Lesson 5: Christ Is Risen

From my new book, Lord of AllClick here to buy the book and Bible study so you can use it devotionally or work through it with a small group of Christian brothers and sisters… or to even give away to someone who desires to learn more about Jesus.


No Easter?

In his book, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection, Christian philosopher and theologian, William Lane Craig, recounts a conversation he once had with a former student of his.

“There ain’t gonna be no Easter this year,” the student remarked to Craig. “What’s that?” Craig asked, just to make sure he heard his student correctly. The student repeated the same line, “There ain’t gonna be no Easter this year.” “And why is that?” Craig asked. “Because they found the body,” the student replied.

Craig commented on this exchange by saying,

“Despite his irreverent humor, my friend displayed a measure of insight often not shared by modern theologians.”

Craig’s student understood that the Christian claim is not that Jesus was “resurrected” figuratively or metaphorically in the hearts of his followers, but that he was raised bodily from the dead. And if his actual body had been found, there would have been no resurrection from the dead. Nothing to celebrate. No Easter.

This is the Apostle Paul’s testimony in our Scripture from 1 Corinthians 15.

Various and Spurious Denials

Throughout my ministry, I have observed a variety of ways the resurrection of Jesus has been denied, sadly sometimes, even from those who profess faith in Christ.

One of the earliest denials of Jesus’ resurrection goes back to the New Testament itself. It is what’s called, the “Conspiracy Theory.” In Matthew’s Gospel we find the Jews explaining away the resurrection. There we discover the chief priests bribing the guards who were stationed at Jesus’ tomb. In Matthew 28:11-15, we read,

When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

Other ways it has been denied has been to say that everything that happened can be explained naturally, not supernaturally. Some say Jesus didn’t really die, but that he took medicine to make him appear to be dead. Then, when he was placed in the tomb, he woke up and went on his way. Others say the disciples went to the wrong tomb. If you kept up with the Jesus Seminar in the early 90s, you may remember that their conclusion was,

“After the crucifixion, Jesus’ corpse was probably laid in a shallow grave, barely covered with dirt, and subsequently eaten by wild dogs.”

Finally, there’s even one philosopher who suggested that Jesus had a long-lost twin brother who came to town and fooled all the disciples.

As you can tell from just these examples, there are great lengths people will go to in order to avoid dealing with the risen Lord.

The examples just mentioned represent complete rejections of the bodily resurrection of Jesus by unbelievers, or perhaps those on the fringe of Christianity.

The Problem in the Church

The problem inside the church, however, is another way in which the resurrection of Jesus is denied. It’s a subtle form we have to pay close attention to or else it may sneak by us. It can best be illustrated by the sentiment of one theologian who wrote in a newspaper column,

“If the bones of Jesus Christ were found tomorrow, it would make no great difference to me. I would go on going to church as would a majority of Christians.”

For this particular theologian, the important thing is not what happened to the body of Jesus, but what happened to the spirits of the apostles. A similar view was raised a number of years ago in a Methodist newspaper. The author couldn’t understand what the big deal was concerning whether or not Jesus was actually, bodily, raised from the dead. “The important thing is that we come together like the early church and love one another,” he claimed. I had a classmate in seminary once tell me the same thing.

Of course, that response ignores the issue of “why” the early disciples came together and loved one another in the first place. Perhaps we should take them at their word when they tell us they actually saw the body of the risen Lord. In our Scripture from 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul makes clear that whether or not Jesus really came back from the grave, is a very big deal.

If Christ is Dead

Paul is very logical in his response to doubts about the actual (bodily) resurrection of Jesus. Paul begins in verses 13-14,

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

Paul was smart enough to know that if Christ was still in the tomb, then he was still dead. And if Christ is dead, then the Christian message is a useless lie, a religion that declares a lot of things that just aren’t true. If Christ is dead, then the Christian faith is futile.

He continues in verses 17-19,

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

In other words, if Christ is not risen from the dead, then there’s nothing behind the faith we proclaim. It’s powerless. There’s no Spirit of Christ who dwells in you. All that talk about the forgiveness of your sins is worthless. There’s no use talking about salvation. God has not honored Christ’s words, life, or death.

If Jesus remains dead, then the death of Jesus was just one of thousands of deaths on Roman crosses. Tragic perhaps, but nothing more.

And if Christ is dead, Paul says, then those of us who believe in him now “are of all people most to be pitied.” We’re no better off than the person who is dying of an incurable disease who puts all their eggs in the power of positive thinking.

But Christ is Risen

But the good news, Paul declares, is that “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead (verse 20).” That’s the greatest fact in all of history! That’s the fact that changes everything and everyone who believes and trusts it and gives their very lives to it.

All we have to do is look at Paul himself. As Saul of Tarsus, he was a living nightmare to the early Christians. But then he personally encountered the risen Christ. Paul went from one of the greatest enemies of the Christian faith to one of its greatest missionaries.

He was dramatically transformed from an intolerant, bitter, and proud persecutor of the church to a humble servant of the Lord Jesus. Not only did his relationship with Christ change, but so did his relationship with followers of Christ. He came to love them, helped them grow in their faith, and spent his life making more of them.

Was this radical change in Paul’s life the result of nothing more than a psychological warm feeling or was it something more? Paul tells us over and over again that this change was the result of meeting the risen and living Christ! He was so convinced of this that he gave his life as a martyr for his faith in Jesus.

What was true of Paul’s life was true for all the disciples. They went from frightened lambs to bold lions of the faith, traveling the Roman Empire, bearing witness to the risen Christ. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only things that makes sense of this change in their lives.

Our heavenly Father vindicated our Lord Jesus by raising him from the dead. The resurrection revealed that death was not the winner, for Christ defeated even death itself. It was this belief in the resurrection that enabled the disciples to proclaim their crucified Lord as God’s Messiah.

If they didn’t really meet the risen Christ – if they didn’t actually believe he was raised from the dead, is it likely they each would have kept up their delusion or charade, all the way to their own persecutions, and ultimately, their deaths? One historian commented that if the disciples didn’t truly believe Jesus was raised from the dead, then the Christian faith would be nothing more than a dead folk religion of the first century.

He Can Transform Us, Too

But he lives! And just as the disciples believed, and just as our hymn proclaims, “We serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today.”

The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that those of us who live two thousand years after the fact can still be in a relationship with him today. It means he’s not dead, but alive! The same risen Christ who transformed Paul and the other disciples can transform us today.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ means we can have hope in the midst of trials, suffering, sorrow, despair, and pain.

A figurative, metaphorical resurrection can do none of that.

Alister McGrath tells the story that in Soviet Russia, right after the Communist Revolution in 1917, a government official was tasked with crushing the spirits of the remaining Christians and, ultimately, ridding their country of Christianity altogether.

So, he gathered the people of a particular town so he could discredit and disprove Christianity using all the clever arguments he could muster. He ranted for hours as he sought to show the people just how ridiculous their faith in Christ was.

After he finished, feeling quite satisfied he had done his job well, he offered the platform to anyone who dared to respond to him. A young priest took him up on his offer and came forward. The official told the priest he had two minutes. “I won’t need that long,” the priest replied.

And in a very meek and humble way, the priest approached the podium. After looking at the people for just a few seconds, the priest threw his hands high into the air and shouted, “Christ is risen!”

To which the people responded as one, “Christ is risen indeed!”

And so he is!

Thanks be to God.


Bible Study (Each chapter in the book is followed by an in-depth Bible study)

Lesson 4: For God So Loved

From my new book, Lord of AllClick here to buy the book and Bible study so you can use it devotionally or work through it with a small group of Christian brothers and sisters… or to even give away to someone who desires to learn more about Jesus.


Jesus and Nicodemus

Our Scripture comes right at the end of a conversation between Jesus and a man called, Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a great Jewish leader, yet he sensed something in or about Jesus that led him to come and speak with Jesus.

But because of his reputation, and the fact that Jesus was not very popular among the Jewish leaders, Nicodemus came at night. It was there and then Jesus taught Nicodemus the truth about how a person must be saved, or redeemed… brought into a right relationship with God.

Jesus even scolded Nicodemus for not already knowing this since he was a great leader of the Jewish people.

Moses and the Snake

As Jesus finished up his lesson to Nicodemus, he referred to an event in Jewish history that Nicodemus would have known well. Referencing Numbers 21:4-9, Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:14-15,

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

It is an interesting story, but the short version is this: after God graciously and lovingly rescued his people from bondage in Egypt, they began complaining. They started speaking against God and Moses, suggesting they had been brought out into the wilderness only to die.

Therefore, God sent poisonous snakes among them, and the snakes began to bite the people. Many died. As you can imagine, this got the people’s attention, and they began repenting for speaking against God and Moses and pleaded for deliverance and healing from the snakes.

Thus, God told Moses to make a snake, put it on a pole, and then lift it high above the people. And so, Moses did just that. He made a bronze snake, put it on the end of a pole, and when the people looked with faith to the image of the snake lifted up, they were physically healed.

After retelling the story, the last point Jesus made to Nicodemus was this: just as Moses lifted up the snake, Jesus himself would be lifted up. By “lifted up” Jesus was referring to his death on the Cross to be sure, but also his resurrection, and ascension into heaven.

And Jesus added that everyone who looks to him – trustingly believing in him – will have eternal life.

The Bible’s Most Popular Verse

That brings us to the most widely known verse in all the Bible, John 3:16,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 is the most succinct summary of the Gospel in all the Bible. In one verse John tells us God gave his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to live, teach, heal, perform miracles, but ultimately, to die on the Cross.

By doing so, those who look to him in faith, as the Israelites looked to the bronze snake, would be forgiven and delivered from the guilt and power of sin. They would be reclaimed and reconciled to a right and eternal relationship with God. And they would be empowered to live the lives for which they were created.

The Front Door

John declares to us in this beautiful verse that we must reach out to God with our hearts and minds to receive this free gift of eternal life.

John 1:12 says,

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…

We receive Christ by placing our faith in him. Trusting belief. This is more than mere head knowledge or vague acknowledgement. It is to give our very lives to him. To give him ourselves. To be sure, it involves trust, repentance, submission, commitment, obedience, and following him.

But the front door is faith. We must enter through that front door and say, “Yes Lord, thank you. I believe.” Then, what follows, is a life of getting to know him better – following him wherever he may lead. It means desiring to become more and more like him. It means telling others about him, even as we serve them, along our journey through this world.

According to John, those who do respond in faith in this way receive eternal life. Those who do not respond in faith, do not receive eternal life. John says they stand condemned already because they prefer darkness instead of the light that Christ brings into the world (John 3:18, 36).

God’s Love

Now, if you have been paying attention up to this point, perhaps you noticed I left out the central, governing motivation of all that God did through Jesus on our behalf.

John tells us that, “God so loved.”

That phrase, “so loved” means, God loved “in this way,” which involves everything mentioned so far about Jesus being “lifted up” on our behalf.

And please notice, John says God so loved the world. Not just the Jews, but the Gentiles too, which is a way of saying, everyone. God is not only the covenant God of Israel. He is the God of all. He sent Jesus for all. That is why John said, “everyone who believes” and not just the Jews.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:12-13,

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Emphases mine)

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

And this is because, “God so loved.” God’s love expressed in this way, John reminds us in his first epistle, flows from the fact that God is love. It is who God is.

But here is where we need to be careful. We must not go to movies and music, or Hollywood and Hallmark, to get our definition of love and then read Scripture through that lens. Instead, we first go to Scripture to learn what love is and then look to see how worldly views compare with what the Bible says (and therefore, what God says) about God’s love. This is how we practice the art of spiritual discernment.

The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, seldom talked about God’s love without referring to it as a “holy love.” Each of God’s attributes relates to all the rest. God’s attributes do not exist in separate, isolated compartments in which they have nothing to do with one another. Furthermore, God’s attributes are not partial. He is not a 10% one attribute and 15% another and so on. He is 100% each of his attributes, and as I mentioned, they all interrelate and influence the others.

This led A.W. Tozer to write,

From God’s other known attributes we may learn much about his love. We can know, for instance, that because God is self-existent, his love had no beginning; because he is eternal, his love can have no end; because he is infinite, it has no limit; because he is holy, it is the quintessence of all spotless purity…”

Charles Wesley beautifully captured a glimpse of God’s love in his hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”…

Love divine, all loves excelling
Joy of Heaven to Earth come down
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling
All Thy faithful mercies crown
Jesus, Thou art all compassion
Pure, unbounded love Thou art
Visit us with Thy salvation
Enter every trembling heart

Your Response

That is the love of God. And so how do you respond to that? This idea is that God sent his Son to come and save, not a world that was cheering for him, but just the opposite. As the words of the Holy Communion liturgy in the United Methodist hymnal, (borrowing from Romans 5:8), put it,

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Emphasis mine)

How do you respond to that? How does that impact you emotionally? Does it fill you with awe? Humility? Reverence? Joy? Gratitude? Indifference? Distaste? Fear? The Apostle John suggests that all those seem to be ways people respond to the glorious announcement of God’s love in Christ.

How about you? Is the good news of God’s love for you in Christ an announcement of indescribable beauty to you? Of horror? Of Indifference?

I want you to know there is a God in heaven who loves you and who went to the greatest lengths to act on your behalf – to win you to himself. To enable you to become the person he created you to be.

He loves and rejoices over you so much he sings. Zephaniah 3:17 says,

The Lord your God is with you,

the Mighty Warrior who saves.

He will take great delight in you;

in his love he will no longer rebuke you,

but will rejoice over you with singing.”

He loves you so much he offers you eternal life in his presence. But he will not force you to respond in faith, to give your life to Christ. He will not override your will and desire. To those who would prefer not to spend eternity in the presence of God, God replies, “thy will be done.” And yet, like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, he waits and watches for you. More than that, with his Spirit he lovingly calls you and draws you to himself. And he is doing that today.

The Ultimate Gift

And what is the gift that awaits you when you trust in Christ? The gift is God himself. “Life of abundant joy and immeasurable blessing in the presence of God forever.”

At the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis writes these words about some of the characters in his books,

“All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Don’t you want to be a part of that Great Story?

If you have never put your trust in Christ before, reach out to God today and call to him. Trust in him. Enter his Great Story and become a part of it. If you do know Christ, then give thanks and continue to love and follow him. Tell others about him. Invite them to join you in the Greatest Story ever told.

Thanks be to God for the love of God.


Bible Study (Each chapter in the book is followed by an in-depth Bible study)

Lesson 3: His Life for Ours

Introduction

One of the most important classes I have ever taught as a pastor was on the Cross of Jesus Christ. Indeed, there are few Christian doctrines more essential to our faith than Christ’s atonement, for his precious work upon the Cross vividly expresses God’s great love for those Jesus came to save.

Moreover, what I’ve discovered in my studies on Christ’s atonement is that the Book of Hebrews is in a class by itself in helping us see the love God has for us, in and through the work of Jesus on the Cross. Let’s take a look.

The Book of Hebrews

The author of Hebrews had a very definite purpose in mind as he wrote his letter. He wanted to show the superiority of Jesus and the new covenant over the old covenant. His reason was that many of the Christian believers to whom he was writing had come out of Judaism and now were facing persecution. Some were being tempted to turn back to what they had left behind. They had found new life in Christ, but some were beginning to question whether Jesus was worth the persecution and suffering they were facing.

Maybe you’ve felt that way. Maybe you too have wondered if following Jesus is worth it. Perhaps you’ve thought that the cost of discipleship – of denying yourself, picking up your cross daily and following Jesus – is asking too much. Maybe like the Israelites who were following Moses in the wilderness, you’ve thought that the food you had as a slave back in Egypt wasn’t that bad after all. That thought has crossed my mind from time to time.

But then I read in Scripture the kind of message I find in Hebrews, and I come to see yet again, God’s great love for me – and for all of us – and I’m reminded that following our Lord, whatever the hardship, is more than worth it.

Our Text

Here’s how our Scripture puts it. Hebrews 9:11-14 says,

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Lesser to Greater

The folks Hebrews is addressed to needed to be encouraged. And the author does this by using what’s called, “lesser to greater” arguments. Jesus taught in the same way.

In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus taught,

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (emphasis mine)

In Matthew 12:11-12, he puts it this way,

11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (emphasis mine)

The author of Hebrews uses this rhetorical device throughout his letter to show the superiority of Jesus in several ways.

The High Priest

First of all, we learn in our text that Jesus is our High Priest. In the Old Covenant there was a great barrier between God and his people. In the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, there was a great veil that separated God’s people from the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest could go behind the veil to bring sacrifices to God.

But the death of Jesus spiritually and literally tore the veil in two (Luke 24:44-46), so that there was no longer anything preventing us from approaching God directly.

Also, when the high priest in the Old Covenant entered the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifices to God, he had to first offer a sacrifice for his own sin. Because even though he was the high priest and a holy man, he was still a sinful man. But Jesus was greater because Jesus was without sin.

Hebrews 4:15 says,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

The Sacrifice

In the Old Covenant the high priest brought in an animal to sacrifice. In the New Covenant, the High Priest was the sacrifice.

Our Lord Jesus Christ offered himself on our behalf. His life for ours. Do you remember what John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus approaching him? He declared these words in John 1:29,

… “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

John understood the mission of Jesus as, “the lamb without blemish” the Israelites were to sacrifice at the Passover, in Exodus 12.

The prophecy in Isaiah 53:7 points to this.

He was oppressed and afflicted,

yet he did not open his mouth;

he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,

so he did not open his mouth. (emphasis mine)

He laid down his life for those he loves. His life for ours.

Once For All

In the Old Covenant, the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement had to be repeated annually because the blood of animals was purely symbolic. It revealed that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). It taught God’s people that sin is a big deal. It separates us from a right relationship with God. It has to be atoned for.

And yet, the death of animals, offered by a sinful high priest, could do no more than point to something greater, something beyond itself, something that was to come.

And something greater did indeed come! God came in the Person of his Son, Jesus Christ, and he offered himself as a “once-for-all” sacrifice. That phrase, “once-for-all,” appears over and over again throughout Hebrews. It speaks of the permanence and perfection of the work of Jesus on the Cross.

Therefore, there’s no need to repeat the sacrifices anymore. All that needs to be done, has now been done.

Therefore, we’re called to trust in his sacrifice alone. The death of animals provided only a temporary, symbolic, and ceremonial cleansing from sin. But the author of Hebrews makes it clear that the death of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness – both outward and inward. It cleans our hearts.

Verse 14 says,

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (emphasis mine)

Because of what Jesus did on our behalf, we no longer need to be weighed down by the burden of our past – the guilt and shame of who we were, or what we did, before we came to know Christ.

We now have a freedom that’s been won by our Lord Jesus on the Cross.

The Love of God

God did all of this because he loves us. The Apostle Paul emphasized this in Romans 8:9,

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (emphasis mine)

And because we’re now new creatures who are free in Jesus Christ, the author of Hebrews says we can now “serve the living God.” The word, “serve,” in this verse points to the worship of God, more than anything else. Because the veil to the Holy of Holies has been torn in two, we can now approach God in worship, unhindered by the oppression, shame, and guilt of our sin.

All of that has been atoned for. We’ve been washed. We’ve been redeemed. We’ve been reclaimed. His life for ours.

Aslan and Edmund

In the book, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, one of the story’s four children, Edmund, betrayed his brother and sisters by telling the evil White Witch of Narnia where they were hiding. And in the Land of Narnia, where the story takes place, the penalty for being a traitor… is death.

Edmund was a young man and was understandably terrified at the prospect of this punishment. And even though he betrayed his family, they forgave him and thus they begged Aslan, the great lion and King of Narnia, to intervene… to do something… to get Edmund off the hook. Maybe an exception to the rule could be made this time.

However, Aslan, who is the Christ-figure in the story replied by telling the children that the law is the law and betrayal is indeed worthy of death. There was no other way.  The White Witch, therefore, legally laid claim to Edmund in order to be his judge and executioner. Things looked grim indeed.

Yet Aslan and the White Witch left the others for a long period of time to privately discuss the matter, and upon their return, in what seemed like the impossible, Aslan declared Edmund would not be put to death, and was now free. As you can imagine, upon hearing such wonderful news, there was a great celebration.

Later that evening, after the celebration was over, Aslan, somber and alone, left the camp where all the Narnians were sleeping, and made his way to the Great Stone table, which represented a sacrificial altar.

And there, the White Witch and all her wicked followers, bound Aslan, shaved his great mane, all the while mocking and beating him. And he took all of this pain, torment, and abuse without defending himself. Without trying to fight them off. Without trying to talk them out of it.

And there on the great Stone Table, Aslan was put to death by the blade of the White Witch. He voluntarily died in the place of Edmund, thereby receiving the punishment Edmund rightfully deserved.

His life for Edmund’s.

Isaiah 53:4-5 says,

Surely he took up our pain

and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,

stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds we are healed. (emphasis mine)

His life for ours. There is no greater love than this. God has done a great work on our behalf because he loves you and me. Our response is to love him, trust him, and follow him. And when we consider all he’s done for us, how could we do otherwise?

But thanks be to God that the story of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest and sacrifice, didn’t end at the Cross on Good Friday. Because Sunday was on the way.

Lesson 2: Born for This

From my new book, Lord of All. Click here to buy the book and Bible study so you can use it devotionally or work through it with a small group of Christian brothers and sisters… or to even give away to someone who desires to learn more about Jesus. Also, please make sure to check out my new blog, A Far Green Country, in which I’m writing much more frequently.


A Christmas Baby

On a Christmas day in 1965, I was born in Asheville, North Carolina. Two nurses cleaned me up and brought me to my mom and dad in a Christmas stocking.

My birth meant a lot to my mom and dad (or so they have led me to believe). But our country did not rejoice at my birth. The state of North Carolina did not rejoice at my birth. In fact, the city of Asheville did not rejoice at my birth. My birth did not make the national papers. It did not even make the local paper. There were no geopolitical implications that came from my being born into this world.

Royal Pardons

But there were huge implications when Princess Lalla Salma gave birth to a daughter named, Lalla Khadija. Her husband, King Mohammed the 6th of Morocco, was so excited when his daughter was born, he wanted to celebrate in a big way. Instead of giving out cigars, he pardoned 8,836 prisoners and reduced the sentences of 24,218 others. The Justice Ministry said the pardons were a humanitarian gesture. (from the Preaching Today website).

Talk about setting the captives free.

What the Birth of Jesus Did Not Mean

Well, the birth of Jesus also had a few implications. A few major implications, in fact. The problem was that it just wasn’t what the people were expecting.

The first part of the beautiful words from Isaiah 9:6 reminds us,

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

You see, the promised Messiah was supposed to ride in on a mighty horse, bearing a sword, to overturn the political and military structures and put Israel back on top. At least that is how many first century Jews understood that text and others like it.

What the Birth of Jesus Did Mean

Let’s take a look at one verse in Matthew’s Gospel to see what it says about why Jesus was born. Matthew 1:21 says,

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (emphasis mine)

Joseph’s Marching Orders

The Gospel of Luke records the angel announcement and conversation with Mary about giving birth to Jesus. But in Matthew, the angel is addressing Joseph. This is important because it was prophesied in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be a descendent of King David.

Luke gives us Mary’s genealogy to show us she was a biological descendant of David. But there is something a little different going on in Matthew’s Gospel. In that Gospel, Joseph is never called Jesus’ father. Joseph is his adoptive father, so to speak. Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus was a great miracle of the Holy Spirit. And so, God was the Father of Jesus.

But the key to this part of verse 21 is this – by giving Jesus his name, Joseph was accepting responsibility for raising Jesus as his own. “YOU shall call his name Jesus…” In that culture, the act of naming a baby gave the child legal status in the family. And so, Jesus was biologically linked to King David through Mary and legally related to David through Joseph.

Name Him “Jesus”

Now here’s what didn’t happen: God didn’t say to Mary and Joseph, “Go down to the Bethlehem Barnes and Noble and pick up a baby name book. The couple didn’t consult Great Baby Names of Hebrew History, 3rd Edition.

God, through the angel said, You shall, you will, you must, you are to call this baby boy, “Jesus.” And so, God told Mary and Joseph what to name their son.

Something About That Name

In a recent children’s Christmas Eve service at the church I serve, the service featured a story called, “Operation: No More Tears!” It began with Isaiah foretelling God’s “rescue plan” to save his people. We find the fulfillment of that prophecy in the birth and naming of Jesus.

The name, “Jesus,” was the Greek form of the name, “Joshua.” It was a common name in Israel. It literally means, “Jehovah is salvation” or “God saves.” The angel told Joseph the baby boy was to be named “Jesus” because he would save his people from their sins.

Again, however, the salvation most of the first century Jews had in mind was a national liberation. They wanted to be freed from those who oppressed them. In this case, it was the Romans. They wanted a kingly figure in the style of King David to ride into town, with sword drawn, and take out their enemies.

But the prophecy that best points to the kind of salvation Jesus would bring is found in Psalm 130:8, which says,

He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

The salvation Jesus would bring would primarily be spiritual, though it would certainly have implications for every sphere of life. As the words to an old hymn remind us, there is something powerful indeed about the name of Jesus.

The name, “Jesus” represents our deliverance from sin and our reconciliation with God. Acts 4:12 says this about the name of Jesus,

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (emphasis mine)

The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 2:10, puts it this way,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (emphasis mine)

His People

And who did Jesus come to save? “His people.” “His people” certainly meant Israel. We know he came first to “his own” as John 1:11 puts it. “His own” meant the Jews.

But we also know there is a wider context. Undoubtedly Matthew, the same Gospel writer who gave us the Great Commission, which commands us to go into all the world to make disciples of every nation, understood it was not only Israel Jesus came to save.

The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus came for Jew and Gentile. Paul writes this in Romans 1:16,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

For a Jew, the word “Gentile” or “Greek” simply meant everyone else… everyone who’s not Jewish. In other words, Jesus came to save everyone who would believe… Jew and Gentile alike.

Now think about that – Jesus cam to save his people from their sins. “His people” would have included a lot of very, so-called, “religious” people, not just those who were described as “sinners.” Jesus came to say that no one can be delivered from their sin by their own religious works, no matter how good. We’re all b born in sin and our sins can never be atoned for by our religious works, whether they’re Jewish or Gentle good works.

The Question

So, here is the question for us. Maybe you have asked this yourself. Why couldn’t Jesus just parachute out of heaven as an adult and go straight to the Cross? The answer: because he had to be truly God and truly human, and live that life.

As God, he would be able to atone for the infinite transgression of sin and bridge the infinite gulf between God and us. As human, he would live a life, be tempted just like the rest of us, yet remain without sin.

And as the God-man, a sinless human, a lamb who takes away the sin of the world, as John the Baptist referred to him (John 1:29), he could die in our place and take the punishment we deserved. You see, his life of perfect righteousness was just as important as his sacrificial death. Because if he were a sinner like the rest of us, then his death would not have even saved his life, much less ours.

By taking on human flesh and living among us, God revealed just how much he loves those he came to save. In one of my favorite hymns, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley reminds us of this piercing truth,

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all he brings,

Risen with healing in his wings.

Mild he lays his glory by,

Born that we may no more may die,

Born to raise us from the earth,

Born to give us second birth.

Read Matthew 1:21 again,

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, becausehe willsavehis people from their sins.”

Jesus was born for this. Talk about implications!

The birth of Jesus has eternal implications. It has temporal implications. It has implications for every sphere of your life.

Have you called out to Jesus to save you from your sins? And have you entrusted your life – given your whole existence to him? If not, let today be the day.

Thanks be to God for his holy and sacrificial love.

Bible Study (Each chapter in the book is followed with an in-depth Bible study)

Lord of All: Introduction

I thought I would share the chapters of my new book, Lord of All, with you. Each chapter (or, lesson) also has in-depth Bible study questions at the end. You can buy the book/study guide by clicking here. I hope you’ll check it out.

Also, you can click here to listen to an interview I did with TM Moore and Rusty Rabon at The Fellowship of Ailbe.

Here’s the Introduction…

The Center of Christianity

Christianity is a revealed religion, centered on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Thus, theologians call the Christian faith, “Christocentric,” or a Christ-centered faith. If you remove the real, historical, and supernatural Jesus from the equation, all you are left with is generic monotheism or perhaps an ethical system with a few moral platitudes sprinkled about. Thomas Jefferson tried this by literally cutting out all allusions to the supernatural in the New Testament. Removed were references to the miracles of Jesus Christ, including his deity, atoning death, and resurrection.

However, that form of “Christianity” is not really Christianity at all. It is not the faith once delivered to the saints, the faith that has been passed down from one generation to the next for two thousand years (Jude 3). That is not the faith and worldview that reconciles sinners to God and transforms individuals, families, communities, and even nations, for such a faith does not have the power to do so.

And yet, every Advent and Christmas season, every Lenten and Easter season, there will inevitably be magazines in the checkout lines at grocery stores or documentaries on cable channels that will have a “hot new take” on who the real Jesus Christ was. But it’s never a new take. It’s almost always a variant of an old heresy paraded out for a new generation. It’s presented as cutting-edge research, the kind your pastor and church don’t want you to learn about, but nothing new is ever said. It’s all there in the history books, along with the plentiful amount of evidence for why none of these “hot new takes” on Jesus holds water.

Purpose of This Study

I wrote this Bible study for a few reasons. First, there is no more important topic for a Christian than the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. As I’ve already said, he stands at the center of our faith. While we are a trinitarian faith, worshiping the Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one God, the story of redemption stands or falls on Jesus. There is no Christianity without him. Long after we have moved on from our present cultural moment with all its attending ethical debates, our dependence on Jesus Christ and his redemptive work on our behalf will remain central and of primary importance.

My second reason for writing this is to build up and strengthen the faith of Christians. Some friendly advocates, as well as critics of Christianity, have said that the church today is three thousand miles wide and two inches deep. And while I would be the first one to say a person does not need a PhD in theology or biblical studies to be a Christian or to go to heaven, thriving in the abundant life Christ desires for us does mean knowing him. And knowing him means vastly more than “just having a relationship” with him. That’s because it’s hard to have a meaningful relationship with a person you don’t know anything about.

Jesus said eternal life was to know God and his Son, Jesus Christ (John 17:3). This is intimate, relational, and experiential knowledge to be sure. But that knowledge presupposes a growing and deepening understanding of our Lord – who he is, what he taught, why he came, and what it means to love, trust, become like, and follow him daily. Whether through personal reading or with a small group of Christian friends, I pray this study will help you learn who the true Jesus of Holy Scripture is. More than that, I hope it will lead you to want to get to know him better, relationally and experientially, as well as what it means to follow him practically.

My third reason for writing this is for evangelistic purposes. I suspect most who read this material and discuss it with others will already be Christians. And as I’ve said, I hope it strengthens your faith. But I also hope it equips you and gives you confidence to speak to others about this Lord and Savior you love, trust, and follow. When someone asks a Christian about who Jesus is and why they should consider placing their faith in him, we ought to be prepared to give them a good reason for doing so (1 Peter 3:15). In fact, we are commanded to. We must do better than replying, “it works for me.”

If Jesus really is who he claimed to be and truly did what Christians believe he did, then only Jesus can meet the deepest desires and needs of a person, whether those needs are temporal or eternal, or both. Whether you use this Bible study to strengthen your own faith, or to share with another person, I pray God will use it in your life to reveal the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ, which leads me to my last reason for writing this study.

I believe this is the most important purpose. I hope this study will lead to the increased worship of Jesus. Jesus was not merely a man or good teacher. He was, and is, the Holy One of God and is therefore, worthy of our worship. To be sure, we are called to know, love, and follow him here and now. But ultimately, our chief purpose is to worship him, beginning now and lasting for all eternity.

In-Depth Bible Study

I have included an in-depth Bible study at the end of each lesson’s reading. I have provided it for you to investigate for yourself what the Bible has to say about Jesus. The questions provided are there to help you reflect on the most important questions about life and how Jesus Christ is the answer to those questions. In Acts 17, the church at Berea was complimented for examining the Scriptures, to see if what Paul had been teaching about Jesus was true. That’s what I hope you will do with the Bible study portion that follows each reading. Don’t simply take what I have written as true. Instead, dig deeply into the Bible and see what it says for yourself.

A Presupposition

On that note, a working presupposition for this study is that the Bible is the living Word of God, divinely inspired, and therefore authoritative and sufficient for faith and life for those who follow Christ. Because this is the working presupposition of this study, I will not be spending time defending the historical reliability of Scripture and related topics. There are many fine books that go into depth about such things, and I would encourage you to learn more about the trustworthiness of God’s Word by reading them.

Therefore, for those who are not Christians and who may not believe the Bible is authoritative for their lives, I want to say to you, that’s okay. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see you enjoy the abundant and eternal life that is available to you through trusting in Jesus Christ. However, my more modest desire for you is simply to help you understand why Christians believe what they do about Jesus, whether you agree with the Christian view or not. For Christians, I hope this working presupposition will bolster your faith and give you confidence that Jesus really is who he claimed to be, and that he truly accomplished the great work he came to do, as recorded in the pages of Scripture.

May God richly bless you throughout this study. I pray you will encounter our Lord in a wonderful way and that you will join me in declaring that there is no one else like Jesus!

Soli Deo Gloria,
Dale Tedder

My New Book: Lord of All

Jesus asked his disciples who they believed he was. It was the most important question they would ever be asked. It remains the most important question we will ever be asked.

Who do you believe Jesus Christ is? Why do you think he came? What was his purpose? Why do those questions, and your answers to them, even matter?

The purpose of this nine-lesson study on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ is to help you better understand what the Bible teaches about Jesus. At the end of each brief chapter is an in-depth Bible study to help you investigate for yourself why Christians believe what they do about Jesus.

This book and study guide is ideal for personal use or to help guide study and discussion within a small group of Christians. It may also be shared with those who do not yet know Christ but are interested in learning more about him.

You can learn more about it or purchase it by clicking here.

Lesson 1: Who Is Jesus and Why Does It Matter?

Two Questions

Jesus had just fed five thousand people. Before that he had been teaching and preaching about the Kingdom of God. On top of that he had been healing them of their illnesses. As you can imagine, the people followed Jesus everywhere he went. And why wouldn’t they? He was a blessing to them. (Luke 9:10-17)

But Jesus needed to get away and be alone. Well, alone with God. He needed to pray. Thus, we read in Luke 9:18-20 he and his disciples were able to get by themselves, and it was during that time he asked his disciples two questions.

What Do The Crowds Say?

The first question was, “Who do the crowds say I am” (v. 18)? Jesus wanted to know about the people they had just spent the day with. All those people he had been healing, teaching, and feeding, who did they think Jesus was?

They answered, “John the Baptist. Others say you’re Elijah. Still others say that one of the other prophets has risen” (v. 19).

Those answers weren’t unexpected. Israel long believed that before God’s Messiah would come, he would be proceeded by an Old Testament prophet.

It seems the people believed at least this: Jesus was no ordinary man. He was special. He could do great miracles. He could heal. He taught as one who had authority. And he fed them.

Make no mistake about it, this was no ordinary man. But Jesus wasn’t all that concerned, at the moment, about what the crowds thought of him. He was going somewhere else with his question. He knew how fickle the crowds were. In fact, there was another time Jesus fed thousands and it seemed the crowds were all for him. Then he started teaching them hard things and one by one, they left him. They said things like, “this teaching is too hard, who can accept it” (John 6:60).

What About You?

Jesus wasn’t as concerned about the opinion of the crowds at this particular moment in time. Instead, he turned to his disciples and asked them, “But who do you say that I am (v. 20)? It was as though he was saying, “I chose you and you’ve been following me around for a long time now. Who do you say that I am?”

That’s the question, isn’t it? Perhaps the most important question ever asked. It’s a question each and every person must answer. The answer matters. The right answer matters, a lot.

Peter’s Answer

Peter knew the answer. At least he was pretty sure he did. As Peter was prone to do, he jumped in and answered, “The Christ of God” (v.20 ESV).

Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew word, Messiah. And they both mean, God’s Anointed One. Peter and the disciples knew Jesus wasn’t just a prophet who came to make way for the Messiah. He was the Messiah.

Rome was going to be in trouble. Why? Because God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, was going to come in great power. He was going to conquer God’s enemies and restore Israel to her former glory. You better believe, Rome was in trouble! That was the prevailing understanding of the Messiah among the Jews at the time. That’s why his coming was so important and anticipated.

Not That Kind of Messiah

But Jesus threw a curve at the disciples. Peter’s answer was right, but was only partial. The Messiah was, in fact, the Son of God, the Savior of the World, and the Lord of heaven and earth. But Jesus didn’t come to triumph over Rome militarily. He came to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes. He came to die on a Roman cross (Luke 9:21-22).

That was all Peter needed to hear. In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter, who had just confessed Jesus was the Christ, now rebuked Jesus for saying he was going to Jerusalem to die (Matt. 16:23). Unacceptable.

Jesus responded with those famous words, “Get behind me, Satan” (Mark 8:33). Jesus knew why he had come. If Peter had been paying attention, he would have also.

Right after Jesus told the disciples he would be killed, he said, “and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22). Jesus the Messiah, was Son, Savior, and Lord, but he was also the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. For him to be the victorious Messiah of God, he had to die first. And in his death, sin, hell, Satan, and even death itself would be defeated. His resurrection from the dead would confirm it. God would have his victory!

Eternal and Temporal Significance

It matters that we know this about Jesus. It has both eternal and temporal significance. It was with an eternal perspective in mind that Jesus told Martha in John 11, 

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (vv. 25-26)

He wanted to know if she believed it. Believing in Jesus, according to Jesus, results in eternal life. The most famous verse in the whole Bible reminds us,

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

What we believe about Jesus, who he is and what he taught, has eternal significance.

Yet who we believe Jesus is has enormous consequences for this world as well. Jesus says in Luke 9:23,

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Deny, Take Up, and Follow

A disciple of Jesus Christ is a student and follower of Jesus Christ. That’s literally what the word “disciple” means. We’re not primarily called to be disciples of the church or of values or principles. Instead, we’re disciples of a Person, and who he is matters. In our text, Jesus taught that if we’re his disciples, we’ll do three things.

First, we’ll deny ourselves. We’ll no longer be self-centered, but God-centered. God alone will set the agenda for our lives. We won’t think primarily of ourselves first, but God. Everything will be ordered in relation to God.

Second, we’ll take up our cross daily. What do you suppose was going to happen to a person in the Roman Empire who was carrying a cross? They were going to their death. Jesus was painting a picture of the humility and submission he expects of those who follow him. Nobody carrying a cross was proud and arrogant. They were marching to their death.

Third, we’ll follow Jesus. This means identifying with Jesus and following him, wherever he leads us, regardless of the consequences.

In Luke 14, Jesus told a large crowd they needed to first count the cost of being his disciple before they signed on the dotted line. Why? Because it’s hard. It requires dying, dying to ourselves, our agenda, our sin and rebellion.

Furthermore, we must actually believe Jesus is who he says he is. This is not a sterile intellectual belief. It’s a belief that embraces and trusts in him. It’s a faith that places our lives in his hands because we believe he alone is our only hope.

That requires humility on our part. That requires submission to him and following him wherever he may take us. Are you willing to do that?

Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all report the same thing. First Jesus asks his disciples who he is. Then he teaches them some more about who he really is. Then he tells them they must deny themselves, pick up their crosses and follow him.

Jesus never teaches on discipleship apart from connecting it to who he is. Or, to put it another way, he always grounds our discipleship in his Person and Work. Who do you say Jesus is? That’s the most important question you will ever have to answer. What will your answer be?

The purpose of this study is to help you better understand the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, in order to know Christ more clearly, love Christ more dearly, and to follow Christ more nearly (Richard, Bishop of Chichester). Another purpose is to equip you to give a faithful answer whenever God provides you with an opportunity to share your faith in Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God for the Person and Work of his Son, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Bible Study

  1. Write down a key idea you learned from the reading.

2. Read Luke 9:18-20. Why did Jesus ask the disciples who the people said he was?

Who do people in our culture today believe Jesus is?

Who do your family and friends believe Jesus is?

3. Why did Jesus ask the disciples who they believed he was?

4. Why does it matter what a person believes about Jesus?

5. What are some beliefs about Jesus (who he is and what he did and said) that are essential to being a Christian?

Why did you choose those beliefs? What is it about them that you believe makes them essential to being a Christian?

6. Read Luke 9:21-27. In this text Jesus teaches his followers about the nature of discipleship. What is the connection between understanding who Jesus is and how his first-century disciples would follow him?

How does understanding the Person and Work of Jesus Christ impact how his 21st century disciples will follow him?

7. What does it mean to “deny” yourself? Give some practical examples.

8. Why is denying oneself important to being a faithful disciple of Jesus?

9. What does “taking up your cross daily” look like in today’s world? Give some examples.

What are some ways you are taking up your cross daily? Do you find it difficult? Why or why not?

10. What does it mean to “follow” Jesus?

Can a person be a Christian and not follow Jesus? Explain your answer.

11. Read verse 26 again. What is Jesus teaching in this verse by using the language of “being ashamed?”

12. What are some ways you have been “ashamed of Jesus?” Why do you think you were?

13. What are some practical ways you can grow stronger in your faith, in order to “know Christ more clearly, love Christ more dearly, and follow Christ more nearly,” so that you will never be ashamed of him again?