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.)

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

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 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 chapter, 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 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 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 the old, old story is much older than we usually think. But what is the old story about? What isthe 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!” 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. 

Walking Points

  • Did you know the Gospel was anticipated in the Old Testament, or did you think it was something entirely new in the New Testament? Go back over the Scriptures listed in this chapter and meditate upon them, giving thanks to God for his wonderful plan of redemption.
  • Have you ever asked God for forgiveness, repented of your sins, and trusted in Christ alone for your salvation? If not, do so right now. Don’t let another minute pass without reaching out in trust to the God who has already reached out to you in love.
  • If you already have trusted in Christ and repented of your sins, prayerfully consider one or two friends with whom you can share this good news. Write down their names on an index card and begin to pray for them daily. Pray also that the Lord will provide you with an opportunity to share his old, old story with them.

Feel free to share this devotional with your friends and family. You can find more resources at my website, Every Sphere.

What Is Truth? This Week’s Podcast

In today’s podcast we take a look at the nature of truth and what it means in relationship to Jesus Christ and his claims about himself. Pilate asked Jesus, “what is truth,” as the very incarnation of truth was standing right before him. Check out today’s podcast and learn more about why this is such an important topic.

You can check it out by clicking the image below and listening to it on the podcast platform of your choice.

Blessings,
Dale

The Bread of Life

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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 pray 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 was enjoying 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 all of a sudden, 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, 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 John 6:35,

“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 is 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 that 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 that 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 in John 6 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 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, said we all have a God-shaped vacuum in our heart – and it 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 will have no end. Instead, when you turn to Jesus and trust in him, you will discover the abundant, meaningful, and eternal life that 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 in your life, instead of the only thing that will 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, your desires to go your own way instead of God’s way, your desire to have power or fame. 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.

Walking Points

  • What are the things in your life that compete for your loyalty?
  • Do you ever find yourself putting them before God? Explain. Why is this such a constant temptation in our lives?
  • What are three things you can begin doing today that will help you keep God first in your life?
  • Do you know anyone in your life who is running from God the way Augustine did?
  • What are two or three ideas from this devotional you could share with that person to help them see that only in Christ will their hunger be satisfied?

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Freedom in Christ

Memorial Day

It was not too long ago that we celebrated Memorial Day, a day in which we remember those who died while serving in our armed forces. We cannot imagine all the freedoms we now enjoy because of the ultimate sacrifice so many made on our behalf.

Therefore, it was fitting that we celebrated Holy Communion on that Memorial Day Sunday. For no sacrifice was as great and all-encompassing as Christ’s atoning death for us.

Gospel Picture

I love celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion because in it we get a beautiful picture of the Gospel. We enjoy precious freedoms as Americans because of the sacrifices of men and women through the centuries. And we have precious freedom as Christians because of the work of Christ.

In Galatians 5:1, Paul highlights that freedom. Paul writes,

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Freed to be Free

The freedom Paul is talking about is our freedom from the burden or oppression of legalism which Paul calls “slavery.”

You see, it is not the Law that Paul says is bad. When we understand God’s Law correctly, it is good, even beautiful. And that’s because God’s Law feeds us. It guides us. It draws us near to God. It teaches us. It encourages us.

But the way it was being used by the legalists in Paul’s day was actually enslaving the Christians in Galatia. It was like a giant weight lying on top of a person, crushing them bit by bit by bit.

Because of this oppressive legalism, the Galatian Christians had no freedom in Christ. They couldn’t enjoy being liberated from their sin because they couldn’t keep the Law well enough for the legalists. Instead of flourishing and enjoying their new life in Christ, they were suffocating under the weight of the Law, wrongly understood, and the condemnation of sin that came from that false teaching.

They were in a bad way.

Thus, Paul wrote to them and declared from the rooftop: Enough! The Law of God should never be used as an enslaving and oppressive weapon!

In addition to the wonderful previously mentioned things the Law does for us, it does something more. It leads us to Christ. Like a schoolteacher, the Law teaches us – it shows us our need – it leads us to Christ… and Christ leads us to freedom.

That’s why Paul said “it’s for freedom that Christ set us free. That sounds like Paul is being redundant, but he’s saying something very important here. Paul is saying, “Christ didn’t set you free… so you could remain a slave to sin. He didn’t set you free… so you could become a legalist.”

Through his work on the Cross, Christ set you free to become all you were created and called to be. Therefore, Paul wrote, “Don’t go back to a life of slavery… to sin or legalism. It is that wonderful, freeing work of Christ on the Cross that we celebrate in Holy Communion.

So, what does that freeing work look like? I want to point out how the Cross frees us in our past, present, and future.

Freed from Our Past

First of all, the Cross of Christ frees us from our past.

Here’s what I mean. We no longer need to live under the penalty of sin. We have been liberated from the condemnation our sin deserves. Romans 8:1 says,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

And that is true because the work of Jesus paid for – atoned for – our sinful and fallen condition. God no longer counts our sin against us. We no longer have to walk through life like poor Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress did… with a giant bag of guilt and condemnation and sin weighing him down.

Therefore, when we read the liturgy for Holy Communion, and then receive the Bread and Cup, we should do so with hearts full of gratitude for Christ’s work on the Cross.

Freed for Our Present

Second, the Cross of Christ frees us for our present.

Just as Jesus freed us from the penalty of sin, his Cross also frees us from the power of sin in our present. This does not mean that sin no longer has any power over us at all. It still has the power to influence our lives. Unfortunately, we are not free from temptation. That is still alive and all-to-well.

However, we are now free from the dominion of sin. In other words, before we were in Christ we couldn’t help but sin. We had no real power to resist it. But now, because of the work of Jesus, that dominion of sin in our lives has been defeated. We have been freed from it.

Not only that, but when we receive the Bread and Cup we’re actually meeting with our Lord at his Table… in the present. Through his Holy Spirit we are filled with his grace. That is why John Wesley called Communion a “means of grace.” It is a way in which we put ourselves in the way of God’s grace.

You see, Holy Communion is a time when we’re strengthened by God’s Spirit and grace to live the life he’s called us to live. And Holy Communion reminds us that we are in this together. It is not an expression of a Lone Ranger faith. Instead, we gather with all our brothers and sisters in our local church, around the world, and including the Great Cloud of Witnesses of Hebrews 12.

Holy Communion reminds us we are now free to become all that God has created and called us to be.

Freed in the Future

Finally, the work of Jesus on the Cross, which includes his resurrection, reminds us that one day we will be free from the presence of sin in our lives.

Holy Communion helps us to remember forward. It reminds us of a future where our Lord will once again dine with us at a Heavenly Banquet. The precious meal of the Bread and the Cup is just a foretaste of the Great Banquet that awaits us.

No longer will we be entangled in sin at all. It will be once-and-for-all done away with. And as we move from this life to the life-to-come, we will live in the unveiled presence of our loving Savior.

But we do not have to wait for the coming of Christ’s Kingdom because we’re living in it right here and right now. That is why Paul could write, “don’t let yourselves be burdened any longer by a yoke of slavery.

Therefore

Therefore, because of the love and work of Jesus for you…

  1. You are free from the bondage of legalism and the penalty of sin. So, give thanks.
  2. You are free from the irresistible power of sin in your life. So, pursue becoming all God created you to be in Christ.
  3. And one day you will be completely free from the presence of sin. So, live every day in joyful obedience to Christ our Lord, with the living hope of those who love him.

Thanks be to God.

Jesus Christ is Lord

Jesus Christ Is Lord

Spiritual Buffet Table

When I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to take a course on The Sermon onthe Mount. I loved that class and learned a great deal from it. One of the big ideas I learned early in the course related to the first 12 verses of Matthew 5, which we call, The Beatitudes.

The professor said we often read the Beatitudes this way: We approach them as though they were a buffet table, in which we pick and choose the one or two verses we like and disregard the ones we don’t, as if we’re selecting a meal. We tend to do the same with the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.

The big idea the teacher taught me was this: These so-called “lists” are really meant to be looked at as composite portraits of what each Christian is to look like. Each of these characteristics or attributes is to describe each and every Christian. Each and every Christian is to be poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and so on. Of course, none of us exhibits each of these in our lives to the same degree, but that is still the goal Jesus set before us.

But again, we tend to gravitate toward the ones we like or the ones we think we’re good at, don’t we?

Spiritual Life Checkup

The church I serve recently used a spiritual inventory called, TheSpiritual Life Checkup. Its purpose is to focus on the various areas of a Christian’s life to discern how the person is doing in the areas assessed, much like bloodwork focuses on the different components of a person’s physical health. One of the things I learned as I talked with folks about their checkups was that it’s easy to have a “buffet table” approach with this as well.

For example, the first three chapters of the Checkup focus on our vertical relationship with God – our devotional life, intellectual life, and our struggles and temptations with sin. For some of us, reflecting on God and looking inwardly are two areas we love thinking about and where we want to spend our time.

The following chapter of the Checkup takes a look at our outer life – our horizontal relationships with others. And for some of us, this is our sweet spot and we would be very happy to focus only on how God is calling us to interact with others.

Here’s the point: While there are some aspects of the Checkup we like more than others, that we’re better at than others, each part is for each Christian. And if we focus on only one part of it, we will find ourselves living compartmentalized lives.

Compartmentalized vs God-Centered Living

The third question of Part 1 of the Checkup asks this: Do you have a God-Centered life? Perhaps you are wondering what that means.

Many of us live compartmentalized lives. Think of a compartmentalized life this way: Imagine you are looking at a large office building. As you look at it you observe many different windows representing many different offices. Each of those office windows represents a different part of a person’s life. For example, one office window may represent God, while another might represent your family, or job, health, friendships, private time, and so on.

Here is the problem: While there are many parts of your life represented by the office building, none of them is directly connected to another. Your faith may be in the top left corner of the building while your family-life might be in the bottom right. They are simply compartments of your life, seemingly unrelated to one another and therefore, without the power to influence one another. God may be one part of the structure, but in a compartmentalized life, he is not connected to, or impacting, the other areas of your life.

Rather, God is calling us to live God-Centered lives.

Instead of an office building, now think of a bicycle wheel. The hub, where all the spokes meet together, represents God. Each of the spokes represents the various spheres of a person’s life: faith, family, work, community, health, politics, etc. Each sphere of a person’s life finds its stability and integrity in the hub, which again, represents God.

When God is at the center of who you are, your life will become more holistic because each part of who you are is grounded and centered in the same Person, the One who gives your life meaning, purpose, and value.

The take-away from this is not that we are either living a compartmentalized life or a God-centered life. None of us is doing this perfectly. The point really comes in the form of a question: Is a God-centered life the direction you desire to move in, and if so, are you making progress in that direction? Direction, not perfection, is what is in view here.

The Foundation of God-Centered Living

Our Scripture from Philippians gives us the foundation for God-centered living. The Apostle Paul was writing from a prison cell to a church he was very fond of. As he moved through his letter, he told the Philippians he wanted them to be of one mind, that is, to be unified in who they were.
And Paul, understanding the human condition so well, knew the key ingredient to unity was humility. That is why he wrote in Philippians 2:3-4,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

It is hard to have unity if everyone is putting themselves first. That usually brings about division.
Paul then made a move to help them understand what this humble, other-centeredness ought to look like. He wrote in verses 5-8,

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death–
        even death on a cross!

If anyone could have held on to his own position, glory, comfort, and power – it was Jesus. He did not owe us anything. We did nothing to deserve his love. And yet…

And yet, though he was truly God, he did not hold onto that privilege, or the glory, comfort, and power that went along with it. He took on human nature. He became a servant, not to a fan club of folks who already loved him, but to those whose sins would ultimately nail him to a Roman cross. And he did this voluntarily. He did not have to do this. His love, mercy, and grace compelled him to choose to do this.

Renewed Thinking

When you work through the first three parts of the Spiritual Life Checkup, one of the discoveries you make is that you must humbly submit yourself to the Spirit’s direction, encouragement, and even correction in your thinking. That can be hard to accept.

But when you do, you cannot help but be humbled. Your thinking takes on a God-centeredness, and as Paul declared in verse 5, you begin to take on the same mind or mindset as Christ himself.
In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul wrote, “we take captive every thought to make itobedient to Christ.” That renewal in our thinking begins to show up in our living (Rom. 12:2). Our attitudes toward others, the things we value in this world, and the way in which we live our lives – it all begins to change.

We discover God is doing a great work in us from the inside out. We cannot help but put the interests of others before our own, because that is what Christ has done for us.

The Name

In verse 9, we get the all-important, Therefore.

Paul was teaching that because of all the Lord Jesus voluntarily did on our behalf, this blessed suffering-Servant was given something special. Paul declared,

God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,

What did God give Jesus? He gave him a name. And not just any name, but “the name that is above every name.”

It is not the name Jesus. It is the name Lord. In Old Testament times, the name for God was so holy and sacred, the Jews would not even speak or write it. Instead of writing God’s holy name, YHWH, they wrote the name, LORD – in all-caps – to represent God’s most holy name and position.

Paul was saying Jesus was given the name Lord, to acknowledge who he was. He was no mere teacher, philosopher, apocalyptic prophet, or revolutionary. He was God in the flesh. And because Jesus is Lord, Paul said,

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.

Matthew 28 puts the same idea this way,

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

In Colossians 1, Paul says this of our Lord,

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.

John 1:1-3, Hebrews 1:1-3 and Ephesians 1 all teach the same thing. Jesus Christ is Lord over heaven and earth. Jesus has allauthority in heaven and earth.

St. Augustine supposedly once said, “If Jesus Christ is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.
The Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper declared,

“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!”

It all belongs to Christ. Jesus Christ is Lord over every sphere of life.

Therefore

Therefore, we are called to submit every aspect or who we are to his Lordship. And this submission produces the God-centered life I was addressing earlier.

Jesus is Lord over our private lives, relationships, workplaces, finances, ethics, politics, values and priorities, doctrinal beliefs – everything about us – Every Sphere of Life. This is not a call for all Christians to look the exact same. There is still much room for variety of personalities, interests, callings, and gifts. However, submission to Jesus Christ as Lord is still the command and standard for every person.

And yet, we cannot simply will this to happen. We are powerless to submit to his Lordship, to grow in his likeness, and to love and serve others if we are not first empowered by his Spirit. And so, in the name of Jesus, I pray each of us would turn in trusting-dependence upon Christ as our Savior and all-sufficient treasure, for it is only then that his Spirit will enable us to bow our knees before him and confess with our tongues that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Walking Points

  • What areas of your life are centered in God and your relationship with him? Describe what that looks like.
  • What areas are not centered in God? Why do you think that is?
  • Talk with two or three Christian friends about helping you make God the center of all the areas of your life.
  • List the different areas of your life and write down what you think each should look like when Jesus Christ is the Lord over that area.

Kingdom Disciples

Luke 13:20-21 – And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”

A Definition

A Kingdom Disciple is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. The phrase, Kingdom Disciple, is my shorthand way of communicating what it means to live faithfully as Christ’s follower, under his Lordship, and for his Kingdom. This distinctive is not mine. It’s neither innovative nor original. However, my goal in emphasizing Kingdom Discipleship is to help Christians see more fully what God has revealed in and through his Word about following Christ.

Jesus Christ is Lord

By using the phrase, Kingdom Discipleship, I wish to remind disciples of Jesus Christ that our calling is to faithfully and obediently follow Christ in every sphere of life. This is imperative because Jesus Christ is Lord over every sphere of life. It was God who granted Jesus authority over heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18) and gave him the name above every name (Phil. 2:9). It would, therefore, run counter to the biblical witness regarding our Lord’s authority, for Christians to live compartmentalized lives as his followers. God doesn’t want us to submit to Christ for just 70 or even 95 percent of our lives. He wants all of us. To paraphrase Abraham Kuyper, there is not a square inch in all the universe Christ has not claimed for himself.

Therefore, our calling as his followers is to intentionally, faithfully, obediently, and joyfully extend his Kingdom – his rule, reign, will, and influence – into every sphere of our lives (in every area of responsibility, interest, relationship, and authority). Everything, the common and the uncommon, the sacred and the secular, is to be done for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31) and according to his will.

God’s Kingly Influence

The influence of Christ and of his Kingdom must come through gracious, loving, and truthful persuasion, modeling, and witness, never through coercion or manipulation. The kind of transformed individual, family, church, state, society, and world God desires will not, indeed, must not, come through violent political revolution or rebellion but by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent “salt and light influence” of God’s people.

The Local Church

The primary means, humanly speaking, by which God’s Kingdom is extended in this way is through local assemblies of God’s people. It is in and through the life of the local church that the life-giving, life-transforming Gospel of the Kingdom is proclaimed, taught, and lived out. It is only as men, women, boys, and girls are reborn by the Spirit of God that they can enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:3-8). Then, as they grow in their faith, having their minds continually renewed and lives transformed, they become better educated, equipped, and encouraged to take this good news of the Kingdom into every sphere of their lives. And just as the woman’s yeast is mixed into the dough and worked until it permeates all of it (Luke 13:20-21), so too is the Kingdom of God extended into every sphere of life by his disciples.

Walking Points

• Based on this devotional, how would you explain what it means to “extend your faith into every sphere of life?”
• Have you tended to compartmentalize your faith or does it permeate and influence the different areas of your life?
• What are some ways your faith ought to influence your home, workplace, and community?
• What are you presently doing to be such an influence?
• How can you help other Christians gain a larger vision of the Christian life?
• Meet with two or three Christians and pray for such a “kingdom expanding” revival among God’s people to begin today.

Prayer

My great God and King, Lord of all, I ask you to forgive me for not submitting all my life to you and, therefore, not seeking to advance your rule and reign into every sphere of my life. Awaken me with your Spirit and enable me to see and hear more clearly the needs of the world around me. As your ambassador of salt and light, use me how you will to hold back the darkness and slow the decay of this world. Let my life be a shining city on a hill that cannot be hidden so that, upon seeing my good works, you will receive all the praise and glory in heaven. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.