Conclusion: The Supremacy of Jesus

Superheroes

Let me admit right at the beginning of this conclusion, that I’m a superhero movie nerd of the highest order. I try to see every new superhero movie when it comes out at the theatre. And when it finally gets to the small screen, well I watch it then too, more times than I care to say in public.

One of the themes often explored in these movies is the connection between power and authority. These superheroes have supernatural powers after all, but the question has continued to be asked: Should they use them?

Other versions of that question are: By what right or authority are they using them? Are they authorized to do so? Who are they answerable to when things go wrong? And what standard of right and wrong is being applied in their decision-making processes.

Capernaum

The Scripture we will look at in these concluding remarks about Jesus focuses on this interrelationship between power and authority as well. This “showdown in Capernaum” we find in Mark 1:21-28, will reveal to us that Jesus has both, power and authority.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Earlier in Mark 1, Jesus had called his first disciples to follow him. Jesus had left Nazareth and was now using Capernaum as his homebase. Capernaum was a fairly large town. It was a thriving, even wealthy area because it was near a popular trade route. In fact, it was the headquarters for many Roman troops.

And while it was primarily occupied by Jews, because of its location and success as a thriving town, there were many pagan influences there as well.

The Visiting Teacher

As verse 21 indicates, Jesus was visiting the local synagogue to teach. This would not have been unusual. The Temple in Jerusalem would have been too far away for most Jews to travel to, so synagogues popped up all over the Roman Empire, as places of learning and worship.

And because no synagogue had only one particular teacher, the leading elder often invited visiting teachers to come and teach the community. This was normal.

In this case it was Jesus who was invited to teach. We don’t know exactly how long Jesus had been in Capernaum, but presumably it had been long enough for folks to get to know him well enough to extend this invitation.

Unlike Matthew’s Gospel, we don’t know what Jesus had been teaching here. But I think an educated guess would be that he was teaching about the good news of the Kingdom of God. Earlier in Mark 1, we read these words,

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

Jesus’ Authority

Whatever Jesus had been teaching, verse 22 tells us he amazed his listeners “because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” What does that mean? Well, it was very common for the scribes, who were the learned Jewish scholars of that day, to cite their tradition and the great Jewish teachers of former days.

However, Jesus did not do that. He spoke as one who had his own authority. He never said, “Rabbi Hillel said this…” “Or Rabbi Shammai said that…” He taught as one whose words were self-authenticating. He did not need to appeal to other human teachers because, we know, he was sent by God himself.

Indeed, Jesus was more than a prophet sent by God, he was God in the flesh – the very Son of God. There was (and is) no higher authority.

Impure Spirit

Oddly enough there was a demon-possessed member of the synagogue who had been in attendance while Jesus was teaching. In verses 23-24, we read…

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

Isn’t it interesting that the demons Jesus dealt with always seemed to recognize his true identity, just as we find here?

The demon asked Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us?” “Us” – plural. That may have meant there was more than one impure spirit, or demon, inside the man. Or it may have meant, “Have you come to vanquish all demons?”

The answer was ultimately “Yes,” to both. Jesus did come to defeat the devil, and all his junior minions.  

The Showdown

I do not know if you believe in the devil and demons, but Jesus certainly did, and we find him encountering one here in our Scripture. The demon knew who Jesus the man was – “Jesus of Nazareth.” But he also knew the deeper identity of Jesus. That Jesus was no mere man, he was, “the Holy One of God.”

There was an ancient idea in that day that believed that speaking the name of a spiritual enemy would give one mastery over it. Thus, this was not merely a case of the demon rightly identifying Jesus, and certainly not paying Jesus a compliment.

No, this was a very scared demon trying to gain the upper hand over Jesus. It didn’t work. Jesus quickly responded in verse 25 – “Be quiet!”

“Be quiet” was really, “be muzzled” or “shut up.” Jesus knew what the demon was up to. He also knew if the people realized too early who he was, they may try to make him a political or military leader, and as we’ve learned throughout this study, that was not why Jesus came.

And so, Jesus said with great force, “Come out of him!” The demon had no choice but to leave the man. He didn’t have the power or authority to resist Jesus’ command. Yet he let his displeasure be known with a shriek and scream that shook the man violently as he left him.

The Why Behind the What

Jesus performed miracles to teach spiritual truths, not for entertainment. He often did miracles to authenticate his teachings, which were usually about himself – who he was and why he came. That helps us understand why Jesus delivered people from impure spirits.

Do you remember when Jesus healed the paralyzed man who had been lowered from the roof by his friends to where Jesus was? Jesus told the man his sins were forgiven. The religious leaders were furious because only God can forgive sins.

Therefore, Jesus said to them, “so that you may know I can forgive sins, I’m going to heal this man.” The miracle was performed to point to something greater, in this case, his true identity.

In a similar way, Jesus cast out this demon to let the people know they needed to really pay attention to what he had to say. Because if he had the power and authority to cast out demons, then he was someone to be reckoned with.

The People Understood

The people understood this. They asked things like, “Who is this teacher from Nazareth?” “What is he saying about himself and why he has come?” He wasn’t like any teacher they had ever heard. Why, he could even cast out demons. He was different from the rest. How did they respond?

Verse 28 says,

News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

As one person put it, “the proclaimer became the proclaimed.” Word about Jesus spread quickly.

So What?

So, what does all this mean for us 2,000 years later? As I poured over Scripture and other resources for this study, I was continually amazed. At the end of one of my study sessions I wrote down these words,

“There is no one else like Jesus! You have never met, nor will you ever meet, anyone like Jesus!”

I was in awe. Truly.

Jesus has the ability to vanquish powers and principalities, temptation and sin, bondage and alienation, and to set the captives free. He created and sustains the very existence of the universe with his word. He has complete power and authority over life and death. I know we crave application in our books and Bible studies. We want to know how to put into practice the biblical principles we read about. It is good and right for us to want that.

But sometimes the application is simply this: To be in awe of this Jesus. To bow in worship before him because of who he is and what he’s graciously done on our behalf. He is the Holy One of God. He delivers people from their sin and bondage. He makes people whole and holy. He saves to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25).

And he can do that for you too because he, as God in the flesh, has both the authority and power to do so.

All Authority

As we saw several times throughout our study, Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:18 that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. That means he is the Lord over the supernatural and the natural. He has power and authority over every sphere of life.

This ought to make every follower of Jesus Christ breathe a sigh of comfort. This ought to compel every person who knows, loves, and follows Jesus to cry out in joyful thanksgiving: “This is our Savior! This is our Lord! He is the Holy One of God!”

Therefore, give Jesus every fear, worry, sin, temptation, decision, desire – and everything else. He is the Holy One of God who became one of us because he loves us. And he therefore calls us to learn more about who he is, why he came, and what he taught. He calls us to love him more – with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And he calls us to live for him by following him in every sphere of our lives.

And when people see the difference Jesus has made in your life, word will spread quickly about him, and others will want to know this Jesus too.

Deo Gratias. Thanks be to God.

Amen.

(Click here to buy my book & Bible Study, Lord of All.)

Lesson 9: Only One Way

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.


It’s A Small World

In our study on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, our last lesson is perhaps the most controversial. It has been an issue from virtually the beginning of the church. However, we may experience it more keenly today as we feel the world getting smaller and smaller.

Two or three generations ago it may have been unlikely that a Christian family knew another family who practiced a different religion from theirs. Today, a neighborhood street may be filled with those who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or even no religion at all. Add to that the increasing prevalence of the Internet as an online community, via social media, and the world feels even smaller. At any given time of the day, you can communicate with someone who lives on the other side of the world. 24-hour news sources give us up-to-the-second news reports of what’s happening in every corner of the globe.

It is not a surprise then that our multicultural world has given rise to religious pluralism. And this can be a good thing. We have much to learn from people with different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. Tolerance in these relationships is a good thing and essential for individuals and communities to continue growing.

The Early Church

However, what marked Christianity as distinct in its earliest days continues to do so today: its exclusivity regarding its truth-claims about the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Such a view brought on persecution of Christians in first-century Rome and things haven’t changed much today. The Romans allowed different religions to be practiced, as long as proper religious homage was made to Caesar. This was untenable for Christians who said Christ alone was Lord. Today a Christian who professes that the Christian worldview alone is true, and that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ, might be accused of being intolerant, narrow-minded, bigoted, and today, even hateful. Christianity isn’t the only religion that makes exclusive truth-claims, but in our country, at least, it is the one that takes the most heat for doing so.

And yet, the truth is, our day is no more pluralistic than Christians who lived in biblical times. The Christian proclamation has always taken place in a pluralist world, in competition with rival religious and intellectual convictions. In fact, many books in both the Old and New Testaments were written as arguments against the competing religions that Israel and the early Christian community faced daily. Alister McGrath writes,

“Ancient Israel was acutely aware that its faith was not shared by its neighbors. The existence of other religions was simply a fact of life for the Israelites. It caused them no great difficulties, in that they believed that theirs happened to be right, whereas others were wrong. The same pattern emerges in the New Testament. From the first days of its existence, Christianity has recognized the existence of other religions and the challenge they posed. …Christianity was born amid religious pluralism.”

Similarly, Michael Green comments,

“I find it ironic that people object to the proclamation of the Christian gospel these days because so many other faiths jostle on the doorstep of our global village. What’s new? The variety of faiths in antiquity was even greater than it is today. And the early Christians, making as they did ultimate claims for Jesus, met the problem of other faiths head-on from the very outset. Their approach was interesting… They did not denounce other faiths. They simply proclaimed Jesus with all the power and persuasiveness as their disposal.”

The early church faced lions, became burning torches in Nero’s garden, and experienced other such persecution, because they believed what they were proclaiming was actually true. But ours is not a day when we seem to be overly concerned about objective, transcendent, and immutable truth. People today may still use the word “truth,” but it has become a synonym for “preference” when it is couched in phrases such as, “live your truth,” “that’s true for you, but not for me,” and so on. By many today, the notion of truth is filtered purely through a subjective and personal lens of feeling and personal preference, instead of being understood as objectively revealed by a transcendent source. Some latitude may be given to “facts” in the realm of the hard sciences, but certainly not in religion or philosophy.

Therefore, it is important to remember that Christianity was born in the midst a similar cultural climate of a plurality of religious beliefs and philosophies. And it was proclaimed passionately because it was believed to actually be true, and not merely a personal preference. Christians today recognize that we experience similar diversity in our culture as the early church did in theirs, and we must also remember we have the very same truth to tell in our day.

That’s Arrogant

But isn’t it arrogant to claim that Jesus Christ is the only way to God? The only path to salvation? Perhaps my answer will surprise you, but I would say “yes,” it is arrogant. One is justified in accusing Christians of arrogance… if. If what we believe and what we proclaim as the truth are merely our own opinions and ideas, then we are arrogant indeed.

If Christianity is nothing more than a man-made religion, or a political power-play, then we would rightly be accused of arrogance and worse. However, the Christian claim has always been that Christianity is not true because Christians say it is, but because the Bible teaches it. Christians who believe the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God, therefore, believe Christian truth is God’s revelation, not human opinion.

I can heartily relate with one theologian who said that he did not come to Christianity because he was looking to find the most intolerant, bigoted, and closed-minded religion on the block. He said that he, like millions of other Christians, opened the Bible, checked out its claims, and was transformed as God moved in and through his Word. That was, and continues to be, my experience as well.

So far throughout this study we have learned about the bold claims made by Christ as well as about him by others. We have come to understand that he was no mere man, but truly God in the flesh. He was not just a good teacher or political revolutionary, but the Son of God, sent to save his people from their sin. As Lord of heaven and earth Jesus had the power and authority to heal the sick and raise the dead. As Lord over every sphere of life, he could rightfully expect that his teachings – about his identity, his purpose, how we ought to live in this world, and how we can gain eternal life – should be believed, embraced, and lived out. This portrait of Jesus Christ should lead us to the conclusion that he has no equals.

The Bible Says

Generally speaking, Scripture teaches such a view of Jesus throughout its pages but makes specific statements about him as well. Here are a few examples of texts that help us appreciate that Jesus is not simply a way, but the way. As God incarnate and Lord of all, how could he be otherwise?

Acts 4:12 – Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

1 Timothy 2:5 – For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,

John 3:16-18 – 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Matthew 7:13-14 – “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

These texts, and others that could be cited, drive home with specificity, what all the lessons we have learned throughout this study have been teaching us more broadly; that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and there is no other way to the Father but through the Person and Work of Jesus. In fact, that is exactly what Jesus says about himself. Let’s take a deeper look at a particular text in which we find this truth-claim being made by our Lord.

Jesus says in John 14:1-7,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

We might find it easy to read these words and move past them if we are very familiar with them. Yet, we need to look carefully at what we find in these verses.

Comfort for Troubled Hearts

Jesus begins in verse 1 by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” We might assume these are just words of encouragement that are meant for any person in any circumstance. Perhaps we think that Jesus is talking about the ordinary trials of life, and this is a mere pep-talk to his disciples. But upon a closer inspection we discover, as we read these words in context, that Jesus is speaking to some very confused people. We must remember this little band of disciples had left everything to follow Jesus – their homes, families, jobs… everything. They were invested. They were committed.

In the previous chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus had just told them that he was going to be leaving them. Furthermore, he added that they were not going to be able to follow him where he was going. What did this mean? Well, Jesus knew significant, even severe, trouble was coming his way, and soon. It was in that context that he told them to not let their hearts be troubled. By “heart” he was addressing their whole being – their thoughts and feelings, their wills and emotions.

Why would he say that? Didn’t they have good reason to worry? Wasn’t their beloved master, teacher and friend going to leave them? Who wouldn’t worry in such circumstances, especially one who had been so committed and given up so much? And now he’s leaving them? Yet Jesus tells them to not let their hearts be troubled. He then follows up those words by saying, “You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1b).

It’s Who You Know

Have you ever known more about a situation than the person you were talking to? Maybe it was a scary situation, and you needed your friend or family member to know it was going to be okay, because you had knowledge that would help them see the bigger picture of how things were going to work out in a positive way. Thus, you might encourage them by saying, “trust me.” A fuller version of those words might include, “You can’t understand why this happening right now, but if you would just trust me, you would be able to put your mind at ease.”

Jesus was telling his disciples that they were going to have to trust God, and him, in this situation. This trust would have the power to sustain them during this difficult time because the object of their trust – God – was worthy of their trust. In a manner of speaking, Jesus was telling them that God was larger than the uncertain situation they faced and that nothing had caught him off guard. He also told them they should have the same trust in him that they had in God, which is not an unimportant point.

Though the disciples did not understand his words, throughout his ministry Jesus often told them his mission would one day come to an end and he would have to leave them. In verse 2, Jesus let them know where he was going. He was going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. That must have blown their minds. Did they even have a category for such a statement? Probably not, yet they knew, loved, and trusted the One from whom such a statement came. We know from the rest of Scripture that “my Father’s house” refers to being in the unveiled presence of God, what we call “heaven.” Jesus was saying that in heaven there is room for all; there are many rooms or places to dwell.

He even elaborates by saying that he would not have told them all this if it were not true. In other words, they had no reason to worry about God’s provision for his people. This is all part of God’s providential plan. Jesus meant these words to bring comfort and assurance to his disciples. Once again, he is letting them know they have good reason to trust in God, as well as him.

The Place He Is Going

In verse 3, Jesus said,

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

As students of Scripture, some two thousand years later, we have the advantage of knowing the ministry of Jesus was coming to an end. Within hours of this conversation, Jesus was going to be arrested and crucified. More than that, we know that three days later he would rise from the dead and would not resume the same kind of life with his disciples that they had grown accustomed to. We also know that the place he was going to prepare for them does not refer to any sort of earthly dwelling. Yet, like the disciples then, we today must also trust Jesus and take his word for it. Never having been to heaven ourselves, we must trust the arrangements he has made on our behalf.

The larger point Jesus is making here is that although he is going away, he will not forget them while he’s gone. He has their best interest at heart and is concerned about their welfare. That is the kind of friend we have in Jesus.

The Way to Get There

Jesus not only assures his disciples that he will not forget them, and that he is going to prepare a place for them, but he also tells them he is going to come back and take them to be with him. He then adds these puzzling words in verse 4,

You know the way to the place where I am going.

It is God’s plan that Jesus will come back in due course so that he and his followers will be together in heaven, in the very presence of God. Jesus does not spend time telling his disciples what that experience will be like, but he does seem to make this point: whatever heaven will be like, the most wonderful part of it is that we will be with our Lord forever. And Jesus assures his disciples that they know the way to this unimaginably glorious and beautiful place where they will be going.

It is at this point that “honest Thomas” asks in verse 5,

“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

It is at this point Jesus shares the words that have convicted and encouraged the hearts and minds of Christians for two thousand years. He answered Thomas with these words in verse 6,

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

It is at this point in the conversation that Jesus moves from talking about the eternal destination of his followers to the path of that destination. In fact, he tells them they already know the way. In other words, Jesus is telling them that what he is saying now is no different from what he had been teaching them all along.  

Jesus Is the Way

To put it plainly, Jesus declares to them that he is the way. Unlike other religious founders and leaders, he is not teaching them a way to go, but that he himself is the way to the Father. That kind of emphatic, self-referential statement may sound odd, or even offensive, to our ears. We are used to people telling us they are pointing us in the right direction, but not claiming to be the way themselves. Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, and others claimed to be “pointers” of a way to enlightenment or to God, but Jesus is saying something different. For Jesus did not only teach people a way of life, but he died on the cross as an atonement for their sins and thus, made the only way possible for people to come to God. In fact, he did more than make a way, he was the way. Many people died on Roman crosses, but only one of those people was God incarnate, who lived a perfectly holy and righteous life, thereby becoming the only acceptable sacrifice for the sin of the world.

Jesus removes all ambiguity from his statement by adding in the second part of verse 6, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” In other words, the Father is the destination and Jesus is the way. The phrase “No one” in this verse is a universal negative. In other words, “how many people can get to the Father by other means?” According to Jesus, “none.” How do we get to the Father? According to Jesus, only through him.

The Only Way

It is vital to understand that Christians did not invent their belief that Jesus is the only way to God. We believe Jesus taught it. We also believe that because he taught that truth, he also commanded us to respond to this great commission,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:18b-20a)

If you are a Christian and have become persuaded that Jesus is who he claimed to be, that he is the only path to the Father, and that he commanded his followers to make disciples of all the nations by teaching them everything he taught, then we cannot remain silent. In fact, it would be arrogant to believe these things about Jesus and not tell others. Can you image thinking, “I know better than God. Yes, God has graciously provided a way for me and others to enjoy his extravagant riches in his glorious presence for all eternity. Yet, it might offend others if I share this truth with them, therefore, I will remain silent.”

No faithful Christian, with a clear conscience, could think such a thing. Instead, God calls us to bear witness to Christ in every sphere of life as the ambassadors, stewards, and servants of his truth, with our words and our actions. What a privilege we have been given to lead others to Christ, the only way to the Father. I once heard a Christian speaker ask this humbling question: “My question,” he asked, “is not, why has God provided only one way to him, but why has he provided any way at all?” Entitled thinking leads us to believe we are owed something by God. A person with a biblical worldview, however, understands that even the smallest kindness we experience in this life is the result of God’s bountiful grace. How much more, then, eternity in his unveiled presence? That’s good news we cannot possibly keep to ourselves. Thanks be to God.


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

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 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.