The Ten Commandments: Introduction

The Shape of Love

Love is love. This unhelpful tautology has seemingly won the day with Christians and non-Christians alike. It works well as a slogan but offers little substance for how God calls us to live a life of love. Instead, the Bible teaches us there is a shape to love. The love God calls us to looks like something. It has content to it. It is first and foremost received from God, then directed back to God, and then, lived out toward neighbor. It’s sacrificial, others-centered, joyful, and obedient. This life of love is the Way of the Lord, and the reason for the title of this study.

The Ten Commandments are an expression of the love Jesus commands in his summary of the Law. The great commandment is to love God with our whole being and the second commandment is like it, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But even that word from our Lord Jesus is general, and even vague. Yet he could speak in such a way because he knew he was summarizing something more detailed and specific, something his first-century audience would have understood.

In speaking of the two great commandments, Jesus was really summarizing the moral Law of God, the Ten Commandments. The first table of the law, for example, which contains the first four commandments, focuses primarily, though not exclusively, on our love for God. The second table addresses the nature of neighbor-love, which as we learn throughout Scripture, is also an expression of our love for God.

In other words, the way of loving God and neighbor looks like something specific. The commandments are not platitudes. They are concretely helpful. And the rest of Scripture is a commentary on what this love for God and neighbor looks like. The prophets, Jesus, and the apostles all shed light on the height, width, and depth of what it means to love God and others in the way God has prescribed in the Ten Commandments.

More Than Meets the Eye

By the time of the first century, many in the Jewish religious community had reduced the Ten Commandments to external rules and regulations that could be manipulated. But Jesus came along and reminded them that obedience to the Law had always involved the motives of one’s heart. It was not merely about behaving in the right way. It had always been about doing the right things, in the right way, for the right reason, with the right attitude.

Of course, a standard like that immediately leads one to self-discovery, or at least it ought to. When you come to understand, for example, that “not murdering” another person is more than not taking the life of another person, but includes not hating them or being unrighteously angry toward them, you begin to realize how far you fall short.

Furthermore, when you consider that each commandment carries with it a positive side, such as desiring that same person’s best interest and doing what you can to help them, then a legalistic framework really begins to crumble. Such a realization ought to cause us to run to the grace of God found in the work of Christ, for he was the only one who faithfully lived out a perfect life of righteousness. His sacrificial love on the Cross paid for our inability to live a life of perfect obedience to God’s Law.

Morality Revealed by God

What we learn as we study the Ten Commandments is that morality is fundamentally theological. That does not mean irreligious people cannot live moral lives, but it does mean when they do so, they are borrowing from a theistic framework. For their worldview cannot justify their way of living. There are secular forms of ethics. But those systems are usually forms of utilitarianism. They base their view of what is right and wrong on whether something works (whatever “works” means) for the common good (whatever “common good” means).

secular ethic is not grounded in that which is immutable, transcendent, and objective. It is not a revealed ethic. It is dependent on king or crowd. What is considered normal, or even good, is determined, so to speak, in the voting booth of public agreement and alignment. Absent from such a worldview and ethic is an objective standard, revealed by an immutable and transcendent Creator, who not only created the universe, but also each and every person, in God’s own image.

Christians believe that having such an ethical standard is good, not only for individuals, but for families, communities, workplaces, societies, and ultimately, the world. A commitment to such an ethic does not mean every moral decision is clearly understood or that every command is easily interpreted and applied in every situation. But it does mean we have a firm foundation from which to start as we seek to faithfully live in this world.

Real Freedom

Contrary to popular notions, freedom does not mean being untethered to any moral restrictions in one’s life. Nor is desiring to obey God a form of legalism. Instead, we should understand that obedience to God is true love. And this kind of love produces real freedom, which is the ability to live the life for which we were created.

That is not a life of legalism or bondage. The Law of God provides freedom to become all that God created and redeemed us to be, as well as delivering us from a path of self-destruction and potentially hurting others along the way. We don’t live this way in order to earn points with God, but such a life is evidence that God is doing a great work in us. God is molding and shaping us into something we cannot possibly imagine – his grand masterpiece – the very likeness of his Son. How could such knowledge lead us to anything but joyful and grateful obedience?

The Heart

The heart is the heart of the matter. God gave us his moral law to reveal to us his character and will for our lives. God’s Law does provide structure and rails to keep us safe. God revealed this way of life for us because he has our best interest at heart. He really does want what is best for us and thus has revealed the way for us to live.

But more than that, in and through Christ, God has recreated us once again in his image. His very Spirit indwells us. God not only wants us to live this way because it is best for us. God wants our hearts. He wants us to desire to live this way because we love him, want to please and glorify him, and because we love others. He wants us to love what he loves.

It is God’s sanctifying process for helping us become like him… in what we desire, the way think, how we speak, and in the manner in which we conduct ourselves in this world. And not only is this what is best for us here and now, but God is also training us for eternity. Thanks be to God.

A Word About Each Lesson

It will not take you long to see that some of the study questions have many Bible verses to look up. You might even say an obnoxious amount of Bible verses. And that’s true. But they are there for a few important reasons.

First, they are included to show you how widely the Bible speaks on the particular commandment of each lesson. These Ten Commandments are not isolated only to Exodus and Deuteronomy. They are repeated, interpreted, and applied throughout the rest of Scripture.

Second, the verses are there to reveal that God’s commands are not to be understood and applied in a simplistic fashion. The Ten Commandments are not only prohibitions. That is, they are not only forbidding us to behave in certain ways, but they also point us to the birthplace of those behaviors. Our desire for sin festers in the human heart and sometimes finds its ways into our thought-life, as well as the words we speak and the actions we take.

Third, the variety of Scripture is there to remind you that there are positive, godly ways to live out the commands. The Ten Commandments are not merely a list of things not to do. They also guide us in a God-honoring, life-affirming, Christlike way of living in this world.

The Last Reason for All the Scripture

And that brings us to the last reason for all the verses, which is also why we have the Law in the first place. The first time I read the Sermon on the Mount, with a level of maturity and understanding, I immediately understood how far short I fell of living according to this standard that Jesus had set before me. And frankly, I was distraught. What hope did I have of faithfully and consistently living in this way, even if I tried my best every single day? And who among us does that?

But that was also a key moment in my life for understanding grace. It’s the point of the Law, at least a part of the point. We cannot perfectly live this prescribed way of the Lord. Yet it is still the standard. So, what do we do? We turn to Christ, who did perfectly live it out. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior of the world, Lord of all creation, and Light of life did perfectly fulfill all righteousness in his life, death, and resurrection.

His sacrificial and substitutionary life, death, and resurrection is what we trust in. We trust in him, not only to forgive us for our sins, but to impute his righteousness to our account. We died with Christ in his death and were raised to new life with Christ in his resurrection. And now, not only are we forgiven; not only are we new creatures in Christ; but the very Spirit who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead lives in each person who trusts in him. Therefore, Christ can live his life in and through ours.

And When We Stumble

We are not called to live the way of the Lord in our own strength. But Christ guides and empowers us through his gracious Spirit. The reason God has revealed this way to us is for us to become like Christ. It’s the path by which we are progressively molded and shaped into his likeness by the Spirit of love.

We will stumble along the way. But even the grief and conviction we experience when we fail is the gift of a loving Father disciplining those he loves. His discipline is gracious correction to get us moving along the right path once again.

My Advice for Each Lesson

Thus, my advice is to answer each question however you see fit. You can write down your reflections for each verse of Scripture. Or, you can read all the verses and write down your summary statement of what they all mean. Or, you can read half of them, a third of them, or even a fourth of them. It’s up to you. My goal is not to provide you with a legalistic framework in a study which hopes to show you why legalism is neither godly nor livable.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least encourage you to go the extra mile and try to read as many verses as you can in each lesson, and to think deeply about this way of the Lord prescribed for us. If you think about the character of God and the ways he has worked throughout redemptive history, then you recognize that even though we may not understand all the things God has included in his Word, we should realize that there are no “throw away” verses. They are all there for a reason, especially when they relate to who he his is, his way of salvation, and his path to holiness.

My Prayer

Ultimately, we are here to glorify God. We want to please our loving God so that when others see our good works, they will give praise to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). My prayer is that this study will enlighten, encourage, and equip you to know God’s will, the way of the Lord, and that by it, God’s Spirit will carry on to completion the great work he has already begun in you until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).


You can order the study, The Way of the Lord: A Study of the Ten Commandments, by clicking here.

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 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 2: Born for This

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


A Christmas Baby

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

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

Royal Pardons

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

Talk about setting the captives free.

What the Birth of Jesus Did Not Mean

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

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

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

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

What the Birth of Jesus Did Mean

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

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

Joseph’s Marching Orders

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

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

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

Name Him “Jesus”

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

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

Something About That Name

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

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

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

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

He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

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

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

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

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

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

His People

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Question

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

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

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

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

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

Light and life to all he brings,

Risen with healing in his wings.

Mild he lays his glory by,

Born that we may no more may die,

Born to raise us from the earth,

Born to give us second birth.

Read Matthew 1:21 again,

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

Jesus was born for this. Talk about implications!

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

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

Thanks be to God for his holy and sacrificial love.

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