Christianity 201

April 11, 2022

Telling Others: A Prime Week for Ministry

One year ago, we introduced you to Bernie Lyle who writes at Musings from an Idle Mind. Although it was posted yesterday for Palm Sunday, it encourages us to invest ourselves in looking for ministry opportunities that could present themselves naturally to us in this week. Clicking the title below gets you to Bernie’s site to read this directly.

Appointment with Destiny

“Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: “ ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭19:37-38‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Appointment with destiny

In the human life there are many appointments, some of them are of our choosing, others are ordained for us as unavoidable, such as our eventual death. In the case of our Lord Jesus, His appointment with destiny was both of His choosing, and ordained, as it was determined from the foundation of the earth, that He would come and die for our sins.

On a morning long ago, a morning that we have come to know as Palm Sunday, our Lord entered the Jerusalem to great rejoicing. He came in as a King, with much fanfare, as the public cheered His coming.

“And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!””
Matthew 21:8-9 NKJV

As Jesus approached, I can imagine His conflicted emotions, as the all knowing God, He knew that the very same voices that heralded His arrival, would later be crying “crucify Him!” But still Jesus continued on, on mission to reconcile God with man, and defeat the evil one.

Through the entirety of the coming week, each courageous step toward Calvary was planted in the surety of what was to come after the cross. Even so, I am sure He battled the flesh that He had humbled Himself to dwell in, as He felt everything that we feel.

I try and think of some of the moments of destiny in my life. I think of all the humiliations of going through cancer many years, an experience I walked through accompanied by the Lord alone. Through the journey, the Lord was with me, guiding me, reminding me of His presence in the Scriptures I read, and the worship music in which I listened.

The Father was surely with Jesus as He went through His week.

As we come into this Palm Sunday, there is no certainty that there will be another, as our world appears of its own perilous path to its appointment with destiny. Regardless, we have today, and we too have the surety that there is something beyond the uncertainty before us, as we look to the soon coming of the Lord Jesus.

May this day be a beginning point, a marker that we stand on as the starting point of a week of ministry. Holy Week is a great opportunity to go out and tell of Jesus, for many have a consciousness of God and the work of Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, pray for opportunities to share the Good News, to tell of Jesus who came to earth, clothed in human flesh, lived as one of us, lived a sinless life, died the sinners death that we deserved. Tell your own story, of how He forgave you, and changed you, of how He changed your destiny from Hell to Heaven.

Tell also of the new life, brought by His resurrection. The world is full of people who need to hear all of this, for there are many whose lives are filled with struggles and consequences.

Many of the people that we will encounter will have their own appointments with destiny, and more than likely, some of them might even have that appointment with eternity, and yours might be the voice that guides them to heaven.

Let us be sure to cry out and rejoice of all that the Lord has done for us, for we would be ashamed if the stones drowned out our praise.

“And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.””
Luke 19:39-40 NKJV


#prayforukraine

April 9, 2022

The Road to Palm Sunday

Matt.21.7 They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.

8 Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Praise God in highest heaven!”

Today we consider thoughts from different writers. Links to the full text of each devotional are included.

Charles Stanley writes,

…Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem… appeared to be such a wonderful day for [the disciples]—and it was, but for different reasons than they realized. They thought the Messiah had come to reestablish Israel’s power in the world. But God had something else in mind.

The disciples weren’t the only ones who had misconceptions about the Messiah. Many Jews of the day expected Him to be an earthly king. When the crowds heard Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they cheered, “Hosanna! ” which means, “Save now!” They saw Him as their new King, come to bring salvation from political and societal oppression. He raised the dead—no doubt he could also restore the kingdom of David and free them from Roman rule.

Seated upon a donkey, Jesus resembled a ruler returning to his city in peacetime, loyal subjects lining his path with coats and palm fronds. Even the Pharisees were there watching in indignation, saying, “Look, the world has gone after Him” (John 12:19)…

At the website of the National Bible Society of Ireland, we’re given some details about the story; three things you may have missed before. The devotional reads,

Hoshi-ana – This familiar term (in English we say ‘Hosanna’ coming from the Greek/Latin translations) found in the Psalms is made up of two Hebrew words – ‘Help/save us’ and ‘please/now’. It shares the same root with Jesus’ own name (Yeshua, meaning ‘salvation’). With overtones of deliverance and rescue, they are biblical words which can be uttered across all centuries and dimensions.

This phrase also highlights something – salvation is not just an individual pursuit, there is an inherent collective element in the ‘us’. Israel’s salvation history always involves the well-being of the whole (think of the Lost Sheep/Lost Coin/Lost Son parables). The salvation/rescue of one affects the salvation/rescue of all.

Sacred Time […I’ll let you click the link to read this one…]

Two Resurrection Stories – Geographically in the text we are positioned between two stories of resurrection. The account of the Triumphal Entry as it is presented in John in particular, places Jesus the day before in Bethany with His friend Lazarus. Lazarus and Bethany give both those who are in the text and those who are reading the text hope through resurrection. Between Bethany and Jerusalem we are walking between the restored life of Jesus’s friend Lazarus, and the impending death and resurrection of the Passover Lamb. This is surely a liminal space if ever there was one, a transitional moment which marks the threshold of an encounter between heaven and earth like no other. There are multiple skeins of connection underneath all that is unfolding as the events of Palm Sunday take place…

The website for Hope Stream Radio also fills in a few details for us. James Bryun writes,

…While these shouts of praise rang out, the Pharisees, mingling with the crowd turned to one another with angry frowns. They made a desperate appeal to the Master Himself, whom they so bitterly hated, to rebuke the honest zeal of the people. With a touch of quick and righteous indignation, Jesus pointed to the rocks and stones, telling the leaders of Israel that if the people held their peace, that the very stones would immediately cry out…

…On that bright spring day, the excitable, fickle population streamed before Him through the City-gates, down the narrow streets up to the Temple. The tramp of their feet and their shouts of acclamations brought men, women, and children into the streets and onto the housetops…

…Curious onlookers cried out “Who is He?” and the crowds answered

‘This is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee’.

Jesus alone was silent and sad amongst this excited crowd. The marks of the tears He had wept over Jerusalem were still on His cheek. He was the suffering servant who will take away our weaknesses, and bear our diseases, who came to win our hearts with love. It wasn’t an earthly King who entered His city in triumph, but a heavenly King about to depart to His Kingdom. Jesus was preparing to depart by the way of the cross…

At the California Southern Baptist Convention page, Randy Bennett writes,

…That Scripture (John 1:11 “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.”) became one of my core verses as I looked at the future of my life. I reasoned that because His own people rejected Him did not mean that I had to reject Him. It doesn’t mean that anyone else must reject Him either. I found it hard to imagine why “His people” rejected Him considering Jesus’ obvious healing and teaching power…

On Palm Sunday we remember Jesus’ first “Kingly” entry into Jerusalem. Would Jesus be received or rejected? At first, it appeared that the city was opening their hearts to Jesus as they threw down palm branches in front of the donkey colt He rode. Whenever I read that passage, I relive the tension of John 1:11. Would it be different this time? Would the religious leaders lay down their intense fear of Rome and open their hearts to their Savior King? How does a city go from the glorious, “Hosanna, Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” to “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” just a few days later? It is no wonder that Jesus soon becomes the weeping King. He came to give life to His people, but they rejected Him.

Fortunately, the story does not end there. Jesus fulfilled His “Kingly” destiny the following week. He bravely faced the horrors of crucifixion, death and separation from God. He then demonstrated His power, position, and purpose when God Almighty raised Him from the dead. The challenge to receive Him presents itself to us daily. Will I receive Him today? As we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week, will I receive Him as my King as he enters my world as God’s humble Savior and Servant. Would you join me in praising God by lifting up your “Hosanna, Hosanna” unto our mighty Savior?


Bonus item:

This is for subscribers, and for a limited time, here on C201. Released earlier today, join David Wesley and cellist Elijah de la Motte along with 120 acapella singers from 29 countries and ASL sign language interpreters in a beautiful arrangement of Revelation Song.

Worth is the lamb that was slain…

April 3, 2022

His Mission, Your Mission

This is our third time with Mel Wild, senior pastor at Cornerstone Church and director of Radiant School of Ministry, both based in Wisconsin USA. Clicking the header which follows takes you to where we sourced it, along with pictures and the opportunity to explore other articles.

The Mission

What has always struck me when I first encountered God is that, in those life-changing interactions, my sins never came up. This was long before I knew Him as a Father. I found that He never deals in shame or condemnation. Now, He is a father, so He has corrected me many times, to help me mature as a son. But never with shame or by rubbing my sin in my face.

Then, after these encounters with God, I began to understand the theology behind what I was experiencing in real time. Apparently, God does not count our sins against us.

that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor.5:19 NIV*)

This is remarkable when I think about how much Christians seem to obsess over sin…. especially everybody else’s sin.

What I’ve found is that to encounter God is to encounter Love—pure, unadulterated, other-centered, self-giving love—for God IS love. If we simply replace the word “love” with God in the following familiar passage, we can see what God’s love looks like:

GOD is patient, GOD is kind. GOD does not envy, HE does not boast, GOD is not proud. GOD does not dishonor others, HE is not self-seeking, HE is not easily angered, GOD keeps no record of wrongs. GOD does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. GOD always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor.13:4-7 NIV*)

The Passion Translations renders the first part of verse 5, Love does not traffic in shame….”

So, it’s true. God does not traffic in shame.

This is the true character of God, not the religious nonsense we make up about Him. God looks like Jesus, and Jesus looks like love.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us of the following New Covenant promise that Jesus fulfilled on the Cross:

“Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.” (Heb.10:17 NIV)

Beloved, if God is remembering our sins no more, why are we?

Still, to this day, I have trouble convincing people—especially believers—that when we personally encounter God, our sins will not be the subject of our conversation. If it is, we are probably projecting our own guilt and shame on God.

This may be the biggest reason why people, including believers, hide from Him.

We tend to prefer hiding behind religious activity instead letting God love us, which is quite sad when you think about it.

Beloved, our sin is not the problem; it’s that we put more faith in the power of our sin than in the power of the Cross.

I bring all this up because our inability to accept this reality ourselves may be one big reason why we’re not very effective at convincing others to accept it.

We don’t seem to understand the mission.

On that subject, just this week I was reading about our mission in 2 Corinthians from the Passion Translation:

And God has made all things new,  and reconciled  us to himself, and given us the ministry of reconciling others to God. In other words, it was through the Anointed One that God was shepherding the world, not even keeping records of their transgressions, and he has entrusted to us the ministry of opening the door of reconciliation to God.  (2 Cor. 5:18-19 TPT*)

What first struck me here was the Aramaic rendering of the Greek “reconciliation” as “shepherding.” God was shepherding the world through Christ on the cross.

A shepherd is one who herds sheep. And he doesn’t turn his back on his sheep, or ever abandon them; he protects them, even laying his life down for them.

And, likewise, our heavenly Father is a good shepherd. He doesn’t do abandonment either. He didn’t turn His back on His Son on the cross. He was shepherding US through His Son.

This is why the Cross was not about an angry God having to kill His Son so He could forgive us. That’s absurd when you think it through.

No, the Cross was a rescue mission. It was the loving act of a Shepherd.

Think about it. Jesus was the Good Shepherd because His Father was a Good Shepherd.

Then Paul goes on to say….

We are ambassadors  of the Anointed One who carry the message of Christ to the world, as though God were tenderly pleading  with them directly through our lips. So we tenderly plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Turn back to God and be reconciled to him.”  (2 Cor 5:20 TPT*)

Looking at the last line first, you could say that God is pleading with us all to “be shepherded by Him.”

But also notice that He’s now pleading through us, which describes OUR mission. Which, save dying on the Cross, is the same mission as Jesus’ mission.

In light of all these things, my question is this: what kind of God are we projecting to those who don’t know Him? Are we like good Pharisees, rubbing people’s sin in their faces? Or, are we offering our lips to be used by Him to “shepherd” them, so that they can finally know Him as He truly is?

It’s not that sin isn’t important. It’s just that God seems to think He nailed it to the cross and buried it with Jesus’ death 2,000 years ago. And He also seems to have forgotten about our sins ever since.

What God IS remembering is that His Son removed EVERYTHING that would hinder us from knowing Him, so that we could know and experience Love.

And Love wants to use our lips, if we’re willing, to proclaim this crazy good news that brings great joy, to everyone we know.

That’s our mission….if WE decide to accept it. And if we accept it, they may too.

* All emphasis added.

 

March 10, 2022

Your Greatest Temptation?

Thinking Through Luke 4:1-13

What is your greatest temptation? Perhaps you are thinking of things like speeding, shopping, snacking, or something to do with sex, but I imagine no one has thought of turning a stone into a loaf of bread, or one of the other two temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness. While the temptations Jesus faced may seem far removed from the temptations we face, when we dig in we discover that there is really one temptation here, one very subtle and dangerous temptation, one that we all face yet never think about. The fact that we never think of it makes it all the more dangerous.

So what is that one temptation that Jesus faced? What do the temptations of turning stones into bread, gaining all the kingdoms of the world, and expecting rescue from harm have in common? Each of these would take Jesus off the path of suffering, away from his calling. If Satan had said just one thing it would be “If you are the Son of God, then you don’t need to suffer.”

This is the same temptation Jesus faced later:

Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.
Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

Mark 8:31-33 (NLT)

Jesus called Peter “Satan,” for he was saying the same thing Satan had said earlier. You don’t need to suffer, Jesus.

Jesus faced this same temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane on the morning of his execution:

He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Mark 14:35-36 (NLT)

Everything was possible, including the avoidance of suffering and death. Jesus could have called ten thousand angels in a rescue operation and so avoid execution. He could have turned that stone into bread, he could have become the king of all the world by brute force, he could have avoided all harm. Jesus was tempted to exploit the fact he was God the Son, God with us. He did the exact opposite:

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 (NRSV emphasis added)

The greatest temptation Jesus faced was to not offer forgiveness, to not take the way of the cross, to not take the path of suffering for the sake of love. It all comes back to the temptation to not love.

Love is often at the root of other temptations.

We can think of Adam and Eve when they were tempted to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Did they fall because the fruit was so tempting, or because the promise of knowledge was so tempting, or was it because their love relationship with God was not that great? They were tempted by Satan, not just to eat fruit, but to stop loving God.

We can think of Cain and Abel when Cain succumbed to the temptation to kill his brother. Did Cain kill his brother because that was oh so tempting, or because there was a failure in their love relationship? Cain didn’t just kill his brother. Cain failed to love his brother.

Though the ten commandments had not yet been given, Cain ought not to have committed violence against his brother because Abel was created in the image of God. Just as important, Cain ought not to have committed violence against his brother because Cain was created in the image of God. Cain’s failure was not the breaking of a rule so much as it was a failure to live up to what it means to be created in the image of God. Being created in the image of God means many things, like being creative for example. But since God is love, it also means being created with the capacity, and the impulse to love. Cain fell short of living up to that image.

Humanity sunk to its worst failure in living up to the image of God when God came to us, in Jesus, and we killed him. Our failure was not just in breaking the commandment, “thou shalt not murder.” We failed to love God, miserably so. God loved us anyway and offers forgiveness, reconciliation, and relationship. God is love indeed!

We see a failure of love being played in our day. Shouldn’t “love your neighbour” also apply to nations? Where is Russia’s love for Ukraine? Where is Vladimir’s Putin’s love even for his own troops, his own people? How many Russians are losing their lives? How many Russians are losing their loved ones? Given the worldwide repercussions, how many people are now being impacted negatively by the failure of a few, to love? Before there was a temptation to pick up the sword against the Ukrainians, there was the temptation to not pick up the cross and follow Jesus.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Mark 8:34 (NRSV)

The greatest temptation we face is to not love, to not pick up the cross and follow Jesus in the way of the cross, the way of love.

Temptations often begin with the temptation to not love. The temptation to drink too much or eat too much can begin with a lack of self-love. Adultery begins, not with attraction, but with a failure of love. Gossip begins, not with words, but with a failure to love. Murder begins, not with the pulling of a trigger or the picking up of a sword, but with a failure to pick up one’s cross and follow Jesus in the way of love.

One definition of sin is “missing the mark.” If we were to have a confessional and I were to ask how you missed the mark this week, you might give me a list of rules you have broken. Yet we miss the mark most when we miss reflecting the image of God. We miss reflecting the image of God most when we fail to love. You can keep all the rules really well yet completely miss the mark, miss reflecting the image of God. The religious leaders did this when, though being such sticklers for the rules, they missed the mark and engineered the execution of Jesus.

Jesus did not miss the mark. Jesus chose the cross when the temptation was to pick up a sword instead. We are loved. We are helped in growing into the image of God. The first fruit listed in the fruit of the Spirit is love. That is no accident!

You will be tempted this week, to not love someone, to stop loving someone. Let us seek God’s help in loving others, especially if the person we are to love has treated us like dirt. God is an expert on how to do that! Jesus is an expert in picking up the cross. Jesus is an expert in not succumbing to the greatest temptation we could ever face, the temptation to not love.


They’re still a “shrunken” version of weekly sermons, but Clarke Dixon’s blog — articles from which appear here most Thursdays — is now called Thinking Through Scripture.

February 28, 2022

Anticipating the Cross

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NIV.John.13.33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

NIV.Mark.8.31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.

NIV.Mark.9.31b … He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

NLT.Mark.10.32b …Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus once more began to describe everything that was about to happen to him. 33 “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. 34 They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.”

We’re just hours away from Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Growing up in an Evangelical environment, I had little consciousness of the liturgical calendar beyond Christmas and Easter. Ten years ago I wrote,

To be Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Mainline Protestant however is to be aware of the ever changing liturgical season; it is more than the passing of time, rather, each cycle is complete retelling of the New Testament gospel story. I’ve come to believe that Evangelicals are somewhat shortchanged in this area

But in the intervening decade, Evangelicals have made great inroads in recognizing the liturgical calendar. Wikipedia, while not always a great source for Biblical research, states that,

The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events of the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, which then culminates in the celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When I wrote ten years ago, I noted that one of the things I don’t see so much in literature is a comparison between the season of Advent and the time of Lent. While Advent anticipates, foreshadows and prefigures the coming of the Messiah, Lent anticipates, foreshadows and prefigures Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.

Wikipedia (yes, I see the eye-rolling) does in fact have a useful article titled Jesus Predicts His Death. It includes a comparison of three parallel quotations in the synoptic gospels. However, the site GotQuestions.org goes one step further and present the same three passages harmonized as single quotations.

The first time,

Jesus had just fed the multitudes, and He said that the “Son of Man must suffer many things” (Mark 8:31); be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes; be killed; and be raised again. Peter then rashly began to rebuke Jesus, and Christ responded, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:33; Mark 8:33). Jesus knew that His death must happen. It was necessary in God’s plan to save the world.

The next occurrence was,

shortly after the Transfiguration, when Peter, James, and John saw Christ in His heavenly glory. Perhaps this was the reason the disciples were so confused by Jesus telling them He was going to die. At this point, they believed His kingdom was just around the corner. Despite their lack of understanding, they were “afraid to ask” for clarification (Mark 9:32; Luke 9:45).

For many of you, yesterday was Transformation Sunday and you heard these very passages read. It seems appropriate that they occur on the cusp of the season of Lent.

The final one was when

He spoke to His disciples as they were heading up toward Jerusalem for Passover, and He told them how He would be mocked, scourged, crucified, and then rise again. On this occasion also, the disciples did not understand Jesus’ saying because the meaning was hidden from them. They would soon learn what Jesus meant in the events of Good Friday and following.

The article then goes on to say,

The Gospel of John gives a few more predictions of Jesus’s death, but they are slightly more subtle.

but for those, you’ll have to click the link!

At Blue Letter Bible, Don Stewart notes:

The resurrection was predicted beforehand by Jesus. The fact that He would rise from the dead was central to Jesus’ ministry and message. The resurrection must not be seen as an isolated event in the life of Christ… Especially during the last six months of His earthly life, Jesus emphasized the importance and necessity of His upcoming crucifixion as well as the triumph of His resurrection… The predictions by Jesus of His resurrection were of such common knowledge that it led the religious rulers to ask Pontius Pilate to secure the tomb…

[If you have a friend who isn’t sure about the death and resurrection of Jesus, click Don’s link above and send them the article.]

In closing, we need to remember that simply searching out instances where Jesus predicts his own death doesn’t give us the full picture of scripture foreshadowing the crucifixion. Psalm 22 is a case in point:

NRSV.Ps.22.1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

NLT.Ps.22.16 My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
    an evil gang closes in on me.
    They have pierced my hands and feet.
17 I can count all my bones.
    My enemies stare at me and gloat.
18 They divide my garments among themselves
    and throw dice for my clothing.

We join now with Christians around the world in anticipating the road to the cross.

 

 

 

November 18, 2021

Time to Make Christianity Great Again?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Thinking Through Acts 10:44-48

by Clarke Dixon

There is no doubt that Christianity does not enjoy the esteem and influence that it once did in this part of the world. No doubt there are many who would love to make Christianity great again. This being so, there is an event recorded in the book of Acts which should be cause for reflection.

To understand the importance of this event, we will want to go back to the Old Testament. Let’s go back to Genesis where God called Abraham and made two key promises. The first was “I will make you into a great nation” (12:2 NLT). The second was “All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (12:3 NLT).

As we read through the rest of the Old Testament, we may get the impression, from Exodus right through to the book of Malachi, that it is all about the special nation that descended from Abraham. We read about the founding and formation of God’s people, the giving of the law, their relationship with God along the way, their lack of relationship with God along the way, their exile due to a lack of relationship with God, and their return from exile thanks to God’s commitment to the relationship and his promises.

Reading through the Old Testament, therefore, we might get the impression that the focus is almost entirely on the first promise to Abraham, of making him into a great nation. The other promise, of all nations being blessed, for the most part seems to fall off the radar.

Enter Jesus. The attitude of people toward Jesus, as they considered whether he was the Messiah or not, could be summed up with the question: “Is this the one who is going to make Israel great again?”

God’s old covenant people had been through a lot including exile and the return from exile. They continued to face hard times as they had been under foreign rule quite often since the return from exile, and were now under the thumb of the Romans. Perhaps Jesus is the one who will fix this Roman problem and bring them back to being a sovereign nation? The mood in the air pointed to a focus on the first promise of making Israel great. Even the apostles were caught up in it when following his resurrection,

…the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

Acts 1:6 (NLT)

While the apostles still had in mind the promise of making Israel great, Jesus pointed to another promise, the promise of the Holy Spirit:

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:7-8 (NLT)

The Holy Spirit did indeed come upon a great crowd of people which we can read about in Acts, chapter two. But all these people, though coming from different nations, were part of God’s old covenant people. The idea of making Israel great again could still linger, the promise of blessing all the families of the earth could still be largely off the radar. Until we get to Acts, chapter ten. Here Peter had a rather “un-Jewish” vision, while Cornelius, a non-Jew had an angel visitation resulting in the invitation of Peter to the home of Cornelius, another rather “un-Jewish” thing to happen. Peter then spoke to them about Jesus, and,

as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God.
Then Peter asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Acts 10:44-48 (NLT)

If there was any doubt before, there was no doubt now, that Jesus’ purpose was not about making Israel great again, but about making the world great at last, fulfilling the promise to Abraham that “All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3 NLT).

This fulfillment of the promise challenges us in our desire to make Christianity great again.

Let’s remember that while the Jews hated being under Roman rule, most nations, and many Jews, could see the benefit of Roman rule. New roads were built along with new buildings and facilities like gymnasiums. And there was the “peace of Rome.” Nations under Roman rule, and there were many, could count on protection from attack, both from beyond and from within the empire. The Roman army would intervene, and it was a very good army.

While Rome brought peace, it did so, as at least one Bible teacher has pointed out, by “the power of the cross.” Rome ruled and kept peace through the use of brute force and brutality. The empire had peace, but it was an ugly empire, with an ugly, and precarious, kind of peace. In contrast, Jesus brought a different kind of peace, a beautiful lasting peace with God and others. Jesus brought peace by the power of cross, but it was not peace won by brute force and brutality, but rather peace won by love, grace, and forgiveness.

Through Jesus, God was not making Israel great again by making it like Rome as some had hoped. Rather, through Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, God was, and still is, inviting everyone to the Kingdom of God. This is a good kingdom, one of love, justice, and goodness.

Rome had accomplished the bringing together of many different peoples together in one peaceful empire. That peace was held by the power and brutality of the cross. Jesus brings people together in one peaceful kingdom. That peace is held by God’s forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love made evident at the cross.

Which cross do we use? Are we a people of brute force? Or are we a people of love and grace? Christianity can not be made great again through brute force. There is nothing great about that. Perhaps we need a better focus than making Christianity great again anyway. Perhaps a better focus is the blessing of all the families of the earth.


Clarke Dixon had a significant birthday yesterday, but hey, we’ll never tell! His the devotions here come to us via his own site, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. To watch the full sermon on which today’s message is based, click this YouTube link.

September 10, 2021

An Anniversary: A Time to Remember

Thinking about the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack in the United States got me wondering what we posted ten years ago on the 10th anniversary. Here’s what we talked about that day.

September 11, 2011

Seen enough of the TV specials? Tired of hearing of “9/11?” You should know there’s a good reason why we need those programs and magazine features and internet tributes:

People Tend to Forget

Jesus understood this. Scripture tells us that on the night he was betrayed he took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you; this do in remembrance of me.”

But you already know that. Those words from I Cor. 11 are often the most-repeated words in most churches during the course of a church calendar year. “For I received from the Lord that which also I delivered unto you;” is somewhat how I think the KJV renders it. The section from verse 23 to approx. verse 30 forms what is called “The Words of Institution” for the communion service aka Lord’s Supper aka the Eucharist. Even if you attend a church where things are decidedly non-liturgical, these verses probably get read each time your church observes “the breaking of bread;” and even if your pastor leans toward the New Living Translation or The Message, it’s possible that he lapses into King James for this one.

Why did Jesus institute this New Covenant, Second Testament version of the Passover meal?

Because people tend to forget.

Want proof?

Let’s look at the section we almost never read when we gather around the communion table, Luke 22. In verse 19 and 20 he tells them to remember. He tells them his life is about to be poured out for them. What a solemn moment. A holy moment. But unfortunately, a very brief moment.

In verse 24, Luke makes it clear that he’s trying to capture an accurate picture of what happened that night. Even if it makes the disciples look bad. It’s the kind of stuff that you would never include in your report to Theophilus if you were merely trying to make Christianity look good. If you were writing propaganda.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.

I don’t want to be disrespectful here, but Luke might as well have written, “At this point, one of the disciples looked out the window of the upper room and announced, ‘Guys, you gotta come here for a minute; there’s a girl out there that is totally hot.’”

I’m serious. It’s that much out of place with what’s just happened. Jesus is telling them — trying to tell them — all that he is about to suffer in order that a plan laid out from before the foundations of the world will be fulfilled. And they’re arguing about who is Disciple of the Month. How could they go from one extreme to the other so quickly? In a matter of seconds?

Easily.

People tend to forget.

Whether it’s what happened in New York City, Washington, and that Pennsylvania field ten years ago; or whether it’s what happened in Roman occupied territory in the middle east two thousand years ago; we need to continually rehearse these stories in our hearts and pass them on to our children.

This is a day that is about remembering and like the upper room disciples, we can get so totally distracted. September 12th comes and everyone moves on to the next topic or news story. We must not let ourselves lose focus so easily. We must not forget.

Deuteronomy 4:9
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Tomorrow, in another flashback to an earlier post here at C201, we’ll look at the idea of creating memorials to remember times of both hardship and blessing in our lives.


Read more about the cross at Ground Zero in this special-edition article we ran in August, 2011.

September 5, 2021

Calvary Opened the Door to Intimacy with God

A year ago we introduced you to author K.K. Hodge, who describes herself as “a family nurse practitioner, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, Sunday School teacher, church treasurer, and crazy critter farmer.” She writes devotions at Inspirations from the Funny Farm and you can read this one at source by clicking the header which follows.

All Access Pass

Exodus 26:31-34 Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim woven into it by a skilled worker.  Hang it with gold hooks on four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and standing on four silver bases. Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the covenant law behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. Put the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law in the Most Holy Place.

Mark 15:37-38 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

Part of my Bible study this week was the Holy of Holies. I read the scripture above as well as Leviticus chapter 16, and I couldn’t help but continually rejoice all week over the fact that Jesus gave us an all access pass to God Almighty! For real, Peeps. We have an all access pass. Ponder on that for a moment and what a true treasure this is.

When going to concerts, one occasionally purchases the “all access pass.” This pass gives that person privileges to not only enjoy the concert close up and personal, but that person also gets backstage access and a personal meet and greet with the star attraction. That’s pretty cool! But all access to God is so much better than an all access concert pass.

Way back in Moses’ day, God’s presence was in the Holy of Holies, and God gave Moses very specific instructions in order for Aaron to enter the Holy of Holies.

Aaron wasn’t allowed to enter anytime he pleased. He had to bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He had to put on his sacred linen tunic with linen undergarments, tie a linen sash around him, and put on a linen tunic. He had to bathe prior to putting on the sacred attire. He also had to take 2 male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering from the Israelite community. He then had to offer the young bull for his own sin offering, and then cast lots for the two goats. One lot was for the Lord and one for the scapegoat. The goat whose lot was for the Lord would then be sacrificed for a sin offering, and the scapegoat would be presented alive to make atonement.

After making the sacrifices, he then had to remove his clothing and bathe in water in the sanctuary. All of this had to be done any time Aaron entered the Holy of Holies. If he failed to perform these steps, he would surely die.

Consider that regimen. What great effort Aaron had to go through each time he went before God. Jesus changed everything. The temple curtain was torn, ripped apart, when our Savior became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. When that curtain was ripped in half, the barriers where removed. No more bull or goat sacrifices.

The ultimate sacrificial Lamb paid the price for our sins. He made the final atonement needed. Jesus gave us an all access pass to God Almighty! All we have to do is approach Him in prayer…any time of the day or night…in any clothes we are wearing…at any location on this planet! We have an unlimited, total, all access pass to the Father! Isn’t that encouraging?

Are you taking full advantage of your all access pass? Give God a holler today. He’s been waiting to hear from you.

April 4, 2021

Easter and What Follows

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God

-Hebrews 10:11-12


The focus on Easter in many of our churches is on the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the women in the garden, and to the the twelve (now eleven) disciples. But there is much more that took place when he had left Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. This appeared at the website Evidences for Christianity:


The cross not only atones for sin but takes away pain and sickness, guilt, worry, despair. Two days ago the words of an old gospel song came to mind. I listened to a dozen versions of it online, but couldn’t find that “just right” one to share here, so I’ll present the lyrics instead. The song is titled Burdens are Lifted at Calvary by John Moore.

Days are filled with sorrow and care,
Hearts are lonely and drear.
Burdens are lifted at Calvary,
Jesus is very near.

Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Calvary, Calvary;
Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near.

Cast your care on Jesus today,
Leave your worry and fear.
Burdens are lifted at Calvary,
Jesus is very near.

Troubled soul, the Savior can feel
Every heartache and tear.
Burdens are lifted at Calvary,
Jesus is very near.


What do we do, today, in 2021, moving past the celebrating and back into everyday life; especially at a time when it’s hard to feel the triumph of resurrection when our world still faces so much pandemic uncertainty?

One of the most powerful sermons I heard at this time of year was preached by a man who grew up in Montreal, Canada. He talked about his earliest experiences learning to drive when he got his license at age 16, and how he sometimes found himself driving on the expressways feeling disoriented in terms of his destination.

The Montreal skyline is dominated by Mount Royal, atop which sits a Roman Catholic shrine with a very large cross. It’s not surprising that locals use it as a reference point, probably both subconsciously and deliberately as well. He said that if he felt lost, he would “look to the cross” at it showed him (a) where he had been, (b) where he was, and (c) where he needed to be.

The same is true for us. The cross of Christ shows us what we’ve come from, where we stand in relation to it, and what we need to do moving forward.  It becomes our anchor, our focal point, our point of reference, our standard.

To that end, Doug Van Meter, a Baptist pastor in Zambia writes,

…the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ should cast a very long shadow over our lives. How much does the cross of Jesus Christ affect your life? Is it constantly in the forefront? Does it influence the way you live—how you treat one another, how your spend your time, how you apply yourself in the workplace, how you pursue your career, how you spend your money, and how you treat your fellow church member? The cross of Christ is to dominate every area of our lives. In the words of Paul, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2), and, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). The Christian, in other words, is called to live a cross-centered life.


Again, what do we do, today, in 2021, moving past Easter weekend toward what the church calendar calls “regular time?” This was offered as a prayer at one of the churches I watched on the weekend:

We adore you,
Jesus,
Messiah,
and we praise you.

By your cross you have redeemed the world.

King Jesus, we pray…
keep our spirits willing,
and strengthen us
when our flesh is weak.

King Jesus, we pray…
to always confess you alone
as Christ our Lord,
Son of Man,
and Son of God

King Jesus, we pray…
that we will remember
the words you have spoken,
repent of our sins,
and cling to you.

King Jesus, we pray…
rule in our hearts,
as our good and gracious king
and we will declare that we have
no king but you.

King Jesus, we pray…
help us bear our crosses,
for you bore the heaviest cross for us.

King Jesus, we pray…
that even now you will dry our tears,
until that day to come when you will
wipe away every tear from our eyes.

King Jesus, we pray…
enable and empower us
to forgive and pray blessings
on those who have sinned against us,
because you have freely forgiven us.

King Jesus, we praise you…
for by your innocent suffering and death,
you have opened up
the way to the Father for us.

King Jesus, we pray…
raise us up on the last day,
that we may follow you
from death to life.

You live and reign now and forever,

Amen

April 2, 2021

The Only One Who Chose the Hour and the Minute of His Last Breath

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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For our Good Friday meditation this year, we are introducing a new author. Linda Knight lives in California where she was an Elementary and Middle School teacher for over 30 years. She is the author of the book, Fearless Living, and a second book, Promises for Dynamic Living. Her blog is Day by Day Fearless Living where she says her goal is “trying to help people to see that God’s word is viable and can be applied to our lives each and every day of the year.” Click the header which follows to read this at her site. (Because this was just posted hours ago, I’m closing comments here and encourage you to leave comments at her site.)

Holy Week, Friday, Where’s Jesus?

After His arrest Thursday night, Jesus endured 4 trials.  He went before the religious leaders, the Sanhedrin, then Pilate who sent him to Herod, the Jewish head of state, then back to Pilate.  The Jews wanted Jesus killed but they did not have the authority to execute Him.  They demanded that Pilate, the Roman authority in Palestine, crucify Him.  Pilate had Jesus flogged and beaten even though Pilate knew Jesus to be innocent.  He had hoped this cruel treatment would pacify the Jews.  However, the crowds pressed him and requested the release of the criminal Barabbas instead of Jesus since it was the custom to release one convicted person as a token of goodwill at the Jewish Passover.  The crowds demanded that Jesus be crucified and Pilate agreed to appease the angry and vocal Jewish crowds.   Jesus was then made to carry His own cross to the place of execution, Golgotha.  Along the way Jesus stumbled and Simon of Cyrene was conscripted to carry the cross.  Jesus was then nailed to a cross and hung to die.  His clothes were stripped from Him and as He hung naked on the cross then soldiers gambled for his clothing underneath the cross.

I can not imagine the pain, anguish, humiliation and shame Jesus endured on my behalf. He took all the sins of the world, yours and mine, upon His pure, sinless and innocent body and the sin took him to a place he had never been before.  The sins He took upon himself, our sins, separated him from God, His holy Father.  He did this so that His sacrifice could atone for our sins.  1 Peter 2:24 explains what Jesus accomplished for you and me.

He personally carried our sins
    in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
    and live for what is right.
By his wounds
    you are healed.  (NLT)

I never realized how sweet Jesus’ final words from the cross were until recently.  ‘It is finished.’ With that, he lowered his head and gave up his spirit.”  John 19:30   He declared with His final breath that the work of redemption was complete, and He had accomplished what the Father had sent Him to do. Through His death He took the punishment, death, for the sins of all who would believe for all eternity with His blood.  Having accomplished His work, He gave up His spirit.  His life was not taken from Him, but He gave it up voluntarily at the time of His choosing.  Only God can choose the time of His death.  When we speak of someone dying, we say the person has life take from them.  We don’t get to chose the hour or minute of our last breath, but Jesus chose when and where He was to die for you and me.  I am staggered by His love and sacrifice that He would endure such punishment and isolation from God on my behalf.  As you ponder the cross today, think of all Jesus gave up and all He did on your behalf.

Because Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead, I live redeemed from the penalty of sin, covered by His incredible sacrifice and will be able to stand before God sinless.

Prayer:  Father, the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice and your love in sending Him to die for my sin is incomprehensible.  ‘Your ways and not my ways’ Isaiah reminds us in Isaiah 55:8.  I am so thankful for your plan of redemption and stand humbly before you because of Jesus, my Savior.  Praising you in Jesus name, Amen.      

 

June 15, 2019

Light and Darkness

This is our third time highlighting the site Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales. Choosing a devotional (or two smaller ones) for today was a tough process; there’s so much good material. Click the header below to read this at source.

Learning to walk in the light

Psalm 89:15

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You,
who walk in the light of Your presence, LORD.”

What is it like to know God? The people who get to know Him develop an attitude to life that is full of confidence and gratitude. They are not merely drifting through life; they know what they are doing and where they are going. They are ‘walking in the light’.

This sounds deceptively easy, but it doesn’t come naturally even to Christians. In fact, it’s something that we have to learn to do.

The pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21)

Ex.13.21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.

When we start out on our Christian journey, God often seems especially close, because He makes things easy for us during our spiritual ‘babyhood’. It was like this on Israel’s first crucial journey out of Egypt: His unseen presence was made visible as a pillar of fiery cloud, and all they had to do was follow it.

In the desert, it’s easier to travel at night (when it’s cooler) – but in the darkness it’s all the more vital to know where you are going! And in a world that is spiritually dark, we need to know which road to take. Whenever we come to a moral decision-point, it’s to God that we must look for direction. We don’t have a convenient pillar of fire (or an audible voice from heaven) to lead us; we must learn to discover God’s will by reading the Bible and by discussion with other believers.

The light of the world (John 8:12)

In Jesus’ time, the four great candelabra in the Temple courtyard were lit during the Feast of Tabernacles to remind the people of the pillar of fire that had led their ancestors through the wilderness. John tells us that at the end of the festival, when the lights were being extinguished, Jesus declared Himself to be the Reality behind the symbol:

“I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Decision (Isaiah 2:5)

Walking in darkness is the ‘default option’. We have to make a positive decision to become followers of Jesus in the first place; and thereafter we must make a conscious effort to reject the ways of the world and keep following His light.

Is.2.5 “Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.”

But if we stop paying attention to where we are heading, we will gradually drift off course and back into the darkness again!

Walking together (I John 1:7)

1Jn.1.7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Walking in darkness includes such things as having bad relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters (I John 2:9). We cannot have full fellowship with God while refusing to join and work together with other believers!

Walking in the light is also by its very nature a communal activity; for everyone who is following close to Jesus must also be close to one another. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” And that fellowship also helps to keep us together on the right path.

Our destination (Proverbs 4:18)

Prov.4.18 The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
    shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

The path of light is one of safety and growing certainty. As we grow in our faith, and diligently put it into practice, we come further and further into God’s light – and it actually becomes easier to make the right decisions.


Bonus devotional: If you have time, here’s another from the same author…

The Gospel: Some Questions Answered

25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— Romans 3:25,26

Our sins could not be forgiven without atonement being made. So what about those, like David, whose sins were forgiven before Christ came?

2.Sam.12.13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.

Paul’s answer is that the cross is a ‘once-for-all’ method of dealing with sin, effective both retrospectively and prospectively

Heb.9.26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Before Christ came, God had refrained from executing full judgement on sin because of His mercy.

“He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10)

But this was not because of moral indifference; rather, judgement was withheld until it could fall upon Jesus.

The cross also answers the question of how a righteous God can remain righteous while forgiving our sins – which seems to overturn the whole concept of justice. Justification is not an amnesty; our sins are not being ignored or ‘swept under the carpet’. In fact, justice has been done – and seen to have been done – in the public execution of Jesus Christ. Because His sacrificial death fully satisfies the demands of justice, God can justify sinners without compromising His own righteousness.

June 6, 2019

A Compelling Perspective on Humanity

How the Christian Perspective on Humanity Points to the Reality of God.

by Clarke Dixon

Does Christianity lead to a beautiful perspective on humanity? Or is it ugly? If the God of the Bible is real and is love, then we should expect beauty and not ugliness. Some would say it is ugly, setting up some people as better than the rest, creating a people who look down on others. It sets up a hierarchy of worth and value. There is no doubt, that we who are Christians, have sometimes acted or spoken like this is so. But is that accurate? What does the Bible teach that our perspective on humanity should be?

Let us turn first, to the beginning;

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. . . . .
27 So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 (NLT)

All people are created in the image of God, without exception. This fact unites us in our humanity.

It might be suggested that while this was true of Adam and Eve, it has not been true of anyone since the Fall, that we no longer bear the image of God because of sin. However, consider this early appeal to justice;

5 “And I will require the blood of anyone who takes another person’s life. If a wild animal kills a person, it must die. And anyone who murders a fellow human must die. 6 If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image. Genesis 9:5-6 (NLT)

To paraphrase, “how dare you lift a finger against another person in violence, for people were created in the image of God and that still matters.” Every person has worth and value, even with sin in the equation.

Now let us turn to the ending;

9 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar,
“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!” . . . .
14 Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.
15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
17 For the Lamb on the throne
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9,10,14-17 (NLT emphasis added)

The Book of Revelation speaks of an incredible diversity of peoples gathered together, redeemed by God through Christ. From this we learn that all people are redeemable, all people have the opportunity to wash their clothes in the blood of the Lamb.

To sum up what we learn at the beginning and at the end, we will never meet a person who was not created in the image of God, we will never meet a person for whom Jesus did not choose to bear the cross. All people bear the image of God without exception. Without exception, Jesus bore the cross for all people. That is the starting point point of relationship with God, though there is much we could say about where it goes from there and what allegiance to, and trust in, Christ looks like. It is also the perspective on humanity for the Christian and the starting point for our relationship with others.

We see this humanity valuing perspective in the Bible, not only at the beginning and the end, but also from beginning to end. For example,

  • When Abraham is called, that calling is ultimately for the sake of all nations, not just Abraham’s descendants.
  • In the Old Testament there are laws that provide for the well-being of the foreigner.
  • Foreigners were welcomed into the community, as exemplified with The Book of Ruth. We should note, however, that the community was to keep its worship pure from foreign religious influence. While foreign religion was unacceptable, foreign people were accepted.
  • God’s concern for the foreigner is explicitly made clear in The Book of Jonah. Jonah shrank back from God’s call to preach to the enemy, the people of Ninevah, knowing that God would be kind to them. God did indeed show His kindness to them.
  • Jesus loved all kinds of people, even touching “unclean” people, whom no one would touch, before healing them.
  • Jesus taught the importance of love for thy neighbour, then emphasized that the neighbour is anyone and everyone. Your neighbour could even be those dreaded Samaritans, who can act better than the religious elites by the way, as told in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
  • God called Phillip for a special mission to the Ethiopian eunuch, who was from a different land, likely had a different skin colour, and, being a eunuch, could be described as having a different sexuality.
  • God gave the Holy Spirit to all kinds of people beyond the Jewish people.

From beginning to end, the Bible promotes the value and worth of all people. This covers more than just race, it covers any kind of difference. Consider that in a very patriarchal time and place, there is an emphasis on the equality of the sexes;

27 So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 (NLT)

Speaking of gender, there is a lot going on with gender in society these days.  Many of us may struggle to understand why a man identifies as a woman, or a woman as a man, or some don’t identify as either. The starting point for relationship, even when people are beyond our understanding, is this: they are created in the image of God and Jesus chose the cross for them. What will we choose to do for them?

All people bear the image of God without exception. Without exception, Jesus bore the cross for all people. This is true for people who are unique for any reason. With each of our pregnancies, my wife and I were offered the opportunity to test for Down syndrome. This would lead to an opportunity to have an abortion. In our minds people with Down syndrome have as much worth and value as any other person. They are created in the image of God. Jesus chose the cross for them. Therefore should a Christian carry on with such a test? Speaking of abortion, in my mind, people in the womb has as much value and worth as people outside. This is why Christians often tend to be pro-life. We should understand that nothing is as simple as it seems, that there is a great need for sensitivity on this topic, and people need reminding of the grace of God. Also we should understand that some people are pro-choice based on their Christian ethic, based on love and concern for Moms and women in difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, every person has value and the question is valid; is a fetus just “tissue,” or a person created in the image of God and for whom Jesus bore the cross?

Given that all humanity bears the image of God, the Christian cannot not look down on people as being worth less for any reason. Rather, we are called to love others with the love of Christ who bore the cross for them. The starting point is not “you are so different from me,” but “we are so much alike, in our creation in the image of God, in our need for grace, and in being given the invitation to a relationship with God.” All people bear the image of God without exception. Without exception, Jesus bore the cross for all people. This is Christian view of humanity, and it is beautiful.

Now consider what can happen when we take God out of the picture. Without the Biblical perspective on humanity, we can easily fall into racism, sexism, or looking down on people because they are different.  If we are indeed evolved, if there is no God, then what is to stop us from thinking that one race has greater value than another? The rat has had just as much time to evolve as the human. We naturally give the human more value and will call exterminators to deal with rat infestations so as to protect humans from disease. What is to stop us from giving greater value to one type of human, even going as far as exterminating other types of humans to protect the more valuable? Indeed this kind of thing happened with Nazi Germany. It was not Bible study and a hunger for God that led the Nazi machine to commit atrocities against the Jews. It was philosophical thinking that applied evolution to society. “We are more highly evolved than you” is ugly. In contrast, “You bear the image of God, Christ bore the cross for you,” is beautiful.

Every single person bears the image of God, regardless of colour, culture, medical conditions, gender, sexuality, or anything else. Jesus bore the cross for every person regardless of colour, culture, medical conditions, gender, sexuality, or anything else. We share this same starting point with every other person without exception. This is a beautiful perspective on humanity which is also helpful to humanity. This is what we should expect if the God the Bible points to, the God the Bible portrays as love, is real. This is yet another reason that Christianity it compelling.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada and is featured here each Thursday. This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

May 11, 2019

Out of His Pain, We Are Counted Righteous

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Zech.3:3-4 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.  The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”

Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

This is our third time with Melody who writes at In Pleasant Places for six years. As we explained previsouly, her blog started from correspondence she was sharing with a friend; see more at her story. To read today’s article at her blog, click the header below.

Anguish and Joy – Isaiah 53:11

“Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.”

Isaiah 53:11

This is one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture. Capturing so powerfully Jesus’ perspective of His sacrifice on the cross. I’m sure I have written on it before, but its impact on me is renewed each time I read it, reflecting on the love of our Savior and the love of God the Father to send Jesus for our salvation, knowing all it would require.

As Isaiah 53:5 says, Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, our offenses against the law established by the sovereign God of the universe. He was crushed for our iniquities, our immoral and wicked behavior. Jesus took the chastisement, the punishment due for the choices we made, to bring us peace with God. And with His stripes – a picture that brings me to the severe lashes on His back from His scourging – we are healed, every crevice of our heart, to the very depths of our soul.

Jesus endured all of this. Sorrow upon sorrow, abandoned by those closest to Him, mocked and scorned by crowds. Unimaginable physical pain. The darkness and heavy weight of all sin, laid on this One who is light. An agonizing break in relationship as Jesus took our place on the cross as forsaken, willingly taking the wrath of Holy God for us and experiencing for the first time in all eternity a separation from God the Father.

But out of this, through the anguish of His soul – the soul of the beautiful, perfect, infinite and holy Son and Word of God – He sees and is satisfied.

Because through this knowledge of grief and pain, Jesus makes many to be regarded as righteous. All who believe in Him, who previously had no hope of righteousness because unrighteousness filled our souls. Jesus fully and successfully bore our iniquities, that we would bear them no longer and be set free from sin. He is satisfied because He can silence our accuser, remove our filthy rags stained with our sin, and personally adorn us with pure vestments (Zechariah 3:1-4).

Ever our intercessor and good shepherd. Caring for each of His own and not losing one of them (John 10:28).

Ensuring, through the perfect fullness of His sacrifice, that no condemnation or accusation can touch us, because we are His. Sealed with His Spirit who lives and works within us, whose presence is revealed and affirmed by the evident renewal of our minds and hearts as we become more and more like Christ, day by day, until we stand blameless before the throne of His glory as He presents us to Himself with great joy. To the praise of His glorious grace.

“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died
– more than that, who was raised –
who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
Romans 8:33-34

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling
and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,
to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
Jude 24-25

March 30, 2018

The Time When Even Jesus Said, “Darkness Reigns”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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This is today’s reading from the devotional that I read, Daily Encouragement.

When Darkness Reigned

This is your hour–when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).

Today we, who hold to the Christian faith, look back nearly 2,000 years ago to the ultimate Sacrifice. On this Good Friday we solemnly remember that our Savior breathed His last at the hands of wicked men. We also realize this day is good because God showed us the full extent of His love by making restitution for our redemption.

When He was arrested Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, “This is your hour–when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).  This hour of darkness, which we believe included the period of time between His arrest and resurrection, appeared to be a hopeless situation, an excruciating time in the cosmos. Again consider, this was the period when our Lord Himself declared, “darkness reigns”!

Pastor Grant Gunnink observes, “It must have been agonizing for Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – to acknowledge that in what was about to happen – the powers of darkness, which He could have no doubt thrown back with a single word – had been given free reign.”

Although we believe Jesus was primarily speaking of spiritual darkness a physical darkness was demonstrated at His death during His final three hours on the cross when “darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining” (Luke 23:44,45).

However, of vital importance is that although darkness reigned, God ultimately reigns. (It’s so important to also realize this during the seasons in our own life when darkness seems to reign.)

In a much earlier time period evil was also present in the dark deeds inflicted upon Joseph by his eleven brothers when they plotted his death. Consider the merciful perspective expressed in Joseph’s response to his wicked brothers after many years, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

This took on much greater fulfillment, in the person and work of Christ, as Christ poured out His goodness on those who sought to do Him evil. Yes, surely God intended the cross for good. He even used evil hearts to bring about His set purpose. He was not overcome by evil, but He overcame evil with good. God’s plan of salvation was divine in nature, but He also helps us every day to overcome evil with good. We walk in newness of life and in the power of His resurrection.

We were blessed yesterday when we saw the message on the sign … “Only A Living Savior Can Rescue A Dying World”.

This Good Friday let be very intentional in praising God from whom all blessings flow as we remember the greatest Sacrifice of all time. Let us give deep, heartfelt thanks to God for His incomparable love and the demonstration of His love as seen in the One impaled on a bloody cross.

Amazing love, O what sacrifice,
The Son of God, given for me;
My debt He pays and my death He dies,
That I might live, that I might live.

Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber.

August 13, 2017

Mankind Worships That in Which He Sees Glory

This is the second post in our new series, Sunday Worship. In combing the internet looking for suitable material, we discovered the blog Ascents and this 2015 article. The phrase which forms the title of the post here is one that stood out. Truly, if we see the glory of God, we simply must and will worship.

Clicking the original title below will take you to the original article, which is always encouraged.

“Now” He is Glorified!

by Tim Adams

…Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; (John 13:31, NASB95).

Why would Jesus make this statement at the moment Judas leaves to betray Him? Prior to His humiliation; just before being handed over to sinful men and made to stand trial. How is this moment glorifying?

Jesus, Son of Man, is about to become both the means and object of our worship, and the ball is now rolling downhill.  At this moment, events are being set in motion that will not only bring about the completion of Christ’s earthly ministry, and the redemption of man; but in just a short while Jesus will be shown to be exactly what He has claimed to be–what He has always been.  He will be shown to be God incarnate.  Soon Jesus will rend the veil, rise from the dead, and take His place at the right hand of the Father in heaven, becoming our perfect mediator by removing the barrier between us and God, (Heb. 12:2).

Mankind worships that in which he sees glory. Ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun because in it they saw glory.  Modern man worships his favorite sports figures because he sees glory in the display of dominating athletic prowess. Since the fall man has, as Romans 1 tells us, exchanged the glory of God for other objects of worship. He has chosen to see glory in that which was created, rather than his creator (Romans 1:22-25).

But, God has provided for us another way. It is a way in which we are made able to see God in Christ, the glorified Son of Man; and are made able to worship Him in the manner He is worthy of.  This way is the way of the cross.  Christ’s death on the cross is the single most important event to ever take place. It is the very fulcrum of world history. At the cross, what was a mystery has been made clear to those who have been changed by it.  And, in this cross of suffering–in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the Son of Man is truly glorified.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory, (Ephesians 1:7–12, NASB95).

 

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