[in]complete: Why didn’t Jesus simply come and out and say “I am God?”

The first Christians did not get in trouble for saying “Jesus is God.” The Romans believed in a myriad of so-called “gods,” so saying Jesus is another one of those is just to add Him to the pantheon of supposed gods they could worship. That wasn’t the offense of their message.

Instead, the message was “Jesus is Lord,” which is much deeper and far-reaching in the claims about the God-Man (and is “sneeze-able“).

Those three tiny words were actually hugely offensive. Why?

Who was the so-called “Lord” of the Roman Empire?

Caesar.

He was the “God of the gods,” who ruled over all, on earth and in the heavens. Or so they thought. Pagans saw gods in everything, and everything was a god. So, calling Jesus “God” isn’t as forceful as what believers more commonly called Him: Lord.

When we say Jesus is Lord, we must become like the first believers, who were not using religious jargon. They were saying that Jesus replaced Caesar, and anyone else, as the one receiving their worship. These thoughtful Jesus-followers were making a whole-life claim as to who they will obey and follow in this life. They were saying He is above all, the one true ruler, the God who calls the shots. He is in control of all; He is the Caesar of the Caesar.

More than saying “Jesus is Lord,” they were living as if Jesus is Lord, which maks all the difference in the world.

Jesus was not an add-on. They realized that before Jesus they were busy serving other kings and masters, who abused them and let them down. In contrast, Jesus is a good Master, who will not let us down.

He wants our whole life. When He is Lord, life becomes good. Because He is the one Good God.

Mark 12:13-17 (NLT):

 13 Later the leaders sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. 14 “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?”

Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin,[a denarius] and I’ll tell you.” 16 When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

His reply completely amazed them.

Image credits: “Caesar’s or God’s” by Lawrence OP, and “The Biblical Tribute Penny: Tiberius AR Denarius 16-34 AD” by Icarus Kuwait, both on Flickr

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The Reality of the Resurrection.

For the rationalist, relativist, religious, reservationist, resentful, and realist in all of us:

“… the perfect life Jesus lived is imputed to us, and we are declared righteous. God looks at us, and instead of seeing our sin, He sees Jesus’ righteousness.” —Greg Gilbert

Jesus is the One by whose risen life justifies. Repent and believe. Christ is risen indeed.

(A Spoken Word piece written by Odd Thomas for Trinity Church of Portland.)

[in]complete: What does it mean to ‘Accept Jesus’?

You may have heard it before: an invitation from Evangelical Christians to “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” What on earth do we mean by that? (Or, since it sounds like religious jargon and we can be poor messengers: what should we mean when we say that?)

Ray Ortlund illustrates the modern idea of ‘accepting Jesus’ in two ways:

You and I are not integrated, unified, whole persons. Our hearts are multi-divided.

There is a board room in every heart. Big table. Leather chairs. Coffee. Bottled water. Whiteboard. A committee sits around the table. There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, and others. The committee is arguing and debating and voting. Constantly agitated and upset. Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision. We tell ourselves we’re this way because we’re so busy with so many responsibilities. The truth is, we’re just divided, unfocused, hesitant, unfree.

That kind of person can “accept Jesus” in either of two ways. One way is to invite him onto the committee. Give him a vote too. But then he becomes just one more complication.

The other way to “accept Jesus” is to say to him, “My life isn’t working. Please come in and fire my committee, every last one of them. I hand myself over to you. Please run my whole life for me.” That is not complication; that is salvation.

“Accepting Jesus” is not just adding Jesus. It is also subtracting the idols.

—Ray Ortlund, Jr., Christ is Deeper Still (emphasis mine)

We shall not merely invite Jesus into our lives. Our lives are a mess! Rather, Jesus invites us into His life. Through what He has done on the cross — in defeating sin, Satan, and removing all the obstacles we have before a holy God — after all that: God accepts us. And then cleans out our heart idols. They were terrible leaders anyway.

“You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”
1 Thessalonians 1:9

My 7 Daily Sins (& yours too).

“Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” —Mark 7:15

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Seven Deadly Sins:

  1. Lust
  2. Pride
  3. Greed
  4. Gluttony
  5. Envy
  6. Sloth
  7. Wrath

These are seven categories of sin; ways we creatively disobey God. But they don’t just reside “out there” in the world. They live in us.

The seven deadly sins aren’t just things we do—they’re who we are every day. Author Jared C. Wilson’s study Seven Daily Sins examines the good news that Christ offers a way to deal with these sins once and for all.

The bad news is we carry around sin inside of us every day.

The good news is, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can not only identify our daily sins … but kill them.

Let’s stop managing our sin and start experiencing freedom in Christ.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” —Romans 7:24-25

How to not give up.

There are no quick fixes. While it is tempting to find a drive-thru, feel good solution and “just do it,” we know life is far more complex for using simple methods to get a new you by Friday.

“Christian life does not arise spontaneously in us. The truth of the gospel cannot always be reached through a process of reasoning. We need to meditate long on the words of Jesus. It is only through familiarity and association with the Gospels that we begin slowly to learn to live like him.”

—José A. Pagola, Following in the Footsteps of Jesus. Meditations on the Gospels for Year A. Translated by Valentine de Souza, S.J. Miami: Convivium, 2010, page 23.

How do we not give up?

By staring at the one who never gave up, who was joyfully obedient to God His Father until the very end. And then follow in His steps.

If I invite Jesus into my life — which is a mess — I will become discouraged when He doesn’t change me as quickly as I want, or provide the comfortable life I envisioned. (Many “try” Jesus and conclude He doesn’t work. Because Jesus spoke mostly about the Kingdom of God and invited us to flee from the kingdom of self, He offers a better way than this.)

But if I respond to Jesus, who invites me into His life, I will place Someone at the center who can effectively navigate the twists and turns of life. Know this: out of His great strength, He can make you and me whole. Will you surrender?

I can think of no greater ambition this year than studying the life of Jesus and being changed into His image. Of course not everyone will be changed as they read, for not all have faith. To really know God, we must really know Jesus.

An invitation: Pick up one of the Gospels this month, reading it through five times. With each thoughtful time through your mind will be awakened to the sheer awesomeness of this man. He will surprise, invite, confront, challenge, and inspire you. (And so much more. Like Aslan, Jesus is very good, but He is far from safe.)

  • Mark is the shortest, looking at the pattern and purpose of His life, for those on the go. You can read it through in one sitting. (The clear outline: Who is Jesus » why did He come » What does it mean to follow Him?)
  • Matthew gives us a healthy does of Jesus’ words, confronting our half-baked ideas about God, self and others. He fulfills the longings of the people around Him, but never in the way they assumed He would.
  • Luke examines the evidence for Jesus and brings us accounts from numerous eye witnesses.
  • John helps the right-brained (visual, artistic) learner envision Jesus as God come in the flesh. God in a Bod is better than we imagined.

Of course, those are not exactly the groups to which the Gospel writers made their arguments, but a simple way to approach which one to start with, based on how you’re wired.

Each writer was making an argument about Jesus, not just collecting the facts about Him.

  • To the Romans » Mark portrays Jesus the Servant
  • To the Jews » Matthew sets forth Jesus the King, promised for centuries to the rescue His people and the world
  • To the Gentiles » Luke (the only Gentile writer of a NT book) portrays Jesus the Man
  • To the Greeks » John shows what ultimately reality looks like as Jesus is the Son of God

If you’re curious why there are four Gospel accounts, Ray Stedman gives us a helpful reminder why:

“There is a reason for this, designed deliberately by the Holy Spirit. We make a mistake if we think these four Gospels are four biographies of the Lord. They are not biographies at all, they are character sketches, intended to be different, intended to present different points of view. Therefore, they constitute four distinct views of our Lord and of his work.

The Gospel of Matthew is written to present Christ as the King. The Gospel of Mark presents His character as a servant. The Gospel of Luke presents Him as the Son of Man — as man in His essential humanity. The Gospel of John presents Him as the Son of God, that is, His deity, and there you find the greatest claims for Jesus being God.”

—Ray C. Stedman, introduction to Mark, Adventuring Through the Bible

Who’s with me?

I’ll be reading through Luke five times in January. How about you?

Let’s meditate long on the words of Jesus.

God With Us: the end of fear. [a reflection on the good news of Christmas]

Willamette lights by Jordan Chesbrough

Have you ever felt afraid? Even in the happiest of times, fear can haunt our hearts, nagging, keeping us from experiencing true joy and peace.

What if I lose my job? Did I get the present I hoped for? Why was my friend acting mean to me? Why wasn’t I invited to the party? Will I make the team? Will I get accepted? Will he always love me? Will we have enough? Will I be healed?

As you read the Christmas story in Luke 1 and 2, you’ll find angels appearing three times, messengers from God sent from heaven to give the world wonderful news about the Savior Jesus Christ. The angels appeared to a man named Zechariah, a girl named Mary, and a group of shepherds in Bethlehem. Each was occasion for celebration, for the angels brought the greatest news the world would ever hear. But do you know what happened each time the good news came?

Those who heard were afraid.

Zechariah was afraid (1:12). Mary was afraid (1:19). The shepherds were afraid (2:9).

And all three times the angels spoke these words:

“Do not be afraid.”

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” —Luke 2:8-12 (NLT)

These heavenly messengers were the first to declare the Message of Christmas — that God so loved us that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will never die but will have eternal life.

Christ is the end of fear for all who believe. Why? Because Christ conquered the source of fear. He triumphed over sin and death, trampling Satan once and for all, delivering us from evil and delivering us into the God’s glorious Kingdom. But sometimes—just like Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds—we can actually be afraid of the message of Christ. We can be afraid of really trusting Him. What will He make me do? we wonder. But Christianity isn’t primarily about what God asks us to do but what God has already done.

What has God done? He has loved us.

“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him…. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…” —1 John 4:9, 18 (NIV)

As you welcome Christ in your hearts and home this Christmas His perfect love will cast out all fear. (You know who wasn’t afraid in the story? The angels. Perfect love does cast our fear.)

Look to Him and hear His words, “Do not fear, only believe.” No need to fear; God is with us.

Merry Christmas.

For a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us.
The government will rest on His shoulders.
And He will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

—Isaiah 9:6-7 (NLT)

Reflection questions for discussion:

  • When were you afraid this year? How did you respond when overcome with fear?
  • What are you afraid of today?
  • Is there any aspect of that coming year that makes you feel afraid?
  • How does Christ’s presence remove that fear?

Grace and Fullness we have received.

Re-post: originally written 24 Dec 2009 at deTheos.com.

Wonder what Jesus looks like?

We don’t know. One day we shall see Him as He is, and become like Him (1 John 3:2). (Doubt He looks like the blue-eyed, blond-haired version sold here in the States as “Jesus junk,” that is, as trinkets.) Yet, we do have some clues as to what He is like. His character shines through brighter than His physical appearance. He’s full of compassion (Matthew 9:36: σπλαγχνίζομαι = moved with compassion), which is much deeper than mere emotion. More broadly, He’s full of grace and truth. He is the living embodiment of Grace, and Truth became a Person. Grace is meant to be experienced, truth intended to be known in the same way. We are to “receive” them as we receive Him. God’s grace never fails, and as wholly true He is completely faithful. (He’s not like us.)

Yet, He became like us. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is in the Gospel of John, first chapter, verses 14 & 16. It reads:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…. And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

In His incarnation, Jesus stepped down into our world, showing us the worth of God in real-time. Someone has said the Incarnation is “deity for dummies.” God made Himself obvious and visible. Jesus was overflowing with the two essential qualities of perfect humanity: grace and truth. Those twin perfections remind us of God’s essential character: “steadfast love [Heb. hesed] and faithfulness [Heb. ’emet]” as revealed about 1,500 years prior in Exodus 34:6 (cf. Exodus 33:18–19). Moses asked to see God in all His glory. Yet the great patriarch was only  able to see the back side of God’s presence passing by. Here in Jesus we see God making Himself known as a person. To be known, experienced, treasured and loved. If God is a theory or His Son simply a business transaction to get us to Heaven, we we’ll miss everything in between. This relationship of love is founded on endless grace and rock-solid truth. God intends Jesus to be sufficient for our failures and sweeter than our failures. He is Grace & Truth in action, making life worth enduring until the end. The Triune God enjoys a fullness that spilled over into this world.

A few years back pastor John Piper wrote about these Scriptures and the Incarnation in a short article on these verses (read the entire thing here). Here are some highlights:

  • …the one from whose fullness I am being drenched with grace is the Word that was with God and was God (John 1:1-2), so that his fullness is the fullness of God—a divine fullness, an infinite fullness;
  • …this Word became flesh and so was one of us and was pursuing us with his fullness—it is an accessible fullness;
  • …when this Word appeared in human form, his glory was seen—his is a glorious fullness;
  • …this Word was “the only Son from the Father” so that the divine fullness was being mediated to me not just from God, but through God—God did not send an angel but his only Son to deliver his fullness;
  • …the fullness of the Son is a fullness of grace—I will not drown in this fullness but beblessed in every way by this fullness;
  • …this fullness is not only a fullness of grace but of truth—I am not being graced with truth-ignoring flattery; this grace is rooted in rock-solid reality.

As I savor this illumination of Christ’s fullness, I hear Paul say, “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). I hear him say, “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). And I hear him say, “In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

Can we see how deeply that God’s glory resides in Jesus? He intends us to seek Him in that one place alone: in Christ. Piper continues:

Paul prays that we would experience Christ’s fullness. Not just know about it, but be filled with it. Here is the way I hear him praying for me:

That I “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

The “fullness of God” is experienced, he says, as we are given the “strength to comprehend” the love of Christ in its height and depth and length and breadth—that is, in its fullness. This is remarkable: The fullness of God is the spiritual apprehension (experience) of the fullness of the love of Christ. This love is the grace and truth that fills the Son of God and pours out on us.

Experiencing the fullness this Christmas. Pray you are as well.