Christianity 201

August 11, 2017

Who Was Jesus?

As the Pharisees were regrouping, Jesus caught them off balance with his own test question: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said, “David’s son.” – Matthew 22:42 MSG

In the part of Toronto where I spent the most time in my teen and twenties, there was conservative, King James Only church with a back-lit sign on their building which read,

What think ye of Christ?

The question is the first part of Matthew 22:42 — which the NIV translates as “What do you think about the Messiah? — which I’ve written about before here:

This is probably the question that should be on everyone’s lips at Christmas, at Easter, and other times as well; though you might choose a more modern rendering. The story is not content to have its hearers close the book on the final page. Rather, the book gets stuck open, simmering, percolating, demanding something of each individual with whom it comes in contact. It’s like a computer program you can’t shut down until you respond to a question in a dialog box. It stares at you, and goes, “Well? …Well? …What about it?”

Whenever you hear phrases like “great moral teacher” in reference to Jesus, you need to be aware that during his time on earth Jesus was a great teacher, the answer is selling Jesus short in so many ways.

So what answer are we looking for? The second part of I Corinthians 12:3 reads

…no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

One online writer calls this The Litmus Test of True Believers. I would agree, but want to take this one step further. While certainly Jesus is Lord to me, I want to suggest the question is best answered with a general reply that goes further than my subjective view. After all, I’m human. I could pledge support to anything or anyone but that wouldn’t mean a whole lot to anyone other than other people who have taken up the same cause.

In Philippians 2 — the section sometimes called The Philippian Hymn — Paul writes (or quotes; depending on how you understand this passage):

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God,

–I stop there in the middle of verse 6 because not all who show up in a church on Sunday would say that ‘Jesus = God‘ even though Jesus said it himself as quoted in John 14:

8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus replied, “Philip, I have been with you all this time, and still you do not know Me? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?

Another time he reveals himself as “the Christ” the anointed one.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.

Of course, if time permits, and you can remember a longer answer, you might answer this way as Paul does in Colossians 1:

16 For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and firstborn from among the dead, so that in all things He may have preeminence.…

He is then,

  1. God
  2. My Lord
  3. His disciples’ glimpse of the Father
  4. The world’s awaited Messiah
  5. The universe’s creator and keeper

and so much more. So…

What think ye of Christ?

 


Because you never know who’s reading. You might ask why a blog called Christianity 201 would run a rather elementary article today and the answer is because you never know who’s reading. For the rest of us, success in the Christian life depends on sticking to the fundamentals. The ‘What think ye of Christ?’ question is one we need to ask ourselves from time to time.

Who is Jesus to me?

January 8, 2015

The Longed-For Leader

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We had already formatted yesterday’s archived devotional by Clarke Dixon when this newer one appeared online, so with his permission, we’re giving you Clarke two days in a row!  Have your Bibles open to Psalm 72 or click the link in the first paragraph.

What a Really Great Ruler Really Looks Like

A longed-for leader devotional Bible studyWhether we think of heads of state, or heads of families it seems so many rulers are prone to questionable, even unconscionable, decisions. What does a really great ruler really look like? Psalm 72 points the way (I encourage you to read it by clicking the link). There are some things to note:

First, this psalm is a prayer. And so we are reminded to pray for people in authority. We may hear of decisions made by dictators and elected officials, mums and dads, and shake our heads in disgust. But do we bow our heads in prayer for them? What a great change there can be for many people when there is godly change in the life and thinking of a person in authority. And if you and I stand in places of authority, we stand in the need of prayer.

Second, what is the key word of this prayer? Let us consider the first two verses:

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. 2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. Psalm 72:1-2 NRSV

While justice and righteousness are important words, there is one word in the first two verses that shows up more often: ‘Your.’ Here is a plea for a ruler not to rule with their own sense of justice and righteousness, but to rule with God’s. Also, we are directed to the think of the people we have authority over not as ‘our’ people, but God’s. Rulers may think they are tops, but they are really stewards accountable to a higher authority. I might be pleased with how my young boys are becoming young men. But is God? They are His, my leadership in their lives needs to please God, not me. And it needs to be according to God’s standards, not mine. Notice too, that the call is made for the authorities to take special notice of the poor. Yes they are God’s too, and how they are treated will not go unnoticed.

Third. What rulers throughout history have shown themselves to be answers to this prayer? Sadly, far too many have fallen far too short of a godly rule. This is true within nations and within families. But there is one who fits this prayer precisely, Jesus the Messiah.

In the Christmas story, the magi serve a theological purpose, they point to Jesus as being the ruler this Psalm longs for. Though not precise in the details, the nations have arrived bearing gifts:

10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. 11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service. Psalm 72:10-11 NRSV
11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 NRSV

The book of Revelation paints a picture of the ruler this Psalm longs for. The king’s reign is eternal. The king reigns with justice and righteousness. The reign of the king is good news for the oppressed. The kingdom is secure. People blossom. These are things common to the king longed for in Psalm 72 and the King of kings and Lord of lords revealed in Revelation.

Jesus points to himself as the one who fulfills the longing of this prayer. He describes himself as the good shepherd. He is the good shepherd who loves the sheep, not like the bad shepherd, Herod, who killed off many young boys in an effort to rid the world of Jesus. Jesus is the good shepherd who loves the sheep, not like the bad shepherds, the religious leaders, who would seek his life. Jesus is the good shepherd who loves the sheep, not like the bad shepherd, Pilate, who would authorize his death. Jesus is the good shepherd who loves people, who helps people. The psalm longs for a king who

…delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. 13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. 14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. Psalm 72:12-14 NRSV

So precious is our blood in His sight that He shed His own blood to help us in our greatest need. All our earthly needs come and go, but our need for salvation from the sin that separates us from God is something we carry into eternity, unless of course there is an authority that can help. In Jesus there is.

If you are a person in authority, are you an answer to this prayer? Whether you are a person in authority or not, do you know the One who is the greatest answer to this prayer?

January 9, 2014

The Two Audiences

In a blog titled Christianity 201, one assumes the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is somewhat familiar.  If not, take the time to read it here.

I’ve been reading an advance copy of the book AHA by Kyle Idleman, releasing in the spring, and he noted something that my wife said we’ve heard before, but it struck me rather fresh this time. After completely digesting the story, Kyle returned to the setup that Luke provides in the first two verses:

1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered…

There you see two distinct audiences for Jesus’ story: Tax collectors and sinners — interesting distinction, don’t you think? — representing the younger brother in the story who returns to his father at the end to say, “I have sinned…” and Pharisees and teachers of the law represented the older brother in the story. Kyle even hints that finding a way to reach the hearts of that second group may have more to do with how the particular story was crafted.

AHA Kyle IdlemanIn many respects, this represents the two types of people who sit near us at any given weekend church service. If your church is doing it right; you’ve got people from the community who you and your fellow church members are inviting who are on the road to crossing the line of faith, or have recently come into fellowship and are seeing everything for the first time. Then, you’ve got what is probably a majority of people who have been in church since they were minus-nine months; the Sunday School teachers, choir/worship team members, committee members, ushers, elders, deacons, etc.

Is every Sunday’s sermon a Prodigal Son type of story that bridges the two audiences? I can picture myself coming to your church and preaching this story and impressing everyone with how it reaches both types of people, but then what do the following week for an encore?

I was first made to think about this when I had the privilege of hearing Keith Green in concert several times before his death in 1982.  (Did I just give away my age?) Keith was one of the most spiritually focused Christian musicians I have ever encountered and he easily bridged the gap between two kinds of audience members by stressing the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The call that Jesus makes in scripture is a call to people who are (a) hungry and thirsty and (b) people who need to have that hunger and thirst — that desire for God — perpetually stimulated. There is a saying that, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, but you can put salt in its oats to make it thirsty.‘ (Okay, you’re probably less familiar with that last bit.)

Psalm 42:1 (NiRV) states:

A deer longs for streams of water.
    God, I long for you in the same way.

God wants to cultivate within us a hunger and thirst for Him. The person who has been a Christ-follower for 40-years needs this just as much as the person who has been a Christian for 40 minutes.

I believe it was Keith Green himself who pointed out that the word saviour occurs 37 times in the King James translation, while Lord appears 7836 times. That’s a ratio of nearly 212 to one. Our evangelistic and pre-evangelistic efforts are great as far as they go, but Christ’s intent is nothing less than that we make Him Lord over all our lives.

Bringing our lives in subjection to him is something the Prodigal Son story teaches both to the younger brothers and older brothers in the crowd; the message cuts across both demographics.


As I approached the end of the book, there were two brief things that also struck me that I wanted to share here.

“Let’s say the Prodigal Son lived in our culture today. He would have run out of money, but then, in order to prolong the pleasure, he would have continued his wild living by racking up credit-card debt. How much more would that have complicated his story? How much worse would it have been for the son to arrive home with looming debt? Picture him saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I have no money, and by the way, some creditors are coming, and I owe twice what my inheritance was worth.’ The longer we try and prolong the pleasure, the greater the pain will be.”  (pp 168-9)

The other insight was in reference to the older brother:

“This is the problem with confidence in our own goodness. We begin to believe we’re going to earn something from the Father. But the Father’s house is not a house of merit; it is a house of mercy.” (p. 200)

Those of us who have been in the church for awhile need to curb the tendencies to fall into older brother syndrome, because the demand for Lordship that Christ places on us is actually greater than that placed on those who are meeting Him for the first time.

November 17, 2013

Jesus According to James

The Voice BibleDavid Capes is a leading writing and scholar for The Voice Bible project. He wrote this article at HearTheVoice.com, the official blog for The Voice, where it appeared under the title, Who Does James Say Jesus Is?

I have the privilege of teaching with Dr. Peter Davids at HBU.  Peter is a world class scholar who has devoted much of his writing and research to the Catholic or General Letters.  Peter assisted with us in the theological review of many NT books for The Voice project.  I asked him recently about the portrait of Jesus in the letter of James.

According to James, Jesus is the exalted and glorious Lord who now reigns and will come again to judge the living and the dead.  James is not a Gospel, so there is no narrative of Jesus’ life and death.  Yet James draws heavily on the example and teaching of Jesus.

While modern Christians may be focused on the afterlife, James is fixed on this life and what faith in Jesus means now.  His readers claim to be following Jesus; well, are they really?  James is a teaching letter and his ethics appear close to what we find in Matthew, particularly the Sermon on the Mount.

There are no direct quotations of Jesus’ teaching in James, the closest we come to that is James 5:12 (similar to Matthew 5:35-37):

12 It is even more important, my brothers and sisters, that you remember not to make a vow by the heavens or the earth or by anything. When you say “yes,” it should always mean “yes,” and “no” should always mean “no.” If you can keep your word, you will avoid judgment.

John Kloppenberg has made the case that James makes use of aemulatio, a rhetorical form where James takes a teaching of Jesus and conforms it to his setting. In other words, James reworks Jesus’ teaching to fit the current situation of the diaspora churches he is addressing.

So James is not all that different than what we find in the rest of the NT.  Jesus is coming again as judge.  Are you obeying him now?  James’ emphasis on Jesus’ future coming implies that their present sufferings are not without meaning; so, be patient and don’t take matters into your own hands.  Trust the judge to settle all scores.

But if James were the only account we had of Jesus’ life, we wouldn’t know much about his past.  The Church would celebrate his coming and his ascension to the right hand of the Father.  With no account of his birth, however, we would probably not celebrate Christmas.  There would be more emphasis on calling people to obedience to Jesus now.  The Church’s mission could be summed up this way: calling people to Jesus as Lord and living in the hope of his coming.

With James as our guide, the church probably would not have developed the kind of hierarchy we see in some churches.  Yet James does speak as a patriarch of sorts, a central authority writing from the mother church in Jerusalem and instructing scattered Christian communities in the tense times they found themselves in.

According to tradition, James was a member of Jesus’ family, but the letter never makes the explicit claim.  Still it must have meant something in the early Jewish-Christian communities to have been part of the family of Jesus. Later generations may de-emphasize that fact and privilege Paul and Peter over members of Jesus family.   Still it must have been “a big deal” to have had been related to Jesus.

Dr. Davids said that Paul is often misread over against James.  But if pressed, James would have agreed with Romans 10:9-10:

So if you believe deep in your heart that God raised Jesus from the pit of death and if you voice your allegiance by confessing the truth that “Jesus is Lord,” then you will be saved! 10 Belief begins in the heart and leads to a life that’s right with God; confession departs from our lips and brings eternal salvation.

For James, however, saving faith is faith that goes to work for the poor, faith that obeys the risen Lord, and faith that seeks wisdom from above.  So for James—as a follower of Jesus—salvation results not only a secure future with God but ethical behavior before God.

April 16, 2013

Slave: A Bible Word Study

Lots of text today, but you need to click through to read it. This is from the blog of Clay Gentry where it appeared under the title Slave: The Christian’s Identity in Christ. Note the difference between the way the word was understood then as compared with today.


I recently presented a lesson to a small group on the slave metaphor used in the New Testament that describes Christians as Slaves of Christ. Below is my PowerPoint outline from that presentation. I did not intend for this to be an exhaustive study. Rather I hope that it will wet ones apatite to study this rich metaphor even further.

Several Metaphors Used to Describe Christians:

  • Sheep,
  • Soldiers,
  • Athletes,
  • Brothers, and
  • Workers.
  • However, Slaves is the most common…

Two Primary Greek Words Establish Christians as Slaves:

(1) kyrios: “master and Lord.” To confess Jesus as your “Lord” is to say He is your “master” and “owner” and you are His slave.

(2) doulos: “slave.” The Primary word used in the NT to describe Christians as slaves of Christ (124x). For the most part it is missing from the pages KJV and to a certain extent the NKJV, ESV, NASB and HCSB. Often times doulos, or its congugents is simply translated servant, or serve. In this lesson well jump around between various translations to show slave language.

American Verses Roman Slavery:

(1) Roman Slavery:

  • Non Racially Based,
  • Encompassed All Professions,
  • Everywhere in the Empire,
  • Hope of Freedom

 (2) American Slavery:

  • Race Based,
  • Primarily Agrarian in Nature,
  • Geographically Limited to the South,
  • Little/No Hope of Freedom

(3) Similarities Between the Two

  • Exclusive Ownership by the Master,
  • Complete Submission to the Master,
  • Total Dependence on the Master.
  • These are true of physical and/or spiritual slaves

Slaves of God in the Old Testament

Slaves in Jesus’ Teaching:

(1) An Element in 13 Parables (Here’s a sampling):

 (2) An Aspect of His Commands:

Slaves of Christ in the Epistles:

(1) Self Descriptions:

(2) Teachings Concerning Slavery:

(3) Various Verses:

Slaves of Christ in Revelation:

Suggested Reading:

June 26, 2012

Holiness and Righteous Practiced to Impress Other People

George Whitten is the editor of Worthy Devotions, another Alltop – Christianity indexed website.  One of the key features at Worthy is the topical index which allows you delve into any one of a wide variety of subjects. For those of you who want to dig a little deeper, Worthy should be bookmarked — use the link at the bottom — in your computer.  The title of this post, Kiss the Son, lest He be angry! intrigued me because it’s based on a verse I remember hearing in children’s church many years ago. Now I understand it more clearly.

Psalms 2:10-12 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

Revelation 5:12-13 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.

In the beginning of Psalm 2, David points out that the kings of the earth are against the Lord and his “anointed” [Mashiach “Messiah” in Hebrew]. David recognized the true authority of God and advises the kings and rulers of the world, as well as their subjects, to “kiss the Son, lest he be angry.” The act of “kissing the Son” would be one of homage to a king, and would indicate submission to the kingship of the Son. Those who are wise will do so before the Son, the Messiah, comes to judge the world!

Men have often tried to appear holy and righteous before other men – but God is seeking those who will worship Him in “spirit and in truth”. This reminds me of a story of Francois Fenelon.

In the 17th century, Fenelon was the court preacher for King Louis XIV of France. On one particular Sunday when the King and his attendants arrived at the chapel for the regular service, there was no one else present except the preacher, himself.

“What does this mean?”, King Louis demanded.

“I had published that you would not come to church today, in order that your Majesty might see who serves God in truth and who flatters the King,” Fenelon replied.

Let’s be sure that our worship of God is true and faithful and that we aren’t trying to please men in doing so. Serve the Lord with a Godly reverence for who He is, and what His Son has done for you, since He is worthy of your worship, and… He is looking at your heart.

by George Whitten, Editor of Worthy Devotions

August 18, 2011

Indescribable King

This is post number 500 here at Christianity 201, and it seems fitting that it includes a video clip which is so familiar to so many people through its widespread use as a church video a few years ago, but may be new to many others as well.  It’s S. M. Lockridge’s sermon excerpt, That’s My King.  (If you’ve seen it before, maybe it’s time to view it again!)

Usually, if there’s a video clip here, it’s a worship song.  I am convinced that if you are involved in worship planning, there are three worship themes with which you can’t ever go wrong:

  • communion, Lord’s supper, Christ’s death, Christ’s sacrifice, atonement
  • personal surrender to God
  • God’s attributes, particularly his greatness and majesty

The last category is where we land today.  All the most popular worship songs in the last decade — Majesty, Shout to the Lord, How Great is our God — are songs which speak to the indescribable greatness of God.

S. M. Lockridge (born Shadrach Meshach Lockridge!) pastored in Texas and California and was active in the civil rights movement.   You can read more about him at Wikipedia.

His words are most fitting for a blog which has as its aim being Christ-centered, and so well-suit being the 500th post here.

Here is the full text (click the ‘more’ button if it’s all not visible):

My King was born King.
The Bible says He’s a Seven Way King.
He’s the King of the Jews – that’s a racial King.
He’s the King of Israel – that’s a National King.
He’s the King of righteousness.
He’s the King of the ages.
He’s the King of Heaven.
He’s the King of glory.
He’s the King of kings and He is the Lord of lords.
Now that’s my King. (more…)