Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “Christ

From the Alpha to the Omega

Jesus spans time and history

On January 1 we celebrate the beginning of a new year. One of the titles of God and Jesus Christ is “the Alpha and the Omega”, which reminds me of beginnings and endings (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13NIV). As alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and omega is the last, this title means “first and last” or “beginning and end” and everything in between. It signifies the whole alphabet, “A to Z”, or completeness. An equivalent analogy in time would be “24/7” with regard to a week or “1 January to 31 December” with regard to a year. So “Alpha and Omega” is a poetic way to say that God and Jesus are eternal.

This interpretation is confirmed by the related titles which Jesus used to refer to Himself–“the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13) and “the beginning and the end” (Rev. 21:6; 22:13). This truth is introduced in the Old Testament where God is said to be with the first generation of mankind and with the last and the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Is. 41:4; 48:12-13). In this regard He is unique (Is. 44:6). He exists in the distant past, the present and the distant future as the One “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). He alone knows everything, including the future.

Jesus spans all time and all history. He was there at the very beginning of time and history and He will be there at the end of time and history. When all of God’s purposes on earth are achieved and His salvation is completed, Jesus will say “It is done” (Rev. 21:6). This is consistent with the fact that He created time, He controls history and He is eternal.

When John was afraid, being exiled on the isle of Patmos, Jesus said to him: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18). He was assured that his destiny was controlled by the living God. Later Jesus encouraged John by the prospect of rewards for faithful service: “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:12-13).

Jesus is also described as “the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2), which also conveys a sense of beginning and ending. Besides being the founder and originator of the Christian faith, He also finished His work of salvation and is a perfect example of the life a faith.

As we face the end of one year and the beginning of another let’s remember that Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. Whatever He says in the Bible about the past, present and the future is trustworthy. Let’s trust Him and allow Him to reign in our lives.

Written, January 2012


Why Jesus was sent

Jesus as ambassador, lifesaver and gift

At this time of the year we remember the incarnation when Jesus Christ was born into the world. Scripture teaches that He was sent into the world by God the Father. Let’s look at why Jesus was sent. What was His mission and purpose?

God sent His Son

In the Old Testament times God spoke to mankind through people such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, the judges and the prophets. They were divinely inspired spokesmen for God. We read in Hebrews, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2NIV).

It reminds me of the parable of the wicked tenants where a landowner rented his vineyard to some farmers. When he sent his servants to collect the harvest, they were killed. Then he sent his son to them, but they killed him as well (Mt. 21:33-46). In this parable, the landowner is like God, the servants are like the prophets and the son is like Jesus. First God sent the prophets and then He sent His Son.

Paul wrote, “When the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal. 4:4). Who set the time? God the Father. He is the one who did the sending. It was His idea. At Christmas we remember how, “God sent His son”. Although Mary was His earthly mother, God was His Father. This means that Jesus is the Son of God, which shows that He is divine; a part of the trinity. Jesus is unique in this aspect. Jesus was “born of a woman”, which is the usual way that people enter the world. It shows that Jesus was also a man. What an amazing way for God’s Son to enter the world!

The New Testament gives three reasons why Jesus was sent: to be an ambassador, a lifesaver, and a gift from God.

To be an ambassador

Jesus was sent to be an ambassador. What does an ambassador do? They represent whoever sent them. They are authorised representatives that are usually sent to a foreign country. The prophets were God’s ambassadors, although they represented Him in their own countries. However, their message came from a different country; it was from heaven.

Jesus was God’s ambassador. But He was a different kind of ambassador. How was Jesus’ ambassadorship different? He was sent to be born in a foreign country (earth) as a baby and not as a mature adult. This means that He wasn’t a foreigner. He grew up on earth and didn’t just arrive as an adult. So God sent an ambassador who wasn’t a foreigner. To all appearances He was a normal person like you or I. He lived in Palestine and was not seen as a foreigner. He spoke the same language, wore the same clothes, and had a similar appearance to his fellow countrymen. In this regard, He was like the prophets.

What does the Bible say about Jesus as an ambassador?

Jesus spoke for God

We have already seen in Hebrews that God “has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:2). John wrote, “the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God” (Jn. 3:34). Jesus said, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me” (Jn. 7:16; 8:26) and “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken …  So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (Jn. 12:49-50).

So Jesus was an ambassador whose message came from God the Father. He spoke on God’s behalf.

Jesus acted for God

But Jesus not only spoke for God, He lived for God. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me” (Jn. 6:38-39). Also, “my food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (Jn. 4:34) and “I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me” (Jn. 5:30).

The Lord Jesus is the most complete revelation of God to humanity. He has made God known and said “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 1:18; 14:9). Jesus reveals God’s character. He said, “the one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me” (Jn. 12:45). After all, one of His names was Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Mt. 1:23).

So Jesus was an ambassador who acted in accordance with God’s will.

Jesus showed God’s kindness and love

In living for God, Jesus showed God’s kindness and love in a new way. After describing one’s sinfulness before salvation, Paul wrote “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Ti. 3:4-7). When did “the kindness and love of God our Savior” appear? It was when Christ arrived on earth. At Christmas we remember this event.

John wrote, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world” (1 Jn. 4:9). And the well known verse, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

So Jesus was an ambassador who showed God’s kindness and love. We learn more about this in the next illustration.

To be a lifesaver

Jesus was also sent to be a lifesaver. What does a lifesaver do? They rescue those who are drowning. At the beach they watch the surfers and give warnings when there is danger such as sharks, rips or rough waves.

Jesus was God’s lifesaver. God sent Jesus on a rescue mission to save us from the lake of fire. Like a lifesaver rescues those who are drowning, Jesus can rescue us from God’s eternal judgment. His name reflects the fact that He is the most important part of God’s rescue plan. The name “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua” which means “God saves”. Joseph was told that Mary “will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21).

But He was a different kind of lifesaver. How was Jesus’ lifesaving different? First, His was a rescue of our spirit, soul and body; not just a physical one. Second, He took the place of the victim and died in the process. Third, when it is accepted, Christ’s lifesaving is effective forever. We have heard of people who died when saving someone else, but the person who was rescued could drown later. In fact they will eventually die later unless the Lord comes in the meantime and they are believers.

What does the Bible say about Jesus as a lifesaver?

Jesus paid the penalty for our sin

All the world’s problems come from the sinful nature we inherited from Adam and Eve. Humanity’s sinfulness was the target of God’s rescue plan. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8). What is the devil’s work? Sin, because “the devil has been sinning from the beginning”. Satan specialises in sinning.

The Bible says that Jesus “appeared so that He might take away our sins” (1 Jn. 3:5). “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). “The Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 Jn. 4:14). “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn. 3:17; 12:47).

God did this by sending Jesus to the earth to die on the cross (Jn. 12:27). God “loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10). Then He was buried and rose from the grave and ascended back to heaven. So the baby born in Bethlehem died at Calvary for our sins.

By confessing our sinfulness and accepting that Jesus died as our substitute there is  liberation from sin and its consequences: Jesus was sent to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free (Lk. 4:18-21). Jesus is the answer to the world’s problems. He is the greatest lifesaver.

Jesus enables eternal life in heaven

Not only can we be rescued from eternal punishment, but we can be eternally in God’s presence. “God sent His Son … that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal. 4:4). The change described in this passage is from being slaves to being sons. The Jews were under the bondage of the law and the Gentiles were under the bondage of idolatry. Through Christ’s sacrifice, both can be changed from slaves to heirs as sons of God.

To be a gift

Jesus was also sent to be a gift. God’s salvation is like a gift: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Besides being God’s ambassador and lifesaver, Jesus is God’s gift to us: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Jn. 4:10; Rom. 6:23; 2 Cor. 9:15). Paul wrote, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 2 Cor. 9:15). So God is the greatest giver and Jesus is the greatest gift.

Have you accepted His gift of salvation or has it been discarded or forgotten? This is important because the next time Jesus is sent to earth it will not be as an ambassador or a lifesaver or a gift but as a judge.

Here’s how to accept God’s gift. We can’t escape hell and get to heaven by good works. When people asked Jesus “What must we do to do the works God requires?” He answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”’ (Jn. 6:28-29). Instead of good works we need to confess our sins and trust in Christ’s work of salvation on our behalf.

Here’s the result of accepting God’s gift: those who accept God’s rescue plan have a new life in Christ which is a spiritual life. “He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him” (1 Jn. 4:9). Without Jesus in our life we are spiritually dead, with Him in our lives we are spiritually alive. He said, “whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” and “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 5:24; 10:10). Anyone alive has physical life, But Jesus is talking about spiritual life here. Believers have been born into a spiritual life; they have changed from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive. Paul calls it a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).

The disciples were an example of those who accepted God’s gift. Jesus prayed, “I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them (they accepted that He was God’s ambassador). They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent me (they accepted that He was God’s lifesaver)” (v.8, 25). He also prayed for unity between Christians so “that the world may believe that You have sent me” (Jn. 17:21, 23). Let’s display the character of God and Christ so that others will see Christ in us as the Father is seen in Christ.

God sends us

Jesus continued to pray for the disciples “As You sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” and “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jn. 17:18; 20:21). As God sent His Son to earth, Jesus sent His disciples to proclaim the gospel message. Those of us who trust in Christ are also His disciples and are also sent to be God’s ambassadors to proclaim the gospel message in our part of the world. As Paul wrote, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). In this case the message was to be reconciled to God.

Conclusion

As we give gifts to each other at Christmas let’s remember that God the Father sent His Son as an ambassador so we can learn more about God, as a lifesaver who we can trust in for eternal life and as a gift for us to accept and share with others.

Written, December 2011


Who invented Christianity?

Divine revelation trumps human ideas

Some people think that religions such as Christianity are comprised of myths that were made up many years ago to explain phenomena which can now be explained by science. Their reasoning goes like this. Until a couple of hundred years ago, most people thought that a god or gods controlled everything. Why did the wind blow? Why was there lightning and thunder? Why did the sun, moon, and stars apparently go around Earth? Why did someone get sick and die? Why did anything happen? Well, obviously, God did it. If a person didn’t know how something worked or why something happened, they could say, “God did it.” This is known as the “god of the gaps”. But as we understand more and more about the universe, the gap where such a god might function grows smaller and smaller. Every time we learn more, these gods have less room to operate. When we learned what caused the sun to apparently move across the sky, there was no need for the Greek god Helios. When we understood what caused lightning, there was no need for the Greek god Zeus, the Roman god Jupiter, or the Norse god Thor. The same argument has been applied to Christianity.

In this article we address this topic by looking at the origin of Christianity. In order to be objective, I will define “Christianity” according to what is written in the Bible, not what is written or practised elsewhere. So we are not looking at Christian practices or traditions.

Was it Paul?

Paul was a pioneer missionary in countries around the Mediterranean Sea. He spread Christianity to the Gentile (non-Jewish) world. He probably spent about 15 years of his life on his main missionary journeys to modern Turkey, to modern Greece, to Rome as a prisoner and possibly to Spain. Most of his letters were written to churches he established on these journeys and there are at least 13 of these in the New Testament, including Romans, which is the most comprehensive description of the Christian faith. His core message was called the gospel:

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son, who as to His earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord ….

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom. 1:1-4, 16-17NIV).

Here we see that the God of the Bible is the source of this message, which was promised in the Old Testament. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God, there has been a promise that one day people can be released from the consequences of their sin. It is the good news about God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who was the Savior for sinners. The gospel is God’s power for salvation: the God that raised Jesus from the dead promises to also raise those who trust in the Savior. Also, it is for everyone who believes; Gentiles as well as Jews. There are no national barriers to this salvation. It is obtained by faith alone; by accepting that Jesus took the punishment for our sins when He was crucified. He took our penalty and we receive His righteousness and eternal life.

Paul also said: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). He emphasises the source of the gospel message: it’s “not of human origin”; he “did not receive it from any man”; he wasn’t taught it; it came “by revelation from Jesus Christ”. Therefore, Christianity was not an invention or a discovery, but it was a direct revelation from God. In fact he mentions the whole godhead as the source of the message, God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 2:10; Gal. 1:12).

Furthermore, Paul was a servant of Jesus who was sent to preach the gospel and he followed the example of Christ (Acts 26:16-18; Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 11:1). So although Paul preached the good news about Jesus Christ, he didn’t invent it. Instead he taught that the gospel was God’s idea.

Was it Peter?

Peter was a pioneer preacher to the Jews and on the day of Pentecost he preached the first gospel message after Christ ascended back to heaven. At Pentecost he quoted from the Old Testament and showed how Christ’s death and resurrection fulfilled prophecies about the Messiah. Peter witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He urged people to repent to have their sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Did Peter invent his message? When he spoke he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8). As the Jewish religious leaders saw his courage and realized that he was an unschooled, ordinary fishermen, they were astonished and noted that he had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). So Peter was given the words to speak by the Holy Spirit and he had been taught by Jesus. Although Peter preached the good news about Jesus Christ, he didn’t invent it. Instead the sources of His words were the Old Testament, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The same applies to the other apostles.

Was it the Old Testament prophets?

Both Paul and Peter referred to the Old Testament prophets when they preached the gospel. As it was foreshowed, the gospel was not a completely new idea. For example, the promised Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, called Immanuel, meaning God with us, and would die 483 years after the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Isa. 7:14; Dan. 9:25-26; Mic. 5:2). Also, the righteous lived by their faith (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17).

There are also illustrations of the gospel in the Old Testament. The bronze snake that Moses made in the wilderness was used to teach Nicodemus that Christ must be lifted up on a pole (the cross), so that sinners looking to Him by faith might have eternal life (Num. 21:8-9; Jn. 3:14-15). The Jewish sacrifices for forgiveness of sin foreshadowed that Jesus was our sacrifice and High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16; 7:23-28). These illustrations of the gospel in the Old Testament are clearer in hindsight than they would have been for someone living at the time. However, we know that when Jesus was born Simeon and Anna were both prompted by the Holy Spirit to be waiting for the Jewish Messiah (Lk. 2:25-38).

Peter wrote about Old Testament prophecies, “you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own (mind) interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:20-21). Their message was divinely inspired, originating from God, not from humanity. This is consistent with Paul who wrote that: “all Scripture was God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) and “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13). The writers of the Bible were given their words by the Holy Spirit. They present spiritual truths in spiritual words. Although the Old Testament prophets promised a Messiah, they didn’t know the details of the gospel message. They didn’t invent it, but their information came from the Holy Spirit, who is God.

Was it Jesus Christ?

We have already seen that Paul said that he received the gospel message “by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:12). Also, it is the good news about God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:3). So, the Lord Jesus Christ is the core of the gospel, which is the foundation of the Christian faith. In fact, a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ.

In one sense, Christ is the source of Christianity. But what did He say?

  • He was sent into the world by God the Father (Jn. 17:3, 18, 23, 25).
  • “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (Jn. 4:34).
  • “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me” (Jn 5:30). He always obeyed the Father.
  • “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (Jn. 17:4).

So everything He said and did was done in obedience to God the Father. Therefore, God the Father is the source of the gospel message. It was His idea.

Was Jesus Christ merely a man? This is an important question. The answer is no, because He claimed to be divine and this is supported by the evidence. First, His miracles, which included calming storms and consistently healing people instantly. He also gave His apostles the power to do miracles. Human beings don’t have these powers. Second, He resurrected from death and ascended into heaven. Human beings can’t do that. He appeared to more than 500 believers at the same time after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6). That’s a lot of witnesses. This is consistent with His claim to be equal with God. So, Christ was the divine God in a human body. He was unique.

Christianity is a revelation

We have seen that the gospel was God’s idea, which was revealed progressively to people over time from the brief promises of the Old Testament prophets, to the preaching of Peter to the Jews and then the preaching of Paul to the Gentiles. Because the gospel message seems foolish to people,  it couldn’t have been man-made (1 Cor. 1:18). Instead, God achieves His purposes in ways that seem foolish. It was a divine invention, not a human invention or discovery. That is why Christianity is unique. All other faiths and religions are products of the human mind. The difference between the true God and false gods, religions, idols and ideas about the purpose of life is emphasised throughout Scripture.

Old Testament

The Children of Israel were told to destroy all the people in Canaan because they were idol worshippers (Deut. 18:9-12; 20:16-18). This was God’s judgment of their sinful ways and to stop the Israelites worshipping their gods (Gen. 15:16). If the Jews worshipped idols, they were told: “The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell” (Deut. 4:27-28). Unfortunately because the Jews were unfaithful and didn’t destroy all the idol worshippers, they followed idols instead of the true God, and the consequence was that they were overrun by the Assyrians and Babylonians and Jerusalem was plundered and destroyed.

While the Assyrians threatened Jerusalem, “They spoke about the God of Jerusalem as they did about the gods of the other peoples of the world—the work of human hands” (2 Chron. 32:19). When the Jews were told that the Lord was the only true God, they were also told that idols are worthless and “Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save” (Isa. 44:6, 9; 45:20).

Idols like Zeus, Jupiter and Thor are worthless because they are man-made and they are dead. They are the product of human minds and human technology and have no power to save people from their troubles. What a contrast to the God of the Israelites who was the living Creator: “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (1 Chron. 16:26).

New Testament

The difference between the true God and false gods, religions, idols and ideas about the purpose of life is also emphasised in the New Testament. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30). It we do this, we should have no time for idolatry.

Unfortunately, most reject God’s revelation in creation and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles … They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:23, 25). This sums it up. Are we worshiping and trusting a creation or the Creator of all? The creation can be something God has made or a human creation or idea. They are both dead and have no power to save people from their sins. On the other hand, John refers to the Creator as “the only true God” (Jn. 17:3). At Lystra, Paul said, “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them” (Acts 14:15). He is the living God.

Here we see there are two types of messages or faiths and two destinies. First Christianity, with a divine founder, the true God, the Creator and Redeemer, whose message is the gospel, God’s plan of salvation, which leads to eternal life with God. On the other hand, all other religions and ideas about the purpose of life are products of the human mind, whose message is a different gospel, which only has value in this life and leads to eternal suffering without God.

Of course, the Jewish faith as given in the Old Testament was also God’s idea, but it was superseded when the New Testament was given in the first century AD.

Lessons for us

So are religions such as Christianity comprised of myths that were made up many years ago to explain phenomena which can now be explained by science? This is not true for Christianity because the gospel is God’s idea, not a myth invented by people such as Paul or Peter or the Old Testament prophets. The “god of the gaps” is wrong because science has not replaced God, it has merely discovered more about God’s creation. Also, it doesn’t address our fundamental problem of sin and guilt before a holy God. Furthermore we should see God working everywhere, and not restrict Him to the areas we don’t understand.

We have seen that the Christian gospel is unique; it came from God and God is the main character. It is a revelation, not an invention or a myth. All other religions and ideas about the purpose of life are false; they are idols.

We need to be wary of modern idols of the human mind and human technology, which can occupy much of our time. They don’t help our deepest need and should be challenged like the prophets challenged pagan idolatry in the Old Testament. Above all, Paul says “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). So, let’s not get involved in the false ideas and religions that are merely the product of the human mind. Instead, let’s worship our living Creator God.

Written, June 2011


What’s the purpose of life?

Recently a woman asked this question. Because of an abusive husband, she was frightened of men and never went outside at night. All her hopes and dreams had vanished. She was alone and couldn’t see any possibility of her situation improving. Also, I learnt that an elderly man had completed suicide. He chose death rather than life. He had no reason to live any longer.

The wisest person who ever lived, Solomon, found that a life which is not related to God is meaningless (Eccl. 1:2; 1:14; 12:8). It is like “chasing after the wind.” True fulfillment and lasting satisfaction are illusive. The things we do apart from God are hollow and futile because they can be destroyed and come to nothing. Hopes and dreams for this life can be shattered and wiped away. This was the case for these people.

According to the Bible, there are two main purposes of life: to know God, and to serve Him. Paul, a pioneer of the Christian faith, wrote: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things … I want to know Christ” (Phil. 3:8,10 NIV). He also wrote: “ For to me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). He gave up Judaism and all his personal achievements when he trusted Christ as Savior. He wanted to know the Lord personally and live for Him. .

The Bible tells us that people are “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). They have no lasting hope, no hope beyond death. This is because they don’t know the only true God, who was revealed by Jesus Christ. But if we truly know God, we have a lasting hope that looks beyond death. Paul said, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Because Christ was raised from the dead, we can look forward to the resurrection of our bodies, life forever with the Lord and God’s kingdom being established on earth.

People put their time and effort into the things that they think are important. Near the end of his life Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). He was a devoted servant of God who put all his energy into serving Him and doing His will. He had protected the Christian doctrine which had been committed to him, and he faithfully passed it on to others. God wants us to be faithful in His sight; not merely successful in people’s sight.

Paul was motivated by the fact that his service would be reviewed in heaven: “We make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). Fancy being able to please God when we are “away from” the body after death! This is when believers stand before the Lord as He reviews their service. The only thing we can take with us beyond death is our reward for faithfulness to Him.

Can all our hopes, dreams, visions and goals be taken away? If the answer is yes, they are flimsy and not robust. That’s why people give up, get depressed, and think there is no purpose to life. Instead let’s be like Paul and make our most important priority knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and serving Him while we can.

Published, April 2012


From the cross to the crown

Suffering comes before glory

At Easter we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, events unique to the Christian faith. In this article we will look at what happened after His resurrection, and at four contrasts between His death and heavenly reign.

After the resurrection

After Christ’s resurrection, He appeared to His followers over a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3). Then “He was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God” (Mk. 16:19 niv). Luke reported, “He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:9-11). The disciples were given a promise by two angels that in the future Jesus would return to earth in an event as spectacular as His ascension.

The Bible says repeatedly that Jesus Christ is now at God’s “right hand” – a place of honor, power, dominion and authority. His exalted position was noted by Peter (Acts 2:32-33a; 5:30-31; 1 Pt. 3:21-22), seen by Stephen (Acts 7:55-56) and mentioned in Hebrews (Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). Paul added that Christ is above all other powers (Eph. 1:20-21) and that while He is at the right hand of God, He intercedes with the Father on our behalf (Rom. 8:34). Furthermore, believers will reign with the Lord in His coming kingdom: “I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21).

People sometimes say this was the greatest comeback since Lazarus because Lazarus came back from the dead, but died again because he was still mortal. But the resurrected Lord had a redeemed immortal body. He was the first to be resurrected to eternal life (1 Cor. 15:23). His was a different resurrection because He ascended into heaven to live forever. That’s a much greater comeback than Lazarus. In fact, Jesus went from the lowest place on earth, where He endured the suffering and humiliation of execution as a criminal, to the highest place in heaven, where He reigns over all creation. What a contrast!

Different crowns

Two types of crown are mentioned in the New Testament: a garland worn by a victorious athlete, and a diadem worn by royalty that symbolized the power to reign. Both of these crowns are used in the Bible to describe Jesus. Crowns are also mentioned in respect to His cross and reign.

Crown of thorns. Humanity, by way of the Roman soldiers, gave Christ the crown of thorns (Mt. 27:27-31; Mk. 15:16-20; Jn. 19:2-5), a purple robe and a staff in a mock coronation of the “king of the Jews.” Thorns are a product of the curse, which was God’s judgment on humanity’s fall into sinful behavior (Gen. 3:17-19). In Genesis thorns are associated with sin, struggle, sweat and death. At the cross, Christ had a symbol of the curse on His head.

Crown of glory. “We … see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). He was lower than the angels for 33 years. At His death He was the lowest of humanity, executed as a criminal. He came down to the cross and the grave. Now He is crowned with glory and honor, His exaltation a result of His suffering. The cross led to the crown. His glory was the reward of His suffering (Heb. 2:9; Phil. 2:7-9; Rev. 5:12). Seeing Jesus in His glory will give us great joy (Jn. 17:5,24).

Jesus prayed, “I have brought You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave Me to do. And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began” (Jn. 17:4-5). Before He came to earth, He lived with the Father in heaven and reigned over all creation as the Creator. He regained this when He ascended, but gained the additional glory of being the Redeemer of the fallen creation. So, at the cross, He was given the crown of thorns, but when He ascended to heaven, He was given the crown of glory.

Different companions

Christ was crucified between two criminals (Mt. 27:38). It was a shameful death and a time of much grief and sorrow (Lk. 23:27-28,48). However, before going to the cross He prayed, “Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory” (Jn. 17:24). At the cross He was in the company of criminals, but in heaven He is in the company of the redeemed and of angels (Rev. 5:11-12).

Different comings of Christ

The Lord was here once, and He’s coming again – the invisible God visibly present on earth. The purpose for His first coming was to die on the cross for sinners like us; to be a sacrifice. The purpose for His second coming will be to reveal His great power and glory (Mt. 24:30; 2 Th. 2:8; Rev. 1:7). It is the most prophesied event in the Bible. At that time, He will wear the crown of authority, dominion, government and sovereignty, judge all evil and set up His kingdom on earth. That is when all the wrongs done on earth will be made right, all crime will end, and justice will prevail.

In His first coming the Lord entered Jerusalem on a donkey. In His second coming He will be on a war horse: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns” (Rev. 19:11-12). His supremacy is emphasized by His wearing “many crowns.”

Suffering before glory

Although Christ’s suffering and glory were both foretold in the Old Testament, their relationship was not obvious at that time. Psalm 22:1-21 describes the Lord’s suffering. For example, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? Why are you so far from saving Me, so far from My cries of anguish?” was spoken at the cross (Ps. 22:1; Mt. 27:46). Psalm 22:22-31 describe His millennial reign over the earth. For example, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and He rules over the nations” (Ps. 22:26-27). We see in the same passage the cross and the crown; the suffering and the glory.

Likewise, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isa. 9:6) describes Christ’s first coming which led to the cross, while the rest of this verse and the next describes the millennial kingdom established after His second coming: “And the government will be on His shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” Once again we see in the same passage the cross and the crown; the suffering and the glory. Other references to the Lord’s suffering and reign are Isaiah 53 and Psalm 110.

Christ’s cross and crown are keys to understanding the Bible. And aspects of His sacrifice and death for sinners, and His kingdom and future glory can be seen in many passages of Scripture. “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:10-11). The Old Testament prophets predicted the Lord’s sufferings and the glories that would follow, but they didn’t know that there would be thousands of years between these events.

Christ’s mission was to go to the cross to die for our sin. Now, having paid the price for sin, He is highly exalted at God’s right hand and will come again as King of kings and Lord of lords. His cross had to precede His crown: “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11).

Lessons for us

Jesus went from the lowest place on earth (the cross) to the highest place in heaven where He reigns over all creation. What a change there is between His two comings to earth – from crown of thorns to crown of glory, from criminal to the redeemed, from death to dominion, and from suffering to glory.

Because Jesus endured the cross, He now wears the crown and we can have the assurance of eternal life with Him in heaven. For Jesus, suffering had to precede glory. The New Testament pattern of suffering followed by glory applies to us as well: believers suffer now, but will be released into the glory of immortal bodies at the resurrection (Rom. 8:16-25; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). Like the Lord, believers must be willing to suffer and lose their lives for His sake (Lk. 9:23).

Paul wrote, “if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:17-18). Meanwhile, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).

The Biblical pattern is that suffering in this life will lead to an inheritance of eternal glory. We should not be focusing on our present physical situation, but be looking ahead. We are not promised a trouble-free life; in fact the opposite is the case because Jesus tells us that trouble is inevitable (Jn. 16:33). Look at His life as an example, and focus on the One who went to the cross and who now wears the crown.

Published, April 2012

See the other article in this series:
- From the Cradle to the Cross


Jesus, what a beautiful name

A special Christmas message

Every December 25, Christians all over the world celebrate an event that occurred about 2,000 years ago – the birth of Jesus Christ. Unlike most boys of that time, Jesus was not named after a human father or given a family name (Lk. 1:59-60). Instead, He was given special names to signify His special mission.

Although born in a Jewish community in a town near Jerusalem, Jesus was to affect the lives of all humanity – past, present and future. This is evident from the names associated with the birth of this unique child.

God with us

It was prophesied centuries before that He would be called “Immanuel”, which means “God with us” (Is. 7:14; Mt. 1:22-23NIV).  This shows that Jesus was God living on earth as a human being and is consistent with Joseph being told that Jesus was conceived “from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20). How remarkable that the Creator of the universe should be born on earth as a baby boy.

The Bible states that Jesus “shared in our humanity” (Heb. 2:14) and “became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (Jn. 1:14). As a result, He is the clearest revelation of God to mankind. The fact that Jesus was both human and divine is fundamental to the Christian faith (1 Jn. 4:2; 2 Jn. 7). His followers recognised that He was “the man from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).

It seems as though God was also physically present on earth at the beginning of history as  Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). So why did the Divine return to earth as Jesus?

Savior

Joseph was told to give Mary’s son the name Jesus, “because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21NIV). This was His mission.

The name “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua”, which means “the Lord saves”. Joshua helped to spy out the promised land of Canaan (Num. 13). Most of the spies were afraid of the fortified cities, and the people who were strong and powerful and seemed like giants. Despite this Joshua and Caleb believed they could take possession of the land (Num. 13:30).

God used Joshua to destroy the walled city of Jericho and many other kingdoms and cities in Canaan.  Under his leadership the Israelites had many victories and were saved from their enemies.

Today we live in a world of sin, suffering and death. As Joshua was used by God to save Israel, Jesus was used by God to save humanity. He came to have victory over sin, death and Satan and to rescue us from eternal judgement (Heb. 2:14-15; Rom. 5:18-21). In fact, “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Christ the Lord

The shepherds were told that the baby was “Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:11). The name “Christ” is the Greek form of “Messiah”, which means “the Anointed One”. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests and kings were typically anointed with oil. When this name is applied to Jesus it means that He was divinely appointed – appointed by God.

Peter testified “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).

John said of the Scriptures “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31).

The word “Lord” signifies power and authority and is frequently used of God and Jesus in the Bible. Jesus taught “as one who had authority” (Mk. 1:22) and He demonstrated great power by His miracles, such as healing the sick, driving out demons and multiplying the loaves and fishes.

The wise men used a title of power and authority when they called the baby “the King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2). Although King Herod was disturbed about this, Jesus was not recognised as such (Jn. 1:11), and this characteristic was not evident during His life on earth. Although this was the charge at His crucifixion, He said that His kingdom was not of this world (Jn. 18:36).

Jesus is supreme, His name “is above every name”. In the future His awesome power will be evident to everyone and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord (Phil. 2:9-11).

Our response

At Christmas we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ, whose birth was to be “good news of great joy … for all the people” (Lk. 2:10). Responses to His birth included: obedience to God (Mt. 1:25), gifts and worship (Mt. 2:11), amazement (Lk. 2:18), meditation (Lk. 2:19), praise and thanks to God (Lk. 2:20,38) and worry (Mt. 2:3).

In the incarnation God took on human form to reveal Himself to people in a way they could grasp (Jn. 1:18), to become their Savior by ransoming their sins (Mk. 10:45), and to deal sympathetically with their needs (Heb. 2:17-18).  But many rejected this offer of help: “though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him” (Jn. 1:10).

As the birth of Jesus Christ divides history into B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, meaning, in the year of our Lord), so people are divided into those who accept and those who reject Christ’s offer to rescue them from eternal judgement.

I trust that you can say “Jesus, what a beautiful name” and that His name is well known to you as Savior, Christ and Lord (Mk. 6:14).

Published, December 1998


Give Priority To God And People THIS NEW YEAR

The word “Christian” means a follower of Christ. The beginning of a new year is a good time to focus on some of the words He spoke – in particular, His first words, His most important words and His last recorded words – and determine how well we are following Him.

His First Words
When He was 12 years old, Jesus stayed behind to talk with the teachers in the temple while His parents headed for home after the festival of the Passover. When they returned and found Him, Mary said, “‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’ ‘Why were you searching for Me?’ He asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what He was saying to them. Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk. 2:48-52 NIV).

The two different fathers mentioned in this passage show the two main relationships of His youth. First, He was aware of His unique relationship with God. At 12 years, He was doing God’s business. Of course, that’s why He came to earth. One example of this relationship was that He prayed regularly. Second, He obeyed His parents. They were part of His human family. Later He said, “Whoever does God’s will is My brother and sister and mother” (Mk. 3:35). All believers are part of His spiritual family. One example of this relationship was His compassion for people. He saw them as “sheep without a shepherd” and wanted to care for them like a hen cares for her chicks (Mt. 9:36; 23:37). So, this incident and the Lord’s first recorded words show that His two main relationships were with God and with people.

His Most Important Words
During His ministry, one of the Jewish religious leaders asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these’” (Mk. 12:29-31).

The Jews had at least 600 laws at this time. When asked which was the most important, Jesus said to put God first and people next. He simplified their complex religious requirements into two relationships – with God and with others. Our priorities should be likewise – God first, people next and selfish things last.

His Last Recorded Words
Before Jesus ascended, the apostles asked Him: “‘Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses … to the ends of the earth.’ After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight” (Acts 1:6-9).

They expected the earthly kingdom to commence, but didn’t know that this wouldn’t happened until after the gospel was taken to the Gentile nations. Instead the Lord promised the Holy Spirit to give them power to witness for Him across the known world. Witnessing is introducing people to God. This mission for the apostles, which is also the Church’s mission, involves the two relationships already mentioned – with God and others. They would no longer have the Lord to guide them physically, but all believers now have the Holy Spirit to guide them spiritually.

Starting today, let’s devote our lives to God’s business – really giving Him top priority, and really loving one another – the essence of Jesus’ most important words.

Published, January 2010


Is the Morning Star in the Bible Jesus Christ or Satan?

In the Old Testament, the word “star” is used figuratively to refer to a ruler (Num. 24:17). In the New Testament, the term “Morning Star” is used metaphorically of Jesus Christ: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16 NIV). According to Peter, believers should pay attention to the message of Scripture because it is “a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises” (2 Pet. 1:19).

The morning star appears in the sky before the sun rises at daybreak. Paul wrote that the finalization of our salvation is near because “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Rom. 13:12). This means that the present age is like a night that is darkened by sin. We know that Christ will come to rapture believers to heaven at the end of this age (1 Th. 4:13-18) and then judge the sinful world before reigning over all. After God’s judgment of sin, there will be no more darkness (Rev. 21:25-27; 22:5), as darkness is a symbol of sin (Jn. 3:19).

In the second coming, Christ is pictured as the morning star that precedes the day. This was promised to the believers at Thyatira: “I will also give them the morning star” (Rev. 2:28). It is clear that in these three instances, the morning star is a metaphor for Jesus Christ. This illustration is not surprising as Christ’s incarnation was likened to a sunrise (Is. 9:2; Lk. 1:78-79).

The only other passage of the Bible that includes the term “morning star” is Isaiah 14:12. Here is how different versions translate it.

“How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!” (NIV)

“How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations!” (NKJV)

“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who weakened the nations!” (NASB)

The context of this verse is God’s judgment on the king of Babylon; it was part of a taunt sung by the Israelites (Isa. 14:3). This is the only place in Scripture where the Hebrew word heylel appears; it has been interpreted as “shining one” or “star of the morning.” Isaiah seems to be using this metaphor of a bright light, though not the greatest light, to illustrate the apparent power and boastfulness of the Babylonian king which then faded.

When the Old Testament was translated into Latin in 405 AD, heylel was translated as “lucifer” – a synonym for “morning star.” Today the word “lucifer” has two meanings: “the planet Venus, the morning star” (the next brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon) and a name of Satan. Both of these interpretations were mentioned in the 1611 (KJV) translation of Isaiah 14:12.

Although the primary context of the passage is about a king of Babylon, in Isaiah 14:12-17, the focus seems to move to the fall of the one who energized the king of Babylon, Satan (14:13-14), and represents supreme arrogance, pride and conceit, which were Satan’s sins (1 Tim. 3:6). In this interpretation, the metaphor, the “morning star” is applied to Satan. But as we have seen, this title is also used of Christ (Rev. 22:16). This is not inconsistent because the term “lion” is also applied to both Satan and Christ (1 Pet. 5:8; Rev. 5:5). This possible association of the king of Babylon with Satan seems to be the origin of “Lucifer” as a term for Satan.

The “morning star” is a metaphor in Scripture applied to Jesus, the king of Babylon and maybe Satan. This is appropriate because they either have been, are or will be rulers. The reign of the king of Babylon is past; Satan’s is a doomed present (Rev. 20:7-10); Christ’s will be supreme and eternal (1 Cor. 15:24-27).

Published, July 2009


What is a deliverance ministry? Is it scriptural? Should I get involved?

What is a deliverance ministry?
A deliverance ministry is an activity or group that aims to release people from the influence of demons (Mt. 25:41). It is based on the belief that problems are caused by demons influencing the body or soul. These problems include: physical infirmities, emotional problems, abuse, torment, mental illness, recurring sins, addictions, financial problems, fear, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, lust, pornography, and homosexuality.

A deliverance session usually involves a team of people taking authority over Satan and his demons, using the name of Jesus Christ. It often includes prayer: to bind the demons; to loose God’s plans for deliverance; for the blood of Jesus to provide protection; for guidance; to invite the Lord to heal and deliver. It also includes: confessing and renouncing specific sins; taking authority in Christ over demons and commanding them to depart; reading passages from the Scripture that support the believer’s authority over evil; asking the Lord to heal past emotional, spiritual or physical wounds that may be footholds for the current oppression; and prayer for severing sinful connections with other people, demons or objects. Deliverance may also involve the use of spiritual gifts such as prophecy, tongues and a word of knowledge.

Deliverance ministries became more prevalent after the release of the film “The Exorcist” in 1973, as it created interest in casting out demons. Also, interest in casting out demons came with the rise of the charismatic movement.

Is it scriptural?
Jesus and the twelve apostles certainly cast out demons: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Lk. 9:1-2 niv). Philip, the evangelist, and Paul cast out demons (Acts 8:7; 16:18; 19:11-12). There are no examples in the Bible of Christians being possessed by a demon, although they may be afflicted by Satan and demons (Lk. 13:16; 2 Cor. 12:7). The woman who had been bound by Satan for 18 years was healed, whereas Paul’s “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12:7) was not healed. There is no indication in the New Testament that Christians might have to deal with their own sin or the sin of another Christian by casting out a demon and there are no examples in Scripture of Christians casting demons out of other Christians.

Deliverance ministries are usually based on instances of exorcism in the gospels and Acts. Three verses that are commonly used to justify them are as follows:

“Calling the Twelve to Him, He sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits” (Mk. 6:7).

“These signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons” (Mk 16:17).

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (Jas. 5:16).

It is not clear that the signs, wonders and miracles described in the gospels and Acts are available to Christians today. Instead, they were God’s confirmation of the ministry of Christ and the early Church (Heb. 2:3-4). Also, in context, the verses above do not support deliverance ministry. For example, Mark 6:7 was addressed to the apostles, who were a distinct group among the early believers (1 Cor. 12:28-29). The statement in Mark 16:17 is followed by, “they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all” (Mk. 16:18). Clearly, this occurred in the early Church, but we should not expect it today. The context of James 5:13-20 is the restoration of a backslider. In this case, physical healing is connected with forgiveness of sins, so presumably this sickness was a result of a sin, not demon influence. The meaning of James 5:16 is that when we sin against someone else, we should be prompt to confess this sin to the person we have wronged.

The idea of needing deliverance from demons goes against the fact that demons have no power other than that given them by God (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). We are commanded to fear God, not demons. God controls the world, demons do not (Mt. 4:8-11). They can’t separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38).

As Christians we should not become obsessed with Satan or demons and blame outside influences for our problems instead of our own sinful nature. This makes it difficult to take responsibility for our behavior and leads to seeking deliverance instead of repentance. It also makes us feel incapable of resisting our spiritual enemy and needing to rely on others for deliverance.

Should I get involved?
If we wish to live victorious lives and overcome Satan, we need to obey the Scriptures and apply their principles with wisdom to our lives (Rom. 16:19-20). Satan is not crushed under our feet by miracles or a deliverance ministry.

In the Old Testament, God prohibited His followers from seeking to make contact with demons (Lev. 19:26,31; 20:6,27; Dt. 18:9-13; Jer. 27:9-10). According to the New Testament, every Christian is capable of resisting Satan through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 10:13; Eph. 6:11; 1 Pet. 5:6-11). “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).

Instead of relying on a deliverance ministry to bring wholeness to our lives, we should pray daily that God may “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Mt. 6:13), and stand against the enemy by living in the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Eph. 6:10-20).

Published, April 2009


DIVINE FAVORS AND GIFTS: Are You Enjoying Your Spiritual Blessings?

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of His glory.” – Ephesians 1:3-14 NIV

These verses from Ephesians 1 summarize what God has done for believers. They were written by Paul to believers in Ephesus, but they also apply to us today. What a wonderful record of favors and gifts! Here we see that God the Father is the source of our salvation (1:3-6), Jesus Christ is the means of our salvation (1:7-12) and the Holy Spirit is the proof of our salvation (1:13-14). Each believer’s blessings are associated with each member of the Godhead. We are very rich in the invisible spiritual dimension of life.

His Blessings
Before the creation of the world, God the Father chose us to be part of His holy people (election). He did this by adopting us as children into His family (adoption). As slaves were freed from captivity by the payment of a ransom, Jesus paid the ransom for our sins by His death (redemption). This means that our sins are now forgiven (forgiveness). God’s plan for the universe – to bring everything in the material and spiritual world under the authority of Christ – has been revealed to us (dominion). The presence of the Holy Spirit within the believer is our mark of divine ownership and security (sealed). He is a deposit or guarantee of all that God has promised (inheritance). These blessings can’t be bought with money and they can’t be taken away by tragedy.

It is clear that the Lord Jesus is the center of God’s plan of salvation. Eleven times in these 12 verses of Ephesians 1 we read: “in Christ” or “in Him” or “in the one He loves” or “through Jesus Christ.” This is also expressed in song by Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty: “In Christ alone my hope is found.” These blessings are our source of security, joy and hope. Are you enjoying them?

Our Response
God deserves all our praise for His wonderful kindness (1:6) shown in the many spiritual blessings He has for those who trust Him (1:14). The believer’s purpose in life is to praise God, and He has given us many reasons to do so (1:3,11,12).

Published, May 2008


Encouragement For Difficult Times

After the apostle Paul rescued a slave girl from demon possession, her owners realized that they could no longer make money from her fortune telling. So, they seized Paul and Silas and accused them before the magistrates (Acts 16:16-24). A crowd joined in this attack and Paul and Silas were stripped, flogged and thrown into the inner prison. This disappointing and painful situation could easily lead to depression and disillusionment. How did Paul and Silas react? Luke records: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25 NIV). In a seemingly hopeless situation, they sang praises to God. Where did their joy and encouragement come from?

God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the sources of encouragement for the believer (Acts 9:31; Rom. 15:5; 2 Th. 2:16-17). This kind of encouragement is not something we have, but something we get from God. The Greek words translated “encourage” and “encouragement” in the New Testament are paraklesis and parakaleo. The most common ways to get encouragement are to meditate on certain Scriptures, on the gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ, on Christ’s return and on our Christian faith shared with other believers.

The Scriptures
The Bible is encouraging because it is God’s special message to humanity. Paul wrote, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). This means that the Scriptures are encouraging, and following them brings hope into our lives.

Paul taught that a local church was to be led by a group of elders (Ti. 1:5-9). One qualification of an elder was that “he must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Ti. 1:9). The “trustworthy message” that was taught by Jesus Christ, Paul and the other apostles has been recorded in the Bible. An elder encourages the congregation by teaching and following the sound doctrines of the Bible, the truths of Scripture.

After urging the believers to “stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter,” Paul wrote, “May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Th. 2:15-17). Also, prophets brought the message from God before the New Testament was available in a written form; and their messages “encouraged” the believers (1 Cor. 14:3,31).

The Gospel Message
The gospel is encouraging because it is the key to forgiveness of sins and eternal life. When the synagogue rulers said to Paul and Barnabas, “If you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak,” Paul preached the gospel (Acts 13:15). He began with the Old Testament and concluded with, “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:16-41). The gospel of Jesus Christ is always encouraging.

Paul described his mission this way: “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Col. 2:2). Here we see that encouragement is linked to an understanding that all believers are part of the Church (Col. 1:26-27). Paul also wrote, “We sent Timothy … God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith” (1 Th. 3:2).

Christians “may be greatly encouraged” because they “have fled to take hold of the hope offered to them” in the gospel (Heb. 6:18). In this image they are fleeing to heaven from a world bound for judgment.

Christ’s Return
The return of Christ to bring all His followers into heaven is encouraging because it means an end of the sorrow, suffering and disappointment of this sinful world. Believers are commanded to encourage each other with the fact that they “will be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:18). The promise of Christ’s return so believers “may live together with Him” is a great encouragement (1 Th. 5:10-11). In view of Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead, believers should “meet together” to “encourage one another” (Heb. 10:25).

Our Faith
The Christian faith is encouraging because it is the practical demonstration of living according to the Bible, the gospel and Christ’s return. Paul longed to visit the believers in Rome so they could be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom. 1:11-12). The encouragement here is from each other’s faith, not any external circumstances. He also wrote, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus” (Rom. 15:5). Here, encouragement and unity are associated with following the Lord. Paul was also encouraged when he heard about the faith of the believers at Thessalonica (1 Th. 3:7). Likewise, John had “great joy” when told about believers who continued to “walk in the truth” (3 Jn. 3-4).

Daily Encouragement
Let’s be encouraged by God’s promises in the Scriptures, in the good news of salvation, in Christ’s return and in the faith we share with other believers. These are all linked, with the gospel being the core message conveyed by the Scriptures and Christ’s return being the hope of the gospel. It’s interesting that these facts do not depend on our circumstances, but in fact bring encouragement amidst struggles and suffering.

Also, let’s “encourage one another daily” in the faith so we will not be “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb. 3:13). We are told to use these same means to encourage others (2 Cor. 1:4). Those with the gift of encouragement should exercise their gift amongst believers (Rom. 12:8). It seems as though Barnabas had this gift as his name meant “son of encouragement” and he encouraged the church at Antioch (Acts 4:36; 11:22-23).

When life is difficult, remember Paul and Silas in prison. Don’t follow your feelings or seek encouragement only from circumstances, as you soon will be disappointed. Don’t forsake the Lord when life gets tough. Instead, encourage yourself and others by remembering all that God has done.

Published, April 2008


The Most Important Message: What We Believe And Preach

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Paul defended the key truth of Christianity. On this occasion his goal was to remind the believers of the gospel message which they had believed as a result of his preaching. He needed to do this because some were saying “there is no resurrection of the dead” (15:12 NIV). So there was some doubt about whether they understood the gospel message or not (15:2,13,16).

The Message
The essence of the gospel message is that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and then raised on the third day to die no more. Paul claimed it to be the most important of all messages. He also said it was “according to the Scriptures,” meaning that this central part of God’s plan to rescue mankind was prophesied in the Old Testament (Is. 53:5-9; Ps. 16:9-10).

Of course we also believe this message “according to the Scriptures,” because we can only know about these events through the writers of the New Testament. Therefore, as the Lord told Thomas, we can be blessed as “those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29).

The Witnesses
Paul wrote that the risen Lord appeared to six different groups of people. Christ’s resurrection was witnessed by many who were still alive at the time these verses were written including the apostles, James and more than 500 men. In Jewish law, the testimony of two or three witnesses was sufficient to confirm the truth in a matter (Dt. 19:15; 2 Cor. 13:1). Elsewhere we read that after His resurrection, Christ also appeared to Mary Magdalene and the two travelling to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35; Jn. 20:10-18).

If anyone wanted to verify the accuracy of Paul’s report, they could have checked with any of the eye-witnesses who had seen Jesus walking around after His resurrection. They could confirm that the dead body couldn’t be found by the Jewish leaders.

Able To Be Verified
This core of Christianity is a series of historical events that are able to be verified. There were numerous witnesses and four of these wrote the gospels. Their accounts were preserved when scribes diligently copied the original documents. There are thousands of ancient manuscripts of portions of the New Testament in museums – more than any other historical literature. The oldest are papyrus from the second century AD.

The Preacher’s Theme
Paul emphasized that “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” and “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” Because if this were the case, then Christ’s death had no more value than anyone else’s death and Christianity would just be a prop to get through this life, and of no eternal value.

The witnesses of Christ’s resurrection were transformed into great preachers and were the founders of the Church. As a result, faith in Jesus became so prominent that it eventually took over the Roman Empire that had originally persecuted it. This passage ends as it began by emphasizing that the gospel message that Paul preached and they believed was that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day (1 Cor. 15:11). He then ascended into heaven and is now at God’s right hand (Mk. 16:19).

Published, January 2008


Why do Christians celebrate Christmas, when everybody knows it is pagan in origin, tradition and most of its practices?

Christmas is a time when Christians remember the birth of Jesus Christ. Most historians agree that the celebration of Christmas did not begin until the fourth century, although they are not certain exactly how or why it began as a Christian festival. The most accepted explanation is that it began in Roman culture that held a pagan celebration for the winter solstice on December 25. As Christians were reluctant to take part, they replaced it with Christmas.

Local customs, culture, traditions and history influence Christmas practices around the world. Some, such as giving gifts or using a star, were derived from the biblical nativity stories. Some, such as the legend of Saint Nicholas, have their origin in Church history. Others, such as the use of evergreens and a yule log, have pagan origins. Still others, such as reindeer, elves, and the North Pole, are secular in origin and used as commercial marketing techniques.

The word “pagan” means one who worships a false god – an idolater, an unbeliever. Many things have a pagan origin. For example, the names of the days of the week in English were named after Anglo-Saxon gods and goddesses (except for Saturday, which was named after the Roman god Saturn). These in turn were based on Roman gods. However, the meaning of these names has changed from that of a deity to that of a particular day. Previously they had a pagan connection, but now they do not. So, it’s not the source long ago that’s important, but whether there is a connection today to idolatry (1 Cor. 10:20). The same applies to tradition: it’s the situation today that counts.

Many customs cannot be linked directly to Scripture. For example, families remember birthdays and weddings, but in the Bible the former are only mentioned with respect to Pharaoh and Herod (Gen. 40:20; Mt. 14:6). This custom is not wrong. We have freedom in many areas of life. New Testament passages that apply to the Church are much less prescriptive than those applied to the Jews in the Old Testament. Customs can be morally good (Lk. 4:16), evil or neutral. Two tests that can be applied to customs and practices are: Will God be glorified, and will anyone be stumbled (1 Cor. 10:31-32)?

There is no mention in Scripture of celebrating Christ’s birth, although believers are to remember His death. On the other hand, there is no prohibition against it. The incarnation is part of the gospel message: Christ was born and lived as a human before He was crucified. The celebration of Christmas could be considered a debatable matter (Rom. 14:1). Christians shouldn’t quarrel over debatable matters, but follow their conscience and honor God in whatever they do (Rom. 14:1-15:7; 1 Cor. 8:4-13; 10:14-33). They shouldn’t impose their convictions on others but respect each other’s conscience on these matters.

In a secular society, Christmas provides a great opportunity for evangelism. The birth of Christ is the theme of many Christmas carols. Believers can use this time to explain that Christ came into the world to address the problem of our separation from God and enable us to be reconciled with God and to have the promise of eternal life with Him in heaven.

The main dangers at Christmas are the idols of selfishness, materialism and the gospel of good works. Are we focused on what we receive or on what we give? Do we get caught up in the frenzy of shopping and celebrating? Do we tell children that if they are good enough they will receive presents from Santa Claus?

Beware of the false gods of Christmas. Remember that, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and that the gospel teaches that we are not saved by what we do, but by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8).

Published, December 2007


Why doesn’t the Bible record Christ’s entire life?

The Bible is a selective history of God’s dealings with mankind. It is not exhaustive, otherwise it would be too large for wide distribution (Jn. 21:25). The Bible records only the highlights of Christ’s life. These include the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah, such as His birth, life, death, and events related to God’s salvation plan. John wrote, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:30-31 NIV). The Bible was written so we could know Jesus.

Luke wrote, “Jesus Himself was about thirty years old when He began His ministry” (Lk. 3:23). Note that thirty was the age when a Levite began to serve (Num. 4:3,23,30,35,39,43,47; 1 Chr. 23:3). Joseph was thirty when he began to serve Pharaoh, and Saul and David were thirty when each became king over Israel (Gen. 41:46; 1 Sam. 13:1 NIV; 2 Sam. 5:4). A man was considered to have sufficient maturity at 30 to exercise authority in a Jewish community. John records that Jesus’ ministry lasted for at least three years (Jn. 2:13,23; 5:1; 6:4; 11:55). The highlights of His ministry are recorded in the four gospels, with one-third of their content devoted to the last week of His life.

The years of Christ’s life, between 12 and 30, have been called the silent years, because the Bible says little about them. During this time Jesus lived with His family as a carpenter in the village of Nazareth and He “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk. 2:52). Some early writers tried to satisfy human curiosity about the silent years by inventing stories to cover the missing periods of Christ’s life. These so-called apocryphal gospels are fiction. Only the most important parts of Christ’s life are documented in the Bible.

Published, June 2007


The Good Shepherd

Sheep And Shepherds In Scripture

As sheep were important in the economy of the Middle East in biblical times, it is the animal mentioned most often in Scripture. In fact, a man’s wealth was judged by the number of livestock he owned – such as sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys, camels and oxen. Job had 14,000 sheep, and the plunder taken from the Midianites included 675,000 sheep (Job 42:12; Num. 31:32).

Shepherds were employed to care for the sheep to see that they had water, pasture for food, and a safe place to sleep. They protected the sheep from predators such as wolves, lions and bears. Old Testament shepherds included Abel, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Moses, Achan, David, Nabal and Amos. Raising sheep was an important occupation, as thousands of them were killed for sacrificial offerings to God. One of Jerusalem’s ten gates was called the Sheep Gate, near the temple where sheep were sacrificed (Neh. 3:1). Interestingly, shepherds were the first ones told of the birth of the Savior (Lk. 2:8-20).

It’s not surprising that God uses images of sheep and shepherds in the Bible. Sheep illustrate people, and shepherds illustrate leaders, such as kings and God Himself. Let’s look at what the Bible teaches in John 10:1-30 about our Divine Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd And The Sheep
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” He likened Himself to a shepherd and people to sheep (Jn. 10:11 NIV). He also said, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me” (10:27). Throughout the Bible, God’s people are seen as sheep (Ps. 79:13; 100:3). Jesus called His disciples a “little flock” (Lk. 12:32).

How are people like sheep? Sheep mindlessly follow others, without thinking of the consequences. While they are trusting, they can also be stubborn. They are dependent on others for protection, food, water and care. They also need special attention when it’s cold, when there’s danger and when they are giving birth.

How is Jesus like a shepherd? In biblical times sheep herding was hard work. The sheep needed constant care and attention, as they were not kept in fenced fields. They could wander anywhere. Every day the shepherd needed to lead the flock to suitable pasture and water, and care for the sick or injured. When they travelled, the shepherd led and the sheep followed behind.

When Jesus saw crowds of people “He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36; Mk. 6:34). He saw their spiritual needs. He told a parable of a shepherd who searched for a lost sheep. When the sheep was found he carried it home and celebrated (Mt. 18:12-14; Lk. 15:3-7). The shepherd put great value on the lost sheep. The lesson is that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, puts great value on those who don’t know Him or have strayed, and there is great joy in heaven when one is found by Him.

Isaiah wrote, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Because of our sin and selfishness we strayed like lost sheep away from the God who made humanity in the beginning (Ps. 119:176). But Jesus Christ suffered the punishment we deserved. If we confess our sins and trust God’s offer of forgiveness through Christ’s death and resurrection, our relationship with God is restored. Peter wrote, “You were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:25). So conversion is like a lost sheep returning to the care of the shepherd.

Bad Shepherds
In John 10 we see that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is contrasted to three bad shepherds: the “thief and a robber” who came to steal and kill and destroy the sheep (10:1,8,10); the “stranger” – like the Pharisee – who was only interested in the sheep for personal gain (10:5); and the “hired hand” who abandoned the sheep when the wolf came and scattered the flock (10:12-13). Bad shepherds had no relationship with the sheep and didn’t care for them.

The Pharisees didn’t understand this illustration and didn’t believe what Jesus said because they were not His (10:6,26). If they had accepted God’s offer of salvation, they would have recognized the Good Shepherd’s voice and followed Him. They didn’t realize that Jesus was the Messiah, the gate to eternal life. He said “I am the gate for the sheep … whoever enters through Me will be saved” (10:7-9). Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation from the penalty of sin. Salvation can only be received though Christ. Those who follow the Savior receive eternal life; they “have life, and have it to the full” (10:10).

The Good Shepherd Cares For His Sheep
A good shepherd owned, lived with and cared for the sheep. The relatively small flocks in biblical times enabled the shepherd to know and call each sheep by name. A flock of 100 was large (Mt. 18:12). The shepherd knew when one of his sheep was missing. Jesus Christ “calls His own sheep by name” (10:3). He called His disciples by name, and knew them (Jn. 1:43,48). He still calls those who receive Him: “Faith comes from hearing the message … through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The Lord knows His followers personally. He knows all about them.

When He calls, “the sheep listen to His voice” (10:3,16,27). They know their shepherd and respond to His voice (10:4). When Jesus was on earth many Jews recognized that He was the Messiah and followed Him. Today His sheep listen when the gospel is preached and they respond by following Him.

Palestinian shepherds led and their sheep followed because they knew their shepherd’s voice: “He goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him” (10:3-4, 27). The sheep didn’t follow thieves, robbers and strangers because they didn’t recognize their voices (10:5,8). Instead they ran away. David wrote of the good shepherd: “He guides me in paths of righteousness” (Ps. 23:3). Likewise, Jesus’ followers desire to go where He leads them.

Where did the shepherds lead their sheep? To pasture for eating and to water for drinking. David wrote, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul” (Ps. 23:1-2). This image is one of God’s providing all our needs. In a drought or famine there are no green pastures and there is little water. Those who follow the Good Shepherd are said to “find pasture”; “I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (10:9). The Christian’s sustenance is the Bible which provides spiritual food to grow to spiritual maturity (1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:2).

A good shepherd would risk his life to protect his sheep, as did David (1 Sam. 17:34-37). Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11). The word “good” means “worthy, honorable, excellent.” He’s the best example of a shepherd: “I lay down My life for the sheep” (10:15). In the Old Testament sheep were sacrificed for sins; here we see the Shepherd sacrificed for His sheep. But that was not the end; Jesus said that He had authority to lay down His life and take it up again (10:17-18). This means He’s a living Shepherd who died to pay the penalty we deserved (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Have you accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for you? Do you thank Him for it?

Because they spent a lot of time together, the shepherd knew the distinctive characteristics and needs of each sheep he cared for. Jesus said, “I know My sheep and My sheep know Me – just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father” (10:14-15,27). This shows the close relationship between the Lord and His followers. It’s like His relationship with God the Father. Jesus said “I and the Father are one” (10:30). He also told His disciples, “I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you” (Jn. 14:20). The Holy Spirit lives in each believer and each believer is in Christ, accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s work of salvation. Jesus knows us very well (Lk. 19:5; Jn. 1:47-50; 2:24-25).

The Good Shepherd And His Global Flock
Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (10:16). What does He mean by “other sheep” combining with the sheep He has been talking about to form “one flock”? Christ came as the Messiah of the Jews, but they did not receive Him (Jn. 1:11). In the Old Testament God is described as caring for the Jews like a shepherd cares for his flock (Is. 40:11; Jer. 31:10; Ezek. 34:11-16; Mic. 2:12; Mt. 2:6). The “other sheep” mentioned in John 10:16 are Gentile followers, who, in Acts, began to listen to the Shepherd’s voice after Pentecost.

Paul was the missionary God sent out to the Gentiles around the Mediterranean Sea. Today the “one flock” is known as the Church and is comprised of Jews and Gentiles. Paul described the Church as “one body” comprised of many nationalities: “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor. 12:13). So the one flock is now global, comprised of those who say, “We are His people, the sheep of His pasture,” (Ps 79:13; 95:7; 100:3). Do we recognize all the “other sheep” that are in the Church?

Shepherds protect their sheep. David killed lions and bears that attacked his sheep (1 Sam. 17:34-37). Jesus said about His sheep, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand” (Jn. 10:28). Eternal life is fellowship with God now and forever. This relationship cannot be broken as God’s power is stronger than any other. The Lord promises that none of His sheep will be lost because He provides safe pastures for them (Ps. 79:13). God protects the weak: “He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young” (Isa. 40:11).

For example, David could say, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). God’s people do not need to fear death because God is always with them to help in all circumstances. He promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).

God sent Jesus to earth on a mission and He has a mission for His people. He prayed to the Father, “As you sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (Jn. 17:18). This was not an easy task; He told His disciples, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Mt. 10:16). They were to preach the kingdom to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Mt. 10:6). Sheep among wolves is a dangerous situation. But sheep are safe as long as they are in the shepherd’s care. Likewise, Christians are safe from the dangers of this world as long as they remain in touch with the Good Shepherd. The inward strength provided by the Shepherd overcomes the outward threat of the wolves. Jesus came to earth as a baby and as a Lamb amongst wolves. His divine strength was triumphant in the end over the wolves.

What Should We Do?
John 10:1-30 is a powerful passage that describes how God has chosen to work in our world. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was motivated by love, not selfish gain. He is our Shepherd and we are His sheep. Are we thriving under His care with an abundant and fruitful life? Is there evidence of eternal life, spiritual light and divine love in our lives? Are we enjoying a close relationship with our Shepherd? Are we regularly feeding on His Word? Do we ruminate over His Word or are we starving spiritually like sheep in a drought? Do we seek His guidance and follow His example or do we follow the Pharisees of our age – legalism and materialism? Do we experience His presence and protection? Are we becoming compassionate shepherds seeking to help lost sheep find the Shepherd?

The Church is Christ’s global flock. His pastoral care is to be consistently expressed within the local church. The word “pastor” is Latin for “shepherd.” As a church flock, we should experience meaningful pastoral care, guidance, and security. The church is also to have compassion and take the message of the Good Shepherd to the lost sheep.

As Christ is no longer on earth physically, He provides shepherd care through the Holy Spirit, the Bible, prayer, pastors and fellowship. The Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep is also the “Great Shepherd” who rose from the dead and the “Chief Shepherd” who’s coming again (Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 5:4).

Published, May 2007

Also see:
- Old Testament shepherds
- New Testament shepherds
- The Good Shepherd is always near


God Has A Gift For You!

A Christmas Message

At Christmas we give gifts to one another. When selecting a gift we consider what the person would like. Of course, we expect the receiver to open the gift we’ve given them. At this time of the year we also enjoy receiving gifts.

When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, He referred to Himself as “the gift of God” which leads to eternal life (Jn. 4:10-14 NIV). This reminds us that Jesus was God’s gift to humanity. Through Jesus’ birth, God became man. This gift satisfied our greatest need – being separated from God by our sins. Paul said, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 3:23). What a contrast! Our sin leads to death, but God offers us eternal life – to be with Him forever (2 Cor. 5:1-4).

Here’s how God offers His gift to us: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). It depends on faith; confessing our sinful condition and recognizing that Jesus paid our penalty when He died, enabling us to be reconciled with God (1 Jn. 1:9). This faith comes from God.

After Paul exhorted believers to be generous givers, he said, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15). No words can express the extent of God’s love. The best description was: “God loved the people of this world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who has faith in Him will have eternal life and never really die” (Jn. 3:16 cev).

The Greek word for “gift” conveys the loving-kindness of the giver and the lack of cost to the receiver. Surely, God is the greatest giver and Jesus Christ is His greatest gift. Have you accepted His gift? How sad to give and receive gifts at Christmas and never to receive Christ, the greatest gift of all.

Published, December 2006


There’s More Good News!

All true Christians have accepted the good news of God’s great salvation (Rom. 10:15; Heb. 2:3). Romans 8 contains even more good news for believers.

We are not condemned to be punished: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1 NIV). The phrase “in Christ Jesus” shows that God now sees us united with Him – we belong to Him. The phrase “no condemnation” shows that we are sinners who have been forgiven, not sinners who are condemned to be punished.

We are empowered by the Holy Spirit, who has freed us from the power of sin: “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). Of course, our victory over sin will not be complete until we are in the presence of the Lord (Rev. 21:4).

We have eternal life and peace: “The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). There is a future to look forward to and assurance that everything is under God’s control.

We are led by the Holy Spirit: Believers are described as, “those who are led by the Spirit of God” (v.14). The Spirit can lead us through various means such as the Bible, prayer, praise and other believers.

The Holy Spirit helps us and prays for us: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness … the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26-27). When we are feeling weak, fearful or inadequate, let’s remember that the Holy Spirit pleads to God for us.

We have fellowship with God as children in His family: “We are God’s children” (Rom. 8:16). We also have an inheritance: “If we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). God is generous; He has given us Jesus and a wonderful future.

We will receive new bodies when Christ returns: “We wait eagerly for … the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). These bodies will never wear out.

God works for our good: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We are secure because God is in control. Whatever the situation, God will bring good out of it.

We will be transformed to be like Christ: “Those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). Whatever God allows in our lives is designed to make us more like Christ. This process will be complete when Christ returns and we will be transformed to be like Him – free from sin and with resurrected bodies.

We are justified and will be glorified: “Those He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). We are free from the guilt of sin, the penalty of sin, and even the power of sin in our lives and will share His glory.

God is for us and no one can accuse, condemn, or defeat us: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31-34). We are on the winning side because God is on our side.

Nothing can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:35-39). Death can’t and life can’t. The angels can’t and the demons can’t. Our fears, worries, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. The conclusion is that we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Through Christ we have overwhelming victory.

What encouraging promises: We are not condemned, but will be transformed to be like Christ; God works for our good; He empowers us by the Holy Spirit; and nothing can separate us from His love.

Start enjoying all this good news today.

Published, April 2006


The Raven And The Kookaburra

An Easter thought

I spent Easter in the mountains with plenty of trees and birds. Two of the birds, the kookaburra and the raven reminded me of Christ’s victory over Satan. They are birds of prey, each with a distinctive call.

The Australian raven is glossy black with a fierce, menacing look. It has a high-pitched wail “aah-aah-aah-aaaahh.” Some find this call threatening. Ravens prey on reptiles, rabbits, chickens, ducklings, refuse and carrion. They can also hasten the death of weak sheep and lambs.

The laughing kookaburra is the world’s largest kingfisher. It has a loud chuckling laugh, “koo-koo-koo-koo-koo-kaa-kaa-kaa.” When the kookaburra laughs, it’s claiming a territory to share with family members. It lives mainly on insects, worms, lizards, frogs, mice and small birds. Kookaburras can also kill snakes.

The raven reminds me of Satan. Its black color symbolizes darkness and evil, and it attacks weak sheep and lambs. The Bible uses sheep and lambs as metaphors for people (Mk. 6:34; Jn. 10:1-18, 27-30; 21:15-17; 1 Pet. 2:25). The raven also reminds me that Satan stalks and attacks people like an animal stalks and attacks its prey (1 Pet. 5:8).

The kookaburra reminds me of Jesus. It attacks and kills snakes. In the Bible snakes are a metaphor for Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). By His death and resurrection, Christ destroyed Satan, like a kookaburra destroys a snake (Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:14). In fact, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8 NIV). Satan has been fatally wounded and defeated, to be tormented forever in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:7).

May this brief look at the raven and the kookaburra help us to be more aware of Satan’s schemes, and to celebrate Christ’s victory.

Published, March 2006


How can we know that God exists?

God revealed

Does God exist? Some people say yes, others say no, and some just don’t know. Let’s look at some of the evidence that should help all of us.

Creation
We live in an amazingly complex world. The universe is so vast that scientists use light-years to measure distances in space. The distance that light travels in one year is 9.5 trillion kilometers. That’s 9.5 followed by 12 zeros! Starting with us, size increases: the earth, the sun, the solar system, and our galaxy – the Milky Way – which is approximately 100,000 light-years across.

Not only is it very large, but the universe is also made up of very small constituents. Consider us; then consider the ant, the amoeba, the molecule, the atom, the proton, neutron and electron, and subnuclear particles called quarks.

Most digital cameras have a zoom lens that can change the image size by up to three times, and camcorders have 10 times optical zoom. But if we went on a cosmic zoom extending from the galaxy down to quarks, we would change size by 1×1042 times, which is “1” with 42 zeros after it!

This amazingly complex universe is loaded with information and evidence of design. On earth we also have a living world which reproduces itself. The information for living creatures is coded in DNA molecules. But information is the product of intelligence, not chance. We know from the world around us that life always comes from something else which is living. Life does not come from nothing, it comes from something, and that something is always something which is alive. A living God created the world and all life that exists came from Him. God is the origin of life.

According to the law of cause and effect, creation demands a creator and design demands a designer. By looking at our universe, anyone can know that there is a Creator God. Creation shows that God is intelligent and powerful. The Bible’s message to those who reject this knowledge is: “The truth about God is known instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see His invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:19-20 NLT).

Conscience
But there is another kind of information in our world. Every person is born with a conscience. Each of us has an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong. For example, most people know it is wrong to lie, steal, commit adultery and murder. The conscience is like a built-in alarm. If we liken our body to computer hardware, then our conscience is like the software program that issues instructions to the hardware. But in this sinful world it is often programmed wrongly.

The Bible gives God’s standards for right and wrong (2 Tim. 3:16-17). But for those who are ignorant of these moral laws it says: “They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them, for their consciences either accuse them or tell them they are doing what is right” (Rom. 2:15).

Those who have not heard about what the Bible says will be judged according to their conscience. So the Creator made us with a mind that is able to make choices, not one that is driven by instinct. The conscience shows that God is concerned with our decisions and our behavior. Unfortunately, we often choose to disobey our conscience. Then we have a guilty conscience. But the Creator has provided the solution to our sinful ways.

Christ
The Bible is God’s special message for mankind. It tells us all we need to know: about history and mankind; about the moral choices made throughout history from the time of our original parents Adam and Eve; about how we have all rebelled against God and gone our own way; about how we all have a guilty conscience, whether we acknowledge it or not; about how this sinful attitude has led to suffering, disease, decay, death and eternal punishment; about how God’s solution to our problems was to send His Son Jesus Christ to take the punishment that we deserve. Christ was crucified and then resurrected back to life, which is particularly remembered at Easter time. His suffering and death were dramatized last year in the Mel Gibson film, “The Passion of the Christ.”

The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23 NIV). Christ offers each of us the opportunity to be reconciled to God and have our conscience cleansed (Heb. 9:14; 10:22). First, we need to realize our hopeless situation, and then we need to accept God’s gift of forgiveness. Jesus Christ shows that God is compassionate and loving. He is waiting for people to accept His offer to give them a new life and an inheritance with Him in the life to come.

Life Changing Evidence!
God has revealed Himself in three ways: in creation, through our conscience and by His Son, Jesus Christ. Based on this evidence it is foolish to say there is no God (Ps. 14:1; 53:1). Creation and conscience are available to every person, while the clearest revelation is through Jesus Christ, who is made known through the Bible. This is why the Bible is the most important book ever written.

If you come to a different conclusion, then there is a faulty assumption in your reasoning. Have you excluded the correct conclusion before examining the evidence?

Published, January 2006


Faithful Followers Of Jesus

Encouragement for women

Despite living in a patriarchal society (Mt. 14:21; 15:38), the faithfulness of godly women was evident when Jesus was on earth, and in the early Church.

During Christ’s Ministry
When Jesus and His twelve apostles traveled from town to town in Galilee on a missionary trip, they were accompanied by some women who helped “to support them out of their own means” (Lk. 8:1-3; Mk. 15:40-41). There was Mary Magdalene; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; Mary the mother of James and Joses; and Salome. They all followed Jesus and cared for His needs, probably providing food and accommodation in addition to encouragement. In return for being cured of evil spirits and diseases, they provided practical and financial support to those who were preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God.

Women from Bethany, near Jerusalem, also supported Jesus. For example, Martha “opened her home to Him” and served a dinner in His honor, and Mary honored Him by anointing Him with expensive perfume (Lk. 10:38; Jn. 12:1-3).

At Christ’s Death
These women continued to support Jesus when He faced death by crucifixion. They remained beside the cross when the male disciples ran for their lives (Lk. 23:27-28,49; Jn. 19:25). They had followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, a distance of about 150 km (95 miles), “to care for His needs” (Mt. 27:55-56). And “many other women who had come up with Him to Jerusalem were also there” (Mk. 15:40-41). This was a long journey for those times.

John wrote: “Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother (Mary), His mother’s sister (Salome, the mother of John), Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (Jn. 19:25). Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses followed the body of Jesus to the grave and observed His burial (Mt. 27:61; Mk. 15:47; Lk. 23:55-56).

At Christ’s Resurrection
When these women went to anoint His body, they were the first to see the empty tomb (Mt. 28:1-10; Mk. 16:1-11; Lk. 24:1-11; Jn. 20:1-2,10-18). Because of their faithfulness God allowed them to be the first to learn of the resurrection. An angel told them, “He is not here; He has risen!” and they had the privilege of telling the other disciples that Jesus was alive again. The women present on the morning of the resurrection included: Mary Magdalene, the one to whom He first appeared and spoke after the resurrection (Mk. 16:9); Mary, the mother of James and Joses; Salome; Zebedee’s wife and mother of James and John; and Joanna, wife of Cuza.

In The Early Church
Women were usually present with the apostles as they served God. After the resurrection they obeyed Christ’s instruction to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:4,14).

In Romans 16, Paul listed those who helped him. These are heroes of the Christian faith in the first century. It is interesting to note that 31% (9 of 29) of those listed are women. The first one is Phoebe, who probably delivered Paul’s letter to Rome and is said to be a deacon (or servant) in her local church.

The Bible consistently recognizes the faithfulness of godly women. We should too.

Published, November 2005


El Niño: How Will It Affect You?

A different kind of Christmas message

A Climate Extreme
Eastern Australia experiences periodic droughts usually associated with El Niño, an extreme of the Southern Oscillation climate phenomenon, which was named by fishermen in Peru, South America. Usually they catch plenty of anchovy fish, because cold water from deeper in the ocean brings nutrients to the surface. These nutrients support lots of plankton – small animals and plants that are food for the fish.

But sometimes a warmer ocean current arrives near Christmas, devastating the fishing industry. It is like a famine in the ocean with few nutrients, few plankton and few fish. The Peruvian fishermen called it El Niño, – Spanish for “the boy child” – because it came at Christmas, the time they remembered “the Christ child.” The name El Niño is now used to describe this extreme in the climatic cycle across the whole Pacific region.

El Niño events occur every four to seven years and typically last for 12-18 months. A measure of this climatic event is the Southern Oscillation Index, which is calculated from the difference between the monthly average atmospheric pressure at Darwin in Australia and Tahiti in the mid-Pacific. The 1982-83 El Niño was the strongest in the last 100 years.

El Niño can have a dramatic influence on the weather and the economy in different parts of our world. It can lead to heavy rain, flooding, landslides and mosquito plagues, and can ruin the fishing industry in the west coast of Central and South America. On the opposite side of the Pacific it results in drought, water shortages, wildfires and poor crops in eastern Australia. The other extreme in the Pacific climatic cycle, a cooling of the eastern Pacific ocean, is known as La Niña, which is Spanish for “the girl child.” La Niña can lead to droughts in South America and floods in eastern Australia. So the same climatic event can lead to different types of weather in different parts of the world.

The Christ Child
The real Christ child came to earth about 2,000 years ago and there were also different responses to this event. Some welcomed it and some hated it. The shepherds were joyful at the birth of the promised Messiah, and they praised God (Lk. 2:8-20). Simeon and Anna also praised God as they had waited a lifetime to see the Messiah (Lk. 2:25-38). Wise men came a long distance to worship the king of the Jews (Mt. 2:1-2). But king Herod was so disturbed when he heard of the Christ child’s birth that he gave orders to kill all boys under two years old (Mt. 2:3,16). The Christ child was protected from this tragedy when His family fled to Egypt (Mt. 2:13).

The Christ Man
Of course, a boy child grows up to be a man. There were also different responses when the Christ child grew up to be a man and revealed that He was the Messiah. Some welcomed it and some hated it. Large crowds followed to listen to His words and to see His miracles (Mt. 5:25). When He healed people they praised God because they had never seen anything like this before (Mt. 9:8; Lk. 17:15). They thought He taught with much more authority than their religious teachers, and were delighted when He criticized them (Mt. 7:29; Mk. 2:12; Lk. 13:17). He was welcomed into Jerusalem as the Messiah, riding on a donkey (Mt. 21:1-11). A woman even poured expensive perfume over Him in an act of adoration (Mt. 26:7).

To some He was a prophet, while His followers thought He was going to free their nation from Roman dominion (Mt. 16:13-14, Lk. 24:21). The disciples considered Him to be the Son of God, as did the soldiers who were terrified at His death (Mt. 14:33; 16:16; 27:54).

However, those of His home town took offense at Him and tried to throw Him over a cliff (Mt. 13:57; Lk. 4:29). The religious leaders opposed Him fiercely and said He was satanic and demon-possessed, and plotted how to kill Him (Mt. 9:34; 12:14, 24; 26:4; Lk. 11:53). They asked questions to trap Him (Mt. 22:15). He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot (Mt. 26:48-49). Finally, He was falsely accused, mocked, spit on, struck repeatedly and executed by the religious leaders (Mt. 27:30-31; Mk. 14:58; Acts 7:52).

Different Responses
There were also different responses when the good news of forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ was preached. Some welcomed it and some hated it. When Paul preached in Athens that Jesus was raised from the dead, some sneered, some accepted it, others were apathetic (Acts 17:32-34).

Jesus recognized this when He said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’” (Mt. 10:34-36 NIV). He also said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Lk. 12:51-53).

This is figurative language; the results of His coming are stated as the apparent purpose of His coming. Jesus really came to bring peace and to rescue people from the coming judgment (Jn. 3:17; Eph. 2:14-17). But there are different responses to this – some accept it, while others ridicule and oppose it or are apathetic.

So families can be divided; some members being Christians while others are not. Jesus warned that when people became Christians, their families might persecute them. If family members oppose us, remember that faithfulness to Christ with a submissive spirit is what’s important. Our testimony can lead to their salvation (1 Pet. 3:1; 1 Cor. 7:14).

What is your response to the Christ child who grew up to be the man Christ? The Bible says that He came to give us an abundant new life (Jn. 10:10; 2 Cor. 5:17). I hope El Niño (the boy child) reminds you of the Christ child and the reason He came.

Published: December 2004


A New Start

The importance of renewal

Recently I moved to a new place of employment. Before I left my old job I spent a day sorting through the stuff that I had collected in my office, keeping some things, but discarding many items that were no longer useful. Changing jobs was a good opportunity to clean up all the things I had accumulated after 14 years at my previous job.

Similarly, when people move to another dwelling they have many possessions to go through. Some have garage or yard sales to get rid of unwanted belongings. We accumulate lots of unnecessary things over the years. Also, there’s a limit to how much we can store. A new start can be necessary and refreshing, but it can also be challenging.

For Humanity
We follow a God who has given human beings new starts down through the ages. When evil was rampart early in history, God started again and re-populated the earth, beginning with Noah’s family. Noah lived right and obeyed God (Gen. 6:9). But children and descendants don’t always follow the ways of their parents and ancestors, and people still disobeyed God and wickedness once more became prevalent across the earth.

In the future God has promised a new start for the universe: “I am making everything new!” (Rev. 21:5 NIV). He calls it “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). This will be idyllic, as God “will live with … His people” (Rev. 21:3). It will be a world where everyone is right with God; like it was in the beginning, in the garden in Eden (Acts 3:21; 2 Pet. 3:13).

From Jesus
Many people received a new start in life from Jesus. Those with serious disabilities and diseases were healed, demons were exorcised and death was reversed. A demon-possessed man who lived in the tombs and wore no clothes was cured and restored to be “in his right mind” (Mk. 5:1-17). Lazarus was raised from death to life (Jn. 11:1-44)!

Jesus gave many people a new direction in life. The disciples changed their occupations when they followed Jesus (Mt. 4:19). Zacchaeus, a wealthy and corrupt tax collector, changed his ways, becoming generous to the poor and those he had cheated (Lk. 19:8). However, the rich young man remained the same and went away sad (Mt. 19:16).

Jesus told people they should repent instead of perishing in hell (Lk. 13:3,5). This means to turn around and go in a different direction. He came to rescue these people (Lk. 19:10). It is like giving them a new start. Such a transformation needs to come from within and not just be external. Judas Iscariot seemed to make a new start with Jesus, but he didn’t change internally. This led to despair and suicide (Mt. 27:3-5).

For Christians
At Pentecost, those who followed Jesus were empowered by the Holy Spirit and when they spoke about 3,000 people joined them (Acts 2:1-41). Many others had a radical new start as well. Paul was converted from a persecutor to a preacher (Gal. 1:23). The slave Onesimus became a partner (Phile. 16-17). Those in the church at Thessalonica turned from idolatry to Christianity (1 Th. 1:9). In fact, all Christians are part of God’s new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). This is the most important new start we can make.

Each Day
Each day is a new day. It brings fresh opportunities and challenges. We can make a new start each day to follow Christ and serve His purposes in our part of His world. This means being willing to dispose of the rubbish in our lives and to allow the Holy Spirit to renew our thoughts and attitudes (Eph. 4:23-24). Prayer and recalling God’s goodness is a great way to start each day (Ps. 5:3; 88:13). Then we will know, like Jeremiah, that God’s faithfulness is great; His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:23).

Published: February 2004


From The Cradle To The Cross

The incarnation leads to God’s presence

On December 25 we remember the birth of Jesus Christ. This central event in history divided the calendar into BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of our Lord”). He was born to die, His name meaning “He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21 NIV). In this article we will look at four similarities between Christ’s birth and His death.

Foretold
Approximately 700 BC Isaiah wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And “the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel” (Isa. 9:6; 7:14). In the same time period, Micah predicted, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Mic. 5:2).

In about 530 BC Daniel wrote, “After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing” (Dan. 9:26). This is a reference to the sudden death of the Messiah. Christ’s suffering was described beforehand by Isaiah: “His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness … He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteem Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed … He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open his mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away. And who can speak of His descendants? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was stricken” (Isa. 52:13-53:12). So the Old Testament prophets foretold the circumstances of the Messiah’s birth and death.

Where No One Had Ever Been Laid
When Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for the census, the only accommodation they could find was in the stable of an inn: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk. 2:6-7). So the cattle trough became the cradle for the Messiah! What an unusual place for a baby – the manger would not have been used for this purpose before! This was God’s plan as it was announced to the shepherds. It also shows that He was born a pauper (2 Cor. 8:9).

After the Lord’s death, Joseph of Arimathea placed the body “in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock” (Mt. 27:60). It was a place where “no one had ever been laid” (Lk. 23:53; Jn. 19:41). This was the fulfillment of the prediction that “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death” (Isa. 53:9). Although the Lord was crucified as a criminal, He was buried in a rich man’s tomb, Joseph being a prominent member of the Jewish Council (Mk. 15:43). As H. A. Berg’s hymn says:

None had been laid in that manger
And none had been laid in that grave
But Jesus the heavenly stranger
Who came wayward sinners to save

Opposition
After King Herod heard about the birth of the King of the Jews “he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Mt. 2:3). So he asked the wise men to search for the child and report back to him. When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the astrologers, “he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under” (Mt. 2:8,16). What a drastic measure to take against a potential rival! In the meantime, Jesus and His family escaped to Egypt until Herod died.

 

The authorities felt threatened and responded with hatred and opposition that continued during the Lord’s ministry until He was condemned to death by the Chief Priests, the Jewish elders, Pilate and Herod. They even persuaded the crowd to ask for the release of the murderer Barabbas and Christ’s crucifixion even though He was innocent (Mt. 27:16-23; Mk. 15:6-14). The title on His cross was “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” but the Chief Priests protested that the sign should read, “this man claimed to be king of the Jews” (Jn. 19:21).

Signs In The Sky
The astrologers (or Magi, a sacred caste of the religion of the Medes and Persians) traveled to Jerusalem in search of the Christ-child, because they “saw His star in the East.” When they saw the star, they were overjoyed because it stopped over the place where the child was (Mt. 2:2,10). God used a special star to guide these men to a particular house.

We can learn much from their behavior recorded in Matthew 2:2-12. They came to worship Him. This was a genuine desire, not a selfish one like Herod’s. They came with joy and “bowed down and worshiped Him.” They brought gifts of gold (symbolic of a king), incense (a perfume symbolizing the Lord’s sinless life) and myrrh (a bitter herb symbolizing the Lord’s suffering). Do we bring gifts to the Lord for Him to use for His purposes?

When the Lord was on the cross there was darkness “over all the land” for three hours after noon (Mt. 27:45). This would have been incredible – like an extended total solar eclipse. During this time He bore God’s judgment of the sins of mankind. After this, He chose to die by dismissing His spirit. “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split” (Mt. 27:50-51). So there was an earthquake, and the heavy curtain inside the temple – the door to the Holiest place where God dwelt – was torn in two. This would have been a catastrophe for the Jewish religious leaders because it exposed the most sacred place where only the High Priest was allowed to enter once each year on the Day of Atonement. This was God’s doing, as it was torn from top to bottom, not bottom to top.

The symbolism of this event is explained in Hebrews 10:19-22 this way: “Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” The curtain represented Christ’s body and through His death all believers can enter God’s presence in prayer and praise at any time. It was God’s way of opening the door to a relationship with Him (Rev. 3:20).

Hymn writer Gerrit Gustafson put it this way:
Only by grace can we enter
Only by grace can we stand
Not by our human endeavor
But by the blood of the Lamb

Into Your presence You call us

You call us to come
Into Your presence You draw us
And now by Your grace we come

Now by Your grace we come.

May we avail ourselves of this privilege of entering the open door of God’s presence as we celebrate His birth during this Christmas season.

Published: December 2002

See the other article in this series:
From the Cross to the Crown


When God Lived On Earth

An illustration of the incarnation

At Christmas, we remember the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. Although He was born into an ordinary family in an ordinary town in Israel, He was not an ordinary person – His life and death were unique. It has been said that the opening verses of John’s gospel are the words of an early Christian hymn. Let’s look at the final verse of this so-called hymn as written by the apostle John: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14 NIV).

John was a disciple who spent much time with Jesus Christ; they may have been cousins (Mt. 27:56; Mk. 15:40; Jn. 19:25). He was one of the three apostles closest to Jesus, the other two being Peter and James.

God lived among us
The first sentence of John 1:14 says that God chose to come into the world in a human body and for a while lived among us. John said that He “tabernacled” among us. John witnessed that Jesus was a real human being and not a myth or an illusion, because he saw, touched and listened to Him (1 Jn. 1:1-3).

This illustration reminds us of how God dwelt among His people during the Old Testament period in the tabernacle and the temple. As the tabernacle was a tent, this is the equivalent of saying that Christ “pitched His tent” among us. Of course a tent is the temporary dwelling of a traveller or nomad, which is used in Scripture to illustrate the mortal human body (2 Cor. 5:1,4; 2 Pet. 1:13). Jesus lived in the tent of His body for 33 years, so it was not a short appearance of God on earth.

Pitching a tent in a wilderness can be an adventure, as you may face danger and all types of weather. Some years ago I went on a four-day hike in a National Park and we carried our tent with us. This was easy compared to Christ’s 33 year journey through a sinful world.

Jesus was unique
In the second sentence of John 1:14, John summarizes the key attributes of Jesus Christ. He is described as the “One and Only” or the “only begotten” – which means that He was the sole representative of God. As God’s unique Son, Christ is equal to God. In fact John wrote his account so that we would realize that Jesus is truly God (Jn. 20:30-31).

His glory was evident. During the three years that John followed the Lord he witnessed the perfect life and character of Jesus, the sinless one. Jesus Christ was the only person to have lived on earth who did not sin. Because of His miraculous conception, Jesus did not inherit a sinful nature from Adam (Mt. 1:18-21). His is the only instance of a birth without a father – the pregnancy was a miracle of the Holy Spirit. To sin is to fall short of the glory of God. As everyone else has sinned, no other person has shown this glory (Rom. 3:23).

John also saw the bright shining light, which was seen when God was present, as he watched when Christ’s “face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light” (Mt. 17:1-9; 2 Pet. 1:16-18). This was a visible demonstration of His deity, similar to the glory cloud in the Old Testament which symbolized the presence of God.

He was divine. John wrote that Christ “came from the Father” and he heard God say, “This is my Son, whom I love” – indicating that Christ was the divine Son of God.

The name Jesus Christ indicates His humanity and His deity: “Jesus” was the name given at His birth, and “Christ” means God’s anointed one, the Messiah. He was indeed “God with us” – not only as a baby, but throughout His time on earth (Mt. 1:23).

He was “full of grace and truth.” John also testified of Christ’s kindness to others, His honesty and the absence of any sin or evil in His life. Christ’s greatest act of kindness was His unjust death for our sinfulness. Furthermore, all who believe on the Lord Jesus receive abundant blessings (Jn. 1:16).

Although He loved sinners, He did not love their sin. He realized that the wages of sin is death and so He died to pay the penalty of death that we deserved in order to save our souls and give us a home in heaven.

Why God lived on earth
Jesus was sent to save, for eternal life, all those who believe in Him – He was “the Savior of the world” (Jn. 3:16; 4:42; 6:40). Do you agree with John’s assessment of Jesus Christ? Do you realize that God lived among us for a while so that we in turn can live with Him in future (Jn. 14:3)? But His coming to earth can also help us today.

Many people long for God’s presence at Christmas. They should remember that the God who pitched His tent with us on the very first Christmas promises to take up permanent residence with all those who turn and put their trust in Him (Jn. 14:15-26). This means that if you have already put your trust in God, you need look no further for God’s powerful presence. He lives in you in the person of His Spirit and will remain with you. Nothing can separate you from His love and care.

Published: December 2001


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