Christianity 201

January 7, 2020

As Jesus Grew, His Purpose Became Increasingly Clearer

Last year at this time we introduced you to the writing of various authors at The Jagged Word. This article caught my eye when I saw the original title (below, click to link) and thought it would be a good fit here. The author of this piece is Cindy Koch.

What Jesus Did Not Know

He heard it a million times from his mom; son of God, born of a virgin. When he was younger, he did not really know what all those words meant. Everyone was nice to him and he had a special place when they went to temple. He remembered the old men looking at him with tears in their eyes, and the widows would touch his little shoulder when he walked by. They told him that he was born of the Spirit, and there was much he would do in his lifetime. When he was little, he tried to imagine what it was he would get to do.

And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him (Luke 2:40).

He read it a million times in the Scriptures. It is written, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:6-8). “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:6-7). His wisdom about the deep things of God were remembered from the beginning of all time. The Word he once spoke from creation and now heard through the prophets kept his heart and mind focused on the will of the Father in Heaven.

He wondered a million things as he grew up in the fear of the Lord. He was Son of the most-high, why did he ache with sadness? He was able to heal and give sight to the blind, would there ever be an end to this need for restoration? He spoke with the authority of the everlasting Word of God, why can people not recognize his voice? His purpose in life was to lead God’s beloved creation through repentance to everlasting salvation, why do they refuse to listen?

Jesus must have expected more out of this creation. The wise and holy son of God learned to be incredibly disappointed. Fulfillment and meaning lay right in front of the servants of God, and they turned away from young Jesus. Healing and wisdom called directly into the ears of the chosen people, and they raged against his holy name. Day by day, Jesus grew in the wisdom and understanding of what it looked like to be the Christ, the Son of God. Day by day he understood what it must take to save such an undeserving hoard of unbelievers.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented (Matthew 3:13-15).

He began to know what he must do. His righteousness, his wisdom, his healing, his sonship, it was for them. It was to be given to this wicked and unloving generation. Even the repentance they failed to do, right now at John’s passionate call, it was the responsibility of this righteous Son. Jesus began to understand his long-promised kingdom in reference to those who would reside within the gates. Here in the Jordan, Jesus was coronated in the gritty black mud of his unmerited repentance.

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).

Jesus seemed to know this from the beginning. He was the Son with whom God was well pleased. He was sent to do the work of the Father, and he would do it well. But the pleasing work of the Father looked a little darker than Jesus might have imagined. The repentance of the world felt thick and heavy stepping out of the water that day.

The worst of it was, finally, looking around at the people whom he came to save. They had no idea. The adulterous, guilty generation blindly believed their own baptism of repentance was enough. They wanted to fulfill the Law and do it right, but John’s washing with water only highlighted their sin. So, they left the water, trying to sacrifice and clean up their life to please the Father in Heaven. They were made alive in their sin, only to find out they were already dead. Yet, if they trusted in their repentance and their reconciliation, these poor miserable sinners unknowingly heaped sin upon sin; trusting in the Law to bring life, trusting in themselves to follow the Law.

Unbelief, misunderstanding, selfishness, unrighteousness, these were the brothers and sisters Jesus discovered in the Jordan. Pain, sorrow, disgust, separation, these were the riches Jesus learned to inherit on this earth. His journey of deep wisdom and pure understanding ultimately exposed the bowels of a rotting humanity. And while we were still sinners, Jesus died for the ungodly.

“This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

December 24, 2019

This is Why Jesus Came

Note: This article continues a theme begun yesterday…

While writing a fictional story for a local newspaper, though I knew what I wanted to say, I wanted to review the theological underpinnings for some of the dialog. This was found at ecclesia.org and you’re encouraged to click the title below to read this at source. Note: The language has been updated by using some of the many current translations available.

15 Reasons Why Jesus Came

  1. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.

    1 Timothy 1:15, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This saying is true, and it can be trusted. I was the worst sinner of all! (CEV)

  2. Jesus Christ came into the world to call sinners to repentance.

    Mark 2:17, When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (NLT)

  3. Jesus Christ came into the world to seek and save the lost.

    Luke 19:10, For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (ESV)

  4. Jesus came into the world to demonstrate the true purpose of life and give Himself a ransom.

    Matthew 20:28, Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (NASB)

  5. Jesus Christ came into the world to be a King and bear witness to the truth.

    John 18:37, So Pilate asked him, “Are you a king, then?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me. (GNT)

  6. Jesus Christ came into the world to do the Will of His Father.

    John 6:38, For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (NKJV)

  7. Jesus Christ came into the world to be a Light in the world.

    John 12:46, I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. (NLT)

  8. Jesus Christ came into the world that men might have the Abundant Life.

    John 10:10b, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (KJV)

  9. Jesus Christ came into the world to Judge the world.

    John 9:39, Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” (NLT)

  10. Jesus Christ came into the world to Proclaim or preach the Good News about the Kingdom of God.

    Mark 1:38, Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (NIV)

  11. Jesus Christ came into the world to die on the cross.

    John 12:27, Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ’Father, save Me from this hour’? No, it is for this purpose that I have come to this hour. (Berean Study Bible)

  12. Jesus Christ came into the world to fulfill the law.

    Matthew 5:17, Do not think that I have come to overturn or do away with the law or the words of our prophets. To the contrary: I have not come to overturn them but to fulfill them. (The Voice)

  13. Jesus Christ came into the world to be a Divider of men.

    Matthew 10:34, 35, Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (CSB)

    (Christ makes it necessary to choose between relatives and the truth. This choice often causes division.)

  14. Jesus Christ came into the world as a demonstration of God’s Love.

    1 John 4:10, This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (NIV)

  15. Jesus Christ came into the world because the Father sent Him.

    John 20:21, I give you the gift of peace. In the same way the Father sent Me, I am now sending you. (The Voice)

a. The Father SENT Jesus to be the Propitiation (atonement) for our sins.

1 John 4:10, >This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. (The Message)

b. The Father SENT Jesus and gave Jesus as the Saviour of the world.

John 3:16-18,  For this is how much God loved the world—he gave his one and only, unique Son as a gift. So now everyone who believes in himwill never perish but experience everlasting life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge and condemn the world, but to be its Savior and rescue it! So now there is no longer any condemnation for those who believe in him, but the unbeliever already lives under condemnation because they do not believe in the name of God’s beloved Son.(Passion Translation)

c. The Father SENT Jesus to bless us by turning us from our iniquities.

Acts 3:26, God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (ESV)

d. The Father SENT His Son to redeem us from the curse of the law.

Galatians 4:4-5, But when the fullness of time came, God sent out His Son, born of a woman and born under law—to free those under law, so we might receive adoption as sons. (Tree of Life – TLV)

e. God SENT His Son to make possible a new power in the hearts of men, a power to enable him to fulfill the righteousness of the law.

Romans 8:3,4, For what the Law could not do [that is, overcome sin and remove its penalty, its power] being weakened by the flesh [man’s nature without the Holy Spirit], God did: He sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful man as an offering for sin. And He condemned sin in the flesh [subdued it and overcame it in the person of His own Son], so that the [righteous and just] requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not live our lives in the ways of the flesh [guided by worldliness and our sinful nature], but [live our lives] in the ways of the Spirit [guided by His power] (Amplified Bible)


As this is publishing on Christmas Eve, I want to wish all of Christianity 201’s readers a blessed and meaningful celebration of incarnation.

December 9, 2019

Who You Are in the Good Samaritan Story

NIV.Luke.10.25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Twitter is increasingly become a long-form medium. Individual tweets can be strung together in a thread to present more detail insights. As I mentioned on Friday, I’ve occasionally encountered material there that might not get well-deserved exposure to the people who read blogs, and I’ve strung many of these together at Thinking Out Loud, and, as of three days ago, here at Christianity 201.

Jennifer Michelle Greenberg describers herself as “Author, Survivor, Recording Artist, Mommy, Wife, Church Pianist.” Her book is Not Forsaken (Good Book Company). Learn more at her website. The link in the header below takes you to the thread itself which contains some highlighted verses.

Picked Up From the Dust

NIV.Luke.10.30 … Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The first thing we must ask is, “Who is Jesus telling this parable to, and why?” As we see in verses 25 and 29, Jesus is speaking to a lawyer who wants to justify himself. He asks Jesus for a to-do list of good works he can check off so he can get into Heaven on his own merit.

Jesus goes back to the Old Testament, asking, “What does the Law say?” The man, educated, correctly summarizes the Law. Jesus replies, “Do all that, and you’ll be saved.” The man knows he can’t love everyone, so he asks Jesus to narrow things down; “Who qualifies as my neighbor?”

Jesus replies with a parable. A man gets robbed and beaten. A priest – a holy man well versed in the Law – passes by the beaten man. A Levite – another holy religious leader – also sees the man but passes him by. Likely, they didn’t want to become unclean from touching him.

But then a Samaritan comes by.

Now, Samaritans were not full Jews, and were looked down on by the Jews as idolaters and sinners (the woman at the well in John 4 with seven husbands was a Samaritan). But this Samaritan proves himself more Godly than even the priest or the Levite.

Then Jesus asks the lawyer, “Who was a better neighbor?” In other words, who was more Godly? Who fulfilled the Law? The lawyer rightly answers, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus says, “Yes, be like that man.”

Jesus is telling this lawyer, in order to earn Heaven he must be holier than a priest and more righteous than a Levite. He must be perfect. He must know the Law backwards and forwards, and not only do everything in the Law, but be merciful and pay the price for other’s suffering.

What I want you to understand is, Jesus is The Good Samaritan. The glorious Son of God became a lowly human. He walked the road of life perfectly to pick us up out of the dust and filth of our sin and rescue us from the oppression of wicked people, Satan, and the powers of evil.

He has put us in the care of his Spirit, who tends our wounds and cleanses our sin. But Jesus has promised to return one day to redeem us once and for all. Jesus is telling this lawyer, who wants to justify himself with his own acts, “To earn Heaven on your own, you must be Me.”

You aren’t The Good Samaritan. You’re the guy lying on the side of the road, beaten up, dirty, bruised, and bleeding, incapable of saving yourself. Evil has been cruel to you. People have failed to love you. But Jesus got down into this dirty fallen world to pick you up.

It’s good to aspire to be merciful, compassionate, and helpful. We’re called to be Christlike, and the Spirit works in us to create good works. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that nothing we do, no matter how well we try to follow the Law, we need Jesus to save us…

[Postscript]

…This tweet attracted some odd responses, including a “church leader” who thinks the Good Samaritan possibly did ask these questions, and a few who think the parable teaches free healthcare. So, I thought I’d do a little thread about what this parable means. Grab your popcorn.

Things the Good Samaritan did NOT say:

  • Have you forgiven the robbers yet?
  • What were you wearing?
  • Why were you out here alone?
  • How’s your prayer life?
  • God’s trying to teach you something.
  • You need to have stronger faith.
  • Think positive.
  • God helps those who help themselves.

Oh yeah, and “Are you sure you’re not faking this to get attention?”

And, “It’s a sin to falsely accuse! You could ruin a robber’s life if you report.”

 

December 5, 2019

The Christmas Story: Just a Good Story?

by Clarke Dixon

The Christmas story is a good story. There is something about it that engages even people who would not call themselves Christian. Where Christianity gets a cold shoulder, baby Jesus seems to receive a warm embrace. The Christmas story is a good story for many reasons. It is a story of ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary. It is a story of the underprivileged experiencing an incredible privilege. There is nothing special about Mary or Joseph, either in their societal or religious standing. There is nothing special about the shepherds. The wise men don’t even belong, they are complete outsiders. Herod, rich, powerful, and privileged, threatens and kills, but the ordinary people battle through dire circumstances and participate in something truly remarkable. Everyone loves a good story where the underdogs come out on top. As for the divine, well the divine very clearly sides with the regular folk. You don’t need to be a Christian enjoy the Christmas story as a good story. But is the Christmas story just a good story and nothing more?

The way in which Luke begins to tell the story tells us something else about it:

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. Luke 1:1-4 (NRSV)

Luke sets out to write, not a story, but history. Notice how Luke begins; not with “a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away,” but with, “an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” That is, events that really happened in Luke’s time and place and which people who were there would still remember. There are eyewitnesses. The original readers of Luke’s Gospel could check his sources. These eyewitnesses were not people indoctrinated into a school of thought, but people who witnessed things with their own eyes. They were not philosophers, or religious people, but ordinary people who experienced something, and Someone extraordinary. Luke is not making things up, but writing them down. Those who know Greek well can tell that Luke is an educated man from these first verses, for his Greek, we are told, is very good. Luke is not some religious nut who has been duped, but an educated man who has “investigated everything carefully,” so that the reader can “be certain of the truth” (v.4 NLT). The Christmas story is not just a good story, it is also a true story. 

You can imagine a scenario where something is known to be true, but it is not good news. A doctor gives the correct diagnosis, for example. What she says is true, but it may not be good news. Is the Christmas story good news? The way Luke continues drops big hints about that.

The name “Herod” elicited a response in people in much the same way that the name “Trump” does today. However, where Trump elicits a polarized response, Herod’s name always brought fear. Herod’s name shows up early, verse 5 in fact. Fear continues to be a theme of the Christmas story, especially whenever an angel appears:

When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.  But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Luke 1:12-13 (NRSV)

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30 (NRSV)

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:9-11 (NRSV)

Every time an angel shows up there is much fear, yet fear not, for behold, there is good news!

People are often reticent about becoming Christians because of fear. They fear that becoming a Christian would have a negative impact on their lives. Their sense of freedom might be impacted. They might have to become “religious.” They don’t like religious people and fear they might have to become like people they don’t like. Therefore if the Christmas story and all the stories of Jesus, including the Easter story, are true, that would be bad news. However, when you dig deeper you discover that the story of Jesus is good news indeed!

Throughout his writing Luke does not come across as saying something like; “sadly, having looked at the evidence, I have to tell you that this religion is true, so you had better commit to it, even though it will be drudgery.” Rather; “having looked at the evidence, all this stuff about Jesus is true, and is great news and brings great opportunity.” It begins with ordinary people and with mean and privileged people but ends in great blessing for the ordinary people. It begins with sinful people, their relationship with God broken and shattered, and ends with people reconciled to God by his love and grace. It begins with death being a certainty and ends with eternal life being an opportunity. It begins with people getting religion all wrong and ends with people living a new kind of life focused on Jesus. It is true, but that does not mean you need to fear becoming someone you don’t like. You become a better version of yourself as you become more like Christ. It is all good news! The Christmas story is not just a good story, and a true story, it is also good news. 

Many people dabble in spirituality; “there is something out there.” Luke has good news based on a true story; there is something out there, in fact, there is Someone out there, and that Someone out there became someone down here. It is a good story, a true story, and is great news!


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in a town located about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. Click here for his WordPress blog or click here to listen to the message on which this article is based.

December 3, 2019

Mary: Did She Know?

With the continued popularity of a certain Christmas song I won’t name, the announcement to Mary that she was the one who would bear the promised Savior stands apart from all other personal revelations given in scripture. The Roman Catholic Church has a special word for this, “The Annunciation.” You can read more about that at Wikipedia.

Luke 1:26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

From ten years ago at Internet Monk, these questions:

Mary was more than likely no more than 13 or 14 years old when the angel appeared to her. She had her whole life in front of her—a marriage to a man who would be able to provide for her, and that was not something to take for granted in those days. And then … and then God came and turned her whole world upside down.

Was this fair? Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life? How would you have responded if the angel had come to you with this news? And does God still move in impossible ways today? Is God still coming and turning people’s lives upside-down?

And these responses:

  • Karin: Being told that you are favored by God would make saying ‘yes’ a whole lot easier and saying ‘no’ a whole lot harder. Mary seemed wise beyond her years and said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” At age 13 or 14 one usually does not have preconceived ideas about the consequences of such a life changing decision. Perhaps this kind of visitation by an angel and being chosen to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah was every young spiritually minded Israelite girl’s dream!If my daughter had come and told me that she experienced the same as what Mary experienced, I would probably have needed a visitation from an angel to confirm it, just as Joseph did!
  • Joanie: I have noticed that when Zechariah questioned the angel about how his wife could possibly become pregnant, he was made unable to speak until John was born. But Mary questioned the angel about how she could possibly get pregnant and the angel explained. I have read that Zechariah was a priest, was old and should have known that God could do whatever God wanted to do. Mary was a young girl and as such, was treated more…patiently. Do you often wonder what it would be like to encounter an angel? Do you think angels take on human-like properties so that they can communicate with us? I wonder how long it took for Jesus as he was growing up to fully realize who he was, why he was and what he had to do? And how much of that would Mary have understood? When they were at the wedding in Cana together, she obviously knew that he could turn water into wine. How did she know he could do that and would do that?
  • Hannah: Mary’s response of submission to God is so beautiful. I wonder if this was, completely and utterly out of the blue for her, or if, in some way, God had been preparing her for what He needed her to do? He doesn’t test us beyond what we can bear, so says the word, and she must have trusted God so much to just submit to him like that, not knowing at that time if Joseph would stick by her or not. And if God was preparing Mary in some small way, would He have been preparing Joseph too then, to do the right thing and stay with her. Did they risk small town humiliation and unbelief, or was the culture of the time open to what they said to curious neighbors and family friends about Mary’s pregnancy? They had to be so strong, it seems to me, in their commitment to God and each other and their trust in what God had told them. I wonder what Mary and Joseph’s individual relationships to God had been like up to that time?
  • John: I think when God speaks to people in these more direct and miraculous ways, we encounter more closely just what the nature of his kingdom is and how it operates. And because of that, things like having our lives turned upside down tend to pale in comparison. It’s not that there aren’t real effects on our lives, but that we have encountered in some very real way an intersection between our earthly plodding and the fuller reality of God’s eternal kingdom and purpose. When that happens, priorities get shifted a bit. In other words, the reality of God with us begins to take hold and change things, starting with us. “Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life?” I think God does, but in our dullness and distraction we aren’t always listening. And even if we are, he still tends to look and act a little different than we imagined before the actual encounter.God still turns lives upside down and moves in impossible ways today, but it’s easy to miss if I’m not looking and listening. Lord, give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Read the other comments at Internet Monk.

July 5, 2019

Was Jesus Caucasian?

NIV.Gal.3.8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

I thought we’d end the work week with a topic which may seem trivial to many of you, but often arises unforseen in discussions. This is one of many interesting topics at GotQuestions.org. and I try to highlight them here every six months. This is a great site to know about if you’ve… got questions. Here’s a link to their archive page which categorizes their different topics covered. Click the header below to read this one at source.

Was Jesus White?

In much of Western art, Jesus is portrayed as having white skin and light hair. Is that what Jesus really looked like? If not, why is He so often portrayed that way?

First, it is important to remember that the Bible nowhere gives a physical description of Jesus. The Bible does not say anything about Jesus’ height, weight, skin color, hair color, or eye color. Such things are not important to understanding who Jesus is. The closest the Bible comes to describing what Jesus looked like is a non-detailed sketch of what Jesus was not like in Isaiah 53:2: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (ESV). Essentially, Isaiah 53:2 is saying that Jesus was ordinary-looking. The description of the glorified Jesus having white hair and bronze skin in Revelation 1:14–15 should not be understood literally unless you also believe Jesus has seven stars in his right hand, a sword in His mouth, and a face as bright as the sun (Revelation 1:16).

According to the Bible, Jesus was a Jew, a.k.a., a Hebrew or Israelite. Jesus lived in the Middle East and was of Semitic descent. As a result, He very likely would have had light- to medium-brown skin, brown eyes, and dark-brown to black hair. While Middle Easterners occasionally have light skin, comparable to that of Europeans, such skin tones are rare in that part of the world. Was Jesus white? The answer is that He was very likely not white.

So, if Jesus likely was not white, why is He so often portrayed that way? If you examine artists’ portrayals of Jesus from around the world, you find that they often portray Jesus in a way similar to what people look like in that particular culture. Europeans portray Jesus as a European. Africans paint Jesus as an African. Asians illustrate Jesus in a way that makes Him look Asian. People prefer to picture Jesus as looking somewhat like them, or at least like people they are familiar with.

Is it wrong to do this? Not necessarily. As long as we do not allow our preferred image of Jesus to become an idol, there is nothing in the Bible that speaks against imagining Jesus looking a certain way. Jesus is the Savior for “all nations” (Matthew 28:19; Galatians 3:8). No matter a person’s skin color, race, ethnicity, or nationality, he or she can experience forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God through the crucified and risen Christ. The love of Jesus transcends skin color. Having no physical description of Jesus, people naturally imagine the Son of Man to be like themselves.

So, we should not be dogmatic in our preferred image of Jesus. The fact that the Bible nowhere gives a physical description should serve as a caution against arrogance and presumption on this subject. What Jesus looked like does not really matter. His physical appearance has absolutely nothing to do with His being the Savior of the world (John 3:16).

Please also read our article on “Was Jesus black?
 

June 25, 2019

Light Has Come Into the World!

Today marks six months to Christmas, and we tend to focus on different scriptures at certain times of year, but not at other points on the calendar. Today is different. I ran this 3½ years ago, but in the busyness of the season, many may have missed it…

The Voice BibleSeveral years ago we were introduced to The Voice, a new Bible translation which we’ve used here a few times at C201. One of the interesting things about The Voice is the use of explanatory or transitional passages — they call them narrative links — which add commentary and context to what you’re reading. Further, in John 1, the phrase ‘the Voice’ is used where we are accustomed to hearing ‘The Word.’ Following our tradition here, I’ve left the Bible verses themselves in green, but the other sections which form part of the excerpt are in teal. (If too many Christmases have left you feeling you’ve heard the standard texts too many times, then just read the teal sections, but I assure you that you haven’t heard these texts themselves in exactly this manner.)

We start with John’s prologue in chapter one:

Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking.

The Voice was and is God.
2 This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator;
3 His speech shaped the entire cosmos.
Immersed in the practice of creating,
all things that exist were birthed in Him.
4 His breath filled all things
with a living, breathing light—
5 A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched.

6 A man named John, who was sent by God, was the first to clearly articulate the source of this Light. 7 This baptizer put in plain words the elusive mystery of the Divine Light so all might believe through him. Some wondered whether he might be the Light, 8 but John was not the Light. He merely pointed to the Light. 9 The true Light, who shines upon the heart of everyone, was coming into the cosmos.

Jesus as the Light does not call out from a distant place but draws near by coming into the world.

10 He entered our world, a world He made; yet the world did not recognize Him. 11 Even though He came to His own people, they refused to listen and receive Him. 12 But for all who did receive and trust in Him, He gave them the right to be reborn as children of God; 13 He bestowed this birthright not by human power or initiative but by God’s will.

14 The Voice took on flesh and became human and chose to live alongside us. We have seen Him, enveloped in undeniable splendor—the one true Son of the Father—evidenced in the perfect balance of grace and truth. 15 John the Baptist testified about Him and shouted, “This is the one I’ve been telling you is coming. He is much greater than I am because He existed long before me.” 16 Through this man we all receive gifts of grace beyond our imagination. 17 You see, Moses gave us rules to live by, but Jesus the Anointed offered us gifts of grace and truth. 18 God, unseen until now, is revealed in the Voice, God’s only Son, straight from the Father’s heart.

Before Jesus comes along, many wonder whether John the Baptist might be the Anointed One sent by God. But when Jesus appears in the wilderness, John points others to Him. John knows his place in God’s redemptive plan: he speaks God’s message, but Jesus is the Word of God. John rejects any messianic claim outright. Jesus, though, accepts it with a smile, but only from a few devoted followers—at least at first. Of course John is crucial to the unfolding drama, but he isn’t the long awaited One sent to free His people. He preaches repentance and tells everybody to get ready for One greater to come along. The One who comes will cleanse humanity in fire and power, he says. John even urges some of his followers to leave him and go follow Jesus.

We also read from Hebrews 1:

Long ago, at different times and in various ways, God’s voice came to our ancestors through the Hebrew prophets. 2 But in these last days, it has come to us through His Son, the One who has been given dominion over all things and through whom all worlds were made.

3 This is the One who—imprinted with God’s image, shimmering with His glory—sustains all that exists through the power of His word. He was seated at the right hand of God once He Himself had made the offering that purified us from all our sins. 4 This Son of God is elevated as far above the heavenly messengers as His holy name is elevated above theirs.

Most images of angels are influenced by art and pop culture—and are far removed from the Bible. The word “angel” literally means “messenger,” and it can refer to either a human being or a heavenly being. The Hebrews author is writing about heavenly messengers.

In the Bible, heavenly messengers have several functions—executors of God’s judgment, guardians of God’s people, heralds of God’s plans. They appear at critical moments to chosen people who play important roles in God’s salvation, such as arriving to announce the birth and resurrection of Jesus and to transmit God’s law to Moses. They are no more than messengers, created beings, who serve the will of God and His Son. Recognizing their place, they bow before the Son in loving adoration.

And also Luke 2:

Around the time of Elizabeth’s amazing pregnancy and John’s birth, the emperor in Rome, Caesar Augustus, required everyone in the Roman Empire to participate in a massive census— 2 the first census since Quirinius had become governor of Syria. 3 Each person had to go to his or her ancestral city to be counted.

This political background isn’t incidental: it is crucial to the story. Conquering nations in the ancient world work in various ways. Some brutally destroy and plunder the nations they conquer. Some conquer people as slaves or servants. Other empires allow the people to remain in their land and work as before, but with one major change: the conquered people have to pay taxes to their rulers. The purpose of a census like the one Luke describes is to be sure that everyone is appropriately taxed and knows who is in charge.

4-5 Mary’s fiancé Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee, had to participate in the census in the same way everyone else did. Because he was a descendant of King David, his ancestral city was Bethlehem, David’s birthplace. Mary, who was now late in her pregnancy that the messenger Gabriel had predicted, 6 accompanied Joseph. While in Bethlehem, she went into labor 7 and gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and laid Him in a feeding trough because the inn had no room for them.

Finally, here is a short excerpt from Matthew 2, after Jesus has already been born:

9-10 The wise men left Herod’s chambers and went on their way. The star they had first seen in the East reappeared—a miracle that, of course, overjoyed and enraptured the wise men. The star led them to the house where Jesus lay; 11 and as soon as the wise men arrived, they saw Him with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. They unpacked their satchels and gave Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

These are exceptionally good gifts, for gold is what is given a king, and Jesus is the King of kings; incense is what you expect to be given a priest, and Jesus is the High Priest of all high priests; myrrh ointment is used to heal, and Jesus is a healer. But myrrh is also used to embalm corpses—and Jesus was born to die.

12 And then, just as Joseph did a few months before, the wise men had a dream warning them not to go back to Herod…


Read an excerpt of what we call the Palm Sunday passage in Luke 20 from The Voice.

Below is a page sample of the end of Mark 1 and beginning of Mark 2 showing the dramatic script translation style, and two types of transitional notes.

The Voice Bible - Sample Page

 


Related: Romans 5 in The Voice

April 3, 2019

Jesus Had Two Births

Today we’re back with Tom Smith who writes at the blog, “Holding to Truth in Love.” Click the header below to read this at source.

How Jesus’ Second Birth Made Him God’s Firstborn Son

Do you know Jesus Christ had two births?  It was the second birth that made Him God’s firstborn Son.

Most believers are very familiar with Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. That birth was God becoming flesh, born of the virgin Mary to become a genuine man, Jesus our Savior (John 1:1, 14; Matt. 1:18-21).  Isaiah prophesied this birth saying,

“A child is born to us…called the Mighty God” (9:6).

But do you realize that Jesus had a second birth?

The Apostle Paul spoke of another birth of God’s Son in Acts 13:33. There he told us that Christ’s resurrection was also His birth:

“That God has fully fulfilled this promise to us their children in raising up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, “You are My Son; this day have I begotten You.”

This verse speaks of God’s raising up Jesus, His Son and declaring “this day have I begotten You.”  In the Bible, to “beget” is to give birth to. God’s raising up Jesus from the dead was His “begetting” His Son, His giving birth to Him as God’s firstborn Son.

But how did Christ’s birth in resurrection make Him God’s firstborn Son?

Christ’s two births–as God’s only begotten Son and as God’s firstborn Son

First, God gave us His only begotten Son, born of the virgin Mary, to be a man in order to save us

Most of us are familiar with the famous words of John 3:16,

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone who believes into Him would not perish, but would have eternal life.”

God gave His eternal, only begotten Son through incarnation to be a man (John 1:1, 14). By putting on our flesh and blood (Heb. 2:14), Jesus became the perfect, Lamb of God to take away our sin (John 1:29). How we praise Him for this!

The body of Jesus was not different from ours, except that His was without sin, having only the likeness of the flesh of sin (Rom. 8:3). As such a genuine, sinless man, Jesus was fully qualified to shed His blood for our sin. How wonderful are John’s words,

“The blood of Jesus, His Son cleanses us from every sin.” (1 John 1:7)

We simply need to pray,

“Lord Jesus, I believe into You, God’s only begotten Son!  Thank you that as the eternal God you were born to be a genuine, sinless man, with blood and flesh to redeem me, that my sins might be forgiven. I believe that You died on the cross for me and rose from the dead. Thank you that by believing into You I am saved eternally and will never perish.”

We worship God for giving us His only begotten Son to be our Savior! Here is a hymn that highlights this point.

But there is something more…

Second, God raised Jesus from the dead to be begotten as God’s firstborn Son in order to regenerate us

From eternity, as God’s only begotten Son, He had only divinity. At the appointed time, God sent His only Son to be our Savior, Jesus (Matt. 1:20-21) born of a woman. Yet He was still the unique divine Son for the humanity He put on was not designated the Son of God.

Only after He died and resurrected was Jesus’ humanity designated the Son of God. Romans 1:4 says,

Who was designated the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness out of the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Jesus’ resurrection was the birth of a divine-human Son, God’s firstborn Son

Christ’s resurrection designated that God-created humanity Jesus put on into the sonship of the only begotten Son of God.  This was a second birth to Jesus, the birth of God’s firstborn Son. He became the first of God’s sons with both divinity and  humanity. He is God’s prototype to produce many divine-human sons (Heb. 2:10).

In fact, calling Him the “Firstborn” indicates that there are more sons to come (Rom. 8:29). In Romans 8:29 Paul said,

“Because those whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brothers.”

But how could we become the brothers of God’s firstborn Son?

This is something wonderful!  We could never be divine sons. Only Jesus has this status. However, through His death and resurrection we can all become sons with humanity and divinity. We were fallen human beings who are not only forgiven, but can receive His eternal, divine life to be Christ’s brothers, God’s many sons.

By participating in Christ’s resurrection, we are made the many sons of God, sons with both humanity and divinity. (We share His eternal life and divine nature, but never His Godhead.) In this way He becomes the firstborn among many brothers. We become the many “twins” in this divine-human birth, resurrection. In 1 Peter 1:3  it says,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has regenerated us unto a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Not only was Christ resurrected from the dead, but through His resurrection we were regenerated!

How can we participate in Christ’s resurrection to be the many brothers of God’s firstborn Son?

Unfortunately, what I have presented might be just a high doctrine or teaching to us without something further. That is, we might appreciate the divine fact but miss out on the practical experience.

Here is the practical application. In Christ’s resurrection He was not only born to be God’s firstborn Son. He also became a life-giving Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 15:45b Paul said,

“The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.”

By receiving Christ, as the life-giving Spirit into our spirit we enjoy all the attainments of Christ’s resurrection.

We can see this in John 20. Early on the day of His resurrection Jesus appeared to Mary and told her to “go tell My brothers” (John 20:17) But that evening He appeared to His disciples gathered and said peace be to you, Then as verse 22 says,

“And when He had said this, He breathed into them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit.

The application of Christ’s resurrection is by enjoying the life-giving Spirit.

The simplest way to breathe, to receive the Spirit is to call on the name of Jesus: “Lord Jesus! O Lord Jesus!”

For us to experience the reality of being Christ’s many brothers, we need to continually breathe Him in as the life-giving Spirit in resurrection.  We also need to cooperate with the inner working of His Spirit within us so He can give life to all our inward parts (Rom. 8:10, 6, 11).

As we walk according to the spirit, being led by the Spirit, we’ll become mature sons of God (Rom. 8:4, 14) designated as the many brothers of our firstborn Brother (v. 29).

Please take a moment to pray:

“Father, thank you for sending Your only begotten Son in human flesh to die for my sins. I praise you even more that by raising Him from the dead You designated Him Your Firstborn Son and made Him the life-giving Spirit, to regenerate us to be Your many sons. Amen.”


By the same author: The Divine Trinity: Essential Bible Verses for a Deeper Study.

December 24, 2018

Despite the Festivity, Many are Suffering; Many are Broken

This is a shorter excerpt from a longer piece at the site Lake Ridge Student Ministries, which we are featuring here for the first time. Click the title below to read the full article.

Christ Our Comforter at Christmas

During Christmas time we all seem to become even more sensitive to the suffering of others around us. It is a lesson in contrasts. Christmas is a time set aside for joy and gladness, light and spectacle, celebration and community, laughter and gift-giving, peace and goodwill. Yet because of the nature of our world, we quickly see all the ways that the season does not live up to its promise. Instead of gladness we see sorrow, instead of joy we see despair, instead of light, darkness; instead of spectacle, poverty; instead of celebration, mourning; instead of community, division; instead of laughter, tears; instead of gift-giving, selfishness, instead of goodwill, bitterness; instead of peace, suffering.

I think this is one reason why the character of Tiny Tim shines forth so brightly in everyone’s minds when we think of Charles Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol. He stands in stark contrast to the festive nature of the season. With his wooden crutch and metal braces on his legs, he is a hard reminder that all is not right in the world, that despite the festivity of the season, sin, brokenness, and suffering remain. They do not disappear at the stroke of midnight after Thanksgiving, nor should we act as though they have. In fact, Tiny Tim himself meditates well on the necessity of acknowledging suffering during the Christmas season, telling his father as he carried him home from church, “he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

Tiny Tim, like all those who face various challenges in life are more than their disability, but his perspective is instructive. So we will take the time, on his recommendation, not only to acknowledge the presence of suffering during this festive season, but more importantly to see how Jesus uniquely ministers to us in our suffering.

We begin in Hebrews 4:14, 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. (Heb 4:14) Here the author of Hebrews reminds us that since Jesus has now ascended (passed through the heavens) to the very presence of God the Father, we can hold on tight to the confession of faith that he taught us to believe, specifically that by belief and repentance, we have forgiveness of sins and new eternal life in his name. But often Christians struggle in holding fast to the faith exactly because of Jesus’ current position. We know that it is good that Christ is in heaven now before the Father because he is able to act as our High Priest, always interceding on our behalf and pleading our cause (Heb 7:25). But somehow the remoteness is discouraging. We fear that this high and exalted Jesus might be disconnected from us, might see our world, so full of suffering with the indifference that comes from distance. Yet this fear is quickly pushed away.

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. 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. (Heb 4:15-16) Jesus is not a remote heavenly being, utterly detached from our human experience. This is Jesus we are talking about! This is the fully God, fully man, incarnate God. This is the guy who ate with tax collectors and sinners. This is the guy who hung out with fishermen, and preached the gospel among the poor. This is the guy who made the lame walk, the blind see, and raised widow’s sons back to life. This Jesus suffered in agony in the Garden as he submitted himself to the will of his Father even when it meant death on a cross and the weight of the sins of the world. Jesus is thoroughly aware of our sufferings and weaknesses.

Not only is he aware, but he experienced them. He was tempted in the wilderness by the devil to misuse his divine power when he was really hungry, and his belly ached after forty days without food. He was tempted to display his Messianic identity by throwing himself off the temple to be caught by angels. That would certainly silence those nagging Pharisees! Yet he knew that God was not one to be tested, and that the way to show himself to the world would take a different path. He was tempted with power, prestige, and even a chance to gain the whole world without having to go to the cross (Matt 4:8). If anyone knows anything about being truly tempted, it is Jesus…

…[The book of Hebrews] continues, In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb 5:7-10)

When you see “made perfect” think “brought to completion”. Jesus had to go through what he did in order to be for us what he is. Jesus went through his suffering so that he might save us from our suffering. He experienced the consequences of our sinfulness so that we might not experience them. Jesus became a human being for the purpose of suffering, so that he could walk alongside us in our own suffering, and one day deliver us from it forever. Because the good news is when he “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death”, “he was heard”. His grave was borrowed, he needed it only for a little while. Since Christ has experienced our suffering, he is able to offer us the grace and strength we need in the midst of it, and the hope we need for the day our suffering will be brought to an end.

Starting in verse three of 2 Corinthians 1, Paul gives us a way to understand what Christ does for us as our High Priest, and how we should respond.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Cor 1:3-4)

click here to read the entire article

 

 

December 22, 2018

Christmas: The Birth Story is a Death Story

Today’s thoughts are from a writer who is new to us. (Thanks for those of you who send recommendations.) Michael James Schwab has lived in Oaxaca, Mexico since March, 2005; “cooperating with God” at a home for needy children called Cristo Por Su Mundo (Christ for the World) operated by Foundation For His Ministry.  He blogs at ToEnjoyGod.com.

December 18, 2018

God’s Creation Plan Is Completed Through a Baby

by Russell Young

Christians enjoy the hope that has been availed through a baby, but God has instituted the incarnation of Christ for a purpose that may not be fully appreciated. It is through Christ that God is completing his creation plan. It is easy to accept that God created, but he is still creating. His original plan has not been brought to fruition but when it is finished, he will have the kingdom that he had envisioned from the beginning.

In the beginning was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all men.” (Jn 1:14) That “life” that was the light of all men came to bring the light that will accomplish God’s creation plan; it will penetrate the darkness that shrouds the human heart, mind, and soul.

Paul has written, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Rom 8:22) The King James Version states this passage as, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” All of creation, including humankind, has been suffering. That pain continues because the light has yet to over-take the darkness. The “light of men” or as Jesus has identified himself “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12, 9:5), must reveal truth so that all of creation can be freed from the darkness that brings pain.

Paul has also addressed the eager anticipation that exists in creation for the revelation of God’s true or adopted sons. (Rom 8:19) Creation is eagerly waiting to be completed as the light of Christ penetrates the darkness in humankind. When this is accomplished, it will be completed as God had intended.

God loves his workmanship, all of it (Jn 3:16), to the extent that he gave his Son for its recovery. The restorative work of Christ must not be seen as limited to that of people but includes all things. God created humankind in their (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) own image (Gen 1: 27) and had declared his final product to be very good. People had been created with special attributes. They can absorb and process information and can store it to make reasoned, informed decisions. Although originally created to know “good” only, with the Fall they also came to know evil. God had ordained people to have free-will and it is this aspect of humankind that allows a freely chosen, loving and committed relationship with him. The LORD presented the nature of the relationship with him that was acceptable. “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees…” (Deut 10:12) Matthew, Mark, and Luke have recorded the same expectation. Love is chosen, it is an act of the will; consequently, freedom to choose is highly regarded and honored by the Lord.

Some would take the value of free-will away from humankind, but God requires a heart transformed by the Spirit of light so that people can choose the humble and holy and loving relationship that will bring glory to God. Paul has written, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”, (Rom 12:2) and that, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) The needed transformation will result in a new creation; it does not result at confession of faith. “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Gal 6:15)

Becoming a new creation conformed to the likeness of Christ requires his life to be lived in the believer through the Spirit. As the believer is led and obeys, death is brought to the “misdeeds of the body.” (Rom 8:13) making him or her “an offering acceptable to God.” (Rom 15:16) The Lord needs to be honored as the “light of men” so that he can penetrate the darkness of the human heart.

Those who comply with the leading of the Spirit, “Christ’s law” (1 Cor 9:21) or the “law of the Spirit of life” (Rom 8:2) will become God’s adopted children. (Heb 5:9; Rom 8:23) Those who have freely chosen to honor the Lord will dwell in his eternal kingdom which will be on earth. Once God’s sons have been revealed, “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21) Creation will be liberated when Christ has defeated the devil and his schemes. “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox…” (Isa 65:25)

Zion’s deserts, on the liberated new earth, will be made like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. (Isa 51:3) Through Christ all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made and through him hearts will be transformed to meet God’s purposes while maintaining in humankind the freedom to love him by choice, thus bringing to fullness God’s creation plan. Christ will achieve their (Father, Son, Holy spirit) purpose with the selection (election) of a people conformed to the likeness of the Son of God (Rom 8:29) freeing all creation from decay and corruption. The devil’s work will be fully defeated (1 Jn 3:8) and all things made new. “Then the end will come, when [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24)

God chose to create all things through Christ, including the holy priesthood through the refinement of the human heart and the preservation of free-will. It is through the baby, Jesus Christ, that according to God’s plan, creation will be fully achieved, a state freed from decay where he can dwell with his people. In it “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” (1 Jn 4:14)

Merry Christmas!


Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

December 16, 2018

Mary’s Burst of Worship

by Ruth Wilkinson

Magnificat. It’s a wonderful Christmas word.

I must confess, though, that when I hear it what springs to mind is an image of a feline superhero. “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…. MagnifiCat!”

But that’s not what it means. Magnificat is simply the first word of the Latin translation of the passage we’re looking at today. And it just means, “I magnify.”

It’s a big, flashing arrow pointing at something. It means, “Pay attention! This is important!

It’s a magnifying glass held up to a fingerprint, allowing us to see all of the detail we’d otherwise miss. It’s a big, fat, stinky magic marker writing out a message, so it can be seen from a distance. It’s a melody played on a great, honking tuba, so you can’t possibly miss it.

I magnify!

When Mary, Jesus’ mother, realized what was happening — what she was in the middle of; what she had become instrumental to — Luke records that she burst out in what is essentially a mash-up of Old Testament verses and phrases that she had memorized; verses from the books of Psalms, Job, 1 Samuel, Genesis, Deuteronomy, Isaiah… Poetry and prophecy. Truths that she’d been steeped in all her life and which suddenly, joyously, tumbled out in a hymn of praise to the God who had set her on an unprecedented path.

And in this moment of irrepressible, inexpressible joy, she not only magnified God, she magnified something in particular about him. Something that was profoundly, thrillingly relevant.

As we read together these, her words, pay attention to what it is about her God that she magnifies.

Look for the details. Read the message. Listen for the melody.

And rejoice!

“My soul shouts the greatness of the Lord.
My spirit sings the joy I’ve found in God my Saviour.

Because He has looked on ordinary me
and now I, His servant, will be known in every generation
as happy and blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and His very name is unlike any other name.

For those who stand in awe of Him,
His mercy flows from
generation to generation,
wave after wave.

He has shown the strength of His arm against those with prideful hearts,
as He scatters them,
as He topples the powerful from their thrones.

He lifts up the lowly and the humble.
He has filled and satisfied the hungry with good things.
The rich He has sent away empty and empty handed.

He has helped His chosen, Israel,
keeping His kindness in mind.

And faithfully remembering His promises,
from day one, through Abraham,
and to eternity.”

Luke 1:46‭-‬55

 

December 13, 2018

Is the Story of Christmas Believable?

by Clarke Dixon

Can you blame Joseph for doubting Mary? If a woman said she was pregnant and no man was involved in any way, would you believe her? Sometimes a person’s claim may be surprising, but believable. At other times they go beyond surprising to being unbelievable.

We are not explicitly told what Mary said to Joseph, but it is unimaginable that she would not have shared about the angel visitation we read about in the Gospel of Luke. We do learn how Joseph responds to the surprising pregnancy:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. Matthew 1:18-19

Joseph was a righteous man, and the right thing to do was get out of the betrothal. Joseph was also a good man, and the good thing to do was to get out of the betrothal quietly so that Mary would not be exposed to scorn and disgrace. Joseph is also a reasonable man, and the reasonable thing to think is that Mary is covering up a lack of faithfulness with an angel story. That is the most reasonable explanation. At least until an angel shows up:

But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21

So Joseph believes the surprising news, with some help. But what about us? Why would we trust this one account of a virgin conception, and no other? Joseph, so we are told, had the evidence of an angel to help him believe. Is there anything that will help us know that the Christmas story does not cross the line from surprising to unbelievable?

History helps us believe the Christmas miracle is true and reasonable.

Can anything make the surprising story of Christmas believable in our scientific age?
Doesn’t science tell us that belief in such a conception is unreasonable? First, we should recognize that science is limited in its subject matter to what can be seen and observed in some way. Therefore, there are two kinds of facts not available to science; spiritual and historical. You will never be able to “see” God out in space no matter how powerful your telescope. God simply is not in our realm that we should see Him. Also, you cannot “observe” events that have already happened. When we want to know about history we turn to historians, not scientists.

Knowing that science does not specialize in spiritual or historical facts, let us now consider the Bible. The Bible primarily speaks not about science, but about spiritual and historical truths.

The Bible records for us historical events that speak about the relationship of God with people. Now let us consider that history very briefly. God created a world of great order and beauty. God created humanity for relationship. Humanity fell out of relationship with God having rebelled against Him. However, God did not give up on a relationship with humanity, rather He made loving promises which we find throughout the Old Testament. The only way God could keep those promises was through dealing with the sin that separates us from Him. The only way to deal with sin while maintaining both perfect justice and grace, is through becoming the suitable sacrifice Himself.  The only way to become that sacrifice is for God to be “killable,” to be “crucifiable.” The only way to do that is to become incarnate:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8 (emphasis added)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:4-6 (emphasis added)

And 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 (emphasis added)

This is what we celebrate at Christmas. God Himself was “born in human likeness,” “born of a woman,” through God the Son, Jesus. When you follow the history of humanity’s relationship with God, then of course there would be a virgin conception. How else could  the events of Easter be effective in reconciling us to God except by the event of Christmas? And of course, such historical events, both Christmas and Easter, would only happen once. So yes, virgins do not conceive, and dead men are not raised from the dead (yet). But these things did happen this one time. The history between God and humanity, as recorded by many different people, over many centuries, leads us to consider that the virgin conception is not just believable, it is not even that surprising!

Jesus helps us believe the Christmas miracle is true and reasonable.

Look at the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is all unique. Look at the impact of Jesus on the world and individual lives. He is unique. He is widely held to be the greatest figure in history. If your Mum told you one day that that you were conceived without a man, is there anything about you or your life that would make you believe her? Are you unique in some way, or in many ways, that such an announcement would suddenly make sense of everything else about you? Of course not! But ask the same question about Jesus.

Consider what the apostles were saying about Jesus following the events of Easter. To give a summary, “Jesus rose from the dead, we knew him, we heard his teaching, we saw his miracles, we experienced him as being someone, or rather Someone unique. He is both the promised Messiah and Lord.” They were not going around talking primarily about the virgin both, and oh, by the way, he also died and rose again. Rather, he, as the impressive and unique figure that we experienced him to be, died and rose again, oh, and as you might expect, even his birth was unique. Too many people dismiss the story of Christmas without really considering the whole story of Jesus.

What makes a unique conception believable is the fact that Jesus himself is unique in every way. What makes Jesus believable, is the fact that he fits with what God had promised to do. The good news of Jesus, though surprising in some ways, fits the fact that “God is love.” Therefore the Christmas story is not only believable, it is not that surprising after all.

For Joseph the news of the baby was surprising, even unbelievable. But Joseph, with some help, trusted and good things happened. When we trust God good things happen. We might not have an angel appearance in a dream, but we do have history and Jesus as evidence that the story of Christmas is reasonable and true.



Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. All scripture references are NRSV.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

December 6, 2018

Mary, Did You Know

Editor’s Note: During the next few days articles here will weave in and out of the Christmas theme.

by Clarke Dixon

How would you have responded to such surprising news? Or even the shock of an angel speaking to you in the first place? A baby will be on the way, a little baby, but a huge surprise! Even more surprising, a man will not be involved in conception! Keep in mind Mary was possibly somewhere between thirteen to fifteen years of age according to Bible scholars. How would you have responded to this news at that age? How would you have responded if you were her Mum or Dad? Perhaps there is a reason she “set out and went with haste” (Luke 1:39) to see Elizabeth. Perhaps she would understand. Who else could Mary turn to with such a big and crazy sounding surprise?

Did Mary even grasp grasp what was really going on? Did she really understand what the angel was saying to her?

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. Luke 1:30-31

No mention of a virgin conception just yet, however the name “Jesus” would have set off bells for Mary. The name “Jesus” is the equivalent of the Hebrew name “Joshua” which means “God rescues.” Perhaps this child will be involved in a rescue somehow. Perhaps this child will be like Moses. Would Mary have grasped how much greater a rescue would happen through Jesus than the rescue of Israel through Moses? The angel continues:

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, . . . Luke 1:32

Could Mary have known just how great Jesus would become? Would she have been able to guess the profound impact of Jesus? “He will be great” would turn out to be the understatement of the ages.

. . . and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:32-33

This must have set Mary’s heart racing, although I’m sure it was beating fast enough by this point. God had been promising that someone would sit on the throne of David, the Messiah, the Christ to use the Greek term. Could it be that Mary has been chosen to give birth to the promised Messiah?! What a surprise!

But there is an even bigger surprise to come:

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34

“Joseph is on his way to marry you sooner than you thought” would be surprising but not unreasonable. But no, there is a much bigger surprise in store for Mary:

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. Luke 1:34-35

This will be a virgin conception, in fact something better, a God-conception! This has never happened before! This child must be something, or rather, someOne special indeed. This is the idea behind “holy” which means “set apart, different.” Was Mary aware of just how holy her child would be?

We should note here that the people of God were expecting God to return, and for God to send them a messiah. They were expecting it to be much like God coming to rescue Israel from Egypt, using Moses. They were not expecting God Himself to be the Messiah. This, however, is what the God-conception was pointing to. This was a huge surprise for everyone! While Isaiah 7:14 seems to prophesy a virgin birth, Biblical scholars point out that the original Hebrew often simply means “young woman” and that no one was really expecting a virgin birth to occur based on this prophecy, certainly not Mary.

Did Mary really “get it”? Would Mary have been aware that “Son of the Most High” meant much more than that her baby would have a special relationship with God? That the “Son of God” she was to carry was actually “God the Son”? Keeping in mind the age and education of Mary, would she have been thinking “this must be what future theologians will call the incarnation”? Not likely.

You have likely heard the song “Mary, Did You Know?” written by Mark Lowry. Here is the final stanza:

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know
That your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding
Is the Great I Am

Oh Mary did you know?

Did Mary really know Who her son really was? Did she get it? Do we? Do we get the big surprise God has for us?

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

The Bible uses the same language here for the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit, as it does for Mary conceiving Jesus. Mary had the awesome privilege of carrying God the Son. We have the awesome privilege of carrying God the Holy Spirit:

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1 Cor 3:16

Mary had the surprising privilege of being the mother of the Son of God. We have a surprise privilege too, of becoming the children of God:

And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6

Do we really know? Do we really know the amazing wonderful and surprising privilege that is ours in Christ?

How did Mary respond to God’s little BIG surprise?

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38

Mary submitted and committed to the surprise from God. We can too.

This last verse has often been used to preach on obedience, which leads us to think of rules of course. But the focus here is on the promise of God. Mary’s obedience was to say “yes” to the promises of God. Are we obedient like Mary? Have you and are you saying “yes” to God’s promises? When we say “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word” what we are submitting to is:

  • the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
  • the promise of the Holy Spirit coming upon us birthing something new in is!
  • the promise of God’s presence.
  • the promise that we will be God’s witnesses.
  • the promise of eternal life.

How would you have responded to the surprising news if you were in Mary’s shoes? How do you respond to the surprising news in your own?



Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. All scripture references are NRSV.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. Portions of today’s devotional were pre-recorded! Listen to the original 23 minute sermon.

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.

 

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