Lesson 8: The Bread of Life

In All The Wrong Places

In North Africa, around 354 A.D., a baby boy was born to a Christian mother and a pagan father. As the boy grew into a young man he found trouble and mischief at every turn. When he turned 16 years old, he traveled to Carthage, which was a Roman territory. There he studied rhetoric and debate. While studying in Carthage, this young man sought fulfillment in his life. We might say he was looking for love in all the wrong places.

The young man met a young woman and moved in with her and they had a child together. His mother, who never ceased to pray for her son, was not happy about his new living arrangements and continued to intercede for him.

As he got older he became quite accomplished in the area of rhetoric and was a much sought-after teacher. Students from all over the Empire came to study under him. He enjoyed all the privileges and things the world had to offer. However, every time he went home to visit his family, his mother asked him when he was going to become a Christian.

A Restless Heart

And though he would never admit it to his mother, his soul was restless. He still desired meaning and purpose for his life; something deeper and more meaningful than he was experiencing. Everything he had sought after and trusted in, up to this point in his life, was fleeting. The things of the world just didn’t last. So, he began studying the different philosophies and religions of his day, everything except Christianity.

He had nothing but contempt for Christianity. He believed Christianity had nothing to offer, because becoming a Christian, he thought, meant having to stop thinking altogether. Not only that, he believed becoming a Christian meant he would have to change the way he lived. He didn’t want any part of that.

A Mother’s Love

However, his mother continued to pray for him. In fact she would occasionally pester the local priests, asking them to “save her son.” Well, because she loved her son, she decided to find him in Carthage and beg him to become a Christian. However, after several weeks of his mother’s “persistence,” he decided to sneak out of Carthage and head to Rome, without telling her. So he left, and wouldn’t you know it, his mother followed him there as well.

While in Rome, the young man began to have doubts about his beliefs. Nothing seemed to satisfy the restlessness of his soul. In an effort to ease his restless conscience, he visited a church and listened to a preacher there. He never went all the way in the church, but stood at the back, just to listen. And, as time went on, his perspectives about life began to change. He began to learn more about Christianity.

Intellectually, he was fighting becoming a Christian, but his heart (via the Holy Spirit) was convicting him about the way he was living his life. This led to a spiritual crisis for him.

Epiphany

One day, he and a friend were sitting in a garden, when suddenly, he cried out to his friend, “What is wrong with us?”

He then said,

“as I was saying this and weeping in the bitter agony of my heart, suddenly I heard a voice from the nearby house. The voice repeated over and over again, ‘pick up and read, pick up and read.’ At once my countenance changed, and I began to think intently whether there might be some sort of children’s game in which such a chant is used, But I could not remember having heard of one. I checked the flood of tears and stood up. I interpreted it solely as a divine command to me – to open the book and read the first chapter I might find. I picked up the book of the apostle, opened it and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes lit: It said, ‘Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.’”

After he read these verses from Romans he testified,

“I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of the sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.”

After this experience, the young man searched for his mother to tell her all that happened. After sharing his joy with her, they moved back to Carthage together. Two days later his mother died. It was as though she didn’t need to live anymore, for her son was now a Christian – he had tasted the Bread of Life.

Taste and See

This man who had lived a sinful and idolatrous life, whose daily life was filled with sexual immorality and drunkenness, who bowed before the altars of false gods and philosophies; this very man who tried everything the world had to offer, finally found the one thing the world couldn’t offer. He found the bread of life – Jesus Christ.

You may know this man of whom I am speaking. And those of you who don’t have probably heard of the city and beach that bears his name. His name is St. Augustine, and he became one of the greatest saints in the 2000-year history of the Christian church. Protestants and Catholics alike claim Augustine as a patron saint. God used this man with such a wretched past, to bring honor and glory to Christ’s name.

Augustine found the very bread Jesus was speaking about in John 6. The crowds were following Jesus because of the miracles he did. They wanted him to provide more bread for them to eat. But Jesus told them not to put all their hope in bread that would spoil, but instead, to seek that bread which would give them eternal life. The crowd, however, didn’t understand Jesus’ words. They said to him, “then give us this bread that you are speaking of.”

Jesus responded to them in verse 35,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Then in verse 40, Jesus described what God’s will for them was on this matter. He said,

“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

A Treasure Found

This is the treasure St. Augustine found. This is the bread he tasted. This is the single most important truth he knew he would ever find in his life. Augustine responded to Jesus, the bread of life, the way Jesus told the disciples they should.

In Jesus’ parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, two men found treasures beyond their wildest dreams. Both men sold all they had to secure their discoveries. They recognized the value of what they had found, and they determined to have it. They sold all they had so they could buy it, and that’s exactly what they did.

Jesus told his disciples that this was the reasonable thing for them to do. It would have been foolish of them to find the great treasure and do nothing about it. Augustine saw the great treasure. His mother had been telling him about it for many years, and yet he did not have eyes to see it. And then suddenly, the veil was lifted and he saw it – and he sold all he had to purchase it. He sold the pleasures of all his sin. He sold the prestige he had as a famous teacher. He sold his friendships he had with those who would no longer be his friends. This was no light decision, free of consequence.

A New Life

And yet, what Augustine got in return was infinitely more valuable than what he gave up. What he received in exchange for those earthly things filled him with eternal satisfaction and joy. Augustine gave up much, but got even more in return. He knew the value of the bread of life – Jesus Christ his Lord. Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life,” are words that express the glorious truth that he alone can give the gift of eternal life.

The crowd Jesus was addressing did not realize he was teaching them about a spiritual experience. What is this spiritual life like? Jesus said the person who has this life will never be hungry or thirsty. Perhaps you, like Augustine, know what it is like to thirst and hunger for significance, dignity, and love. Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to have peace or stability in your life. Augustine knew what it was like to go day after day without stability. He knew what it was like to have a restless heart, knowing there was more in life than what he had, but not knowing how to get it.

Jesus says the one who comes to him will never hunger because the bread he offers is completely satisfying. Blaise Pascal, the 17th century philosopher, is often attributed to have said we all have a God-shaped vacuum in our hearts – and they can only be filled by God. Putting your family, friends, careers, money, school, drugs and alcohol, prestige, power or anything else before God, will leave you hungry and unsatisfied.

The Fate of Sisyphus

If those things are your life’s pursuits, you will find that you are much like the character of Greek mythology, Sisyphus. He was the poor guy who was condemned by the gods for betraying them. So, for his punishment, he was sentenced to roll a giant boulder to the top of a huge hill. That would be hard enough. However, each time he worked and worked to get the boulder to the top of the hill, it would always roll down the other side. He was condemned to eternally repeat this meaningless task of rolling the stone to the top of the hill – over and over again, never finding rest or satisfaction.

Jesus taught that pursuing anything else but him, the bread of life, is like pushing a rock up a hill, over and over again. It will be futile and have no end. Instead, when you turn to Jesus and trust in him, you will discover the abundant, meaningful, and eternal life God has promised you.

Jesus preaches the same message today through his Word and Spirit,

“I am the bread of life. If you come to me you will never go hungry, and if you believe in me you will never be thirsty.”

The men in Jesus’ parables found out this was true. St. Augustine found out this was true. In fact, people for 2,000 years have discovered this same truth. An evangelist once said that evangelism is merely one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread. It’s my privilege to tell you that we are all beggars and Jesus is the only bread we will ever need.

Have You Tasted the Bread of Life?

Have you tasted the bread of life? Have you come to Jesus? Or are you trying to cram other things into your life, instead of the only thing that can give you meaning, satisfaction, and rest?

What do you have to do to receive this great treasure – this pearl of great price – this living bread? Jesus taught you must sell all you have – your agenda and desire to go your own way instead of God’s way. You must hunger for the bread God supplies and not for praise, power, and popularity. You must put everything and everyone else behind God and seek God and his righteousness first and foremost, and all else will be given to you. This is never easy, and it will cost you a great deal. But what you get in return will be more than worth the price. So, seize this opportunity. Taste the bread that Jesus offers. St. Augustine did, and he never regretted it. In fact, he wrote a prayer to express his gratitude to God, and I would like to share it with you.

You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised; great is your power and your wisdom is immeasurable. Man, a little piece of your creation, desires to praise you, a human being bearing mortality with him, carrying with him the witness of his sin and the witness that you resist the proud. Nevertheless, to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. Amen.

Lesson 7: The Gospel of Jesus Christ

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.


Dr. Craddock

One of the highlights of attending seminary in Atlanta was sitting under the teaching of Dr. Fred Craddock. Dr. Craddock was a gifted and world-renowned preacher and preaching instructor. It was a privilege and blessing to take a preaching class taught by him.

One of the things Dr. Craddock taught us, something that’s always stayed with me, came from a story he told us. He shared with our class a snippet of a conversation he had with one of his former students who had graduated and was serving a little rural church.

The former student told Dr. Craddock he was going to wake that little country church up. He was going to bring them into the present. He was going to be new and fresh. As an example of this, he wasn’t going to preach the same old tired stuff during Christmas, stuff they all knew. He was going to hit them with something new.

Dr. Craddock lovingly, and I’m sure, convincingly, shared with this eager new preacher that what those people needed, what we all need, especially during the seasons of Advent and Lent, is the old, old story of what God has done in Christ.

The Old, Old Story

It’s not that a preacher shouldn’t seek to know the needs of the congregation and connect with them in their context. The preacher should not seek to be irrelevant. However, the truth is, a clear and honest telling of the old, old story is the most relevant subject there is. Many hymns remind us that the “old, old story” is the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here’s how the hymn, “Victory in Jesus,” communicates the old, old story,

I heard an old, old story,
how a Savior came from glory,
how he gave his life on Calvary
to save a wretch like me;

I heard about his groaning,
of his precious blood’s atoning,
then I repented of my sins
and won the victory.

O victory in Jesus, my Savior forever!
he sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood;
he loved me ere I knew him, and all my love is due him;
he plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.

That’s the old, old story.

When we think about the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Good News of what God has done in and through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, we usually go back 2,000 years. But the story is older than that. In one sense, it goes all the way back into eternity, into the mind of God who’s always existed.

Look for Jesus

We won’t go back quite that far in this lesson, but I do want to show the Good News fulfilled in Jesus was predicted and anticipated in the Old Testament. God didn’t “make it up” on the fly.

When I used to teach Disciple Bible Study, a very detailed and comprehensive study of both the Old and New Testaments, people would often tell me how bogged down they were getting in the Old Testament. They would even tell me they thought it was boring and irrelevant.

In response to this, one of the things I used to encourage them to do, in order to stick with it, was to start looking for Jesus in the pages of the Old Testament. Because he’s there! In fact, he’s all over the place in the Old Testament.

The Testimony of the Apostles

Below are a few Scriptures from the New Testament that help make the case.

Romans 1:1-4 – Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God– [2] the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures [3] regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, [4] and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:1-3 – Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. [2] By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

[3] For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,…

Galatians 3:6-9 – Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” [7] Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. [8] The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” [9] So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Acts 13:26-39 – “Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. [27] The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. [28] Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. [29] When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. [30] But God raised him from the dead, [31] and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.

[32] “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers [33] he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus… (Emphases added)

Peter and Stephen, in the book of Acts, declare the same truths: all that was accomplished in and through the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ was anticipated and prophesied in the Old Testament.

The Testimony of Jesus

Maybe at this point you are saying, “Well, that sounds good, but that’s just Paul and Peter and Stephen. They’re just men. First, let me remind you that Paul’s writings and Peter’s preaching in Acts are just as inspired of God as anything written in the Gospels. However, just for emphasis, let me quote a little of what our Lord himself said, or what was said about him, in the Gospels.

Luke 18:31 – Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.

Luke 24:27 – And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24:44 – He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

John 1:45 – Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

John 5:45-46 – “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. [46] If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.

 John 8:56 – Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” (Emphases added)

The “Scriptures” Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, Philip, Nathanael, and Stephen spoke of were, of course, the Old Testament. That’s what I mean when I say we ought to look for Jesus and his Gospel in the Old Testament. It’s far from silent on the subject. That’s why we read so much from the Old Testament during the Advent and Lenten seasons. It points to our Lord. Thanks be to God.

What is the Gospel?

Thus far we’ve seen that the old, old story is much older than we usually think. But what is the old story about? What is the Gospel, the Good News, of Jesus Christ?

The shortest and easiest answer is given to us by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16,

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

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation. It’s God’s answer, his response, to our sin and sinfulness, fallenness, brokenness, rebellion, foolishness, hurts and pain, suffering, and lostness.

God isn’t an aloof deity who sits in heaven, detached from his creation. Even though he created us in his image and declared his creation was good, very good in fact, we, along with our first parents Adam and Eve, have gone our own way. We’ve rebelled against God. We’ve declared ourselves in charge and have resisted him.

And even though God in his perfect holiness and righteousness would have been justified in pouring out his wrath upon us, in his grace he poured out his love instead.

As the Scriptures we’ve already seen tell us, God sent his deeply beloved, one and only Son to live, die, and be raised from the dead for us. Here’s how Paul makes this point.

Romans 3:21-26 – But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. [22] This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, [23] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [24] and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. [25] God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– [26] he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Emphasis added)

Our sinfulness, rebellion, foolishness, and willfulness, were paid for (atoned for) on the Cross by the Lord Jesus Christ. The Scripture says Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us. He received the punishment we deserved.

Your Choice

Because of that great expression of love, we can know God. We can enter into a personal, deep, and abiding relationship with God. We can actually start becoming more and more like Christ in our daily lives. We can be made holy and whole. We can receive both abundant and everlasting life.

But it’s not automatic.

This is where we must choose to enter into the old, old story. We must respond. We must not listen to the story of God’s good news and simply smile and say, “Well, that’s a nice story.” There’s no place for indifference to this story. We must believe the story.

We must place our faith, our trust, in Christ – in who he is, the very Son of God – Son, Savior, and Lord. We must trust in his Work on our behalf – his death upon the Cross for our sin and his resurrection from the dead for our salvation.

We must repent, which means to turn away from our sinfulness, selfishness, and rebellion, and turn instead toward God, in love for him and faithfulness to him. Turning away from sin and toward God doesn’t earn us our salvation. Our salvation is a free gift from God, just as Jesus is a gift to us. But it is a gift we must open, so to speak. We must respond to it. We must receive it in trusting faith.

When we do, not only are we declared righteous before a holy God, but our lives will begin to bear fruit. We’ll show we really love and trust God and his Son Jesus Christ by seeking to live for him, desiring him, obeying him, and by loving our neighbors.

Faith and repentance are not two separate things. They are two aspects of the same thing. They are, if you will, two sides of the same coin.

That’s why Jesus says in Mark 1:15, “Repent and believe the good news!” Friends, this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and there is no other!

Enter the Story Yourself

The United Methodist liturgy for Holy Communion describes all this in a beautiful way. It invites us to enter into the story – to become a part of it.

In the United Methodist Church we believe that, through his Holy Spirit, we meet the main character of the old, old story, the Lord Jesus Christ. As we gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ and bow before him, Christ gathers with us in our midst. He is with us in and through his Spirit as we receive his body and blood he so lovingly and freely gave on our behalf.

However, you must enter into this story by faith. United Methodists believe this sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. In other words, we don’t receive this grace simply by going through the motions. Instead, it’s with joyful, thankful, love-filled hearts, we receive the bread and cup in faith, trust, and repentance. Our liturgy, based in Scripture, reminds us,

Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,
     who earnestly repent of their sin 
    
and seek to live in peace with one another.

A few pages further in the hymnal, another order of Communion says this,

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins
     and are in love and charity with your neighbors
     and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, 
     and walking henceforth in his holy ways:
Draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort, 
     and make your humble confession to almighty God.

If you’ve never genuinely and consciously repented of your sin and placed your trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord, today is the day of salvation. 


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

Lesson 6: Jesus Christ is Lord

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.


An Early Confession

Thus far in this study we have looked at who Jesus is and why it matters, why Jesus came to our world, the nature of his atoning work on the Cross, and the historical reality of his resurrection. We have learned that Jesus Christ was, and is, the God-man, who died for the forgiveness of our sins and was raised on the third day for our salvation. And yet, as essential as those affirmations of faith are, they are not the earliest creedal formulations about Jesus.

One of the earliest confessions of the Christian community was, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” The title, “lord” in the first century would have been used in much the same way we use the words “sir” or “Mr.” today. It was a sign of courtesy and respect, but not necessarily a divine, or even regal, designation. It was used for Jesus throughout his earthly ministry by those who knew him well, but also by those who did not know him at all. It was a term of respect for the day in which he walked the earth. But all of that changed after his resurrection from the dead. The term “lord” used in polite society came to mean much, much more to his disciples.

Jesus is God

“New Testament scholar, F.F. Bruce wrote,

“The word mar (‘lord’) had a wide range of meaning. In some Aramaic documents dating from shortly before the Christian era it occurs as an equivalent of such divine names as Shaddai (‘the Almighty’) or Yahweh (the personal name of the God of Israel). …Since the form Marana-tha was addressed to the risen Christ in the context of worship, a sense nearer the divine end of the scale of meaning was probably intended.” (Jesus: Lord and Savior)

Bruce goes on to say,

“What is true of the Aramaic form is equally true of the Greek word kyrios, used repeatedly in the New Testament with reference to Jesus. …When early Christians said ‘Jesus is Lord’ (kyrios Iesous), they used the word in its most exalted sense. That is why they refused to say ‘Caesar is Lord’. It is not that they refused to honor the Roman Emperor; on the contrary, they made a special point of honoring him. But they would not allow him to share an honor which, in their view, belonged to Christ alone. To say ‘Caesar is Lord’ from the later years of the first century AD onwards was to acknowledge his divinity, and this was something which Christians could not do.” (ibid.)

What we start observing in the New Testament writing is the usage of Old Testament titles and references for Yahweh – the God of Israel – being used for Jesus, particularly the title, Lord. In the Christ-hymn of Philippians 2:5-11, we discover that this move by the early Christian community was “not a matter of inadvertently equating them: it is deliberately affirmed that God has conferred his own name, with the unique dignity attaching to it, on Jesus. It might not be appropriate to reword ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ as ‘Jesus Christ is Yahweh’; but nothing less than this is involved.” (Bruce, ibid.)

In the Christ-hymn, just referred to, the Apostle Paul writes,

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

This point is made crystal clear when Thomas encountered Christ in one of his post-resurrection appearances. Upon experiencing the risen Lord face to face, Thomas declared, in what must have been both amazement and worship, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). About this declaration of faith, the English Standard Version Study Bible notes,

Thomas’s confession of Jesus as his Lord (Gk. Kyrios) and God (Gk. Theos) provides a literary link with the references to Jesus as God in [John’s] prologue (1:1, 18).

All Authority

Thus, to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord is nothing less than to claim he is God, and therefore, has the authority of God himself. For example, in Matthew 28:18, Jesus declares,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

In other places in the New Testament, we read statements about Jesus that are rightly attributed to God alone.

In Colossians 1:15-20, we read,

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (emphases mine)

John 1:1-3 puts it this way,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (emphases mine)

Hebrews 1:1-4 affirms,

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (emphases mine)

What a majestic and glorious vision of Christ these New Testament writers had! And those are only a few examples of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I hope it is becoming clear that the early church did not view Jesus as just a man, nothing more than merely a great teacher, moral philosopher, or political revolutionary. He was truly human to be sure, but he was more than human; he was the God-man, the Lord of all.

A quotation that is often attributed to St. Augustine goes something like this: “If Jesus Christ is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.” The Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper expressed a similar line of thought with these words: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

Ontological Lordship

But what does it mean, practically speaking, to understand and affirm that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord? There are two senses of Lordship that I want to focus on in the rest of this lesson.

The first is the ontological sense of Christ’s Lordship. Ontology is a branch of philosophy that focuses on “being” or “existence.” This relates to the nature of Jesus Christ – the affirmation that Jesus Christ is God incarnate. He is the very God of the Old Testament, as well as New Testament. As such, he is Lord over all things – over heaven and earth, time and space, and life and death. He has dominion over all there is, inside, and even outside, the universe. This understanding of the Lordship of Jesus Christ ought to lead us to religious devotion to him, which would include, but not limited to, our worship of him.

At this point I hasten to add a vital detail to help us properly understand this aspect of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This understanding of Lordship means that Jesus is Lord of all there is, whether one chooses to recognize and acknowledge him as Lord or not. Our belief or disbelief in his Lordship does not impact this reality in the slightest. As the Apostle Paul points out, however, it would be much better, (as one’s voluntary expression of love, commitment, and worship), to bow before Christ and confess him as Lord now, for the day will come when every person will have to bow before him and confess his Lordship, whether one wants to or not (Philippians 2:10-11). C.S. Lewis made the same point this way,

“When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left. For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not.” (Mere Christianity)

Ethical Lordship

There is a second sense in which Jesus is Lord. We might think of this as an ethical perspective of his Lordship. This has more of a subjective understanding to it and application of it. This means we must not only recognize him as Lord but also choose to submit to him as Lord. This involves submitting our thoughts, words, deeds, desires, attitudes, priorities, values, and every other facet of our lives to his authority and reign. The word authority means, “the right to impose obligation.” When we submit to Jesus Christ as our Lord, we recognize and understand that every sphere of our lives belongs to him. For, as the Scripture we have already looked at affirms, not only was everything (including us) created by him, but it was also created for him. Therefore, we are only able to live the way we were created to live, when we are living in alignment with who Christ is, and in accordance with his will for our lives.

Thus, there should be no compartments of our lives that we keep off limits from Jesus’ claim on them. Our lives should be lived for his glory. We glorify him by living in obedience to him, for this is an expression of love for him (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 2:2-5). We take all our thoughts, words, deeds, desires, etc., and submit them to Christ by cultivating his perspective on them and bringing them under obedience to him (2 Corinthians 10:5). By doing this, we are honoring him and living in alignment with the One who created all things, and therefore, knows what is best for us.

Implications

Because Jesus Christ is Lord, every sphere of life and human interest must be brought into submission to him – religious and ethical convictions, marriage, family, workplace relationships, money and finances, sexuality, politics, government, entertainment, television and internet viewing habits, hobbies, friendships, priorities, art, education, law, leisure, values, beliefs, conduct, economics, and on and on. Jesus Christ has been given authority over it all. Thus, it is Christ and Christ alone who sets the parameters for what brings him glory in these multifaceted and various spheres of life, and what does not bring him glory. In fact, Jesus asks his hearers in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?

To be sure, Jesus is a loving and gracious Lord, filled with mercy and compassion, but he is still the Lord, nonetheless. Therefore, we may not rebel against him with impunity. Yet, the glorious and beautiful truth in this is that the better we come to know this Lord of all, the more we grow in love for him, want to become like him, and desire to faithfully follow him in every sphere of life. And, astonishingly, this same Lord invites us to relate to him as brother and friend, for this Lord is also the Lover, Redeemer, and Reconciler of our souls.

This view of Christ’s Lordship has transformed my life and ministry and I believe it can do the same for you. Such a view has helped guide me away from a self-centered, compartmentalized, temporal perspective of living in this world to a Christ-centered, holistic, and eternal perspective. Seeing life this way is like finding the right pair of eyeglasses with the proper prescription to view reality. Only with these eyeglasses am I able to see things as they really are. C.S. Lewis put it this way,

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

What About You?

Is Christ your Lord? We’ve already seen that Christ is the Lord, regardless of our perspective and acknowledgement of him or our response to him. Idolatry has been part of the human condition since the beginning. We often look for other masters to serve who will permit us live the way we deem best. But they are broken idols of our own making which will lead us astray. Furthermore, it was Jesus himself who said we cannot serve two masters. In Matthew 6:24 he taught, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other…” In other words, Jesus taught that there is no neutrality when it comes to him. He says in Matthew 12:30, “Whoever is not with me is against me…”One Master or Lord will lead you to abundant and eternal life; the other lord and master will lead you to death and destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).

Jesus is not a Savior only, but Lord and Savior. He is the Lord of your salvation. He sets the parameters of how a person can enter into an intimate relationship with the living God. It is a gracious gift that comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Indeed, this has been a defining mark of faithful Christian belief since the first century. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:9,

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

This is the faithful confession of faith that has been passed down from one generation of Christians to the next, for two thousand years. But this is not a faith that saves souls for eternity only. It is also the one Way that brings abundant life that yields true temporal blessings to individuals, families, communities, nations, and even the world, as Christ’s disciples produce much, good, and lasting fruit for him and his Kingdom.

A Prayer

Let me end with a prayer I developed based on a study of the ancient Celtic Cross, which emphasized the Lordship of Christ.

Jesus Christ, Son of God, please have mercy on me a sinner.
You are the Lord of heaven and earth, of time and space, of life and death.
You are the fount of all wisdom and knowledge.
You are the Lover, Redeemer, and Reconciler of souls.
Please fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may,
     Know you more clearly,
     Love you more dearly,
     Become like you more nearly,
     And follow you more faithfully in every sphere of my life.
For the sake of your Kingdom and holy Name I pray. Amen.

I pray that that prayer would be more fully realized in my life, as well as yours.

Thanks be to God.


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

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.

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