Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The need to rest

Psalm 46:10 "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"

Today's post is going to make an important announcement regarding what I've concluded from praying and thinking about needing to rest for a season from blogging. But first, let me say a word about what the scripture says about the necessity of rest in the Christian life. 

Two four letter words: Busy and Rest
I am convinced that in today's Christian world we have two four-letter words, one of which is dirty to God and one of which is dirty to us. The word that we find ourselves saying often to God that is dirty to Him is the word "busy": "I'm too busy to pray" or "I'm too busy too stop and check on so-and-so" or "I'm to busy to sit and listen." One wise saint of God described the word "busy" in acrostic form: "burdened under satan's yoke." Certainly God in His Word warns us of getting too "busy" and not resting or taking time out to pray and seek His face. (Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 46:10; Matthew 11:28-30)

The second four letter word is dirty to us but pleasant to God. That word is "rest". I have noticed lately how when talking to Christians or even in my own activities and thoughts how little room there is for "rest". The idea of taking time out to rest is repulsive to many Christians. Why is that? Let's be honest - we don't like resting in prayer before God because we like control. Scripture abounds with God calling His people to come and rest and spend time with Him in prayer. Rest is something God did after creation and is still doing, affirming His Sovereign control over all he has made. 

Rest is at the core of what it means to be a Christian, since in it we are affirming Christ's Sovereign control over us. It is in the place of prayer in conjunction with God's word that the Christian is once again refreshed and recharged.  Rest is seasonal or weekly. We know there are times and seasons of rest - followed by seasons and times of activity. Both are ordained by God and constitute the rhythm of healthy Christian discipleship.

My need to rest, but to hopefully resume blogging in the near future
To all my readers, blogging has become a major part of my life. However, I really feel inclined to take a season of "rest" from what has become a daily activity for me. There are just those times when "rest" is required, and for me, that time is now. I want to continue to grow in my walk with the Lord and aim to pick up the "proverbial pen" once more in the near future whenever God sees fit and inclines me to become active once again in blogging. I urge readers to explore this blog-site. The goal has been and will always be to provide "growing Christian resources" for people that emphasize the practical, doctrinal and supernatural aspects of the Christian walk. Blessings! 

Monday, January 11, 2016

P3 - How we know Jesus demonstrated Himself to be Messiah and God-Incarnate - Jesus' exorcisms demonstrate His Divine authority

Matthew 8:28-34 "When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. 29 And they cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. 31 The demons began to entreat Him, saying, “If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” 32 And He said to them, “Go!” And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters. 33 The herdsmen ran away, and went to the city and reported everything, including what had happened to thedemoniacs. 34 And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region."

Did Jesus understand Himself to be the Messiah and revelation of God in human flesh? In yesterday's post we considered how Jesus regarded Himself to be no-less than the sole gateway to God, and no-less than God in human flesh by His use of the phrase "truly, truly". The day before we considered how Jesus understood Himself to be on equal par- with God by his phrase: "but I say". Both posts have been exploring Jesus' claims by way of what is often deemed "implicit Christology", meaning we can tell "implicitly" by Jesus' words and actions whether or not He believed himself to be Messiah and God-incarnate. Such activities are "implicit" and, when combined with "explicit" evidence such as His titles (Son of Man for example) and explicit statements (John 14:6), we can gain an accurate picture of Jesus. 

In today's post we raise the question again: how well did Jesus understand Himself to be with respect to being the Messiah and decisive revelation of God in human flesh? Demonstrating this to be the case is important, since the Jesus I worship and preach and that Bible believing Christians have staked their trust in must surely be more than another "prophet" or mere "holy-man". Today we consider a third line of evidence supporting Jesus' self-designation as Messiah and God-incarnate, namely His exorcisms.

Jesus casting out of Demons represents an unprecedented demonstration of Divine authority
On at least eight occassions we find record of Jesus casting demons out of people (Matt 8:28,31; 9:34; 10:8; 12:24,27,28 and the associated parallels in Mark and Luke, as well as additional passages). One can comb the Old Testament and not find one example of exorcism. Certainly there were Jewish Rabbi's who claimed to have such abilities (such as Honi the Circle Drawer and Ben Dosa). When one scans the Rabbinic writings, the claim is made that the Jewish teachers derived methods of exorcism extending all the way back to King Solomon. 

It is one thing to make claims and build entire traditions around such claims. However, could such claims be verified? The claims hung in the air - but to demonstrate such was quite another matter. When we consider Jesus' actions and teachings - the reaction of critics and crowds alike gives us the first clue that His exorcisms were not mere parlor tricks, smoke and mirrors. Demonic possession was deemed by the Jews and Gentiles alike as hopelessly incurable. Such infestations by the fallen angelic realm could not be cured by conventional means.

When Jesus came on the scene and began doing exorcisms as a regular part of His ministry - He was no less than God Himself in human flesh. I would urge readers to survey the passages I gave earlier to grasp the full scope of Jesus' power and activity. When we add Jesus' exorcisms to the evidence of His use of the phrases: "but I say to you" and "Truly, truly I say to you", we have yet more evidence that Jesus viewed Himself as Messiah and God-Incarnate. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

P2 - How we know Jesus demonstrated Himself to be Messiah and God-Incarnate - Jesus' as the sole gateway to God

John 1:51 "And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Did Jesus understand Himself to be the Messiah and revelation of God in human flesh? This two-fold question is important to answer, since many today claim that Jesus never understood Himself to be neither. In yesterday's post we considered how Jesus understood Himself to be on equal par- with God by his phrase: "but I say". This phrase was His way of saying He was equal in authority to the Old Testament and above and superior to the Jewish traditions of His time. Such a statement undoubtedly sparked controversy and marvel from both Jesus' opponents and followers. 

In today's post we raise the question again: how well did Jesus understand Himself to be with respect to being the Messiah and decisive revelation of God in human flesh? In conversations that I've had over the years with people of differing worldviews, religions and even-skeptics - the charge has been that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah nor God's decisive revelation of Himself in true humanity. Demonstrating this to be the case is important, since the Jesus I worship and preach and that Bible believing Christians have staked their trust in must surely be more than another "prophet" or mere "holy-man". 

As I noted yesterday, this series of posts aims to explore whether or not Jesus understood Himself (by way of his words and actions) to not only be the Messiah or deliverer of His people, but also God in human flesh, the Savior of the world and other truths that are unfolded in the New Testament. We witnessed yesterday Jesus' implicit claim to be Divinely authoritative by way of His phrase: "but I say to you". Today, we will consider another action and teaching of Jesus, whereby He uses the phrase: "truly, truly I say to you" or "verily, verily I say to you".

How Jesus' use of "truly, truly" or "verily, verily" or "amen, amen" was His way of claiming to be the sole gateway to God
Whenever one reads any of the writings of the Jewish teachers of Jesus day, the teacher (or Rabbi) would give his exposition of a particular text, and then end the teaching by way of the phrase "truly" (or "amen" or for those who use the KJV, "verily"). Such a method was the Rabbi's way of saying "what I just said is based upon the Bible and other authoritative tradition" or "what I just taught can be confirmed by others". No Rabbi would had ever dreamed of placing this phrase in front of their teaching, lest they be presuming themselves to need no other validating authority.  As a matter of fact, if any Rabbi would had done such a practice, it would be assumed He was setting himself up to be His own authority - which only God can do.

When we compare Jesus' teaching and actions, we discover that unlike the Rabbi's of his day, Jesus did what would had been unthinkable - he started out His teachings oftentimes by the phrase: "truly, truly" (or "verily, verily" or "amen, amen"). In John 1:51, we read Jesus saying: "And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” 

Jesus' words to Nathanael - whom he was calling to be a disciple - was that the vision that Old Testament Jacob had of his encounter with God at Peniel in Genesis 28 concerning the ladder descending from heaven to earth was nothing short of Jesus Himself! The mysterious ladder with angels ascending and descending certainly perplexed Jacob, prompting him to exclaim in Genesis 28:16-17 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Though Jacob (the patriarch whose sons were the originators of Israel's twelve tribes) may not had comprehended the identity of the ladder, he knew enough by grace to conclude that He had been encountered by God Himself. As Jesus expresses commentary on this very text to Nathanael, (whom by the way he designates as an Israelite in whom there is no guile, a wordplay on Jacob's original name meaning "one who has guile, a deceiver), Jesus unveils the fact that He himself is the gateway to God.  

Now herein is the kicker, prior to this entire exposition, Jesus frontloads his teaching with the phrase: "truly, truly". In other words, Jesus is in effect saying that He has authority to express the truth of Genesis 28, and thus requires no other authority to verify His self-interpretation to Nathanael. 

This strategy of Jesus in placing "truly, truly" (or "amen, amen") in front of His teachins is found throughout John's Gospel (John 1:51; 3:3,5,11; 5:24,25; 6:26,32,47,53; 8:34,51,58; 10:1,7; 12:24; 13:16,20,21,38; 14:12; 16:20,23; 21:18) Is it any wonder we find Jesus not just implicitly demonstrating this fact by his saying "truly, truly", but also explicitly saying Himself to be "The way, the truth and the life" in John 14:6? It is clear both by the implicit words and actions of Jesus, as well as explicit utterances such as John 14:6, that Jesus understood Himself to be the Messiah and God in human flesh. Therefore we have yet another line of proof from Jesus' own lips and actions regarding His self-understanding as Messiah and God Incarnate. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

P1 - How we know Jesus claimed Himself to be Messiah and God-Incarnate - Jesus as authoritative as God

Matthew 5:18-19 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

Did Jesus understand Himself to be the Messiah and revelation of God in human flesh? This two-fold question is important to answer, since many today claim that Jesus never understood Himself to be neither. In conversations that I've had over the years with people of differing worldviews, religions and even-skeptics - the charge has been that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah nor God's decisive revelation of Himself in true humanity. Scholar Michael J. Wilkins notes this challenge in a chapter, "Who Did Jesus Think He Was?" from the book "Contending with Christianity's Critics" (Edited by William Lane Craig and Paul Copan, B&H Publishing 2009): "Modern Critics read the data of the New Testament differently by consistently making a distinction between what they refer to as the 'Jesus of History' and 'the Christ of faith'." Wilkins later notes: "But they contend that He never explicitly called Himself Messiah, He silenced those who tried to give Him messianic status (Mark 1:2-25; 8:29-30), and He declared that He was different from His heavenly Father, who knew things about the future that He himself did not know (Mark 13:32). Jesus knew He was a special agent of God, but He did not claim that He was anything other than a prophet like those of the Old Testament."

Dr. Wilkin's observations of the critics is important, since if it is the case that Jesus did not understand Himself to be the Messiah nor God incarnate, then His mission clearly had different aims than presented in the rest of the New Testament. Moreover, what pastors preach on Sunday morning and Christians have clung to about Jesus throughout the centuries has been at best a delusion. The Jesus I worship and preach and that Bible believing Christians have staked their trust in must surely be more than another "prophet" or mere "holy-man". This series of posts will aim to explore whether or not Jesus understood Himself (by way of his words and actions) to not only be the Messiah or deliverer of His people, but also God in human flesh, the Savior of the world and other truths that are unfolded in the New Testament.

A quick word about the sources for Jesus' ministry and life
To begin, when understanding the sources for Jesus' life and ministry, one must consider the Gospels, Acts and Epistles not as "one source", but rather several independent ancient sources. Certainly the Gospels, Acts, Epistles (and Revelation) are Divinely inspired to be sure, however when assessing claims made by Jesus, we approach them as historically reliable sources that speak and report about what Jesus said and did. Each book of the Bible was individually written under Divine inspiration, with the books later on collected and regarded together as the "Canon" or "rule and standard of faith". Hence, though our Bibles today do comprise "The Book" we call "The Bible", when understanding the life and ministry of Jesus, each Gospel is counted as "one source". 

Exploring Jesus' self-understanding by His words and actions, or what is called "implicit Christology"
With that caveat out of the way, we can turn to the Gospel records to discern how Jesus understood His life and ministry. Such an approach is designated in New Testament studies as: "Implicit Christology", meaning the message Jesus preaches and acts out relative to the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, and He being king over it. Dr. William Lane Craig comments on this approach in his book "Reasonable Faith" (Crossway, 2008) - "But we may gain additional insight into Jesus' self-understanding by examining His teaching and behavior." Craig later notes: "In other words, the titles serve only to express 'explictly' what Jesus is in his teaching and behavior had already expressed about himself 'implicitly'."

Jesus understood Himself to be as authoritative as God

In the opening verses of this post, we find Jesus commenting on how the words of the Old Testament (which is all that existed in His day) would never pass way. For millennia, Christians everywhere have rightly understood these passages to be bedrock for establishing the authority and preservation of God's word down through the ages. As Jesus goes on though, it is abundantly clear that in His teaching, He also viewed Himself on equal par with the Old Testament scriptures, and more specifically the first five books or what are termed "Torah" (which means "Law" or "that which guides". Jesus states in Matthew 5:20-22 For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall beliable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."

Twice Jesus uses the phrase: “but I say”. Oftentimes throughout scripture we will find the formula "it is written" or "thus says the Lord" to indicate the Divine authority of God as expressed by the scriptures. Truly what Jesus said - or more to the point - how He said it - tells us that He in effect viewed Himself as the Divine Son of God speaking forth as God to the people. No other prophet in the Old Testament ever speaks in this fashion. Furthermore, when Jesus remarked about "you have heard it said" or something to that effect, He was contrasting the Jewish tradition of His day that had built up around the Old Testament. Such tradition was comprised of centuries of various teachings by teachers called "Rabbis". What Jesus was doing was not only setting Himself in equal par to the Torah, but also over and against the traditions of men.

I would encourage the reader to look at the following scripture references in the Gospels to witness how Jesus' understood Himself to be Divinely authoritative through His statements of "but I say" (Matt 5:22,28,31-32, 44; 7:28-29; 12:6; 17:22; 26:29; Mk 10:2-12; Lk 4:25; 6:27; 9:27; John 5:34).

This brief study today has skimmed the surface in establishing the first line of evidence concerning Jesus' claim to Messiahship and being God-incarnate. By claiming Himself to be on par with the Torah and claiming to be as authoritative as God Himself in His teachings - we find that Jesus did understand Himself to be the Messiah and Son of God. Tomorrow we will consider another set of Jesus' actions and words (implicit Christology) that demonstrates Jesus' claim as Messiah and God-incarnate.

Friday, January 8, 2016

How The Holy Spirit Empowers Christians To Be Effective In the Workplace

Colossians 3:23-24 "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve."

God gives three callings to the believer in Jesus Christ: the calling of salvation, sanctification (i.e holiness) and vocation (i.e work). Today's post will aim to dive a little bit further into the subject of vocation. Certainly what Paul has to write here in Colossians 3:22-4:1 deals with the matter of the work place. How one functions as a Christian in the everyday workplace is covered under the discussion of "vocation". One area that is important to include in such a discussion is the matter of "the anointing of the Holy Spirit".

The anointing of the Holy Spirit 
Operating as an employee who is a Christian is as spiritual of a consideration as thinking upon heeding the call to pastoring or missionary work. The types of work may be different and the callings God gives for each might be distinct, yet the value each has in contributing to the overall accomplishment of God's purposes can be used equally by God. God certainly has used preachers and pastors in times past to initiate might movements of God, but so has He used business men to do the same work. The gifting and calling of God is certainly greater than any man, however God is greater than them all and will use each as he sees fit to accomplish His purpose. 

The Bible uses the language of "anointing" to communicate this idea of spiritual authority. The anointing of the Holy Spirit is that ministry He does while indwelling the Christian. Such ministry results in Christians having empowerment and insight to function and serve the Lord. At least two types of anointing are spelled out in scripture. 

The first is what I call an "outward" anointing. This has to do primarily with offices of every sort, whether family, govermental or within the church. God grants grace and ability to achieve that particular office. Clearly unbelievers or believers occupy positions or stations in families (parents) and in the culture (politics, doctors, police officers, teachers, etc). For example, in the Old Testament we see godly King David and a Pagan King named Cyrus both referred to as "God's anointed" (Psalm 2 and Isaiah 45). Only Christian men are specifically assigned by God to occupy the Pastoral/Elder and Deacon offices of Christ's church. (1 Timothy 3:1-14 and Titus 1) and believers in general are called by God with graces that accompany other areas such as teaching, administrating. All authority comes from God. Period. 

The second type of anointing, what we will deem "inner anointing", refers to that spiritual authority that only comes through saving faith in Jesus Christ. 1 John 2:20 and 2:27 describes the indwelling Holy Spirit as being the Christian's "anointing", meaning the source of delegated authority from God to discern and live out the Christian life. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 also describes this second type of anointing: "
Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge."  Every Christian has the indwelling Spirit, and thus possess this inner anointing. Though all Christians have the inner anointing, each Christian will operate in different measure based upon how much they have taken in the scripture and have obediently yielded themselves to the Spirit's filling or influence. (Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:1,16). The anointing of the Holy Spirit is simply the empowerment and insight the Christian has from the indwelling Holy Spirit at work in and through their lives.

How so-called Christians are anointed by God to do extraordinary things
How can a Christian, working in an otherwise non-Christian environment, affect change? Certainly whatever station one is at in life, whether a parent, a doctor, a teacher, a laborer, a pastor or whatever the case may be, God has created the boundaries and abilities that come with each one. God has called and placed every believer where He wants them so they can be used by Him to impact others. 

In understanding the nature of one's vocation to do a certain task (again we will tie this to the term "outward anointing"), the Christian uniquely has that second anointing, that "inner anointing" or indwelling Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells the child of God to compell them work hard and love their neighbor as themselves. So how do these two anointings work together?

Over time, a Christian who has regularly given themselves to the scriptures and prayer will to the unsuspecting co-worker gain respect. As the Christian learns their place and accepts what they are doing as a call from God, their ability to be used of God can only increase. 

Closing Thoughts Just knowing that where you are is ordained by God (outward anointing) and that all that you need to do your job is supplied by the Holy Spirit of God indwelling you (i.e inward anointing) supplies the basis for Christian spiritual authority. Such authority must  not be viewed as imposing one's will on someone else but rather serving the Lord by loving one's neighbor for Jesus sake and doing one's job for God's glory. As Paul writes in Romans 14:7-8 "For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s."

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Christians should forbear one another because of God's forbearance

Romans 2:4  "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?"

In yesterday's post we considered God's forbearance and why it is that we ought to be thankful for it. Forbearance is that quality of God whereby He chooses beforehand to "bear with" His people. Even when we at times fail God, He won't deny us, since He won't deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). 

Today we want to understand why it is necessary for God's people to excercise this quality with one another. In Christian theology, God's characteristics or attirbutes are sometimes described in one of two ways: incommunicable and communicable attributes. I'm sure you have heard the term "communicable disease", meaning an illness that can be transmitted from one person to another. Communicability is that property that results in similar symptoms between the infected person and the carrier of the disease. The opposite of this word is incommunicable - referring to a characteristic that cannot be passed on or mimicked in another person. 

With God, there are incommunicable attributes (such as omniscience, omnipotence, etc.), meaning that no other being in the universe shares such qualities. With God, there are also communicable attributes (love, mercy, forbearance, etc.) that creatures mimic with respect to their Maker. Hence, God's people love one another because God first loved them (1 John 4:19). The basis for all ethical behavior is rooted in the Goodness of God, being that such an attribute is communicated and expressed in a creaturely way by the creature. 

Now why this little theological discussion? Simply put, Christians are commanded to forebear one another based upon God's forbearance of them. Ephesians 4:1-2 reads: "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love." What rationale is there for following through with this command? God forbeared us. Colossians 3:13 states: "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." 

Only when I am relying upon God's character already resident in me by the Holy Spirit will I then forbear others. Since this constitutes on of God's communicable attributes, then this means that forbearance is reliant upon God to work through me, and me with Him. We must pray for God's forbearance to work forth in our lives while aiming to yield ourselves to His influence. Psalm 36:10 reminds us: "O continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright in heart."

So may all who are Christians reading this post - remember that by forbearing other believers, you are in effect acting as Jesus would. If you are not a Christian and are reading this post, let me close with this verse, Romans 3:24-25 "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God".

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Thank the Lord for His Forbearance

Nehemiah 9:30 "Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands."

Romans 2:4 "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?"

Romans 3:25 "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God".

Today's post is about a wonderful quality of God's character that the King James translates as His 'forbearance'. To forbear someone is described in the Oxford English Dictionary as: "enduring with, bearing up with, controlling oneself in the absence of a desired thing, patiently retraining oneself from doing something." Hence, when God is described as being "forbearing", He is preventing Himself from exercising what otherwise would be well-deserved justice. Oftentimes God's forbearance will be connected to His mercy, with the distinction being that God is choosing to continually extend His mercy beyond what may seem to be a long-than-expected period of time.

The above passages highlight this quality of God. For God to continue with His people for 40 years in the desert despite their grumbling is an example of how He chooses to love and show mercy, despite the fact they deserved to be wiped out. Such behavior by God can only be described by His forbearance. 

The two passages in Romans highlight how God's forbearance leads us to repentance and functioned as the backdrop for Jesus' work on the cross. Imagine what would had occurred if God had not exercised forbearance? There would be no grace of repentance nor cross. For God to be forbearing meant that the quality had to be resident in His very being. The cross did not arise as a reaction to our plight, but rather resulted from God's eternal forbearing decision to bring about the cross in spite of our well-deserved condemnation. 

Forbearance refers to God holding out, delaying wrath and ever extending His mercy to those He calls; so that in turn, they may respond, believe, repent and be saved. Forbearance is the sprint of mercy operating in a marathon. God ever waits, retrains and patiently moves towards sinners He is desiring to affect, love and change for His glory. Would it be that we not take for granted God's forbearance. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Interpreting Mark 1:13-14 and life applications of how Jesus never forgets us

Mark 1:13-14 "And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.
14 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God."

Have you ever met someone who is starting something new? Whether that person or ourselves, the beginning of a job, a new phase in life or ministry may appear to be sudden to outsiders, however there is always a background. Whenever we read Mark 1:13-14, we find what appears to be an abrupt transition from Jesus' time in the wilderness to the start of His public ministry. Mark 1:14 begins with this statement: "After John was put in prison". Now we know there was a major event, involving a major figure that appeared to be quite negative. As in real life, transitions are anything but smooth. Jesus is going to be hitting the ground running while poor old John the Baptist is incarcerated. Thankfully, the backstory of what occurs between Mark 1:13-14 is found elsewhere in the Gospels. Anytime we read Jesus' life as recorded in the Gospels, we must first read each Gospel on its own merit, since each writer had purposes and aims. We then attempt to reconstruct the events of Jesus' life as portrayed in each of the Gospels so as to get a clear and whole picture. So how can studying the other three Gospels in concert with Mark 1:13-14 help us better understand the text? Let's explore!

An attempt to put together what happened between Mark 1:13-14
Whenever you scan Matthew's Gospel in Matthew 4:11-12, it too reads much like Mark. Many scholars throughout church history have tried to understand how the first three Gospels relate to one another. I won't go into depth here, since our main goal is to understand Mark 1:13-14. However, in seeing the commonality that exists between Matthew and Mark, though authored by different people (Matthew and Mark), Mark appears to be getting it's structure from Matthew. Ancient church history tells us that Mark recorded Peter's preaching of Jesus as Peter had before him both the scrolls of Matthew and a newly penned Gospel of Luke. Thus the similarity between Mark and Matthew would make sense.

Matthew's Gospel records later on in Matthew 14:1-12 what happened to John the Baptist that led to his incarceration and death. Such a "by-the-way" mention answers the question at least in Matthew's Gospel as to what happened to John, and how that event operated in relationship to Jesus' public ministry. We find that Jesus' ministry never occurred apart from intertwining itself in the plight and problems of people. Jesus was very well in tune with what had happened to John the Baptist, even though it may had seemed like He wasn't. John the Baptist himself had sent a message to Jesus from prison in Matthew 11:1-2 "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" John's momentary crisis of faith led Jesus' to testify publicly about John the Baptist's faithfulness and role in His Father's plans. Matthew's portrayal of John's imprisonment and John the Baptist's words from that prison remind us of the fact that God's seeming absence in John's life did not mean God was absent-minded about John's plight. Far from it! Jesus as God in human flesh was very much in tune with what had occurred, thus resulting in the hastening of the pace of His own ministry.

So what about Luke's Gospel? Luke's Gospel does not have the phrase "after John was put in prison" like Matthew and Mark have it following Jesus' temptation. Luke only mentions John's imprisonment in Luke 7:18-35. Interestingly Luke's recounting of John the Baptist's struggle and Jesus' testimony about him mirrors very closely with Matthew 11. If again we heed the writings of the ancient church fathers who would had been pupils of the Apostles, Luke's Gospel had recorded the preaching of the Apostle Paul on the life of Jesus. The fact that Luke's Gospel recorded near similar details about this even of John's imprisonment and Jesus' testimony as that of Matthew bespeaks of a common oral source at least (which I would contend would had been the Apostle's preaching). At anyrate, Luke's Gospel demonstrates the reliability and consistency of the early apostolic preaching of Jesus shared between Matthew's Gospel, Paul and Peter's preaching and the final products of Mark and Luke's Gospel.

So we have the events of John's imprisonment clearly in view. The question is - when would this had taken place and how long of time would had passed between Mark 1:13-14? This is where we turn to John's Gospel in John 1:19-3:36. In John's Gospel, we find Jesus' calling his first disciples in John 1:19-51, with not all of them sticking with him (i.e Peter, James, John, Andrew). We know that those four men had come to Jesus only out of curiosity because in Mark's Gospel (1:14-20) we find Jesus' calling forth these same men - with their response being to forsake their lives to follow Him.  We secondly find Jesus performing his first miracles in John 2, followed by key conversations with Nicodemas (John 3) and the woman at the well (John 4:1-44). 

We can summarize then Jesus' activities in John 1:19-4:44 as having to do with callings, miracles and conversations. With John's Gospel, as well as the information we gained from Matthew and Luke, we can place the beginning of John's imprisonment right at the time prior to Jesus' first ministry in Galilee as recorded in Mark 1:14. Moreover, according to one source, John's incarceration by Herod may had occurred right around the time Jesus was ministering in Samaria to the woman at the well. At anyrate, we are talking of only two weeks between Mark 1:13-14.

Practical Applications of today's post
Inasmuch this post was all about better understanding Mark 1:13-14, there are undoubtedly life-practical applications that can be gleaned from this study of the relationship between John's imprisonment and the beginnings of Jesus' public ministry in Mark 1:14. 

1). Jesus never forgets where you and I are at. He didn't forget John

2). Christ's character and His word are the lenses for faith, not our circumstances, our emotions or even other people. Emotions, circumstances and people can fail you, but Jesus and His word will never fail.

3). Christ's activity in the world includes our trials and sufferings. Someone texted me the other day: "When life is not a bed of Roses, remember who wore the thorns."

Monday, January 4, 2016

A 35 minute challenge: I dare you to read Mark's Gospel

Mark 1:14-15 "Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Today I would like to issue forth a challenge to readers of this post. We have been in recent posts aiming to know Jesus Christ through the Gospel of Mark. In the course of writing and preparing these posts, I felt compelled to read through Mark's Gospel just to see how long it would take in one sitting. On average, a person can read Mark's Gospel in roughly 35 minutes from beginning to end. This got me to thinking about how one could add Mark's Gospel to their spiritual regiment this upcoming New Year. 

Thus I issue a 35-minute challenge to readers to take Mark's Gospel and simply read it from beginning to end. This may entail doing so in one sitting, or over the course of a month. If you were to read Mark's Gospel for 90 seconds everyday, you could complete it in one month. Or, if you decided to just take 5 minutes every day, you could read Mark's Gospel in one week. However you choose to take up the challenge, the more important thing is that you're getting exposed to the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Try the challenge and see how you do.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

How Mark draws us closer to Jesus through Jesus' triumph over Satan - Mark 1:12-13

Mark 1:12-13 "Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. 13 And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him."

In the last week or so we have taken the time to walk our way through the opening verses of Mark's Gospel. We have aimed to approach Mark in such a way as to meet Jesus for the first time. The suddenness with which Mark thrusts the reader into the adult life and public ministry of Jesus gives the sense of giving us a first encounter with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 

We began by first of all getting to know Jesus by way of the titles listed in Mark 1:1. As His primary name "Jesus" suggests, Jesus came as a true human being to save His people from their sins. However, it does not take long in the course of Mark's Gospel to see that this Jesus, though being truly man, was more than just a mere human being. The second title in Mark 1:1 - "Christ", heightens the identity of Jesus by asserting Him as the "chosen, anointed One" of Old Testament prophetic anticipation. Having multiple layers of meaning, Jesus as the Messiah is the Spirit anointed man, King, Priest and decisive revelation of God in human flesh. The third title "Son of God" certifies that our initial understanding of the other two titles is accurate. This particular title is also said of Jesus at His crucifixion by the Roman Centurion in Mark 15:39. Hence we met Jesus by way of His titles.

We then saw secondly the various testimonies of this Jesus. Mark quotes passages from Isaiah (and possibly Malachi) in Mark 1:2-3 to give us the prophetic testimony of Jesus. These quotations serve to demonstrate Jesus' continuity in both the life and prophetic identity of God with His people. Then we see the Personal testimony of John the Baptist in Mark 1:4-9 and 1:10-11. Then as we saw yesterday, the Divine testimony of Jesus in Mark 1:10-11 certifies that this Jesus is both commended for being truly Divine in his true humanity while being accepted as man who is also God at the same time.

Today's post aims to get us even closer to Jesus by pointing out His major triumph over Satan.

Jesus' temptation and triumph in the wilderness by Satan, and what it means to you
Mark's record of Jesus' temptation is startlingly brief. Mark 1:12-13 records these words - "Immediately the Spirit *impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. 13 And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him." The verses begin with the term "immediately", a word that one finds in almost 40 places in Mark's Gospel. What is surprising is the fact that the Holy Spirit Who came to anoint and empower Jesus at the baptism is the same Holy Spirit Who, in Mark's words, "impells" or "drives" Jesus in to the wilderness. This tells us that before Jesus could even begin to address the needs of fallen man, he first of all had to defeat the one who had led man astray in the first place - Satan. 

Now Mark and Luke's Gospel record this scene in more detail. Matthew's account has Satan tempting Jesus with regards to the lust of the flesh (Matthew 4:1-4); pride of life (Matthew 4:5-7) and lust of the eyes (Matthew 4:8-11). The Devil's inability to overcome Jesus results in him leaving Jesus until "an opportune time" (Matthew 4:11). Luke's version has Satan tempting Jesus with the same three types of temptation, with the distinction from Matthew being that the lust of the eyes or showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world consistutes the second temptation in Luke 4:5-8 (third temptation in Matthew 4:8-11) and the pride of life being the third temptation in Luke 4:9-12 (the second temptation in Matthew 4:5-7). Both these differences can be easily explained as understanding that Satan was contastantly barraging Jesus throughout the 40 day period of time. It is certain Satan changed up the ordering of the temptations to attack Jesus' in his humanity at different spots. Luke's version then closes out with angels ministering to Jesus.

So with Mark's version being rather short, it seems that since he was recording Peter's preaching about Jesus (according to reliable reports from ancient church history), Peter's usage of a then early copy of Matthew and newly penned Gospel of Luke coupled with is own recollections of Jesus resulted in a simple summary of this temptation account. 

Why would Mark include this record of Jesus' life? In light of Matthew and Luke's Gospels, it is clear that Jesus came to not only provide salvation from sin, but also destroy the works of the Devil (see Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8). As we meet Jesus for the first time, we are finding out how powerful He truly is. No man who had ever face Satan toe-to-toe ever triumphed. Adam failed. David gave into temptation. Without God's grace, Job would had totally caved into the deepest despair. Yet in Mark's account we get the sense that as Jesus was being tempted, He was walking in victory and not succuming to the Devil's schemes. He had angelic assistance for sure - however, those angels came to minister after the fact (compare Luke). Jesus achieved a work never before accomplished - defeating the Devil in the worst of circumstances. 

Now why is this triumph so important to you and me as Christians? Whatever Jesus experienced and achieved in His humanity meant that as redeemed human beings, we too could overcome the lust of the eyes, the flesh and pride of life (see this three-fold listing in 1 John 2:15-17). In-as-much as we are saved by Jesus' death - we are also saved by His life. Jesus saves believers from their sins because of His substitutionary death and saves them to live a possible life of victory over their sins due to His perfect life in them. This doesn't mean that as Christians we will end up achieving sinless perfection in this life (see Paul's statements in Romans 7). But what it does mean is that despite our occassional failures to trust God and choose sin, Jesus' credited righteousness covers the believer and empowers the believer by the Spirit to say "no" rather than "yes" the next time they are tempted. 

I'm convinced Satan's temptation of Jesus was continual, non-stop in not only those 40 days of wilderness experience, but also throughout the confrontations Jesus had with Satan's demonic emmisaries. Clearly Satan appealed through Peter for Jesus to skip the cross in Matthew 16 and used Judas to betray Jesus on the eve of His crucifixion. Yet, the New Testament is replete with the truth of Jesus' triumph over Satan being the foundation for all we need by the Holy Spirit to live empowered Christian lives in this dark world. 

May we aim to truly get to know Jesus as if it were our first time meeting Him. Mark's Gospel is exciting and I hope you dear reader have been blessed these last several days as we have aimed to get to know Jesus better. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The significance of the Divine testimony of Jesus in His baptism in Mark 1:10-11

Mark 1:10-11 "Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

In yesterday's post we considered some testimonies about the life, Person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark begins his Gospel with this statement: "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." We've noted in prior posts that Mark's introduction has us meeting Jesus as-it-were for the first time. Each of the titles ("Jesus", "Christ" and "Son of God") tell us something about the humanity, mission and majesty of Jesus. In yesterday's post we saw testimonies from prophecy and the personal testimony of John the Baptist. Today we continue on with another testimony - a testimony which is the most important one - namely the Divine testimony about Jesus in Mark 1:10-11. Below is an attempt to capture what all is entailed in Mark 1:10-11, and why this Divine testimony is vital in our first contact with Jesus in Mark's Gospel.

How God in all His fulness is captured in just two verses
Mark 1:10-11 is a rare jewel in the whole of scripture - being that within two verses we discover the fulness of God. To quickly summarize the Bible's teaching on God, the reader needs to consider three foundational doctrines: 
a). The oneness of God or monotheism
b). The Deity of Jesus Christ, the Son
c). The Personality of the Holy Spirit

The Oneness of God, monotheism
First, God in both Old Testament and New Testament is consistently revealed as One God - or what theologians call "mono-theism" (see Genesis 1:1; Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Isaiah 43:10-11; 1 Corinthians 8:6; James 2:19). Biblical monotheism is rich in that although God is unquestionably One in His being or essence, yet there is something plural about His identity. That is to say, God is "One" in one sense and "plural" in another sense. The Old Testament early on hints at this notion as early as Genesis 1:26, wherein we see God (singular) reasoning within Himself to create man "in our image and in our likeness". 

So in what way is this One God plural? The answer is found in the context of how God relates within Himself - i.e God is plural in His identity. God begins to reveal Himself further on into the Old Testament in the language of relationship. Deuteronomy 1:21 states - "and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place." As God (also know as Yahweh or Jehovah in His covenant dealings with His people) repeats the nature of His relatrionship with His people in terms of "Fatherhood" (Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 63:16, we discover that this is also how Yahweh identifies something true about Himself apart from His people (see Proverbs 30:4). 

This One God reveals Himself as "The Father" or simply as "Father" nearly ten times in the Old Testament. Again, hints appear here and there in the Old Testament that God, being one in being, is also somehow plural in identity. Psalm 2:7 has David recording the following conversation that Yahweh has with Himself, presumably the Father speaking to a second Personage called "the Son" - “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord:He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You." We already mentioned Proverbs 30:4, and now notice what the verse says concerning God the Father and this second mysterious personage "The Son" - "Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is His name or His son’s name?
Surely you know!" 

How Biblical monotheism also affirms the deity of the Son, Jesus Christ
So "who" or "what" is the writer in Proverbs referring to? The Old Testament develops the concept of "One God with possible plural identity", with stress on God's monotheistic existence. It is when we come to the New Testament that we find the answer to the question posed in Proverbs 30:4. The "Son" in question turns out to be a second Person from within the Trinity, with the Father not being just another name for Yahweh, but actually the first Personality being revealed! 

Now to underscore the continuity of the Bible's revelation of God being "one" in His being, the New Testament stresses such truth in passage we already referenced (1 Corinthians 8:6; James 2:19). The challenge facing the early Christians, who had been converted from Judaism, was in how they could consistently confess both the deity of Jesus as God in human flesh (John 1:14), whilst also asserting the Biblical monotheism of the Old Testament. It is at this point where the New Testament writings and the early church begin to focus in on the fact that Jesus Christ - the embodied revelation of God in the Person of the Son, co-shares the One, monotheistic nature with the Personage known as "The Father". So many scriptures could be cited at this point, however one will suffice in showing how the New Testament progressively handled this truth. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:6 - "yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we existthrough Him."

Thus we see then the complete picture emerging in the New Testament regarding the following three concepts: a). God is still "One God"

b). The Father is understood to be the first Person that makes Himself known to His people as the fulness of God is progressively revealed from Old to New Testament

c). The Son is progressively revealed to be the second Person within this One God who shares in the fulness of the being of God along with the Father.  

The Personality of the Holy Spirit
So then, with the monotheistic nature of God revealed as the Person of the Father, sharing such nature with the second Person - the Son, is there any further revelation about God to be known? As Jesus ministered for three and a half years on this earth, His identity as Messiah has been predicted and witnessed as being empowered by the Holy Spirit (see for instance Isaiah 61:1-2 & Luke 4:18). The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was primarily conceived as the Shekinah presence of God revealed in the temple, speaking through the prophets or guding God's people (1 Samuel 15:29; 2 Peter 1:10-11). 

As Jesus nears the cross, He delivers a final sermon to His disciples on the night of His institution of the Lord's supper. In that final message (called the 'upper-room discourse'), Jesus reveals that He will be leaving them - however, One of like-nature will come in His place to minister to, through and in them. In John 14:16-17 we read -  "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you." This third Personage is of like-substance and nature to the Divine Son and the Father.

Bringing together what has been said thus far...
Now mind you, all that has been said thus far is but a sketch of the Biblical material. In short, the Bible presents God as "One" God, not three gods. Second, we find Jesus of Nazareth to be the decisive revelation of God in the Person of the Son in true humanity (i.e the incarnation of God). Thirdly, as both the Father and Son share in One divided nature, they do so with a third Person - the Holy Spirit. All three-persons comprise what the scripture and Bible teachers call "The God-head" (see Romans 1:18-20; Colossians 2:9).

Now it is hoped the reader has hung in there, because everything just mentioned above is jammed packed into Mark 1:10-11. The "voice from heaven" is none other than the Person of the Father, testifying about Jesus - the Son. Two observations are in order at this point. 

First, the Father's testimony reveals that the man Jesus of Nazareth still was and ever remained truly God - otherwise the Father would never had proclaimed what He did. 

Then secondly, in-as-much as the Son was still truly God, the Father was equally affirming and expressing approval of the Son's decisive revelation of the fulness of deity in his humanity. In other words, Jesus never lost His co-equality with the Father nor did the Father view the Son's assumption of a human nature as denegrating. 

The significance of the Divine testimony of Jesus in His baptism in Mark 1:10-11
The descent of the Holy Spirit (in the likeness of a dove) upon Jesus signals His Messianic empowerment and official beginning of His public ministry. Both the heavenly testimony of the Father and the earthly manifestation of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus communicates all at once the inseparable union shared between all three Persons of the God-head. Truly Mark's introduction of Jesus is powerful and profound. Would it be that we would endeavor to know this Jesus!

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Gospel of Mark's testimonies of Jesus Christ, the Son of God - Mark 1:2-9

Mark 1:2-8 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.’” 4 John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.5 And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. 7 And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. 8 I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Happy New Year to all readers of today's post! There is no better way to start off the New Year than by getting to know Jesus Christ. We spent the last several days getting to know Jesus in Mark's Gospel by way of the titles we find in Mark 1:1. As we begin this New Year, I thought we would continue on in Mark's Gospel by aiming to know Jesus by way of the testimonies given about Him. A testimony can be sometimes more powerful than a bare logical argument - since the person giving the testimony has lived out the reality of the truth in question. Mark presents a string of testimonies that combine to introduce us to the most amazing Person - Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Today's post will consider the testimonies of prophecy and John the Baptist.

Prophecy testifies concerning Jesus Christ

Though Mark portrays Jesus as seemingly splashing upon the canvas of history, His coming and arrival had been predicted centuries prior. Mark 1:2-3 records Isaiah's words from Isaiah 40:3 "A voice is calling,“Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God." The way in which this quote is done echoes another prophet, Malachi, in Malachi 3:1. With the entire history of prophecy represented, Mark shows his readers that Jesus came to fulfill Old Testament expectation. Jesus Himself would later testify in Luke 24:44 that the Law, Prophets and Psalms testified concerning Him. So we see then a prophetic testimony concerning this Jesus. But now notice a second, personal testimony from John the Baptist. 

Personal testimony of John the Baptist concerning Jesus Christ

Mark 1:4-8 spends some time focusing on the mission and personal features of John the Baptist to show the reader that this eye-witness of Jesus was no figment of his imagination. We then find John's testimony-proper of Jesus in Mark 1:9-11  "In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” John's Gospel also records in similar words John the Baptist's testimony in John 1:15-17 “John *testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” 16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”

Why is John the Baptist's testimony so valuable at this point in Mark's Gospel. In surveying the other three Gospels, we discover John the Baptist had occasion to baptize Jesus and witness the Spirit’s descent upon Him in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:13; Luke 3:22; John 1:32). Moreover, John the Baptist was related to Jesus in His humanity by virtue of the fact that both their mothers were related (Luke 1:36). His eyewitness stature makes his testimony ironclad in demonstrating the reality asserted in Mark 1:1, namely the good news of Jesus Christ being the Son of God.

What this means to you

As we close out today's post, I ask you: do you have a testimony of personally knowing Jesus Christ - the Son of God? That is - have you by grace through faith trusted in Him. This is what Mark's Gospel aims to convince us of - namely the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus came to give His life a ransom for many, which includes you (see Mark 10:45). Jesus lived (Mark 1-10); died (Mark 12-15) and raised from the dead (Mark 16:1-20). Would it be that we would heed the message of Mark's Gospel and follow this Jesus.