepherd.

When death is on the line, loyalty wavers. Unlike Judas, who knew exactly what was going on, the response of the other disciples evidenced their surprise at the betrayal, and their actions were clearly not premeditated. Peter wanted to fight, Mark ran away without his clothes, and John watched from a distance, while the others may have quietly left the scene.

We essentially have two options when God does not follow our plan for life: going our own way or readjusting our course. On the night when Jesus was arrested, Judas had previously made his decision to go his own way. That is to say, at some point in his apprenticeship to Jesus he rejected his Master and decided to cash out his chips while he still had a hand to play. . . .

As is well known, Judas left the Passover feast early Thursday evening. The other disciples were clueless about Judas’s duplicity. Only Jesus was aware of Judas’s impending betrayal. The public conversation between Jesus and Judas the night before at Simon the leper’s in Bethany went over everyone’s head, and the same thing happened at the Last Supper: “What you are going to do, do it quickly.”

At this point in the story, we should see the other option we have when God does not follow our plans: rethink our plans and adjust accordingly. Faithful disciples of Jesus put their plans at the feet of their Master.

We all have motives for the things we do. And Judas must have had a motive for his betrayal of Jesus. Although money may have been a contributing factor, it was not the primary reason. Judas may have been a pilferer, as the Gospel of John suggests, but the fact that he very shortly returned the “blood” money he initially received from the Jewish leaders indicates that greed was not the whole story.

Whatever motivated him, the Gospel accounts make it clear that Judas did not readjust his course. At best, Judas found Jesus genuinely perplexing and completely misunderstood how Jesus’s plans could be better than his own. At worst, Judas was so blinded by his plans and so desperate to secure a future for himself that he was willing to take part in a complex murder scheme. At the root of Judas’s betrayal was a belief in a particular kind of Messiah who would lead him to a prosperous future. He could not accept a suffering servant who bears the sins of others and lays his life down in order to conquer death. If we’re honest with ourselves, such things are not easily believed today, for that matter. Who wins through self-sacrifice? Who would want to trade in his or her own plans for a prosperous future and submit to a God-King’s new plan? Who says that the first shall be last and the last shall be first?

Judas couldn’t let go of his plans because he could not imagine any other way forward. . . .

Plans come between us and God slowly, almost imperceptibly sometimes. . . . Over the years I wanted to follow Jesus, but I always kept backup plans stashed away. I had goals I wanted to meet, assuming that I could keep them along with my relationship with Jesus. I was quite far from Peter’s statement, “Who do we have but you?” [Note: the article contains a section on Peter not included in this blog post.] If I was honest, I would have said, “Well, I sure would like you to be in my life, Jesus, but I also have some other great stuff that offers meaning and fulfillment. In fact, I’d like your help with some of those things.” Each time I let go of these plans or goals and allowed God to reshape them, I found that my original vision for the future wasn’t all that great after all.

A surrendered disciple can say to Jesus: I will live anywhere. I will travel anywhere. I will do any kind of work. The details don’t matter, as long as you are in my life.

Judas provides a stunning contrast between trusting in our own plans and a childlike faith that can hold loosely to goals and dreams for the future. His murderous plot isn’t something we can imagine doing. However, once we understand his commitment to Israel with specific political, religious, and personal outcomes in mind, we can at least understand why he struggled to follow Jesus. As we begin to notice the ways our prayers wander from “Thy will be done” to “My will be done,” we’ll find that Judas, if anything, provides one of the most important warnings against confusing our plans with God’s and one of the most visible contrasts with the childlike faith that helps disciples draw near to Jesus, even during the most trying moments of our lives. (Quote source here.)

This focus on “us” (as in “my will”) instead of Jesus and what He wants (as in “His will”) brings me to something I just read in a new book titled, The Gospel According to Paul (2017) by Dr. John MacArthur, who is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church, as well as an author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s College and Seminary, and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. In Chapter 5 titled, “The Great Exchange,” MacArthur writes:

Today’s evangelicals often speak about the gospel as if it were a means of discovering one’s own purpose, a message about how to have a happy and prosperous life, or a method of achieving success in one’s relationships or business. In the minds of many, the best starting point for sharing the gospel is an announcement that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

All those ways of presenting the gospel have become such common clichés among contemporary Christians that most people in the church today do not flinch when they hear the gospel framed in such language. They don’t notice how profoundly all those narratives deviate from the gospel Paul proclaimed and defended. A major problem with all of them is the way they turn the gospel into a message about “you”–your life, your purpose, your prosperity. You become the center and subject of the story.

Those are concepts that would have appalled and outraged Paul. One truth that should stand out boldly. . . is that the central figure in the gospel according to Paul is always “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The apostle takes great care never to let the narrative drift.

Here in our text (2 Cor. 5:18-21), Paul’s intention is to explain how “God . . . has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ” (v. 18). He mentions both Christ and God in every verse. In the span of those four verses, he mentions God by name at least once in every verse (fives times total). Three additional times he refers to God with pronouns (“Himself” twice and “He” once). He uses the Messianic title “Christ” four times. And in that final verse he refers to Christ twice with the pronoun “Him.” The entire passage is decidedly God-centered, not man-centered. That should be the case anytime we talk about the gospel. It’s first of all a message about God’s purpose in the work of Christ; the sinner’s own purpose in life is secondary. That, of course, is the point we started with in this chapter: the gospel is a declaration about the atoning work of Christ.

Nevertheless, we are by no means left entirely out of the picture. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ is the subject of this narrative; His people are the objects. All told, pronouns referring to redeemed people are used nine times in the passage. People from every tongue, tribe, and nation constitute “the world” whom Christ has reconciled to God.* Everything Christ did, He did on our behalf. 

Why? Not for our comfort or self-aggrandizement, but for His glory. So “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (v. 21). [*Note in book: Paul isn’t suggesting that every individual who ever lived will be reconciled to God. Both Jesus and Paul emphatically reject universalism (Matt. 7:21-23; Rom. 2:5-9) “The world” in this context refers to humanity as a race, regardless of gender, class, or ethnic distinctions (Gal. 3:28)]. (Quote source: The Gospel According to Paul,” pp. 89-90.)

Too often today our focus is on us and what we want, and just as Batterson stated when he said there’s a little Judas in all of us, we need to be aware of our tendency to go in that direction. Cyzewski and Cooper made a statement at the end of their article that is worth our consideration during this Passion Week leading up to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They stated, “As we begin to notice the ways our prayers wander from “Thy will be done” to “My will be done,” we’ll find that Judas, if anything, provides one of the most important warnings against confusing our plans with God’s, and one of the most visible contrasts with the childlike faith that helps disciples draw near to Jesus, even during the most trying moments of our lives.” It’s a good reminder . . . .

Not my will . . .

But Thy will . . .

Be done . . . .

YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa:

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