In Matthew 3, we catch our first glimpse of John the Baptist, Jesus’ first cousin. John has an important role as the forerunner of Jesus’ ministry. He was the one who had been given the privilege to announce the coming of the God’s kingdom. Three words stand out to me as I read John’s story.
John came to announce the coming of God’s kingdom in Christ. His purpose was to tell everyone that God’s kingdom was coming, that Jesus was coming. (He had been born and he was preparing to begin his earthly ministry.) John understood his role as herald. He was to proclaim the kingdom arrival and the presence of its king. The gospel is an announcement. It’s an announcement of what Christ has done.
John did not mince words when he preached. He called sin, sin. He challenged people to repent from their sin and to follow God. Repentance was what his baptism was all about. It symbolized a going through the waters of judgment, resting in the grace of God, and committing ones eyes upon righteousness. John told his listener that they needed to repent in order to be prepared to receive the most glorious king who was coming.
John called the religious leaders on their religious presumption. They had presumed that because they were ethnically tied to Abraham that God really wasn’t interested in the change in their lifestyles. Wrong. They presumed on the basis of God’s kindness that they had little to be concerned about. God demands holiness. He opened the door to holiness and true repentance in the baptism of Jesus. Religious presumption is a dangerous thing.
I take two challenges from this chapter. First, announce the presence of the kingdom. The king has come. Announce the good news to the world. When you make a public or private announcement of the kingdom, you are proclaiming what Jesus has already done. Find someone to whom you can be a herald of God’s grace in Christ. Second, beware of religious presumption. Be on your guard. Confess the entitlement sins you bear before the Lord. Repent from that sin. Make sure that you take spiritual inventory of your life daily.
(This is going to be difficult. Confessing entitlement sins is not fun, but it has to be done.)
Jesus is the king of the nations. He’s the king of the world. He didn’t simply come to the Jews like many thought he would. He came for the Gentiles too. The fact that the wise men saw a star tells us that God intended to draw them to himself. He called them to himself. He pursued them long before they ever pursued him. In the same way, he has pursued our souls. A God who pursues us in this way is irresistible. “Jesus sought me when a stranger wondering from the fold of God, he to rescue me from danger interposed his precious blood.”
Two words came to mind as I read chapter 2. Grace and Providence. God is gracious in his dealings with the wise men. He pursued them. He welcomed them. He protected them on their journey and from Herod. God exercised his providence in the way he ordered the events of Jesus’ early years to preserve his life. God is in control of all of history. He orders the events of history in order to accomplish his purposes. And, he does this in a way that preserves our choice to follow him. This passage allows us to experience both his grace and providence.
Herod and the religious leaders in Jerusalem were physically and religiously close to the birth of Jesus. Bethlehem wasn’t far from Jerusalem. Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem; yet, the leaders in Jerusalem didn’t recognize Jesus. It is possible to be close to Jesus and still not know him, not recognize him, not live unto him. Our challenge today is to seek out the king of the nations, to intentionally stop and interact with him. We can do this by offering simple “arrow” prayers as our day progresses.
An example of an “arrow” prayer is, “Lord, thank you for ordering my life. You are a God of grace. Help me to see you in everything.”
Matthew wrote his Gospel to present Jesus to us as the true Heaven sent king of kings and to challenge us to give our lives for this king, His kingdom, and His glory. Chapter 1 has two main sections. The first 17 verses deal with Jesus’ genealogy and verses 18-25 tell of Joseph’s visit from the angel and Jesus’ birth.
Come (How does this passage bid me to come to Jesus?)
Jesus has two names. One, Jesus, means “God will save,” and the other, Immanuel, means “God with us” (21,23). This means that Jesus came to be with me and to save me from my sins. What an amazing truth that is! I couldn’t get to him, so he came to be with me. And, he came to be with me personally, to build a relationship with me, to know me. I am compelled to come to him because he came to me.
Experience (How does this passage help me to experience life with Jesus?)
God’s faithfulness is written all over chapter 1. Jesus is presented as the “son of David” and “the son of Abraham” (1). He is the fulfillment of the promises God made to His people in the Old Testament. Because God was faithful to fulfill his promises, I know He will be faithful to keep all the promises he has made to me. That’s comforting to my soul. It encourages my rest in Him. He’s a covenant keeper. All God’s promises are “Yes and Amen in Christ” (1 Cor. 1:20).
Follow (How does this passage challenge me to practically follow Jesus?)
God fulfilled His promises with the impossible. Jesus was born of a virgin. That is impossible, but yet it happened. My challenge today is to look for the impossible ways in which God shows up in my life — Where is He? What has he done? What are the new and startling ways in which he is fulfilling his promises by his wonderful love and grace? When I see the evidence of God at work in my life, I’m going to write it down. Then, I’ll make a special point to thank God for his miraculous grace in my life.
During 2014, it is my goal to read and comment on the entire New Testament. The plan is simple: read one chapter a day five days a week and make a few points of personal application. In some cases, this will be a rather easy and painless endeavor. However, at other times, I am confident that there will be great toil, conviction, and inner reflection as the Scriptures penetrate my life and challenge me in direct ways.
I would love for you to join me on this experiment. I am not sure where God will lead us, nor am I sure about what he will teach us, but I am confident that his grace will sustain us. I am also certain that we will be more devoted followers of Jesus at the end of 2014 than we are now. That is, if we are willing to let God speak into our lives and to discipline ourselves to follow through with the plan.
I will begin on January 5, 2014 with Matthew 1. See you then.
Yesterday I mentioned an online article about inviting people to church. This link will take you to the article. I encourage you to take a moment to read the brief article. My favorite line in the article is, “Every invitation to church is an ‘I love you and I want this indescribable love, peace, and joy for you because I genuinely care about you.'”
If you’ve had someone on your mind recently that you wanted to invite to church, invite them. If you meet someone new, invite them to church. Invite them because you love them. Invite them because you want better for them – you want them to know Jesus.
If you’ve received this email and you haven’t been to church in a while, then this is my special invitation to you to join us Sunday morning. I want you to know and grow in Jesus! It’s my greatest desire for each and every one of you. May The Lord bless you in his grace. Christmas is a great time to experience God’s grace and love in Christ anew.
I’m often asked the question, “What is the Bible about?” My response is simple: Jesus. The entire Bible is about Jesus. He is the center of the story. He is the center of God’s love story — the story of God’s love for his people. Jesus said as much himself. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-18).
Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets because the Old Testament was written about him. He established their true purpose and intent in his teaching and accomplished them in his obedient life.
He Did It in Four Primary Functions
This Matters Because…
Jesus and His Gospel are the center of the Bible. Everything in the Bible points to Him. Then….
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the los of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own…but that which comes through faith in Christ…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:8-11 (NIV)
Recently, I have thought more and more about the question: Why don’t we see the kinds of things that those who walked with Jesus saw? Why don’t we see the healings? Why don’t we experience the power? Is it because they walked in a specific time with a specific pouring out of God’s power in the person of His Son – Jesus Christ? I suppose so. But, didn’t Jesus say, “…whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works that these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Is it because God works in the spiritual realm now (since the ascension of Jesus), not so much in the physical one? I guess you could say that, but isn’t that idea challenged by the testimony of the Christians in Acts along with the testimonies of Christians throughout history, and even some today? Now, I must admit that the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom in the present, and we await its physical consummation in the future. But, that doesn’t mean that the physical realities of the future aren’t expressed in the present world in which we live, does it? No. Then, why are our Christian experiences so lacking of the power of Christ that was so evident when he walked on earth and just after his ascension when his church was being formed?
Many people would explain this by saying that we experience a “crisis of faith.” In other words, we don’t believe enough. But, how do you quantify belief? You either believe or you don’t, just as you’re either pregnant or not. You can’t be a little bit pregnant, and you can’t have a little bit of belief if you hold to the biblical gospel. If the amount of belief you have determines the depth of your relationship with Christ, then your belief becomes the work upon which you are saved. And, that is no salvation at all. So, we have to reject that.
I believe the reason that we lack power is an issue of PRIDE. It’s one thing to believe in Christ; it’s another thing to depend upon Christ. It’s one thing to call upon your belief from time to time, even regularly in your life; but, it’s a whole other thing to draw every breath from your faith in Christ, to get your very lifeblood from him. In order to do that we must be humbled in his grace. That’s what Paul writes, isn’t it? I’ve given it all up for the righteousness that comes through faith so that I may by any means possible attain the power of the resurrection of the dead. And Paul saw that resurrection power at work in him and in the church as others sought the same goal –the glory of Christ – in their brokenness before Christ. Let me ask you, do you know that broken dependence upon Jesus about which Paul testifies?
Let me give you a test to help you answer that question. What do you do when there is trouble in your life, when life is too big for you, when you can’t make heads or tails of life? What do you do? Do you withdraw from God and his people? Do you isolate yourself saying, “I just need to deal with this personal issue by myself? I don’t want to burden people with my problems. When I get it all figured out, I’ll be straight and get back with God’s people.” Do you get angry with yourself? With others who aren’t struggling? With God? Do you find yourself joyless – not struggling with depression (we all do that), but completely devoid of joy? Are you overwhelmed by shame? If so, and if you are doing these things, the chances are pretty high that you aren’t living in the full resurrection power of Christ. This is because your life depends upon what you do rather on what God has done in Christ and is doing through his Spirit in the lives of his people.
So, the question remains: Why don’t we see the things the disciples saw? Why don’t experience the working of the resurrection power in our lives? I think it’s simple: we are too proud to depend upon Christ, to draw our very breath from him. Friends, we don’t have a faith problem. We have a PRIDE problem. May God humble us and break us in his grace so that we can know his power and say, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the los of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own…but that which comes through faith in Christ…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Its been a while since I last wrote. The summer has been busy, and quite frankly, life with a 1 yr. old running around the house is anything but relaxing! Its great, but exhausting. My goal is to begin to post on Tuesdays, maybe more.
One of the fundamentals of our congregation is Christ-honoring service. We talk about it all the time. How do we honor Christ as we serve him in this world? Christian ministry takes place more outside side of the context of the congregation than it does inside it. As a congregation we are to be a launching pad to ministering to those outside the kingdom of Christ and so advance His kingdom. That’s one of the fundamentals of being a disciple of Christ. Jesus trained and commissioned his disciples to go and proclaim the kingdom of God while he was still with them (Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-12) and then after he ascended into Heaven (Matthew 28:18-20). One of the ways they were to proclaim his kingdom was through Christ-honoring service. This is true for us too. And so, since we hold this Christ-honoring as a fundamental of our congregation, we have challenged each other to honor Christ by investing our lives in avenues of service so as to proclaim the kingdom of Christ and to bring people into it.
And so, I was thrilled and encouraged greatly in the Lord when I read a piece in the Rock Hill Herald about one of our students, Peyton Marion. To impact the world for Christ, to invest in others, Peyton spear-headed an effort to collect soccer cleats for children in Liberia who do not have shoes and cleats in which to play the game they love. As I read the article two Bible verses came to mind — “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it in a matter worthy of the Lord” (Col. 3:17) and “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). Peyton put his faith to work. May we all be challenged and encouraged by Peyton’s example of faith in action — Christ-honoring service. Well done Peyton!
Check out the article here if you haven’t already seen it.
Last night, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. R.J. Gore preach at my good friend Kyle Sims’ church in Lancaster. Dr. Gore chose as his text 2 Corinthians 4:1-10. His main point was that the light of the gospel, Jesus Christ as Lord, is best seen from pots that are cracked. A cracked pot releases the treasure that is found within. This is especially the case if the treasure is light and the pot is a luminary set in a dark place. As the light shines it illuminates the room so folks can see. The more the pot is cracked, the more brightly the light shines. Dr. Gore pointed out that Paul referred to himself as a cracked pot who had suffered many afflictions for the sake of Christ so that “the life of Jesus may be made known in his body” (2 Cor. 4:10). There was and still is much fruit in Paul’s affliction.
Dr. Gore used three examples of cracked pots in Christian history in addition to himself. He told the stories of David Brainerd, John Bunyan, and William Cowper. Each of these three men were severely cracked pots. Brainerd was sickly, melancholic, and weak; Bunyan was arrested and held captive much of his life for preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified; and, Cowper suffered depression and mental breakdown under the pressure of guilt and self-condemnation. But yet, the Lord shined brightly through each of them. The pots were cracked, but the light was bright. The pot is the vessel. There is nothing particularly special about it. It’s ordinary. But, the treasure is priceless! The treasure contained by the pot is the pot’s glory. A vessel that contains the light of Jesus is a vessel full of glory. And in that case, the more cracks the better.
Wasn’t this the case with the Lord Jesus. The true light of the world had come into the world in a clay pot – a human vessel. He was broken; he was crushed; he was abandoned. But his treasure of truth shined for all the world to see. The centurion by the cross proclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” The women attending the cross saw the the light of glory shine in its brightest ray when the Lord Jesus said, “It is finished.” His pot was crushed, but his light shined for all the world to see.
That got me thinking. If I were to attempt to lighten a dark room with clay pot luminaries, I would need one of two things. I would either need a lot of luminaries in pristine condition, or I would need a few luminaries with multiple cracks in them. When God wants to illuminate the world, he has both at his disposal. Sometimes he has multiple pots, and other times he simply has a few or, even, a single one. The number he uses and the way he uses them is a decision of his providence. However, you and I can decide whether or not we will allow him to use us. Sometimes he wants to use us together, and yet other times, he wants to use us alone. So that we can shine as brightly as we can, he often has to crack us. That’s not pleasant, but it is glorious. We are the vessels, he is the treasure! May we let him use us to shine ever so brightly for his glory.
Why would I call my blog poolsandpastures? That’s a good question. The term poolsandpastures has its roots in Psalm 23. The Shepherd leads his sheep by pools of still water to refresh their thirsty bodies and into green pastures to sustain them for the journey of life that lies ahead. Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, leads his sheep into the pools of living water to refresh their souls and into the the treasure trove of heavenly manna to sustain their lives in his grace. As his under-shepherd, it is my great privilege to lead his sheep in his footsteps and into the pools of refreshment and into the pastures full of sustenance which he chooses. I pray for the Lord’s blessing upon us as we follow him, the great and good shepherd. Blessings.