Thursday, December 31, 2015

P2 Meeting Jesus for the first time in Mark - "The Son of God" - Mark 1:1

Mark 1:1  "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

Yesterday we zeroed in on two of the three titles found in Mark 1:1: "Jesus" and "Christ". We did this for the purpose of meeting Jesus for the first time in Mark's Gospel. The title "Jesus" refers to the name of the Son relative to His true humanity. We discovered that though His name "Jesus" refers to His true humanity - there is more than meets the eye. The second title "Christ" speaks to us about His mission. We expounded at length the multiple layers of Jesus' Messiah-ship. In all reality we only scratched the surface - however, it is hope that the reader has become more acquainted with the richness of Jesus Christ. This leads us to the third title in Mark 1:1 - namely, "The Son of God". 

The title "Son of God" refers to the majesty of Jesus Christ
One of the observations noted in yesterday's post is the fact that many of the titles and names of Jesus may emphasize His humanity or deity, but neither one is ever totally excluded at the expense of the other. The title "Jesus" for example does pinpoint the historical figure "Jesus of Nazareth" as a Jewish man and miracle worker who died and raised from the dead in the first century. However, this name also points to the truth that He was not just a man, but more than such. The title "Christ" also functioned in much the same manner. 

When we consider this third title "Son of God", on first glance it appears Mark is emphasizing the Divinity of Christ. Bible scholar Wayne Grudem notes: There are nevertheless instances in which the phrase "Son of God" refers to Jesus as the Heavenly, eternal Son who is equal to God Himself (see matt 11:25-30; 17:5; 1 Cor 15:28; Heb 1:1-3,5,8). This is especially true in John's Gospel where Jesus is seen as a unique Son from the Father (John 1:14,18,34,39) who fully reveals the Father (John 8:19; 14:9). As Son he is so great that we can trust in Him for eternal life (something that could be said of no created being: John 3:16, 36; 20:31). 

With regards to the conclusions we can draw from Mark's Gospel alone on this title, episodes of Jesus' teachings and actions help us fill in the details about this title. Mark 3:11 has demonic beings of which Jesus exorcised saying: "Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” In Mark 12:6 we see the parable of the son and the tenants depicting the unique place the Son would have in the history of God's dealings with His people. In commenting on Mark 12:1-9, scholar William Lane Craig notes in his book "Reasonable Faith", page 311: "What then does this parable tell us about Jesus' self-understanding? It tells us that He thought of Himself as God's only Son from all the prophets, God's final messenger, and even the heir of Israel itself". This is idea of the Son of God being "unique" is stressed in Mark 13:32, which places the Father and Son in a category above angels and men. 
We then arrive at the final place in Mark where this title appears, the Roman Centurion's confession of Jesus at the crucifixion in Mark 15:39 "When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” This confession is striking, since in Graeco/Roman culture, the title "son of god" or "son of the divine" (divi filius) was used exclusively with reference to the Roman Emperor. Hence, the centurion was swearing His allegiance to a New Emperor, so-to-speak!

In brief, the rest of the New Testament brings out clearly the true meaning of this title that begins to unfold in Mark. Hebrews 1:1-4 reveals that the Son is nothing less than God Himself. He is exalted above the angels (Hebrews 1:5-11) and is God forever praised (Romans 9:5). Another common title used by Mark and other Gospel writers is Jesus' own favorite designation - "Son of Man". We won't go into detail about this particular title - only to note that its Divine/human dual function draws from Old Testament passages such as Daniel 7:12-14 and is found in the same setting where we find the title "Son of God", indicating their overlap in meaning and purpose (compare for instance Mark 10:33; 14:41; 14:62; 15:39). 

Concluding thoughts on Jesus' Majesty as "Son of God"
So in light of the above observations, we return once more to Mark's opening in Mark 1:1. We have aimed these last two days to meet Jesus for the first time. We saw His humanity in His name "Jesus", noting that He is truly human - but more than just a man. The second title "Christ" suggests to us His mission as the Divine/human Savior who came to redeem His people and reveal Himself as the anointed Priest and King. Then as "Son of God", Jesus Christ reveals His majesty. It seems these three titles combine to present a complete picture of Christ's majesty. As the "Son of God" He is exalted Messiah. By way of His actions we see further evidence that He is this majestic One. Certainly Jesus' own self-identification as the Son of God (Mark 10:45; 12:1-9) as well as the testimony of the soldiers at His crucifixion (Mark 15:39) all combine together to demonstrate His majesty - and this before His resurrection! We saw finally that all of the material in the epistles that assert Jesus Christ as the Son of God do so from the stand-point of His triumphal resurrection. All that Jesus claimed to be before His cross was demonstrated and confirmed in His resurrection. Jesus Christ is the majestic God/man - the Son of God. May we be in awe of meeting Him for the first time in Mark 1:1. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

P1 Meeting Jesus for the first time in Mark - Understanding the titles "Jesus" and "Christ" - Mark 1:1

Mark 1:1 "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

As we have so far explored the message of Mark's Gospel and how he develops his understanding of what it means to follow Jesus - we now turn to the titles of Jesus. Mark has the reader meeting Jesus for the first time. Mark 1:1 functions as a title and as a main heading for describing one of the main points of Mark's Gospel - namely in introducing us to Jesus, His Mission and His majesty. One of the chief ways Mark does this is through the titles and names of Jesus. 

There is so much wrapped up in each of the titles of Jesus that no amount of space would be sufficient to deal with all of them in one post (when you consider there are some 200 such titles in God's Word!). Mark's Gospel uses an economy of words to zero in on three of those titles: "Jesus", "Christ" & "The Son of God". In today's post we will consider the first two of those titles in our effort to meet Jesus for the first time in Mark.

The name "Jesus" refers to His humanity (and more)
Out of all the names and titles of Jesus - none are more approachable and tangible than the very name "Jesus". This name comes from a Hebrew name ("Joshua" or "Jeshua") meaning - "The Lord Saves". In Matthew 1:21 we read: "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” This first title puts us into direct connection with the man "Jesus". We know Jesus was real and indeed a true man. 

However, even in the emphasis of His historical identity as "Jesus of Nazereth" (Matthew 26:71; John 1:45; Acts 10:38), there was a hint that Jesus was not just a man. Even at the announcement of His name to Mary and Joseph by the Angel we read in Matthew 1:22-23 "Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” The great theologian B.B Warfield notes about the character of Jesus as presented in Mark's Gospel: "That of Mark, who was also a companion of Paul, as also of Peter, is, as truly as the Gospel of John itself, a presentation of facts in the life of Jesus. (That is to say), with a view to making it plain that this was the life of no mere man, human as it was, but of the Son of God Himself." 

As we noted already, even the very meaning of the name "Jesus" (The LORD saves or "Yahweh saves") tells us that this Person of Jesus was God decisively acting in and through and as Jesus of Nazareth. However, Mark hitches another title to the name "Jesus" to add to his profile.

The title "Christ" refers to His mission
The title "Christ" is a Greek carryover of the Hebrew "Meshach" - meaning "anointed one" or "chosen one".  The Holman Christian Standard Bible has rightly chosen to translate "Christ" as "Messiah" - since in its purest sense - Christ simply refers to "Messiah". This title carries with it multiple layers deriving from the Old Testament. These layers of meaning carry the reader from initially considering a special human royal descendant of David (2 Samuel 7:13-16; Psalm 89) to an exalted figure that mediates between the God of Israel and the nation of Israel (Isaiah 49; 61) to a figure that is nothing short of being Divine and human (Zechariah 14:1-9). Scholar William Lane Craig writes in his book "Reasonable Faith" concerning this title "Messiah": "Jesus is deliberately and provocatively claiming to be a promised king of Israel who will inaugurate his reign of peace. His action is like a living parable, acted out to disclose His true identity".

Mark's Gospel aims to unfold the Messianic identity of Jesus - much like Matthew. Matthew chooses to do this by starting with the human lineage of Jesus  - taking the reader back through David and Abraham's bloodline (see Matthew 1:1-17). Mark's approach is clearly different - being that his audience was primarily Roman and practically-minded-just-the-facts type of folks. Hence, Mark will use more of Jesus' own actions in demonstrating His Messianic claims. 

As one reads the Old Testament prophecies about Messiah - there emerges the following connection: the Messiah-the throne of Israel-temple. Mark's Gospel weaves together these threads in portraying the identity of Jesus as "the Christ". As the perfect sacrifice who would ransom His people (Mark 10:45) and at the same time the King who offered Himself to the people - Jesus brings together these twin themes in His Messianic activity. Again William Lane Craig observes: "The clearest indication of Jesus' Messianic self-consciousness emerges by reflecting on His execution. The plaque nailed to his cross recording the charge for which Jesus was curcified is multiply attested as stating that Jesus was executed as "the King of the Jews" (Mark 15:26; John 19:19). 

Closing thoughts for today
Therefore as we meet Jesus for the first time, we find His mission as Messiah was to be the true saving King who would sacrifice Himself on behalf of the people. Mark 10:45 - the key verse to Mark's Gospel - states: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” This is the main reason why we are identifying the theme of Mark as being: Jesus the Divine Son of God came to serve and give His life a ransom for many. Consider how awesome it is to realize that this Jesus is truly the Messiah - the chosen One, came to give His life for you and me. Mark's opening states this is "Gospel" or "good news". Tomorrow we will continue meeting Jesus for the first time by considering that third title in Mark 1:1 - "The Son of God".

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How Mark's Gospel Uniquely Defines What It Means To Follow Jesus

Mark 1:1-3 "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way; 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight.’”

Yesterday's post featured an overview of the significance and major features of Mark's Gospel. Today we want to look a little further into Mark's Gospel to define what it means to follow Jesus.

A curious feature of Mark that may clue us in on a two-fold truth on what it means to follow Jesus - Activity and Abiding
As you study Mark's Gospel, the one word that is repeated on roughly 40 occasions is the term "immediately".  In every chapter except chapters 12, 13 and the first half of chapter 14, you will find this word.  The word "immediately" was inserted to keep the reader's attention and to move the account of Jesus' life at a fast and rapid pace.  Yet when we come to those particular sections that deal with Jesus' last sermon and His preparations for His death and Gethsemane, the word "immediately" is absent.  Why? I want to suggest that in the midst of all the activity of Jesus' mission, there needed to be an opportunity to also "slow down", "take a breather" and "abide".  

Fleshing out some thoughts on "acting" and "abiding" in Jesus as depicted in Mark's Gospel
In our 21st century life, we all know what it means to be active.  In fact, activity is a vital part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  In those sections of Mark's Gospel where we see the word "immediately", the activities being encouraged include:

1. Immediate Obedience to Jesus.  Mark 1:3, 10,12,18,20, 21; 2:12

2. Urgency to fulfill the mission of salvation.  
Mark 4:5,15,16,17,29 and 14:72.

In many ways, urgency and activity should mark our Christianity.  However what I find to be less obvious are the periods of rest and reflection that are needed in our Christian walk.  As I read and study Mark's fast-pace Gospel, I find his lack of the word "immediately" to be intentional.  The last thing we want to do is to rush through the heart and purpose for why Jesus came.  Let the reader note: where we find no mention of the word "immediate" in Mark's Gospel is a clue to our need to "abide":

1. Abide in the truth of Christ's second coming.  Mark 13:1-37

2. Abide in developing a deeper love for Jesus. Mark 14:1-11

3. Abide in the significance of Jesus' once for all sacrifice. Mark 14:12-31

4. Abide in cultivating a willingness to do the Father's will, like Jesus did.  Mark 14:32-42

It is in these particular passages of Mark that we do not find the word "immediately" - and rightly so, since without those times of abiding, we can miss out on what the Lord is communicating to us through His word.

Monday, December 28, 2015

A basic overview of the contents and significance of Mark's Gospel

Mark 1:1-3 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

Today's post aims to offer a brief introduction to the Gospel of Mark. The value of reading and studying the four Gospels is in meeting Jesus Christ. Mark's Jesus is introduced at the beginning of His public life and ministry. Below are some further details that will aid readers and perhaps Bible teachers in gaining an introductory understanding and outline of this wonderful Gospel.

Quick notes on Mark's Gospel
So what distinguishes Mark's Gospel from Matthew, Luke and John? Since Mark's audience was composed of practically minded Roman people, not much time is spent in details surrounding Jewish life and history like Matthew and Luke. Furthermore, since the Roman mind was more prone to short, sweet and to the point types of thinking, Mark's Gospel is the shortest and most quickly moving of the four Gospels. Then finally, early church history tells us that Mark recorded by Divine inspiration the Apostle Peter's preaching about Jesus, resulting in the Gospel of Mark.

The message and outline of Mark's Gospel
The key verse to Mark's Gospel is found in Mark 10:45 - "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark purposefully relied upon Isaiah's prophecies in his overall portrayal of Jesus' life, death, burial and resurrection.  In the opening of his Gospel, Mark attributes John the Baptist's ministry to predictions made by Isaiah - thus further demonstrating how much Mark saw the person of Jesus Christ as being the very fulfillment Old Testament expectation.  Below is a brief outline of the book:

           Mark's Gospel: Jesus the Divine Son of God came to 
                   serve and give His life a ransom for many
Preparation for Jesus' public ministry.  Mark 1:1-13
           John the Baptist's preaching about Jesus.  Mark 1:1-8
           Jesus Baptism and temptation.                   Mark 1:9-13

Public Ministry of Jesus.                       Mark 1:14-10:52
           Jesus' preaching and miracles - Cycle # 1 Mark 1:14-3:12
           Jesus' preaching and miracles - Cycle #2  Mark 3:13-4:41
           Jesus' preaching and miracles - Cycle #3  Mark 5:1-43
           Jesus' preaching and miracles - Cycle #4   Mark 6:1-56
           Jesus' preaching and miracles - Cycle #5  Mark 7:1-8:26
           Jesus' preaching and miracles - Cycle #6  Mark 8:27-9:13
           Jesus' preaching and miracles - Cycle #7  Mark 9:14-10:52

Preparation for Jesus' presentation as King.         Mark 11:1-10
Presentation and Rejection of Jesus as King.       Mark 11:11-13:37

Preparation for Jesus' crucifixion and death.         Mark 14:1-42
          Anointing of Jesus for burial                        Mark 14:1-11
          Jesus final meal with the disciples.              Mark 14:12-42
Jesus' crucifixion, death and burial.                   Mark 14:43-15:47       

Preparation by women to travel to Jesus' tomb   Mark 16:1-3
Women find empty tomb, Jesus is alive!             Mark 16:4-20

Closing thoughts:
So why should you and I become more acquainted with Mark's Gospel? Let me offer four reasons as we close out today's post:

1. First, Mark's Gospel is specifically focused on the public ministry and mission of Jesus. Though much the same could be said of the other three Gospels, Mark's brevity and intentional focus upon how Jesus, the Divine Son, came as the Suffering Servant gives us the specific point of Jesus' mission. 

2. Secondly, Mark's Gospel provides the most basic outline of Jesus' public life and ministry recorded in Matthew and Luke. Much has been written on the literary relatonship between the first three Gospels. This author takes Matthew to be the first of the three, with Mark depending upon Matthew and bringing in Luke's Gospel as a supplement. If we can get into our minds and hearts Mark's overall presentation of Jesus, we will find ourselves more able to navigate the bigger Gospels of Matthew and Luke. These three Gospels together are oftentimes referred to as the "Synoptic Gospels", with the word "synoptic" referring to how all three "see-together" a complementary vision of Jesus Christ's Deity expressed in perfect humanity. 

3. In addition to helping us better appreciate Jesus' mission, as well as the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Mark's Gospel provides excellent insights when read in concert with John's Gospel. Dr. David Alan Black of Southeastern Theological Seminary notes concerning this point: "In a far higher degree than in the Synoptics (remember, the Synoptics refer to Matthew, Mark and Luke), the whole narrative of the Fourth Gospel centers around the Person of Christ." When I want to look at Jesus, I think of Mark and John as a pair of binoculars. Mark's Gospel proceeds at a rapid rate over the life and works of Jesus in comparison to the more meditative longing gaze at the glory of Christ's person in John. Both together bring into focus the missions and majesty of Jesus. Since John's Gospel has been historically understood as a supplement to the other three Gospels, we can then include the details of Matthew and Luke to fill out the complete picture of Jesus Christ that we gain from a combined reading of Mark and John. 

4. The final reason for taking a closer look at Mark is because we meet the Master. Undoubtedly the same can be said of the other three Gospels. However, Mark's Gospel is often-times overlooked due to it's brevity. The Gospel of Mark contains some details of Jesus' life you wouldn't find in Matthew, Luke or John. To know Jesus better, one needs to include Mark in their overall regiment of Bible study. 


Sunday, December 27, 2015

The centrality of the glory of Jesus in Christian living

1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

Biblical Christianity rests upon three legs: the practical, the doctrinal and the supernatural.  When we say: "Practical Christianity" or "Biblical Christianity" or "Supernatural Christianity", we're not speaking of three different types of Christianity, but rather ways in which we understand and live out it's truths. That is to say, Christianity is as much practical as it is doctrinal and supernatural. 

How our worship expresses the supernatural character of Biblical Christianity
1 Timothy 3:16 is an ancient Christian Hymn. The words demonstrate that all of the supernatural, practical and doctrinal aspects of the Christian faith flow from Jesus Christ.  Worship is how we best see the supernatural essence of our Christian faith.  Ephesians 2:18 clarifies this point:  "for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father."  Jesus Christ's incarnation and virgin birth stand as landmark supernatural events that shape the very essence of the Christian faith.  To focus on the Christmas Truth of Jesus Christ in His first coming reinforces us to be a people who worship and love the Lord. 

The Glory of Jesus Christ and supernatural Christian worship
If you notice the first and last lines of this passage, they both deal with the glory of Jesus Christ.  Quite literally we are enjoying Christ from glory to glory in this passage.  The glory of His incarnation and the glory of His ascension.  We look forward to the day when He returns in the glory of His Father.  God's glory in Jesus Christ is the beginning, middle and end of Christian worship.  Some passages below will serve to reinforce the priority of Christ's glory in supernatural Christianity:

1. The Glory of God the Son was sung about at His birth. 
Luke 2:14 states:  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

2. The Glory of God the Son was stated at the beginning of His public Ministry
Matthew 3:17 "and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

3. The Glory of God the Son was stated when He was on the Mount of Transfiguration mid-way through His public ministry
Matthew 17:5 "While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”

4. The Glory of God the Son is prayed for by Him in His Upper Room Prayer
John 17:5 “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was."

5. His glory demonstrated in His resurrection is the basis for the Christian's New Birth and faith-walk with the Lord
1 Peter 1:3 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead"

It was this glory of Jesus Christ that was spoken of at the beginning of His birth. This same glory would culminate in His resurrection and Ascension. Such glory will reach its crescendo at His second coming.  When you see 1 Timothy 3:16, it begins and ends with His glory.  Worship as the chief expression of the supernatural nature of Christianity must begin and end with the glory of Jesus Christ.  He being God in human flesh never ceased being glorious. 

This hopefully has captured for the reader the centrality of the glory of the Son in our practical, doctrinal and supernatural aspects of Christian living. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Successful God-centered planning for the upcoming New Year - James 4:1-17

James 4:13-16 "Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil."

As our attention turns to the upcoming New Year, the subject of planning takes center stage. Many people will be acquiring New Calendars or making plans as to what goals they want to achieve. Oftentimes discussions of such activities will include the vowing of New Years' resolutions. It is important to understand what is entailed in good planning - and more specifically - God-centered planning. 

There are obviously details and choices that must be done and certain principles that must be avoided when it comes to how we relate to the future. James and the rest of scripture gives not merely good advice for effective God-centered planning, but also the power for the carrying forth of such an effort. Today's post is all about considering what God-centered planning requires, why we fail, and how we can avoid such failure.

1. What God-centered planning requires (and why we fail) 4:1-5
The Bible testifies that there are at least three elements in godly planning. First, prioritization. Matthew 6:33 notes - "
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." The second element in godly planning entails prayer as seen in Philippians 4:6-7  "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." So, in addition to prioritization and prayer, we find a third element for making godly plans, namely passion, as seen in Proverbs 16:3,7 - 3. "Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established" ; 7. "When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord,
He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him."

So then we have three clear components to solid, godly planning: prioritization, prayer and passion. The three elements are traits we know we ought to have and need to have if our planning is going to be God centered. However, knowing what we ought to do and observing what is typically done by Christians entails two different things.

In short - when I look at how I make plans, I find inconsistency and failure to prioritize correctly. Other times, I may forget to pray or not have passion. James 4:1-5 explains why we fail in what we know we ought to do: our selfish ambition and love of the world more than God can skew how we prioritize (compare James 4:1-2a). Second, in knowing that we ought to pray, we either pray with the wrong motives or fail to pray all-together. Either appproach to prayer will yield no results (compare James 4:2b-3). Then of course, all of the best-laid planning in the world will fall short if there is no passion for God (compare James 4:4-5). Distraction. Worry. Anxiousness. The opinions of others. Distorted self-perceptions. The spiritual warfare of the enemy. Whatever else we can typically name in explaining why we fail oftentimes in trying to orientate ourselves and planning around God is described in James 4:1-5. James 4:17 defines this failure most accurately - "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin."

So God-centered planning requires prioritization, prayer and passion. However, how can you and I avoid the failure that often accompanies such efforts? 

2. Who planning requires (and how you can succeed)
All efforts of planning aim at success. However, when it comes to a Biblically defined sucess, by what do we mean? Success is more so focused on Jesus and faithfulness to His word than pleasing people and controlling outcomes (compare Joshua 1:8; Psalm 118:8; Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 4:1-6). In worldly conceptions of success, the first two parts of this definition are absent - with success only concerned with pleasing people or trying to control outcomes. Certainly if our planning can include making people happy or producing given results - all the merrier. However, such aims are not the main definition of success in scriptural terms. There will be those times when we find that unpredicable variables enter into our lives for which we had no control. Furthermore, there may be those times when we attempt to center our plans on God, either someone will be displeased or we ourselves may find it difficult to remain happy! Apart from Jesus Christ, it is impossible to make God-centered plans in the manner we are talking about.

Consider James 4:6-10. James 4:6 clues us in on the fact that there is a way in which to experience and move in what is called "greater grace". James 4:6 states - "But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humility. But not just any sort of humility. If for a moment we conceive of the humility spoken of here as a grit-your-teeth-and-try-harder moralism, we miss James' point. 

James' layout of the humility described in James 4:7-10 lines up remarkably with what Paul would later write in Philippians 2:1-11 concerning Christ-like humility. We won't take the time to expound on the scriptures associated with this point - but rather list them in summary and comparison to the highpoints of Jesus' own life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension:

a. Jesus' incarnation, virgin birth, early childhood (James 4:6-7; Phil 2:5-11)

b. Jesus resisted devil at beginning of public ministry (James 4:8a; Matthew 4)

c. Jesus drew near to God in prayer (James 4:8a; Mark 1:35; Lk 11:1-13)

d. Jesus was sinless (James 4:8b; John 7:53-8:11)

e. Jesus empathize (James 4:9; 4:14-15)

f. Jesus died, raised, ascended (James 4:10; 1 Cor 15:1-4 ; Phil 2:5-11).

Now why list these highpoints of Jesus' life and ministry? Because not only are Christians defined by how Jesus lived, but also by how He lives in them by the Holy Spirit - as well as how they live in Him (Ephesians 2:6-8). In other words, there is only One Person, Who as a man succeeded in living His life flawlessly before the Heavenly Father - namely Jesus Christ. Moreover, this same Person, being God at the same time - is able to make His power and Person available to the Christian by the Holy Spirit (see John 16:12-13; Colossians 1:27).

The question is - are you and I yielded to Jesus? Jesus prioritized His life perfectly, and thus by Him we can learn progressively how to prioritize our lives around God's kingdom. Focusing on Jesus is commanded of us in scripture (Hebrews 12:1-2), and thankfully the grace of the barren cross is available to ensure we don't get discouraged in such efforts (Hebrews 12:3). 

Jesus Christ is not hermetically sealed-off in history or in the pages of scripture. By the Spirit-filled life, His power and Person is available to every Christian who yields in daily submission to Him. The passion to serve God was never question in Jesus. Throughout the four Gospels we will see statements about Jesus limiting His activites due to it "not being His hour". Jesus was obsessed with doing the Father's will. To know that He did so with precision, and to know that in terms of His humanity, means Christians can plug into His power by the Holy Spirit ought to encourage us greatly. 

In short, we as Christians can succeed in this upcoming year because Jesus is in us, and we in Him! (Eph 2:6-7; Col 1:27; 1 Cor 2:16)

3. How you live out Christ - centered planning (depending on Jesus) James 4:11-12 & 4:13-17
Today we looked at what is necessary for God-centered planning (and why we fail) as well as Who is required for such planning (and thus, how to succeed). Having considered these two points, how is it we can live out such planning. To put it another way - what areas require us to apply these truths?

a. In your Relationships. We know the importance of loving your neighbor James 4:11-12; Mt 22:37-39). When you and I yield to Jesus' Lordship and live in Him and He in us, we will avoid the misjudging of others that so-often characterizes the carrying out of our plans. Planning is never done in isolation from others. What we plan around the Lord includes other people. Getting to know one another, praying for each other, listening to one another is how we will curb this. 

Remember, Jesus lives in you believer, and you in Him. He did this already, and by His Spirit desires to live it through you. So we apply God-centered planning around our relationships, but notice a second area...

b. With your Time. James 4:13-16 was quoted at the beginning of today's post. We must understand that on the one hand, failure to plan is planning to fail. With that said, too often we presume and worry about tomorrow while ignoring the fact that God has given us "greater grace" for today (see James 4:6; Lamentations 3:23-27). When Jesus is at the center of our planning, how we steward our time will change. We won't presume, but operate in faith. That is, we won't live on the basis of our five senses only, but also with that sixth sense, faith (Colossians 3:1-3; 1 Corinthians 5:7). 

In conclusion
Successful God-centered planning cannot be done in the flesh. Jesus Christ is required for successful God-centered planning. James gives us the command to be careful in how we consider our plans for the future, with the implication being that without Jesus - such planning cannot be achieved. May we as Christians plug into Jesus' Lordship by His Spirit and live out life around the glory of God in the upcoming year. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Further thoughts on music in the Christmas accounts of Luke's Gospel

Luke 2:13-15  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” 15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”
The Glory of Christmas
Merry Christmas to those who are reading this blog today.  Yesterday we began to look at the musical side of the Christmas story.  We noted two songs in Luke's record that spoke of Christ's coming: "The Magnificat" and "The Benedictus".  Today's blog features the third of five songs recorded by Luke in Luke 2:14, which in the Latin Bible (the Vulgate) would had begun with the first word "gloria" (hence its title in some of today's Bibles).  You may recognize that this word is where we derive our word "glory".  To glory in something means to think or regard someone or something with the highest thoughts possible.  No doubt, this shortest of the five songs tells us something profound about the night Christ in his humanity would be born.

It took all of Heaven to tell of His glory here on earth - The Biggest Concert Ever
The number of angels in Heaven, though not specifically given to us, are roughly revealed to us in scripture.  In passages such as Daniel 7 and Revelation 4 and 5 we discover that there are in upwards of 100 trillion angels sings praises to God, day and night. 

Now here on planet earth, we have over 7 billion people.  To just give you an idea of how big the heavenly hosts are, 100 trillion angels would be enough for every person on planet earth to have over 14,000 angels.  To put it in another perspective, in order to have a room big enough to accomodate 100 trillion people, you would need a room that would be over 60 million miles long and wide (roughly corresponding to the orbit of Venus around the sun)! 

No doubt, what the shepherds saw in the short burst of Heavenly glory would had no doubt frightened them.  The angelic host, bringing the news of the Savior's birth, would had stretched literally from Heaven to earth. 

This huge concert lasted less than five seconds
In the original Greek of Luke the angels sung 11 words.  Why so short?  If we know one thing about the God of the Bible - He can communicate an whole lot in a few words.  Moreover, if the glory of God being refracted and reflected through these angels had been in that field any longer, the whole world and universe would had been destroyed!  Isaiah for instance tells of a vision He saw in Isaiah 6, where the foundations of God's throne room in Heaven "shook" at the singing of his glory by the angels.  So if the environment designed to withstand the continuous praise of God's glory could hardly sustain such glory, imagine the result for this world.

What did the angels sing?
This enormously short concert communicated an enormous amount to these shepherds.  When we unpack Luke 2:14, here is what we learn about the incredible good news brought that first Christmas night:

1. God's Glory in human flesh is mind blowing.  In the original language we could translate the first part of the angel's song as: "Glory is in the most high God".  These angels, as powerful and as smart as they were, marveled at the miracle that took place on that first Christmas night.  Their Creator was going to manifest himself through a second, aquired nature - a human one.  The One whom they had worshipped as sharing the eternal undivided Divne nature with the Father and Holy Spirit would be revealed in frail humanity.  1 Peter 1:12 records that the angels are still blown away by what God did, for Peter writes at the end of that verse: "things into which angels long to look". 

2. God's Grace among humanity is most beautiful.  The next part of their song has these words: "and on earth peace".  When angels normally showed up in scripture, unless they specifically said so, their showing up usually meant judgment.  In a much lesser way, if I saw a row of police cars and firetrucks coming toward my house and pulling into my driveway, I would be alarmed, for I would wonder why it is they have come. 

However, if the police and fire rescue told me they had come to surround me to protect me from an approaching firestorm sweeping accross the county, I would find their flashing lights and blaring sirens most beautiful.  I would have no fear.  When Christ came that night, he was heralded by Heaven's Angelic Servant Squad!  He came to accomplish salvation that would shield all those who would believe on Him from the fiery wrath of God that is coming on this world. (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 3)  We can tell by the Shepherd's excitement that this news was beautiful to hear - God Himself has come to the rescue. 

3. God's Gospel announces salvation to all who by grace believe. The last part of the angels' song tells us: "among men with whom He is pleased."  How is a person made pleasing to God?  It is not by good moral living. (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Its not by keeping the ten commandments. (Romans 3:20)  Its not by going to church, being baptized, joining a civic organization or any other method of man's righteousness. (Isaiah 64:6).  There is only one way one can be pleasing in God's sight - be as good or as "much in the right" (i.e righteous) as God is! 

The righteousness required in salvation cannot be grasped by journeying up to heaven through a human ladder of morality. Both Old and New Testaments proclaim in unity that in effect - God is the One Who chooses to supply the requirements by coming down to where we are - which is the whole point of the incarnation (Deuteronomy 30:11-14; Romans 10:1-8). 

Now the Bible is pretty clear, there is no human being who could ever attain that level of moral and spiritual goodness.  However there is only one human being who was indeed as right as God - for He is God - that One is Jesus Christ.  Everything He merited before God can be credited to you when you by faith trust in Him.  That is what the angels were singing.  "On whom His favor rests" means that God's grace has come, calling out to you to believe on the One whom He sent. (John 3:16; John 17:3)

Therefore in order to receive everything that Christ ever accomplished into your life, there is only one means by which you can be declared "in the right" with God - faith alone.  That is not only good news, and not only great news, but that is news worth singing about!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The wonder of music in the birth accounts of Jesus

Luke 2:13-15 "And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among menwith whom He is pleased.” 15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”

Christmas Eve is special - and so I thought what we would do today is to begin considering the role of music in Christmas. 

The Praises of Jesus' birth in Luke
The infancy narratives in the first two chapters of Luke's Gospel record for us five songs and poems sung by various saints or angels that praise the arrival of God in human flesh.  The first two that we will consider occured right before Christ's birth.  They are found in Luke 1:46-56 and Luke 1:67-79. 

Strange names but magnificent meaning
If you notice in some of your Bibles, these particular portions of scripture have weird sounding titles.  For instance the first song, the song of Mary, is called "The Magnificat".  The reason for this is because these are the first words of Mary's song as it is recorded in the Latin Bible - The Vulgate.  This was the version of the Bible used for 1,000 years in the Old Roman Catholic Church and the influence of that version carried over into some of the terms we use in describing details of the Bible. The term "Magnificat" is Latin for "The Exultation".  You may recognize from the word our English word "Magnificent".  What Mary sings and Who she sings about is the one who is God, coming through her womb as a virgin born human being.

The second song in Luke's record is the song of Zecharias called "The Benedictus" (meaning blessed).  Perhaps you have heard of an opening prayer where the persons asks for God's blessing on a given event as being called a "benediction".  Like the first, the meaning is profound, in that Zecharias is praising God for his sending of the forerunner through he and his wife, Elizabeth.   No doubt, the events surrounding the Savior's coming into the world were indeed blessed! 

The Wonder of the Magnificat (Mary's song)
We can note three things about Mary's song in Luke 1:46-56:

1. The Savior in her womb is personally meaningful  Notice how often Mary uses the words "my" or "me" in 1:46-49.  Mary sees the profound significance of Christ's coming for her own life.  She has embraced everything spoken to her by the angel.  She has taken God at His word and is overjoyed at the fact that in her womb is the Living word. 

2. The Savior in her womb is powerfully Mighty  In Luke 1:50-53 Mary rehearses how this One in her womb Pre-existed as the Eternal Son, sharing in unending and Undivided glory with the Father and Holy Spirit. God as One God has ever existed within the Father, Son and Spirit. The Son aims to make known the glory of the Father. The Son is Sovereign ruler over the nations. (Psalm 2).  He knows how to deliver His people.  These ideas flow from Mary's lips as the Holy Spirit gives her utterance. 

3. The Savior in her womb is prophecy's fulfillment In Luke 1:54-55 Mary is thinking of all the times God promised and predicted the coming of Messiah.  From Abraham down to Malachi, God kept revealing how the Promise of Salvation would one day become the Person of salvation, born in due time.  For Mary, the literal fulfillment of that truth was now living inside of her. 

The Wonder of the Benedictus (Zechariah's song)
With Mary praising the wonder of Christ's soon birth, Zechariah too is praising God for the fact of the forerunner - John.  With only 6 months difference between their births, God's perfect timing was truly incredible.  This song is full of statements regarding God's promises and prophecies about salvation, redemption and the Light of Hope that is seen in the coming of Messiah.  The one who would announce that coming is spoken of in scriptures such as Malachi 4 and Isaiah 40.  Truly the power of worship was declaring that the plan of God in Heaven was getting ready to touch down here on earth.  It would not be not long before the Son would manifest on earth in frail humanity wrapped in swaddling clothes. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

God's Preparation for the Arrival of the Son in History

Galatians 4:4 "when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law".

It always astonishes me how much time and effort is expended in preparing for the celebration of Christmas. People spend months in advance preparing for the big day - from shopping to setting aside time on the calendar. Churches will spend months in choir rehearsals, newspaper ads and sermon series to make way for the focus on Jesus. These two observations pale in comparison to the great lengths God took in preparing for the entry of the Son into history. Lets consider today God's preparation for the arrival of the Son into time. 

God's big plans included all of history
When we consider the whole of history from Genesis up to the time of Jesus' birth, it is amazing to think about everything God orchestrated to make the entry of the Son of God into the world a possibility:

1. 3600 years from Genesis to Malachi.  From Adam to Noah = 1656 years.  From Noah to Abraham = another 350 to 400 years.  From Abraham to the end of Genesis = around 250 or so years.  From Moses' day in Exodus to David's time in 1 Samuel is around 400 years.  From David to Malachi's day is roughly 600 years.  God orchestrated the rise and fall of at least four world empires in between the Old and New Testaments (Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome). In addition to personages and political reigemes, the upsurge and spread of the Greek language following Alaexander the Great's conquest of the Mediterranean world in the 4th century b.c, as well as the building of the Roman roadway system following the conquest of the Greeks set the stage for what would be the spread of the Gospel following Jesus' ascension. Countless wars and 109 prophecies in preparation for when He would come were all used by God in the providential preparation for Jesus' arrival.

2. The silent years between Malachi and Matthew.  From Malachi to Matthew we see the word of God not being spoken.  Just because God hid His face did not mean His hand was not at work behind the scenes.  As we noted already, three world empires rose and fell.  At the end of the Old Testament, Babylon was in power.  In 539 b.c she fell to the Medo-Persia Empire.  This empire, predicted and spoken of in Daniel 2 and 7, was the first to begin the practice of crucifixion. 

Next came the Greeks, under Alexander the Great in 333 b.c.  After conquering Persia, Alexander began his program of making the whole world like the Greeks.  Everyone under his domain would speak Greek.  This language would be the language of the New Testament.  The Jews also made the world's first Bible translation - the Septuagint, in 275 b.c.

Greece gave away to Rome and the Roman empire devised the 50,000 mile roadway system throughout the Medditeranean world called "The Roman Road". It would be quite useful, especially when the early church would come to spread the goodnews of Jesus Christ. 

Rome by Jesus' day was experiencing politcal unreast in the Holy land.  Power had changed hands, and populations of people were being redistributed.  This is what prompted Caesar Augustus to issue the decree for everyone to return to their hometown to be counted.  Josephus the Jewish historian of the 1st century records this very census in his "Antiquities of the Jews", giving us a historical corroboration of the accuracy of Luke's Gospel. Because of that decree, Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, as predicted in the book of Micah.

3. The prophecies of the Old Testament. When you count up all of the prophecies that predict the first coming of Jesus Christ, the grand total comes to 109!  Some of these are so extraordinary, they are worthy of mention.  Genesis 49:10 tells us what tribe in Israel the Messiah would derive - from Judah.  Isaiah 7:14 tells us He would be virgin born, with Isaiah 9:6-7 revealing Him as both human and Divine.  Isaiah 53 reveals He would suffer and die, with Zechariah 12:10 using the term "pierced" to describe the marks on his hands and feet.  Psalm 22 unfolds the words He would speak on the cross and Micah 5:2-4 uncovers the place of His birth. 

All in all, God alone can cover the scope of the timing of events, peoples and places - for He alone is Big enough, Powerful enough and knowing enough to accomplish it.  If anything, the timing of Christmas shows us that salvation is of the Lord!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The significance of the star of Bethlehem

Matthew 2:2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Today's blog is going to attempt to deal with the question: "What was the star of Bethlehem?"  Whenever you begin to dive into this subject, you come away with three general explanations.

1. The star was a natural phenomena.   In reading the literature on this subject over the years, I have found all kinds of explanations, some of which range from the purely ridiculous to the downright intriguing.  Some have suggested that the celestial object witnessed by the Magi may had been a comet or a brightly exploding star called a supernova.  Recent computer programs that can depict the appearance on the sky over any location on Earth have have run back to the period of Jesus' birth (7 b.c to 2 b.c) and have discovered the alignment of three planets: Jupiter, Mars and Venus. 

Could these astronomical phenomena been used by God in guiding these wisemen?  It would seem that as suggestive as this may be, it is not adequate to explain what they saw.  The object in question, accordng to Matthew's record, "guided them" and then "stayed" over the spot where Jesus and his family were living. 

2. The star was a supernatural phenomena  On the other end of the spectrum of explanations lies the supernatural explanation.  Many will point back to the times when the people of God were led through the wilderness by "a pillar of fire" by night.  Certainly we cannot argue that when the Magi explain this object as guiding and leading them, and then "standing over the place" where the Christ child was at, that thise object is of supernatural origin.

When one does a word study for that word "stand" in Matthew 2:9, we discover that the star not only just "stood over" the place of Christ's dwelling, it "stationed, positioned itself".  This tells us that the object in question had some level of intelligence (perhaps an angel for instance).  The only issue with this view is that like the completely natural explanation, we don't have enough information to make a judgment on what exactly the star was.  However, we can at least say that the object possessed intelligence of some sort.

3. The star was both natural and supernatural  If we take both the natural and supernatural explanations together, we can say that whatever the Magi saw that night entailed God communicating through both the night sky and the supernatural realm.  In a past blog I demonstrated how the prophet Daniel, over 600 years prior to the Magi in Matthew 2, had injected the prophecies of the Messiah into the thought life of these Persian Astrologers.  If you look at Matthew 2 once again, the quotation of a particular prophecy helps us to arrive at an explanation that includes the scriptures, the specific means through which God communicates saving truth. 

4. The Star definitely had prophetic significance
Theologians have noted that God communicates to human beings in two ways: General Revelation and Special Revelation.  General Revelation is the witness of God that we have in creation and the conscience.  It proves His existence and our responsibility to Him, but it does not identify Who He is nor does it lead to salvation.  This is where we need "Special Revelation" from the scriptures to fill in what is needed to lead a person to saving faith in Jesus Christ. 

When you scan the account of the Magi in Matthew 2:6, they do quote the prophecy in Numbers 24:17 concerning a star arising out of the tribe of Judah in Jerusalem.  This suggests to us that they were operating on what they first detected from General revelation - the positions of certain things in the sky (as wells as some time of supernatural phenomena), beginning over 800 miles at where they lived and them following that over a period of two years to where Christ was.  Then with them already possessing ancient copies of the Jewish scriptures handed down through their number from the days of Daniel, God at that moment used a particular text in His Special revelation to persuade them to worship the Christ child. 

We must remember what they ultimately sought and the only proper response
Although we could offer a pretty plausible scenerio for what the Magi saw in the night skies over Babylonia and Bethlehem - one thing is sure - the star in question was but a Divinely given natural/supernatural means, and beholding God in Human flesh was the true goal.  By the time they reached Him, the Spirit of God, through the scriptures, had convinced them that this was the One they sought.  They worshipped Him, and then went away exceedingly glad.  May that be our response to Christ throughout this season and the rest of lour lives: worship and exceeding joy. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

How Matthew's Genealogy Tells the Story of Christmas

Matthew 1:1 The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:

400 years had passed since God had spoken a word in Israel.  Not one word of God was heard in all the land or the world.  God's hand was working behind the scenes, guiding both history and the specific bloodline of Jesus Christ.  In Matthew's Gospel we see a total of 52 names, three sets of 14 generations, depicting the bloodline of Jesus Christ from Abraham up to the birth of the Messiah.  Many folks are tempted to skip over these genealogies that occur in Matthew and Luke. However, all scripture is profitable for instruction, for correction, for rebuke and for training in righteousness.  (2 Timothy 3:16).  To get the most out of this first chapter in Matthew, let the reader note the following key features:

1. Abraham, the head of the first 14 names, represents the Promise of salvation.
Abraham heads up both the first leg of this genealogy, as well as the whole list of names mentioned by Matthew.  We read of Abraham's life in Genesis 12-25.  It was to Him that God promised a nation (Genesis 12) and a ultimate redeemer or "seed" (Genesis 15).  God's promise of salvation, first mentioned back in Genesis 3:15, is brought into sharp focus through the life of Abraham.  Found over 100 times in the Bible, Abraham is used to illustrate what it means to trust in the Lord by faith (Romans 4) and to live out the life of faith through obedience to the word (Hebrews 11).

2. David, the head of the second 14 names, represents the Prophecy of salvation
In Matthew 1:6-11 records the next fourteen generations of Christ's bloodline, beginning with David.  In 2 Samuel 7:13-16 God gives David a prophecy through the prophet Nathan that from his bloodline would come a descendant to rule and reign.  This descendant's kingdom would last forever.  In other scriptures, such as Psalm 2, 45 and 89 we see God expanding and explaining this prophecy.  It is God's prophecy about David that takes the promise of Abraham and gives it flesh and bones.  Clearly the promise of salvation will indeed be the Person of Salvation. 

3. Jeconiah, the head of the third set of 14 names, represents the Problem addressed by salvation
Anyone who reads the story of Jeconiah will understand the fact that he had been cursed by God as a result of treachery against God and the throne of Israel.  His bloodline was cursed and thus he represents the problem being addressed in God's sending of His Son - the curse of sin.  Jeremiah 22:24-30 records God's words against Jeconiah and his descendants. 

The miracle of Christmas reveals that a sinless Savior would indeed be born from an otherwise long line of sin, treachery and failure.  Just as the light of the sun is not affected when it shines upon a trash heap, so it is that the Virgin born Son of God could be sinless despite coming from a cursed bloodline.  If anything, to bear the curse of sin was the very reason why God the Son came to be born in a stable. (Please compare Galatians 3:10,13) 

4. Jesus, the final name in the genealogy, is the solution to the problem of sin, the fulfillment of every prophecy and the personification of the promise of salvation
Therefore it is fitting that even the geneaology of Jesus Christ would tell the saga of salvation:  God began with a promise, reinforced it with prophecy, to address the problem of sin with the solution: Jesus Christ.  Truly those first words of the New Testament would be God's final word on all that pertains to what He was accomplishing through Jesus Christ. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Poem: The Savior Revealed

The Savior Revealed
The Father Veiled His Son from view
God drew a plan on what to do
The Son and He saw humanity’s curse
Mankind’s sin would only grow worse
A bloodline from Adam and Eve had been decreed
From Adam to Abraham came the Seed
A nation born from slavery’s hate
Israel would grow and exist as a gate
God the Son would open the door assigned
In Mary’s womb God and man aligned
The One Who omnipotent, with worlds at His command
Would be veiled in weakness, with soft infant hands
Omniscience whose knowledge knew no bounds
Would be veiled in frailty uttering cooing sounds
The One who Omnipresent in time and space
Would limit Himself to human space
Though veiled in flesh His deity remained
A cross was his destiny, with blood to be stained
Revealed he was, died he did
The guilt of sin, its penalty rid
He rose and ascended, his body changed
                 The Revealed Savior accomplished what was arranged