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.

The Right Side of Truth

John 18:36-37 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” [37] “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

An Audacious Claim

Truth is a very big deal in the Gospel of John. Jesus, in a good number of verses, begins his teachings with phrases like, “I tell you the truth.” In John 14:6, Jesus claims not only to speak the truth, but to actually be truth itself. In our text above Jesus says he came into the world to testify to the truth. Furthermore, he says, if you are on the side of truth you will listen to him.

It’s an incredibly bold move to say you are truth itself and your purpose for coming into the world is to testify to the truth. In fact, it’s downright arrogant, unless your claim is true. And that’s where the rub is. If it is true that Jesus is the truth, (and that he came to testify to the truth), then it would be prudent to listen to what he has to say. In fact, it would be an imperative.

Just A Good Teacher?

The thrust of our text reminds us, rather loudly, Jesus was not simply an interesting teacher. He claimed to be much more. People who say Jesus was just a good teacher are actually revealing at least two things about themselves.

The first thing is there is a high probability they have never read the gospels for themselves. If they had, they could say they do not believe the things Jesus taught, but it would be intellectually dishonest to say his self-referential claims were not audacious. The “good teacher” response is evidence a person has not likely read what this “good teacher” taught.

The second revelation is they do not want to submit to Jesus’ Lordship nor trust in him as their Savior. Autonomous man still wants to be God. Even postmodern man, with his many “relative truths” – however contradictory they may all be – does not desire the One who claims to be the Truth (capital “T”). The sinful inclination of their hearts suppresses the truth they know (Romans 1:18).

Who Are You Listening To?

The words of verse 37 are powerful: Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.

You don’t have to be an expert in logic to understand the implications here. If you don’t listen to Jesus, then you are not on the side of truth. And if Jesus is the truth and his purpose in coming was to bear witness to the truth, then what Jesus says about every sphere of life matters. It matters a lot.

Of course, “listens to me” means much more than simply hearing what Jesus has to say. It implies “responding in obedience” to him as well. Submission is key here. Jesus is not suggesting he would be happy if you went to Starbucks, sat down with your favorite cup of coffee, and merely listened to someone tell you about Jesus. The person, work, and words of Jesus Christ demand a response. For centuries people recognized this and chose to either submit to him or reject him. But today some folk opt for patting him on the head and then moving on, ignoring him. But as the wise philosopher-theologian Geddy Lee, from the rock group Rush, sang, “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.”

Jesus will not be ignored, at least not with impunity. He will not be placed on the backburner of your life, only to be thought about at funerals and on Christmas mornings. He is the truth. He testifies to the truth. In fact, as Jesus put it in verse 37, he is a King.

Does all of that really describe a person you can blow off if you want to, without consequence?

The Right Side of Jesus

It’s popular today to talk about being on the right side of history. Jesus wants us to be on the right side of truth. And to be on the right side of truth is to be on the right side of Jesus.

Therefore, let me encourage you to pick up your Bible today and begin listening to Jesus. Start with the Gospel of John. Then move to Matthew, Mark and Luke… then read John again. After that, you should start listening to Jesus as he speaks through his appointed apostles and prophets. God’s ordinary and significant means by which he has ordained his Son to be encountered and heard is through his Word – the Bible. So pick it up and side with him today.

Walking Points

  • Reading and studying the Bible on your own is profitable. However, when you talk about it with others who are also reading Scripture, it can be a real blessing. Ask a couple of friends if they’ll start reading the Gospel of John with you so your group can discuss it together.
  • Move through John’s Gospel one chapter at a time, recording in a journal the significant teachings of Jesus. Ask yourself why each teaching you highlighted stands out to you. What implication would that teaching have in your life if you started believing it was true and obeying it? What are the implications for not believing and obeying it?
  • Give special attention to the claims Jesus makes about himself and the implications those claims have on your life.
  • Lastly, what miraculous works in John’s Gospel capture your attention? Why? What do they tell you about Jesus?

Prayer

God of truth, I give you praise that you have not left me to grope in the dark, seeking your path on my own. I am grateful that you have provided me with the Way and Truth, indeed, Life itself. And so forgive me Father when I seek to go my own way or when your truth scares me. I confess that I have sometimes been so fearful of obeying the truth you have so clearly given me that I have chosen to ignore it at best and rebel against it at worst. Both are sin and I ask you to please forgive me. Instead, gracious Lord, fill me with your Spirit, the Spirit of truth, and enable me to not only want to follow your truth, wherever it leads me, but to also be able to do so. I pray my faithfulness to your truth will lead others to give you praise in heaven and make a difference for the sake of your Kingdom here and now. In the name of the one who was and is the Truth, I pray. Amen.

The Way of Love

The Way of Love

What the World Needs Now

In 1965, Jackie DeShannon sang a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. If you know it, it will now be stuck in your head the rest of the day. It was called, “What the World Needs Now is Love.” It was true in 1965… and it’s perhaps even more true today, especially in our politically polarized country.

Love has been a topic of stories, poems, songs for centuries. Again, going back to the 1960s, an obscure band from Liverpool, England sang quite a few songs about love. Here are a few of their titles,

  • All My Loving
  • And I Love Her
  • Can’t Buy Me Love
  • I’m In Love
  • Love Me Do
  • Love of the Loved
  • Love You Too
  • PS I Love You
  • Real Love
  • She Loves You
  • Step Inside Love
  • Words of Love

And, in the same spirit as Jackie DeShannon’s song…

  • All You Need is Love

Well, what the world does need today… is love. But I wonder if we know what we’re saying when we say that. I wonder if we have a firm grasp on the subject when we use popular slogans such as, “love is love” or “love everyone, always.”

Not An Abstraction

You see, Christian love, biblically understood, is anything but abstract. It’s a way of life. It not a mere feeling or emotion, it’s an act of the will. I almost called this devotion, “The Shape of Love,” because love, biblically understood, looks like something. There’s a shape to it.

It can’t be reduced to an abstraction or slogan. And this kind of love is hard. It takes practice because it is a way of life. It is a mindset.

The Great Commandment

Jesus emphasized the priority of love for his followers, indeed for every person, when he gave us the Great Commandment. In Matthew 22:36, Jesus was asked by an expert in the law, which of the commandments was the greatest. He was trying to test Jesus. But Jesus, being the smartest human to ever live, didn’t take the bait.

Jesus summarized all ten of the commandments by saying these words in Matthew 22:37-40,

37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ i 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ j 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

You see, love is the greatest commandment. Love is the purpose of all the commandments – love of God and love of neighbor. And that love looks like something.

What does it look like? It looks like…

  1. Having no other gods before the Lord our God.
  2. Not making idols
  3. Not taking the name of our God in vain
  4. Remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy
  5. Honoring your father and mother
  6. Not murdering
  7. Not committing adultery
  8. Not stealing
  9. Not bearing false witness against our neighbor
  10. Not coveting.

Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments by saying we’re commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – with all that we are. And we’re to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

The Real Meaning of the Commandments

But what do we often do? Well, a lot of times, instead of trying to dig into those commandments to better understand them so we can more faithfully live them out, we oversimplify them and say, “Well, I haven’t murdered anyone today or robbed a bank, so I must be ok.”

But then Jesus comes along in the Sermon on the Mount and tells us that not murdering anyone is a good start. However, he says if we have unrighteous anger toward someone, we’ve murdered them in our hearts.

Jesus says, you may not have committed adultery, but if you have lusted after someone, you’ve committed adultery in your heart.

Jesus gives us eyes to see what the commandments really mean. And they mean a whole lot more than we usually give them credit for. Jesus also teaches us that the commandments aren’t merely negative prohibitions against things (“Thou shalt not”).

They also imply positive actions. To not murder means more than not taking someone’s life or hating them in your heart. It also means desiring the best good of others and helping them flourish. It’s to act with reverence toward all living things and to honor the sanctity of life.

That’s just one example of what it means to love God completely and love our neighbor. It’s a way of life and requires a sanctified mindset.

Where the Rubber Hits the Road

And it’s immensely practical, not just theoretical. It’s the heart and soul of all who follow Jesus Christ. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1-2,

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The ESV Bible version says we’re to “imitate God.” As God’s children who are dearly loved and forgiven by him, we’re called to imitate God. How? By walking in the way of love.

And Jesus, who is our ultimate model shows us what that love looks like. And the short answer is: it’s a sacrificial love. Paul says, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That’s sacrificial love. That’s real love. That’s Christian love.

But even there it would be fair to say, “that still sort of vague. What does it mean to love sacrificially?” And here the Apostle Paul is very helpful.

Paul’s Lists

Paul loved writing lists. And right before Ephesians 5:1-2, he gave us a list of what sacrificial love looks like when it’s practiced faithfully. And again, Paul is doing the same thing as Jesus by summarizing the Ten Commandments with practical examples. Here’s his list in Ephesians 4:25-32.

What does it mean to walk in the way of love? It means,

  • We must put off falsehood
  • We must speak truthfully to our neighbor
  • We must not sin in our anger
  • We must not steal but work so we can help those in need
  • We must not say unwholesome things (obscenity, slander, gossip, abusive language) (And I would say that includes writing it on social media.)
  • We must use our words to build up others according to their needs and for their benefit
  • We must get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander – and every form of malice
  • We must be kind, compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you

That’s what walking in the way of love looks like. Want another list? Paul has one for you in the love chapter – 1 Corinthians 13. He said love,

  • Must be patient
  • Must be kind
  • Must not envy
  • Must not boast
  • Must not be proud
  • Must not dishonor others
  • Must not be self-seeking
  • Must not be easily angered
  • Must not keep a record of wrongs
  • Must not delight in evil
  • Must rejoice with the truth

That’s the way of love we’re called to walk in.

So, How Are You Doing?

So, how are y’all doing with all that? Are you faithfully walking in the way of love? Love, as the world understands it, is so much easier when it fits into the title of a song… or a bumper sticker… or a slogan.

But true Christian love is hard in real life.

The Gospel

But here is some good news for you. The good news is that we don’t have to love perfectly to be perfectly and completely loved by God. God has redeemed and reconciled us because he loves us, and when we put our trust in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we become new creatures.

God’s Holy Spirit takes up residence within us and we become people who are able to walk in the way of love as Jesus and Paul and the rest of Scripture describe it. To be sure, we cannot walk in love without the continual power and guidance of the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.

But this way of love is what we are each called to. We do participate. God doesn’t do it for us. Furthermore, we won’t live this way by accident. Walking in the way of love takes practice. It’s takes conscious intentionality.

Conscious Intentionality

It’s why God has given his people what we call the means of grace. For example, God has given us his church, the fellowship of the saints, prayer, Scripture, worship, fasting, the sacraments, just to name a few. These are means by which we’re able to learn and grow so that we can walk in this way of love.

And the more we experience the true love of God the more we’ll want to love God and others the way we’ve been loved.

But we need a plan. Like a vine needs a trellis to guide it in the right, life-giving direction so it will bear fruit, we need an intentional way of life to help us bear fruit, to help us walk in the way of love.

Make A Plan

This Fall our church we’ll have lots of groups meeting to help you do just that. One of the experiences I’ll be leading is called, “Crafting a Rule of Life,” based on the book by Stephen Macchia. In it, we’ll spend time considering our own unique callings, gifts, temperaments, and seasons of life and how we can cultivate those aspects of who we are to help us become consciously intentional in walking in the way of love.

If you’re interested, I hope you’ll reach out and ask me more about it or look at our website and see all the different offerings we have coming up in the Fall. Each of them will help you learn and grow as a follower of Christ so you can walk in the way of love.

What the world needs now… is love. That’s absolutely true. But the world needs the love of God. And the world needs followers of Jesus Christ who not only love God, but who love others as they have been loved by God.

Thanks be to God.

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

Please feel free to share this devotional. You can subscribe to it by clicking here.


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?

Please feel free to share this devotional. You can subscribe to it by clicking here.

The Anchor of Our Souls

Hebrews 6:18b-19a

VBS 2021: Adventure Week

Early this past June, our church was blessed to put on a wonderful Vacation Bible School experience that we called, “Adventure Week.” We had some fantastic folks at our church who worked hard to make it happen and the kids had a great time.

Throughout the week the children enjoyed a “tour” around the world, learned about different countries and cultures, and how God loves each person, no matter where that person is from. We all learned that each man and woman, boy and girl around the world has the same need, even if that need is manifested differently from person to person, and culture to culture.

The Week

On the Monday of that week, the children learned God created the heavens and the earth, as well as each one of us. We are each created in the image of a loving and holy God who wants to have a relationship with us. The Scripture for that day focused on God’s promise to Abraham. In Genesis 17:7, God promised,

 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

On Tuesday we learned that God called a people to himself and gave them ten laws for living in this world. These are God’s rules that, when followed, enable us to flourish in our relationship with God and others. The verse for that day was Philippians 4:19, which says,

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Since God is the one who created and designed us, it is safe to say he knows best. We also discovered that, unfortunately, we do not always live according to these laws. We learned that we all fall short of that standard. We sin and go our own way… and do our own thing.

In a manner of speaking, we do not appreciate how good God’s way of living really is. We sometimes think we know better than God… and act accordingly. Can you relate to that? The result of that is a broken relationship with God. Therefore, we need help!

And so, on Wednesday we found out about God’s answer to that problem. God sent a Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, to redeem the world and reconcile us back to himself. And we learned that Jesus is not a Lord and Savior for just some countries, cultures and people, but for everyone around the world, for all time. Our Scripture for that day reminded us,

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. (1 John 4:14)

And so on Thursday the children heard about what Jesus did for them, and for all of us, through his death and resurrection. On that day we looked at Matthew 20:28, which says,

just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus gave his life, not just so we could wait to go to heaven when we die, but to enjoy eternal life with him that can begin right now. What wonderful news… that we do not have to wait to have a relationship with God and enjoy his presence. All of that can begin right now.

Can you imagine how that Good News blessed the children – and all of us – to realize that the God who created all there is, actually loves them and wants to have a relationship with them. Is that something you are aware of? Do you know that? Is that “new” news to you, or “old” news? More importantly, regardless of when you learned it, do you believe it? Have you applied it in your life? If you would like to discuss this in more depth, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would love to talk with you more about this wonderful news and the new life you can have in Jesus Christ.

Well, the last day of Adventure Week, Friday, finished up with these familiar words from Matthew 28:18-20, what we call the Great Commission,

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The message to the kids was this: We get to tell others this good news about God’s love. In fact, God wants us to do just that!

The Greatest of All Stories

The theme of Adventure Week was, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” It is a story that begins at creation, then makes its way to our fall into sin, to God making a promise to Abraham, then traveling to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and ultimately culminating at the consummation of all things.

What is so astonishing is that we get to be in this story. We get to participate. And what makes this great story so incredible is that it is a true story. It’s not like a movie advertisement that proclaims, “based on a true story,” which usually means it is loosely based on an event that happened.

Instead, this story is actually true… and is still going. And the children, the volunteers – all of us – learned that God is calling each of us to take part in his story, for God is the great Author of this greatest of all stories.

A Promise Made

It was a wonderful week and just another example of how awesome the children’s ministry at our church really is.

One of my takeaways from the week was that no matter the person, the culture, the country, or the time in which a person lives, we all need hope. We all look for hope. We hope for things. We hope in things. And what we discover is that most things we hope in cannot deliver. They cannot satisfy our needs and desires. They fall short because they were never meant to be where we place our hope, at least not our ultimate hope.

But what really sank in for me during this Adventure Week, and hopefully for the kids too, was that there is only one true Hope of the world. And that hope is in the promise of God, referred to in Hebrews 6:17-19a, which says,

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

The promise God made to Abraham, the one the children learned about during Adventure Week, was the promise that God would be Abraham’s God and the God of his descendants. We know God’s promise to Abraham included the news that he would be the Father of many nations. People from all over the world – and all throughout time – would be Abraham’s descendants and God would be their God.

A Promise Kept

This was a promise God made. And our Scripture tells us a promise from God is as good as if it had already happened. God is holy and cannot lie. God is sovereign and is able to keep every promise he makes. And Scripture reminds us God fulfilled his promise to Abraham through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We become descendants of Abraham and heirs of God’s promise when we place our faith in Jesus Christ. That is why John writes this in Revelation 7:9-10,

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,

who sits on the throne,

and to the Lamb.”

That is why we are able to have hope. God makes promises and keeps them.

No matter the storms of life that rock our boats to and fro, we have an anchor that can secure us and keep us safe. God’s promise, the anchor of our souls, will keep us firm and secure in the midst of life’s struggles because it’s based on God’s unchanging purpose, which is to achieve our salvation through Jesus Christ.

Biblical Hope

And biblically speaking, “hope” is not the same thing as wishful thinking. The Jacksonville Jaguars have had an exciting off-season and we who live in Jacksonville are hoping they have their best season ever. We hope.

But biblical hope is more than this. It is not wishful thinking. It is confidence. It is assurance. It is as good as done. That is what we are hoping in. We are hoping in God’s promise already fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

And that hope, the author of Hebrews tells us, should encourage us. Encourage literally means, “to fill with courage.” We can have courage in the face of today’s storms and the uncertainty of tomorrow because we have an anchor that will keep us safe and secure. The anchor of hope. That is why, ever since the ancient church, along with the fish and dove, the anchor has been an important Christian symbol.

My Hope Is Built

What do you hope for? That is an important question. But maybe a more important question is this: “what do you hope in?” Do not place your hope in anything that cannot deliver. Put your hope in the One who loves you, who has made promises to you, fulfilled those promises, and will continue to do so.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the only worthy hope for the world today… and in all days.

I recently had the opportunity to share the following words with someone who is going through a tough time, and they really encouraged him. These words are from the hymn, “My Hope Is Built.”

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

When darkness veils his lovely face,

I rest on his unchanging grace.

On every high and stormy gale,

My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ the solid rock I stand,

All other ground is sinking sand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

Thanks be to God and his Son Jesus Christ, for being the anchor of our souls.

Amen.

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.