Christianity 201

January 12, 2023

A Better Leader for a Messy World

Thinking Through the Early Chapters of Matthew

by Clarke Dixon

Things seem to be in a mess around the world and perhaps we should blame leadership. Political leaders make decisions that hurt people. Are regular Russians living their daily grind to be blamed for a war waged against the people of Ukraine? Spiritual leaders also can make decisions that hurt people. In fact there is growing talk of the need for recovering from religion. While I myself am religious, depending on how you define “religious,” I do understand that some people need to move out from what can be called spiritual abuse. We who are spiritual leaders, even if we think our hearts are in the right place, can and do inflict harm on people when our heads are not in the right place. While the experience of religion provides great hope and comfort for many, including myself, it brings trauma to many also. That does not happen without leaders.

Political and spiritual leaders can mess with people’s lives each in their own way but perhaps worst of all are those times political leaders and spiritual leaders work their mess making wonders together. Think Taliban. Think the war on Ukraine where the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church has been publicly supportive of the war. When political leadership works hand in hand with spiritual leadership, truth and well being can take a hit. Normal people suffer.

This is not far removed from the world Jesus was born into. As we begin reading the Gospel of Matthew we might miss what is happening in the background. So what was happening in the background? Matthew lets us in on it.

The political leadership was awful.

We are barely into Matthew’s account of Jesus when we are introduced to Herod. History records that Herod the Great was not really that great. He was great at building things, like the temple, but he was also quite accomplished at ruining people’s lives. Matthew tells us about all the infants of Bethlehem being killed. What kind of leader does that? Matthew also reports that Herod’s son was not much better. Near the end of Matthew we are introduced to another political leader, Pilate. What Herod was incapable of doing, namely killing Jesus, Pilate carried out. Whether Romans, or one of their own, the political leadership standing over the people of God in that day was dreadful. At least being Jewish the people could depend on good spiritual leadership, right? Well…

The spiritual leadership also left much to be desired.

Let us consider a few examples.

In Matthew’s Christmas story, in contrast to the magi who were foreigners, and in contrast to Herod, the spiritual leaders took no initiative to find the one who could potentially be the Messiah. They were not even curious.

Matthew also tells us about how the spiritual leaders received harsh words from John the Baptist:

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 3:7-10 (NLT)

Hardly a commendation of good leadership!

Matthew also tells us about how Jesus did not call rabbis, scribes, priests, or Pharisees to follow him closely, but fisherman. If Jesus had been born in our day it would be akin to Jesus bypassing Baptist pastors like myself and calling truck drivers like my brother instead.

We are not far into Matthew when we also get into Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” in chapters 5-7. Here we read:

But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

Matthew 5:20 (NLT)

Some point out the very high standards of the teachers and Pharisees and so call upon Christians today to have super high standards in keeping the rules of our religion. However it is better to understand Jesus here to be taking a dig at the spiritual leaders of the day. Yes, they have high standards in following rules but they are missing the point. They are not becoming good people, nor are they helping others become good people. Jesus teaches us to reach for a better righteousness than what the spiritual leaders exemplify. The rest of the Sermon on the Mount could be summarized as teaching us how to catch the spirit of the law instead of the letter of the law, of how to have a good character that flows from a good heart than mere obedience to rules.

The Sermon on the Mount finishes with this:

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.

Matthew 7:24-29 (NLT)

Reading between the lines; “listen to my teaching, not that of your spiritual leaders.” People were eager to do so as they recognized that he taught “with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.”

We are not very far into the Gospel of Matthew when we realize that both the political and spiritual leadership were lacking.

Enter Jesus!

Matthew introduces the one who leads well.

There are hints and allusions, perhaps hard for us to see today, but which would have stood out to the readers in Matthew’s day, that Jesus is to be compared to a great leader of the past, Moses. Matthew alone records for us the flight of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to, and return from, Egypt. According to Bible scholars some of the language used in one particular sentence, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead” (Matthew 2:20 NRSV) is identical to the language used in a then popular Greek translation of Moses’ flight from, and return to, Egypt: “Go back to Egypt; for all those who were seeking your life are dead” (Exodus 4:19). Jesus is like Moses, a leader who brought about God’s purpose of leading the people to freedom.

Also, at the baptism of Jesus Matthew records a voice from heaven saying “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 NRSV). This is a reminder of a thought that shows up a few times in Exodus:

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD: Israel is my firstborn son. I said to you, ‘Let my son go that he may worship me.’”

Exodus 4:22-23 NRSV

What was said of Jesus, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” is something that ought to have been said of God’s people as a whole but their history was spotty, thanks in large part to their leadership. That Jesus identifies strongly with God’s people is further enhanced with the temptation of Jesus in the desert for forty days which is a bit like God’s people wandering in the wilderness for forty years, only Jesus does it better.

Then there is the first mention of the teaching of Jesus according to Matthew: “From then on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’” (Matthew 4:17 NLT). The Kingdom of heaven was near because the true king is here!

Matthew then goes on to write about the healings and miracles of Jesus. Where political and spiritual leadership could often be described as life taking, Jesus was always life giving.

To sum up the opening chapters of Matthew, the political and spiritual leaders could not hold a candle next to Jesus. The end of the Matthew reflects this:

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

Much of the mess the world is in today is a result of poor political and spiritual leadership. Jesus is Lord, the leader who is leading us to a much better tomorrow. Jesus is Lord, who leads us to being better people today.


Before they appear here, Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon’s condensed sermons appear at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

November 25, 2022

The Dual Nature of Jesus of Nazareth

TheMessage.Philippians.2.5-7 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges.

I like today’s article because it is willing to delve into a tough topic, and also because it gets my brain working! I went back and read several of the paragraphs a second time. I hope you’ll do the same.

Today we’re visiting, for the first time, a blog called Living as a Christian in This World. The blog is normally written by “Raymond the Brave” who calls himself a “Biblical Unitarian.” (We carry a wide swath of writers here at C201, so I decided, ‘Why, not?’) Today’s article is actually written by Sean Finnegan. You may click the link in the title below where you’ll find an email address for Sean if you want to ask questions or seek clarification.

Is Jesus Both God and Man?

“…How in the world could Jesus be omnipresent if he couldn’t be in two places at once?” I asked. “How could he be omniscient when he says, Not even the Son of Man knows the hour of his return? How could he be omnipotent when the gospels plainly tell us that he was unable to do many miracles in his hometown?” —Lee Strobel, Case for Christ, p. 158.

In the foyer of our church, is a tract that says on its cover “Did Jesus Think He Was God?”

Below, I have reproduced the chart found in it, enumerating 11 points as to why Jesus could not be God.

If Jesus is God then…

  1. How could he have a beginning (Matthew 1:18; Romans 1:3), since God has always existed (Isaiah 43:13)?
  2. How could he keep “increasing in wisdom”(Luke 2 : 5 2 ), since God’s “understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5)?
  3. Why did he say, “I can do nothing on my own initiative” (John 5:30), whereas God “can do all things” (Job 42:2)?
  4. Why did he spend “the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12), as there is never a time when God prays, but only receives prayer from others?
  5. How could he learn obedience and become perfect (Hebrews 5:8 and 9), since God invented obedience and is already perfect (Matthew 5:48)?
  6. Why doesn’t he know the day and hour when he will return, and yet his Father, God, does know (Matthew 24:36)?
  7. Why didn’t he know who touched him (Mark 5:30), whereas God knows everything (Isaiah 46:10)?
  8. How could he be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1), yet “God cannot be tempted by evil” (James 1:13)?
  9. How could he die (Philippians 2:8), if God “alone possesses immortality ” (1 Timothy 6:16)?
  10. How could he be in subjection to the Father [if he were the Father] for all eternity, (1 Corinthians 15:28)?
  11. Why was he asleep on the cushion (Mark 4:38), yet God never sleeps or slumbers (Psalms 12:14)?

Though these reasons may appear very conclusive to most Unitarians and non-Christians, they are not by most mainstream Christians. When I speak to orthodox Christians along these lines, the person often responds “You misunderstand the dual nature of Christ.” Their reasoning continues, “In his divinity, he is God; but in his humanity, he is man. When he performs miracles, that is a manifestation of his deity. When he suffers or is limited in any way, that is a manifestation of his humanity.” Thus, a dual nature proposition is given as the explanation as to why Jesus did not exactly match the attributes recorded of God.

But why is this doctrine necessary? Why do people believe that Jesus is God? The main reason given for why Jesus would be God is that he did things that only God can do–he raised the dead, walked on water, exorcised demons, forgave sins, and lived perfectly. Each of these will be taken in its turn.

Jesus raised the dead. Jesus raised Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and the widow’s son. If raising the dead makes Jesus God, then Elijah, Elisha, and Peter are also God, because they also raised the dead.

Jesus walked on water. Jesus confessed the source of his miracles when he said, “the Father abiding in me does His works” (John 10:25, 32, 37; 14:10) and, “the son can do nothing of himself” (John 5:19). Jesus walked on the water because God empowered him to do so. (And Peter walked on the water also.)

Jesus exorcised demons. Often, Jesus came face to face with the spiritual forces of wickedness. He never struggled but cast them

out with a few words. However, he is not unique here either, the 12 also cast out demons, as well as the 70. Besides, Jesus clearly stated, “I cast out demons by the spirit of God” (Matthew 12:28). God empowered His Messiah to do these things.

Jesus forgave sins. When the paralyzed man was brought to Jesus, he said, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). It is alleged that since all sins are ultimately an affront to God (Psalms 51:4), that only God can forgive sins. This reasoning is logical, but what if God conferred His right to forgive sins onto His earthly agent–the Messiah. “But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8). Similarly, the disciples of Christ are authorized to forgive or retain sins (cf. John 20:23).

Jesus lived perfectly. Adam was made in God’s image–perfect. God’s plan was for him to stay sinless, live forever, cultivate the garden of Eden, rule over the earth, and produce many children. Jesus also was made in the image of God (Colossians 3:10). He was divinely created [begotten] (Luke 1:35; Matthew 1:20) in the womb of his mother, Mary; Adam was also divinely made (Genesis 2:7). Thus, Jesus falls in the category of one who began as perfect and who needed to maintain his perfection (i.e. the second Adam), rather than one who had inherited the fallen sin nature. Because of what Christ has done, we can now mortify the deeds of our old man and live as he lived (Romans 8:10, 13).

One other argument that often surfaces is that if Jesus was not God, then his sacrifice would not have been sufficient to redeem all of humanity. This assertion seems logical on its surface, but there are four problems with it.

  • Nowhere in the Bible is this stated.
  • God cannot die (1 Timothy 1:17 says He is immortal).
  • A sacrifice is sufficient because God accepts it, not because its value equals the offense.
  • According to their view, only the body (the humanity) of Jesus died; his spirit (the deity) continued to live. Thus, the God portion of Jesus did not die.

Besides, is it fair to split Jesus in any way? If Jesus were fully God and fully man, then everything Jesus experienced, both his divine and human natures also experienced. For example, if I could ask them, “How can Jesus be God if he doesn’t know everything?” They would respond, “In his humanity he didn’t know, but in his divinity he is omniscient.” However, this is impossible. One cannot both know everything and not know everything at the same time! If Jesus had claimed ignorance about his second coming when he was really omniscient, would this not be deceptive? To illustrate this, consider the analogy below.

Fred asked Laura for $5, and she responded, “I don’t have $5.” But then 10 minutes later, Fred noticed that she was holding $5 in her hand and questioned her why she had lied. Laura replied, “When I said I didn’t have $5, I meant in my right hand I did not have it; although it is true that in my left hand I do have $5.” Would this not be immediately exposed as deception? Either the person has the $5 or not. One cannot both have and not have $5 at the same time.

Jesus always spoke the truth. If he said he did not know something, then all of Jesus did not know it. If he died, then he was not immortal. If he slept on the boat, then he cannot claim to be the God Who never sleeps, etc. All of this confusion can be avoided if we understand Jesus as a human–a sinless man who, like Adam, was directly made by God but, unlike Adam, did not grasp at equality with God. There is nothing complicated about that. Jesus is a real human who really died for our sins.

Our entire faith depends on this truth. It is a simple fact: if the whole Jesus did not really die, then the whole of our sins are not really paid for. Thanks be to God who would not leave us in such a predicament.

October 14, 2022

Water Into Wine: A Closer Look at the Miracle

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.John.2.1 The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.

When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. 10 “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”

11 This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

Today we have a special treat for those of you who go beyond what we borrow here, and click through to read the posts where they originally appeared. Joel Kime is a new writer to us. He has served Faith Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania since 2002; as pastor since 2008. His blog is titled Let’s Talk About Sunday.

All this week he has been doing a deep dive into the story of Jesus performing his first miracle at the Cana wedding. After reading all five posts available — and here I paused for 5 minutes to read them all again — I settled on this preview article, because if you click through to read the rest (linked below), it makes sense to start at the beginning.

That said, if you don’t see yourself doing that, I still don’t want you to miss a six-minute video clip from The Chosen television series that Joel embedded in the second post. For that one click here.

Who is Jesus, really? – John 2:1-11

This past week I put the following message on our church’s outdoor sign: “Who is Jesus really?  Join us Sundays 9am to find out.”  I placed that message hoping to spark interest in the community about our sermon series through the Gospel of John.

Likewise, I hung a banner and sign in our lobby.  It is a word cloud listing the name of Jesus in numerous languages.  I thought it would be a helpful visual for a sermon series studying Jesus, and so I titled the series, “Who Is Jesus?”

We Christians know who Jesus is, right?  After all, we are Christians, which means we are “people who are followers of Christ Jesus,” so of course we know about him.  Or do we?

Remember the parable Jesus told in Matthew 7:21-23?  I encourage you to read it before continuing with this article.  In the parable Jesus envisions people who seem to have 100% confidence they are going to enter heaven.  They call Jesus “Lord, Lord” as if they are in close relationship with him.  They even do religious activities.  Jesus looks at them, however, and says, “Depart from me; I never knew you.”  Can you imagine how shocking it would be to assume that you know who Jesus is, only to hear him say, “You don’t know me.”  Well, then, who is Jesus?

What is scary is that this might be more than the plot of an ancient parable.  Let’s do a little True/False quiz to illustrate what I mean.

  1. True or False: Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.
  2. True or False: Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.

Let’s check your answers.  Both questions are false.  Jesus was not created by God. Jesus was not just a great teacher.  Jesus is God.  If you’ve been following the blog for the last few months, you might remember how we studied this in the week on John 1:1-18.  In that wee, the first and most important thing we learned about Jesus is that Jesus is God.

Here’s where it gets scary.  In recent weeks, Christianity Today reported on a theological survey stating that 73% of evangelicals agree with the statement “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” (71% in 2016; 78% in 2018; 66% in 2020…seems that belief has been high for many years.)  The same survey reports that 43% of evangelicals agree “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.”  (30% in both 2018 and 2020.)

These heretical views are both variations of Arianism, one of, if not the, most divisive and dangerous heresies in the ancient church.  Arianism, in its most basic form, teaches that God created Jesus, thus Jesus is not divine.  If you want to learn more, the Britannica article on Arianism is quite good.  But Arianism is not some ancient false teaching that is long gone. Even though the ancient church declared Arian belief to be a heresy, the 2022 survey I mentioned above shows us that Arianism is alive and well…in the church!  I find it somewhat mind-boggling to consider that 73 of 100 evangelicals believe in the heretical idea that God created Jesus.  Or that 43 of 100 believe Jesus was not God.

What about you, your family and friends?  Is it possible that a person could affirm Arianism and still be a Christian?  Or does belief in that heresy void true faith?  So who is Jesus?  This coming week on the blog, just like the church sign says, we’ll find out, because Jesus does something that blows people’s minds, and it reveals who he is.


The other parts to this (the above was a preview):

  • What Jesus (and his followers) might look like in our day and age: Part One
  • The relationship Jesus had with his mother: Part Two
  • The moment the miracle happened: Part Three
  • Three things observed by the disciples: Part Four
  • Seeing the glory of God: Part Five

December 17, 2021

God’s Storytelling Writes People into the Narrative

Another new writer to feature today. Gabriel Ponce is a pastor in Tucson Arizona who “is passionate about developing people’s relationships with Christ.”I like the way he wrestles through texts, stating that, “if the Bible speaks to an issue, then God has a perspective that we as Christians should submit to. If not, there may be principles to garner, and if not then we fall to the realm of wisdom for help, always being aware of the history. In all things to give God glory.” He admits that “this is partly me working through many issues for myself, that a pulpit doesn’t always grant opportunity for on a Sunday morning.

His blog is Blogabers.

To avoid stealing search engine results from the various people we feature here, I always create our own title for the piece; but sometimes, like today, ask myself, “Did I accurately capture what the article is all about?” I appreciated this one greatly, and I hope it gets you thinking as it did me.

Clicking the header which follows will take you to its source.

The Humanity of the Gospel

As I read through the Gospels again, I was struck by the humanness of the story of Jesus. What I mean is not so much the humanity of Christ, but how much God seemed to allow for the agency of man to be a part of the story. This is first obvious in the advent itself. But I don’t mean God left the story’s rhythm up to the capriciousness of men. Yet, he did use the obedience of men, the experiences of men, instead of the supernatural intervention we might expect. Mary was a willing participant and, therefore, she was blessed by God to be a part of the story.

After the incarnation, the birth of Christ, it is almost as if the safety of Jesus is left up to Joseph to lead his family. Why no mention of divine protection like the angels standing guard in Eden? Why doesn’t God strike Herod dead for attempting to take the life of Jesus? Why do Joseph and Mary have to flee? That is not to say this wasn’t available, but the story is not told in this way. Obviously, this is to fulfill prophecy, yet there is an element where God seems to want to include his people in the story. (Matthew 2:15) Even Herod’s wicked deed was a fulfillment of prophecy. (Matthew 2:18) Later, when Joseph is warned not to return to Galilee, he escapes to Nazareth by warning of an angel, and again this is a fulfillment of prophecy, but wasn’t the angel wearing a sword? What I mean by the humanity of the Gospel is how earthy and human God allows all the parts of the story to be. (It is almost like he wants to relate to us)

Jesus lived the true human experience. He was raised by human parents, even being misunderstood when he stayed at the temple, yet remained obedient to his parents when told to return with them. Presumably he worked with Joseph learning a trade until the time for his ministry began.  This leads of course to John the Baptist. God is working through the evangel of a prophet here to fulfill his duty. Why does God use men instead of just throwing his weight around? Why even use a prophet–just write it in the clouds and have angels appear and announce the truth? Even the baptism of Jesus is so human. Jesus comes and demonstrates obedience instead of the, simpler for him and flashier to us, ways he could have given revelation. Just snap your fingers and have explosions, lights, and trumpets blare, or something…It is not just the Jews who like signs.

This leads to the temptations of Jesus. Jesus could have just one finger punched the devil into a mountain, instead, He puts up with the temptations from Satan. Jesus continually restricts himself to his humanity to demonstrate a supernatural reality. This same kind of thing happens when Jesus had Simon fish out a coin from a fish’s mouth to pay a temple tax. (Matthew 17:24-27) He does things with what is around him for a purpose. I could keep doing this, but there is an obvious point in all this. Maybe it is so obvious, this is redundant, but God is looking for people to respond to his call. Everything in the story is a lesson of revelation.

It is a similar epiphany I had when reading from Exodus 34:16-17. God shares his pedigree. When the opportunity to introduce himself formally to Moses comes, He doesn’t go all flashy. He doesn’t say, “I Am Holy, Beautiful, Powerful, Amazing, Brilliant, Perfect, Awesome, and so Gloriously bright you gotta wear shades!” while holy electric guitars were wailing. Though he certainly is all those things, instead he uses relational attributes. “The LORD the LORD merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in Love…”

These are attributes that have meaning in relation to his creatures. God invites us to worship him by his interactions with us instead of doing an impressive dance number singing, “U can’t touch this!” Though, if Genesis chapter one isn’t such an awe-inspiring mind-bending feat, then I don’t know what is. But God never flaunts his power, He states it, and then begins to teach. He is not like a kid demonstrating his might over ants with his shoe. No, He seems to want to bring us along to his truth. I think of when Jesus is being arrested. The disciples want to fight for him, and He simply reminds them that he has command of the angels of God, if such an endeavor was called for. If only…

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26)

I love this passage. Jesus isn’t speaking in parables; He isn’t clouding his language. He isn’t speaking loftily in spiritual language flying over their heads. He is almost pausing the whole story and commentating, Hey, guys do you really think things are out of control? Do you really fear that things just happen outside the purview of God? Do you truly worry that I am without power in this situation? No, I am doing this for a reason. I love this story because this is how we would assume it would be. A king commands. A leader leads. God doesn’t lose. So, we must understand that while we may wonder at or desire this more supernatural approach, Jesus seems to want to bring us along with him, not leave us behind as he travels on clouds dealing out lightning bolts and flaming swords. God’s ways are higher than man’s ways after all. (Isaiah 55:9) Though they may not always look like it to us.

It seems that God is working through the obedience of men to fulfill his own will, not through the demonstration of the ability to dominate. But he did miracles all the time! Yes, it is interesting, the power he does demonstrate is always for verification of his words. Who He is. It is for establishing his truth, his pedigree. It is making the not-so-subtle point that God is on his side. As you read through the Gospels, especially in Mark, it is almost as if Jesus is doing many private miracles out of compassion, above his mission. He wanted to preach, not simply be a miracle worker, that would take all day–and this seems to be why he is always telling people to keep quiet about it. Think of how easy it could have been when the Jews continually asked for signs for him to do so. Anytime someone questioned him, he could snap his finger and the ground would shake and swallow them whole. Think of it, people would have believed then, but for the wrong reasons.

God didn’t merely want fealty. He does not show up like Loki slamming his specter down in power and demanding that everyone must kneel, not yet, he first comes with an offer of the forgiveness of sins. He didn’t do that because he desires that none should perish. He draws us by the Spirit and again preaches to us through the Gospel message. He wants a relationship and that is so interesting. He certainly requires obedience and calls us to repentance, but it is more of an offer than a coaxing. I know my Calvinist friends, and I consider myself one too, might want to push back with the calling and election, but the language is broader than that. Jesus doesn’t minister as if the election is the point, He ministers as if their faithful response is. When He calls out their hardness of heart, it is after they have demonstrated an unwillingness to respond. The Word of God is understandable.

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2)

That is why the humanity of the incarnation at the advent is so remarkable. Jesus came as a human to communicate to us, in a real sense, at our level. He came as a child to live like a man to minister to men and to call us all to himself. This is the miracle in the Christmas story. He came this way to sympathize with us. To be with us, as the name Emmanuel communicates.

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4)

The story of Jesus is so human because we are. But it doesn’t stay there, He is God in flesh. The posture of Jesus towards us is sympathy because he desires that we respond to him. He came into the world so that the world might be saved through him. The message of Jesus is to repent and believe because we need it. Ask yourself, why did he come?

August 16, 2021

Philippians: Packed with Strong Doctrine and Theology

NIV.Phil.2.6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

We’re back for our fifth annual visit highlighting the writing of Jim Grant at Preach Between the Lines.  Jim is Executive Director of the Galveston Baptist Association, a conference speaker and contributing writer for the National Revitalization organization called Renovate. Clicking the header which follows will take you to his site and other articles, some written for pastors and leaders.

As preparation for today’s thoughts, take a few minutes to read Philippians 1-4.

Philippians 1-4; The Koinonia Church

I think the book of Philippians may be the most often quoted book. I think of this because it has so many uplifting verses. In Paul’s other epistles he always has a nice opening paragraph then he dives into the issues the particular church has. This is not the case with the Philippians.

The church at Philippi was started in Acts 16. Paul wanting to go to other regions but was directed by the Holy Spirit to wait. While he was waiting, the Macedonian Vision came to him. As was Paul’s custom he goes to the Jewish synagogues and seeks out God-fearers. I must have been such a joy to minister to the people of the Macedonian region. We find that they are a loving church and a giving church. When Paul asks the gentile churches to give an offering to the Jerusalem church in harsh persecution and a deep famine; the Philippian church not only gave generously, but first gave themselves to the call. They were probably the very opposite of the Corinthian Church, who seemed to be very self-centered, childish, and carnal. Yes, the great Apostle Paul had to deal with bad churches!

This short book if filled with strong doctrine and theology. Looking at the “Kenotic passage” Philippians 2:5-11; we are confronted with the humanity and deity of Jesus. Now there have been Councils in the Early Church to debate whether Jesus was human and/or deity. Our minds cannot conceive how someone can be fully both. Jesus never ceases to be God. It took me a long time to understand how this could be. Jesus being God, “Set aside” His deity so as to be fully obedient to the Father, not on the basis of His own power, but the power of the Father working in and through him. I believe that Jesus is the perfect man. As we know from 1 Corinthians 15:45, the second Adam was a living spirit. Jesus was what the original Adam was supposed to be had sin not entered in him.

There is several verses that admonish the believers to conduct themselves as the Children of God that they are called to be. Particularly Philippians 1:27-30. Unity comes out of this book; which Paul has repeated before in Ephesians 4:1-6.

When we think about Paul writing this letter while in prison, I am amazed at his upbeat tone. Obviously, the Philippian church is very dear to him. Of course, they have ministered to him directly. Even though Paul is in a Roman prison, awaiting sentencing – he can speak joyfully “for him to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [Phil. 1:21]

Paul knows that death is near, yet he is so intense about serving and being found faithful with his remaining days. In chapter 3, we find the wonderful testimony of Paul. He could have boasted about both of his lives, his pre-salvation and apostleship. Paul was already a successful man in the Jewish religion. He had the right schooling and blood lines. He has ascended the “success ladder.” But when Jesus comes to him on the Damascus road – Paul considered everything prior to his salvation worthless!

Paul had known pain and agony. He did have an unknown “thorn in the flesh” that kept him humbled. Yet, in his last days, he says that he is a “drink offering” already being poured out before God. He had an amazing missionary ministry, yet his desire is to “know Christ and the fellowship if His suffering, being conformed to His death.” [Phil. 3:7-10]

Paul is writing this heart-felt letter to his dear friends in Macedonia. They have supported him when no other church would even identify with him. [Phil. 4:15-18] Paul, it seems is reliving his life through the letter. He does not know his future, yet still he is encouraging and complimenting the Philippian church. I have always thought the Philippian church was sort of a church that lived “in the trenches” of culture. It was not like Rome or Ephesus or even Corinth. Yet it was a strong, mature church.

I wonder how we would write our memoirs. What would we focus on? If this were our last will and testament, what would we think was most important to say to those we love? Paul pours his heart out to this group of believers. Yet his focus was not “oh, look at me, pity me for being in prison.” No, Paul energizes and encourages the church to “Press On to the high calling in Christ” as he has.

Oh, that pastors and congregations would have this mutual loving relationship. No struggle for who is in authority, but a clear focus of Kingdom building and living. May it be so!

 

June 10, 2021

Test the Spirits… Wait, What Spirits?

Thinking Through 1st John 4:1-3

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever been in conversation with a spirit and asked “spirit, do you confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh?”

No, neither have I. What is John talking about then when he says “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,” then goes on to give us the test?:

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

1 John 4:1-3 (NRSV)

At first glance we might think we are to be asking spirit beings to clarify their theological positions for us. Perhaps in thinking through these verses we may hope to learn more about angels and demons. While I believe such exist, we won’t be talking about them here. Why? Because John is not talking about them here.

What is John talking about?

John is continuing to talk about what he has already been talking about in this letter, namely, the false teachers who were trying to influence the early Christian communities. Let us read what John has written again, and as we do so, let us recognize that he is not changing topics when he moves from ‘spirits’ to ‘prophets’:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

1 John 4:1-3 (NRSV emphasis added)

John was giving the recipients of his letter a simple test, a question they could ask to discern if a someone was one of those false teachers who had hijacked Jesus to promote a more Gnostic way of thinking. In this way of thinking, anything spiritual is good, anything material is bad. Therefore the false teachers would have claimed that Jesus is from God, yes, but he just seemed to be in the flesh. Surely God would not become flesh and dwell among us, right? From a Gnostic way of thinking, God certainly would not. But John knew better.

John knew better because John knew Jesus. He spent time with him, and knew he was no phantom ghost, no mere spirit being. John saw Jesus die, in the flesh. John knew Jesus raised from the dead with a resurrection body. That resurrection body seemed to be a different kind of body, but was no mere spirit. John knew Jesus and could say,

. . . the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 (NRSV)

Therefore in telling the early Christians to test the spirits, John was encouraging them to stick with what they had learned from the apostles who were with Jesus, including John himself. They should stay away from the false teachers who had the “spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).

So, what does this have to do with us now?

I can think of three things.

First, it gives us a foundation stone which is part of a robust foundation for our Christian thinking and belief.

If you think that Jesus was a spirit, and not a man, as many false teachers in John’s day thought, then you are lacking a key foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. You are missing what John, and the other apostles who spent time with Jesus, knew about him. They knew that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

However, if you think, as is more common in our day, that Jesus was just a moral teacher, and nothing more, then you are lacking a key foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. You are missing what John, and the other apostles who spent time with Jesus, knew about him. They knew that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

We are reminded of this foundation stone when we participate in The Lord’s Table. His flesh was broken for us, his blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins. He was no mere spirit being as the Gnostic teachers were claiming. But neither was he a mere teacher of morality as is more commonly held in our day, but rather Saviour, and Lord. The bread and the cup remind us of these things.

Second, it helps us sort out the foundation stones from the wallpaper, it helps us understand how to read the Bible.

As you read through 1st John 4:1-3 and following, you may hope to learn something about angels and demons, or even the antichrist. John mentions these, but not to satisfy our curiosity about them. Rather he mentions them to make a point. John is not really talking about spirits and demons here. He is speaking about Jesus, and an important fact about Jesus the false teachers were getting wrong.

As we read the Bible, let us not attempt to force it to answer our questions, to satisfy our curiosity. Let us allow the Bible writers to speak what needed to be said in their day. Let us wrestle with what it means for us in ours.

Third, we remember the importance of reading more than just a few verses of the Bible.

When we read 1st John 4:1-3 in the context of the entire letter of First John, the entire New Testament, and the entire Bible, we will realize that it just gives us just one foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. Immediately before, and immediately after, we have another foundation stone, the life of love patterned after God’s love.

Recently the bodies of 215 children have been discovered in a residential school set up to educate indigenous children. These are not just unmarked graves, these have been unknown graves. How many others are there? What happened, and how? Who could have allowed this to happen? As we ask these questions, let us remember that this was not just a Canadian school, but a school representing Christianity.

If we could go back and ask those who were responsible if they believed that Jesus is the Messiah come in the flesh, they would likely have passed that test. That foundation stone was probably in place. But was the foundation stone of love in place? From where we stand, it sounds like “love” was not the word of the day, but “colonialism.”

Would we have done better if we were there at that time?

We must do better now. Being able to pass a theological exam from a few verses of the Bible is not enough.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor who appears here most Thursdays. You can read more devotions like this by clicking the header which appears just above his name. Video of the full sermon on which this devotional is based can be seen on its own, or as part of this “online worship expression

October 14, 2020

Reading Biblical Literature

Passage One:

John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Passage Two:

Mark 10:17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone…”

In the first passage, Jesus knows who he is, where he has come from and where he is going. He then performs an act of great humility.

In the second passage, it could be seen by some that Jesus is distancing himself from God. The Reformation Study Bible notes:

Jesus’ reply does not mean that He does not consider Himself good. He rather wants to show the man that “No one is good except God alone,” so that the man may realize that all his works do not make him good, and that he is not capable of earning eternal life.

The question is meant to challenge the rich young man in the story, but if people are looking for Biblical contradictions — and many are — they might seize on this one.  It is for that reason I titled today’s thoughts “Reading Biblical Literature.” One needs to know what they are reading at the time.

Passage one shows the servant heart of Jesus, but it places that in direct contrast to his divinity. Again, the Reformation Study Bible is helpful here:

Jesus’ humble conduct was not because He forgot His rank as incarnate God the Son. His act demonstrates that rank and privilege are not occasions for arrogance, but are higher credentials for service.

I am always drawn back to the passage in Philippians 2, which I personally render as “…although he was God, he did not think his divinity was something to be leveraged.”

There’s a simple saying in real estate that the top three things in selling a house are “Location, location, location.” Similarly in Bible interpretation, the top three things are context, context, context.

But as easy at is to resolve Passage Two above by saying, “He was simply asking a rhetorical question” or “He was simply challenging the young man” (Some simply shrug their shoulders and say, “We cannot understand it; it is mystery.”) Those are good starts, and I don’t want to eliminate the element of mystery, but I think we can also resolve this by looking at the issue of interpretation through knowing the character of Christ.

This reminds me of the time someone said to me, “I don’t know everything about the book, but I know the author.”

Don’t you love the fact that Jesus knew who he was and where he was from and where he was going, but can also look into the eyes of someone and almost playfully, humorously ask, “Why do you call me good; there is no one good except God?”

When we engage in the academic, somewhat dry process of “reading Biblical literature,” we can easily get bogged down in the weeds.

We do it best when we see that we are reading Christ.


Dive Deeper:

This week in an exchange with a local pastor, I brought another friend into the conversation which resulted in a link to an article titled Jesus’s Humor. The article is too long to publish here, and I tried to think of a way I could incorporate some of the material devotionally. The author says,

…The entire Sermon on the Mount, in the original Greek, reads like a stand-up comedy routine. This has been translated out of the version you read in the Bible, but Jesus’s original words have all the hallmarks of humor…

I thought the phrase translated out was rather interesting and perhaps signals a systemic problem in understanding the interactions Jesus has with everyone from seekers to Pharisees.

The article is long, but it might be the best thing you read this week! I find approaches like this really make the Gospels come alive.

September 1, 2018

Greater Things Ahead

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:53 pm
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Today we’re back once again with Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto.  Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

Even Greater Things

Psalms 132-134

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

“You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.”   —John 1:50

Jesus not only knew who Nathanael was, but where he was and what he would become. When Nathanael asked Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus said that He saw him under the fig tree before Philip had called him. This would have seemed impossible to Nathanael because Jesus was not in the vicinity at the time. He declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (John1:49).

For Nathanael, believing Jesus saw him under the fig tree led to the profound revelation of Jesus as the King of Israel, the Son of God. Jesus said to him, “You shall see greater things than that.” In other words, because you believe the little that you have begun to understand now, that belief will grow and you will see even greater things. The revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God works the same way in our own lives. It is a progression of knowledge and personal experience of Christ in which we will begin to see even greater things.

Jesus then said to Nathanael, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man” (John 1:51). We are not sure what Jesus meant by that, but we frequently read a passage in Scripture that rings a bell and connects with something we have read before. It may be that this verse alludes back to the story of when Jacob first acted in rebellion against God. One night, Jacob had a dream involving a ladder extending from earth to heaven upon which angels were ascending and descending. This is the same image Jesus speaks of with Nathanael, portraying a link between heaven and earth.

If I may paraphrase, perhaps what Jesus is saying is something like this: “Nathanael, you are going to see more than the King of Israel. You are going to see the bond between God and humanity. You are going to see the link between heaven and earth because of your experience of Me.” Jesus Christ is Himself the link between heaven and earth, God and humanity.

All revelation of God and of Jesus Christ is by the Holy Spirit whose task it is to live the life of Christ in us and through us. Every Christian is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ and so we have living within us the link between heaven and earth, God and humanity. It is living in intimate union with Jesus Christ that makes possible the greater things God will do in our lives.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, it is incredibly amazing to know we have the link between heaven and earth living within us. Thank You for giving us Jesus, and I pray for an ever deepening relationship with Him.

 

May 8, 2018

Jesus’ Love Saved Him

by Russell Young

All believers accept Jesus as the God-Man. Care must be taken to distinguish these two aspects of our Lord as he walked this earth, however. Before the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him, he was made in every aspect as we are. “For this reason (to help Abraham’s descendants) he had to be made like his brothers in every way.” (Heb 2:17) That is, he was created in the womb just as you and I are created with the same possibilities and limitations. No special consideration or privilege had been granted him, although he had inherited the soul of his Father.

This reality should give us pause. The writer of Hebrews states, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Heb 4:15) He suffered the same temptations that are presented to all humans and was able to overcome them. His victory should not be taken as being availed through supernatural provision. Again, we are told, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he I able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:18) Why is it that Jesus prevailed while humankind fall prey to temptations and sin?

The answer rests in the love relationship that Christ practiced and enjoyed with his Father. He was committed to obedience and to maintaining the relationship. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (Jn 6:38) He came to “finish [God’s] work” (Jn 4:34) which was to “destroy the devil’s work.” (1 Jn 3:8 ) He did not come to destroy the devil’s power—which existed in the law, but to destroy his work in this world, the manifestation of evil, of unrighteousness.

Could Christ have died? Yes! If he had died, so would have hope for all humankind. “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7) Christ was fully committed to the task given him and suffered through temptations just as you and I might. He was heard because of his prayers and petitions and because of his reverent submission to his Father. Through singleness of mind and heart he overcame temptations and death.

I am doing just what the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” (Jn 14:31 NET) Jesus clearly made it known that his obedience was due to his love for his Father. It has also been revealed that those who seek his kingdom are to love Christ, and he defines love in the same manner, the practice of obedience. Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey what I command” (Jn 14:15) and promised that “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (Jn 15:10)

The Lord (sovereign authority) spoke much of the need for a love relationship with him, with the Father, and with others. His kingdom will be comprised of those who have reverently submitted to him, not with those who have made an empty pledge to do so. Unless the attitude of reverent submission based on a love relationship is the nature of those who would be in the kingdom of heaven, strife turmoil, and friction would remain a constant presence, even in his eternal kingdom. Peace would not exist, and the Lord’s work would never be completed. Believers are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29), having the same heart, committed to love through obedience.

Some promise the realization of an eternal hope by allowing that God’s grace will cover their sinful practices. However, Christ said, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41) Their having been weeded out will be because of their practices–defiance of the Lord’s commands. Christ did not sin, and he will not sin while present in the believer (Col 1:27). John has recorded, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” (1 Jn 3:6) They do not appreciate who he is or what he is about. Further, john has written, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:56)

The love of Christ for the Father saved him from death and the love of people for Christ will also save them from death. As in Jesus’ case, that love is expressed through obedience. “[W]ork out (finish) your own salvation through fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil 2:1213) Love brings victory over death.

All scriptures NIV except as noted


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

 

January 11, 2018

Jesus. An Ordinary Person?

by Clarke Dixon

Who is Jesus? This question is the most important question we could ever face. It is a much more significant question than; “Do you like organized religion? Do you like Christianity? Do you like church and find it relevant?”

Many suggestions are put forward, but they fall into only three categories:

  1. Jesus is fictional. He is a figment of someone’s imagination.
  2. Jesus was an ordinary person. He became extraordinary in people’s minds sometime after his death.
  3. Jesus is no ordinary person. In Christian thinking, he was, is, and always will be extraordinary, being God incarnate.

Out of these three options, this question is really only a choice between two of them. If you think that Jesus is pure fiction, then most of history, and especially all of ancient history must be seen as pure fiction also. People who really want Jesus to go away may be comfortable with that, but most historians are not. If you are being consistent in matters of history, there is really only one question: Is Jesus an ordinary person, or an extraordinary person?

The first chapter of Mark will help us know how Mark, at least, would answer that. Consider:

  • In the very first verse Jesus is no ordinary person, but is the Messiah (Christ) plus the Son of God:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1

  • In verses 2 and 3, the prophecies quoted refer to the coming, not just of a prophet, or king, but of God Himself. These are understood to be pointing to Jesus:

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ” Mark 1:2-3

  • In verse 7, John the baptizer knows he is not worthy of Jesus, stating that he is not even worthy to do the task of a slave. Jesus is on another level entirely:

He proclaimed, The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” Mark 1:7

  • Continuing on with John the baptizer, in verse 8 we need to ask who can baptize with the Holy Spirit except God Himself?

I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:8

  • In verse 11 Jesus is referred to with a title that would only previously be applied to the king of Israel, or the nation as a whole. We are to understand that Jesus is king, and in some way representative of all Israel. Also, where the kings and and the nation were prone to failure, Jesus gets it right:

And a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11

  • In verse 13 when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days we are to think of the 40 years God’s people spent in the wilderness before entering the promised Land. They spent that long in the wilderness because, unlike Jesus, they fell to temptation and sinned:

He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Mark 1:13

  • In verse 18 Jesus is the one who is worth immediately leaving everything to follow:

17 And Jesus said to them,Follow me and I will make you fish for people.18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:17-18

  • In verses 21 and 22 the teaching of Jesus was extraordinary:

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Mark 1:21-22

  • In verse 24 Jesus is identified by an unclean spirit as “the Holy One of God”.  The spirit knows that Jesus is extraordinary and has power over evil:

23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out,What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Mark 1:23-24

  • In verses 25 and 26 the spirit is under Jesus’ authority:

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, Be silent, and come out of him!26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. Mark 1:25-26

  • In verse 27 the people recognize that not only does Jesus teach with authority, his word has authority. This reminds us of Someone else Who spoke with authority and had extraordinary results (see Genesis 1):

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another,What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Mark 1:27

  • In verses 40 and following the compassion of Jesus is extraordinary. Notice how Jesus touches the leper before healing him. Something no ordinary person would do!

40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him,If you choose, you can make me clean.41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him,I do choose. Be made clean!” Mark 1:40-41

Is Jesus an ordinary person or an extraordinary person? Mark certainly knows him to be extraordinary!

Mark was not one of the 12 disciples, so we might ask how would he know? As a Christian I can point to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but I wouldn’t expect a non-Christian to be convinced by that. However, we can appeal to history. Mark was known to be a close companion of Peter and to have written down the Gospel based on Peter’s testimony and preaching. Peter, of course, knew Jesus very well. Mark’s interest in Jesus may have been stirred prior to Jesus’ crucifixion as some scholars think that he may be the young man who fled naked at the arrest of Jesus in Mark chapter 14. Further, in the process of settling on which books were authoritative for the Church, the early Christians only considered writings that were known to be closely associated with eyewitnesses, the apostles. Mark wrote his Gospel account while eyewitnesses were still alive, so his facts could be checked. All the New Testament documents, dating from closer to the events than make grand fictions possible, say the same thing as Mark chapter 1. Jesus is no ordinary person.

The eyewitnesses to Jesus were all saying the same things: The teaching of Jesus was extraordinary, the miracles of Jesus were extraordinary, and the resurrection of Jesus was extraordinary. Also, the fulfillment of the promises, given to the people who have a long testimony of God’s involvement with them, is extraordinary. We have the advantage that 2,000 years later, we can say that the legacy of Jesus has been extraordinary. The positive impact of Jesus, on individuals and society alike, has been profound! To summarize, Jesus was no ordinary man, but is extraordinary. That God loves us enough to do what He has done for us in Jesus is extraordinary!

At the centre of Mark chapter one is this:

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying,The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:14-15

Such an extraordinary person, such extraordinary love, demands a life that is anything but ordinary.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)


Visit Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

November 7, 2017

3 Books by The Apostle John; 3 Goals in His Writing

We’re paying a return visit to Rick Morgan, who blogs in the UK at Digging The Word. Click the title below to read at source.

Believe, Be Sure About It And Be Ready

John’s advice is still important today

The apostle John was a close friend of Jesus, he was in the inner circle of the disciples, he is the man that took care of Jesus’ mother for fifteen years after Jesus’ death and he was an early leader in the church.

John’s books are very significant part of the Bible, he gives us more of the teachings of Jesus than any other gospel writer, he also wrote the most unique book of the Bible from the vision that he experienced while he was exiled to Patmos.

We can see in John’s books that he wants us to believe in Jesus, be sure about it and he wants us to be ready for his return:

Believe

John 20:31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

John wrote his first book out of a desire to help you believe. It is easy to find something to believe but there is only one belief that is going to get you to heaven. So what are we supposed to believe?

Eternal life is only available by belief in Jesus and his work on the cross as a substitute for the punishment that I deserved.

Be Sure

1 John 5:13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.

John’s next book was written to help you be sure of what you believe. The same man that was unclear and lacked faith in who Jesus was wants to help you with your belief.

What you believe is so important to John because just like every other Jew, John held onto false beliefs all of his life, his beliefs didn’t get straightened out until after Jesus came back from the grave. Nobody understood that Jesus first coming wasn’t going to be his last.

In John’s three letters he wants to reassure troubled believers that they really do have eternal life so that they might enjoy it. (1 John 1:3; 3:18-19; 4:13; 5:13 / 2 John 5)

Be Ready

Revelation 22:20 He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

The first coming of Jesus was to give us eternal life and when he returns he will come to give us our eternal reward. Unlike the first time, when he returns again it will be too late to clear up any false beliefs, it is extremely important that you believe and that you are sure about it.

RELATED ARTICLES
10 Things Christ Promises To Reward (unlockingthebible.org)

 

September 26, 2017

Humility We Must Sing to Imagine

Today’s thoughts are from Chaplain Mike Mercer at the website Internet Monk. I chose a passage in the online series; Philippians: Friends in the Gospel. At the bottom you’ll see the most up-to-date links I have to other installments in the series. Out of necessity today, in addition to stealing the article, we had to steal a graphic! So please click through and read this at its source page.

Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians — Friends in the Gospel (10)

There are some things that can, perhaps, only be said in poetry, and perhaps this [Phil 2:5-11] is one of them. 
• Tom Wright

PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became humanHaving become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

As we mentioned last week, this is one of the most discussed theological texts in the New Testament is Philippians 2:5-11, the “Christ-hymn” that describes the “kenosis” of Jesus.

Gerald F. Hawthorne’s interpretation of Phil. 2:5-11 is one of my favorite commentary passages that I have read in biblical studies.

He first describes the near universal agreement that “vv 6-11 constitute a beautiful example of a very early hymn of the Christian church.” Scholars, however, have a number of different ideas about how the hymn might have been structured. Whatever the versification of the hymn might have been, it is clear that it has two basic parts. There are four main verbs: the first two have Jesus as the subject, the second two have God. The hymn then naturally falls into the story of (1) Jesus’ acts of humbling himself, and (2) God’s act of exalting Jesus.

Hawthorne notes that Paul himself may be the author of the hymn or it may come from another source. The striking insight that I learned many years ago from him when considering this passage is that it appears to be a meditation on an event recorded in the Gospel of John.

“…may be the result of deep meditation…on one particular event from the life of Christ as recorded in the gospel tradition — Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:3-17). Although verbal parallels between John 13:3-17 and Phil 2:6-11 are few, but nonetheless significant, the parallels in thought and in the progression of action are startling. So precise in fact are these parallels that it is difficult to consider them the result of mere coincidence.

Hawthorne uses the following diagram to portray these parallels:

This hymn, whether Paul wrote it or not, emphasizes Jesus’ act of humility using an “descent-ascent motif that is prominent in the Johannine story.”

Gerald Hawthorne also notes another important parallel between the way both John and this epistle reflect on the foot-washing story:

It is also interesting and instructive to note that the purpose of each pericope is similar. The Johannine account is an acted parable to summarize the essence of Jesus’ teaching: “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to hold the first place among you must be everybody’s slave” (Mark 10:43-44), while the Philippian text is a hymn to illustrate powerfully Paul’s teaching, which at this point is identical with that of Jesus:  humble, self-sacrificing service to one another done in love is a must for a Christian disciple who would live as a Christian disciple should (Phil 2:3-4).

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Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel

June 19, 2017

The Mystery that Jesus and God are One

I Cor 2: 6 Among the mature, however, we speak a message of wisdom—but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we speak of the mysterious and hidden wisdom of God, which He destined for our glory before time began.

Eph. 3:8 Though I am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to illuminate for everyone the stewardship of this mystery, which for ages past was hidden in God, who created all things.


Beholding the Mystery that Jesus is God

The claim that Jesus is God is at once mysterious in its complexity and critical for the salvific power of the gospel. In this Seven Minute Seminary video, Dr. Justus Hunter encourages the church to grapple with this perplexing claim, both intellectually and doxologically.


I want to encourage you to check out the full list of videos at Seven Minute Seminary. We use video here sparingly, but this site is a wealth of great teaching on topics you’ll find engaging.


Thinking about mystery reminded me of this Matt Redman song. Later in the song he changes “Heaven’s perfect melody” to “Heaven’s perfect mystery.” I know the subject is different in this song, but I felt that someone reading this today might also appreciate also looking at the mystery of God’s love for us.

April 1, 2017

Only One Plan

Bruxy’s book releases in May. Click the image for more details.

While I’m a huge fan of Bruxy Cavey, teaching pastor of The Meeting House in Oakville just west of Toronto, Canada we’ve never included his writing here beyond a few quotations. So with the new book re(Union) due out in May, we thought this would be a good time to share his ministry with you. Click the link in the title below to read this at its source, and then take a few minutes to look around the rest of his website.

The scandal of particularity

When I was young, I wondered why Jesus didn’t come to earth as a woman (they seemed smarter to me). I also wondered why Jesus hadn’t come as an Irishman (our family is part Irish), or even as a three-toed sloth (my favorite animal). And why had he come only once, so long ago, instead of coming today and every day for a visit? Jesus coming only once, in one place, as one person, at one point in history—that just didn’t seem “fair” to me.

My dad was a gentle, gracious, and wise man. I often peppered him with my weird and wonder-full questions, and he would patiently help me think through possible answers.

“Why did Jesus not come as a woman?” I’d ask him.

“He could have,” my dad would say. “God can do anything. But men were the powerful people in that culture, as in most, and maybe Jesus came in that form in order to teach the people with power how to lay it down. Remember him teaching his disciples to wash feet? In that culture, a job like that was reserved for servants or women, who had no power. But as Jesus washed his all-male disciples’ feet, he told them they needed to learn how to wash feet too!”

“Why not an Irishman?” I’d probe.

“He could have. God can do anything. But he had already been patiently working with a group of people, the Jewish people, to teach them how to be the light of the world together. When they weren’t lighting up the world the way God wanted, Jesus came specifically to them, as one of them.”

“Why not a three-toed sloth?” I’d ask.

“He could have,” my dad would say, somehow still patient. “God can do anything. Back in the days of Moses, God became a fire in a bush and a pillar of cloud, so I’m sure he could become a three-toed sloth if he wanted to. But remember, of all creatures, we alone are made in the image and likeness of God. We were put in charge of the planet in order to take care of creation. Just think of it—through our choices, we can take care of three-toed sloths, or harm them by harming their environment. Our choices affect them in ways their choices will never affect us, just as our environmental decisions affect the lives of every species in ways that their decisions do not. We are the powerful ones in nature. But as we learned from Spider-Man, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ We are made like God, which means that we need to learn from God how to use power to love, to care, and to cultivate.”

“But why then and not now?” I’d say.

“He could have. God can do anything. But his timing does seem perfect. Back then, Roman roads had only recently made it possible for the gospel to travel far and wide with new directness. The Pax Romana (Roman peace) made it possible to travel those roads with reasonable safety. And a common language, Greek, started to be spoken among different people groups, allowing them to communicate with each other as never before. And the Romans executed people in a very bloody way—crucifixion—which would allow God to demonstrate the coming of the New Covenant and the end of all religious sacrifice to a people who saw blood as the centre of religious sacrifice. Once that was all in place, why wait another day?”

“Why not just come every day?”

“He could do that,” my dad would say, still with a patient grin. “God can do anything. In fact, he does that every day and every moment through his Holy Spirit. But Brux, if God was really going to become one of us through Jesus—I mean, really become human—then that means he doesn’t get to come every day in every place. Humans don’t live that way. Humans live one life in one place at a time. And God decided to become human just like us.”

My dad and my mom and my older sisters and Sunday school teachers and youth pastors—all of them had to put up with my many questions. And their patience paid off. I finally got it: God came to us as one of us. That’s the incarnation, and it’s central to the gospel. This idea of incarnation has profound implications. Theologians call this “the scandal of particularity.”

In becoming human, God became particular, a specific human, not just humanity as some generalized concept. And that creates particularity in time and space, gender and race. God became this and not that. God became a man and not a woman. God became a Jew and not a Gentile. God became an Israelite and not a Canadian. God became a poor person and not a rich person. God became a first-century person and not a twenty-first-century person.

The apostle Paul wrote:

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:4-7).

When the time had fully come. That’s when Jesus came. As one “born under the law,” Jesus came as part of one of the world’s rule-enforcing, ritual-observing, temple-building, animal-sacrificing, blood-spilling religions—to bring an end to it all, from the inside out. Through Jesus, God came to us at just the right time, in just the right way, to say everything God had to say. Now, with religion out of the way, God pulls us close, as his children. (We are called “sons,” not to exclude women but to emphasize the equal status women have in God’s family. See, at that time, daughters had no rights. So God says, to men and women,  you are all my “sons,” to emphasize that all of us, male and female, are heirs to the love and blessing God has for his kids.)

We are no longer slaves. Before Jesus, and even now apart from Jesus, we can all end up as slaves to something, to some system of belonging, even and especially the system of religion. But we are no longer slaves. We no longer have to serve our own fragile egos, always subconsciously clamouring for the affirmation and acceptance we so desperately desire. We are now God’s children. Let it sink in: we are God’s children. And, alongside Jesus, we share in our inheritance: God’s great love for his kids, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Yes, Jesus came “once upon a time” and “once upon a place.” But today, through the Holy Spirit, we not only have God with us, but within us, at all times, and in every place. Now that you’re done reading this post, take a moment to be aware—God is with you, within you, and all around you. Take a deep breath, and receive the infinite love that is your inheritance.

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November 22, 2016

God is Bigger than our Churches

When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
  I Cor 15:58

God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
Acts 17:27,28

 

This is from Franciscan author and teacher Richard Rohr, whose writing is very popular right now among Christians from a variety of tribes. I don’t have the original link for this piece, but you can read current meditations by him at The Center for Action and Contemplation.

Bigger Than Christianity

The “Christ Mystery” is much bigger than Christianity as an organized religion. If we don’t understand this, Christians will have little ability to make friends with, build bridges to, understand, or respect other religions or the planet. Jesus did not come to create a country club or a tribe of people who could say, “We’re in and you’re out. We’ve got the truth and you don’t.” Jesus came to reveal something that was true everywhere, for everyone, and all the time.

Many Christians have a very limited understanding of Jesus’ historical or social message, and almost no understanding of the Cosmic Christ—even though it is taught clearly in Scripture (see John 1, Colossians 1, Ephesians 1, 1 John 1, Hebrews 1:1). Christ is often taught at the very beginning of Paul’s and other New Testament authors’ writings, yet we still missed it. But you can’t see what you were never told to look for. Once you do see the shape and meaning of this cosmic mystery of Divine Incarnation, you’ll be able to see that the Presence is everywhere—and the archetypal Jesus will not be such an anomaly, accident, or surprise.

God is saving everything and everybody, it is all God’s emerging victory, until, as Paul says, “God will be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). If Christ is truly the “savior of the world” (see John 4:42), then God’s shape, form, meaning, and message are all far bigger than any single religion. Talking to the intellectual Athenians, Paul is wise enough to say: “God is not far from any of us. It is in him [sic] that we live and move and have our very being” (Acts 17:28).

St. Augustine writes that through love we come to be in “the frame of the body of Christ” so that in the end “there shall be one Christ, loving himself.” [1] You are chosen in Christ (see Ephesians 1:4), and the purpose of being chosen is to let everyone else know that they too are chosen! We are not making a triumphal statement about the Christian religion here, but we are making a triumphal statement about the nature of Divine Love—which will finally win the day!

Loving both Jesus and the Christ is essential to a Christian’s growth and transformation. You might begin with one or the other, but eventually you should be drawn to love both. Too many Christians have started and stopped with Jesus, never coming to know the Universal Christ. Many who are not Christian have started with the Christ by some other name—after all, there is only One God, One Love. I have met Hindus and Jews who live happily and fruitfully inside this hidden Christ Mystery, and I have met many Roman Catholics and Protestants who are running away from any notion of an all-pervading, loving Presence. Their stinginess and exclusivity gives it away.

You can have the right words and not the right experience, whereas if you enjoy the right experience, the right words are of much less importance. God did not become Incarnate Love in the universe to create “word police” and debating societies.

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