Kingdom Matters

News and views regarding the kingdom of God

Consider This: #1

The prohibition of human sacrifice by fire.

I suspect that the topic of human sacrifice is probably not high on your list of worthwhile things to read about but I have a point in doing so. If you can bear with me to the end you might notice something worthy of consideration.

First a little background information regarding human sacrifice to foreign gods. The book of Exodus tells the story of Israel’s liberation from Egypt. Once Israel was set free they were led by God, through Moses, into the desert where they received God’s law and instructions for the practice of worship. This part of their journey was important because God had expressly forbidden them to emulate any of the worship practices of the nations they were about to dispossess.[1]

Especially egregious to God was the practice of human sacrifice. Animal sacrifice was common in biblical times and practiced among all the nations, but human sacrifice was extreme and unacceptable under any circumstances.[2] In fact, so loathsome to God was the ritual of human sacrifice that it warranted capital punishment. Those committing such a crime were to be put to death and if Israel failed to do so God himself would carry out the sentence.[3]

Well, it took some time but eventually Israel did that which God had forbidden. They worshiped idols and made their sons and daughters pass through the fire.[4] Many of the prophets of the Old Testament attest to Israel’s departure from serving God to worship idols and practice human sacrifice by fire – a practice condemned by God, a practice in which God declared he, “never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind.”[5] Think about it. The idea of forcing a human being to be burned alive in fire never entered God’s mind. This practice never had its origin in God.

In a similar vein, there is a story in the gospel of Luke where the idea of calling down fire from heaven to destroy the enemies of Christ is presented to Jesus by two of his disciples. As the tale is told, Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem where he knows (and has announced repeatedly) death on a cross awaits him. He sought to pass through a Samaritan village and sent messengers ahead to prepare the way, but the villagers refused to welcome Jesus because they knew he was headed for Jerusalem and they didn’t approve. Apparently they hoped to keep Jesus around awhile longer.

Outraged at such insolence James and John said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”[6] But he (Jesus) turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”[7]

It’s interesting to me that both the Old and New Testament, or more precisely, God and Jesus, corroborate on the idea that human combustion is not something that either of them endorse. Moreover, the thought that God would condone such a practice does not come from the Holy Spirit but from the kind of spirit that is not of God. God’s goal in sending Jesus was never for the purpose of destroying people but saving them; something evangelicals need desperately to consider.

And while there are many questions that are raised by the concept of Hell here is just one that is worthy of consideration: Given the fact that God deems the idea of human sacrifice by fire an abomination, which he never commanded, nor did it ever enter his mind, and that the concept does not originate from the Holy Spirit but a different kind of spirit, and the truth that God is not in the business of destroying life but saving it – how is that God responsible for the invention of eternal conscious torment in the fires of Hell?

[1] Deuteronomy 12:29-31

[2] Leviticus 18:21

[3] Leviticus 20:1-5

[4] 2Kings 17, esp. v.17

[5] Jeremiah 7:31-31; 19:4-5; 32:35

[6] Luke 9:54 (NASB); Here “fire” is employed for judgment rather than sacrificial worship but the idea of burning people alive is the common fact.

[7] Luke 9:55 (NASB); Important to note is that the bold/italicized part of this verse is not found in the earliest and best manuscripts; however, as it gives content to Jesus’ rebuke some modern translations have chosen to retain these words whereas others have not.

The Grand Reversal

The book of Colossians is a wonderful expose’ on the glory and goodness of God. In its pages are also instructions regarding faithful Christian living and service but preceding all that are statements of the magnificence of God and his glorious Christ.[1] Written by the Apostle Paul, there is one remark in particular that captures his grandeur and ties it to one single event, one moment in history. Observe.

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him (Jesus), and through Him to reconcile all things to himself whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.[2]

First, let it be noted that these marvelous words are contained within a greater context. There are verses leading up to this revelation as well as those that follow, and I will endeavor to be true to that context; however, these are my primary focus.

On the side of “leading up to” these verses, the following observations will help to establish context. Paul began his epistle by offering praise to the saints in Colosse for their faithful response to the gospel of God’s grace and the brotherly love it had produced in their lives. The spiritual success of the Colossian believers was reported to Paul by Epaphras, a colleague, who had relayed this information to him while he was a prisoner in Rome. This news inspired Paul and his coworkers to pray that these saints would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so that they would live their lives in a manner worthy of the Lord… pleasing him always… bearing fruit in every good work… increasing in the knowledge of God… being empowered to persevere with patience whatever suffering or hardship they might face as a result of their faith… and to joyously give thanks to Father God who had qualified them to share in the inheritance of the saints of light.[3] And why should Christians be joyous in the midst of trial, hardship, adversity, suffering, and uncertainty? The reason is because God has rescued us from the domain of darkness,[4] and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (vs. 13-14).

It is at this point in Paul’s letter that he shifts his attention off of the saints and onto Jesus. Who is this Jesus character, what has he accomplished, and why does it matter? Those are big questions. They are questions we should all be asking, believer and unbeliever alike.

To start with Paul describes Jesus as the image of the invisible God. What is God like? He is like Jesus. What is Jesus like? Well, he is like God! God is not one way and Jesus another, they are of one heart and one mind in all things. In fact, I would go so far as to say they are inseparable in thought, word and deed. The two are one and act as one, with one distinguishable difference – Jesus is human (God incarnate).

By Jesus “all things” were created – things in the heavens and on earth, things visible and invisible, things that include thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities. All things were created through him and for him and in him all things are sustained. He is before all things, meaning in everything he has preeminence or superiority. This, as Paul explained, means that apart from Jesus there would be no church of which he is the head; it started with him. Apart from Jesus there would be no resurrection, for he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. From Paul’s description of Jesus so far one begins to understand his significance to both the universe and humanity but he is not quite finished as we now come to the italicized verses above, which stand at the pinnacle of Paul’s portrayal of Christ.

It’s as though Paul was building up to this capstone text as he revealed to the Colossians that it was Father God’s good pleasure for all the fullness (of deity) to dwell in Jesus, and through him to reconcile all things (things on earth and in heaven) to himself, having made peace by the blood of the cross.

A few obvious questions: Why do “all things” need to be reconciled to God? Why does Paul identify Jesus as the Creator of all that exists, including spiritual powers, dominions, rulers and authorities? Who was it that crucified our Lord? Was it not those in power, whether visible or invisible? Was it not those in rebellion to the will of God?[5] And finally, where did the rebellion against God and his Christ begin? It seems to me that Paul is describing is a grand reversal of what theologians label as “the fall,” which is outlined in Genesis 3. At the cross everything that went wrong in Genesis 3 was reversed and the prophetic word of Genesis 3:15 was fulfilled.

To further substantiate the grand reversal notice the tense of the verbs Paul used to describe it. God, the Father, sent Jesus, the Son, to earth where humanity was rescued (past tense) from the domain of darkness and transferred (past tense) to the kingdom of Christ, in whom we have redemption (past tense), and forgiveness of sins, and reconciliation (past tense) to God, having made peace (past tense) through the blood of his cross. Rescued from the realm of darkness? Done. Transferred to the realm of Jesus? Done. Redeemed? Forgiven? Reconciled? At peace with God? Done, done, done, and done!

It might also be interesting to note that the Greek word that Paul used for “reconcile” conveys the idea of the restoration of a previously existing relationship as well as reconciliation to a former state or condition.[6] To be reconciled to God is like being reunited, restored, redeemed, and reconnected. Why is this an important truth? Why does the fact that we have been reconciled matter? It matters because of what Paul wrote immediately following his explanation of reconciliation.

“And you were (past tense) at one time strangers and enemies in your minds as expressed through your evil deeds, but now he has reconciled you (past tense) by his physical body through death to present (past tense) you holy, without blemish, and blameless before him.”[7]

Let me ask another question. Before you understood that you were reconciled to God through Christ’s blood on the cross were you an actual enemy of God or were you simply an enemy in your mind? I suggest to you that the spiritual battle over our souls has always been fought in our minds. Do you view God as an ally? Is he friend or foe? Your answer to the question reveals how you view God, not how God views you. The truth is God has reconciled “all things” to himself through Christ’s blood on the cross whether you believe it or not; however, what you believe matters because if you believe you are an enemy of God you will act out of that belief and the result will be evil deeds. But if in your mind you believe you are reconciled then you will act as one who has been forgiven his/her sins. You will experience the grace of God and his love will grow in your heart just as it did in the Colossian believers of whom Paul wrote.

Finally, Paul concludes his argument with an exhortation to continue in the faith, steadfast and firm, not being moved away from the hope of the gospel of God’s grace. Some would see Paul’s words here as a condition. They would contend that one is only reconciled to God if one continues to believe. If that were the case he would be contradicting his preceding statements regarding the superiority of Christ to reconcile “all things” to God. I believe it is more accurate to say that Paul is encouraging the Colossian believers to persevere in the faith despite the potential hardships and trials they might face due to persecution. In light of those circumstances the temptation to renounce one’s faith would be great. Remaining steadfast in the face of opposition only serves to confirm what is already true, which is, right now, today, you stand before God holy, without blemish, and blameless – not because of what you’ve done, but because of what Jesus did on the cross. Either you believe it or you don’t. If you don’t but want to all you have to do is change your mind about what you believe, which is precisely what it means to repent.[8]

[1] Christ, meaning “The Anointed One”

[2] Colossians 1:19-20 (NASB2020)

[3] Those who have been enlightened to the truth of God’s grace.

[4] Those who remain ignorant to the truth of God’s grace.

[5] Psalm 2 is a great depiction of the spiritual warfare Paul alludes to here.

[6] The Complete Biblical Library (Missouri: Springfield, 1990) Vol. 11: Greek-English Dictionary, Alpha-Gamma, 371

[7] Colossians 1:21-22 (The NET Bible)

[8] The Complete Biblical Library (Missouri: Springfield, 1990) Vol. 14: Greek-English Dictionary, Lambda-Omicron, 171

The Hammer of God’s Love

There is power in testimony. The following is a personal recollection of how God demonstrated his love to me during a time of need. This particular drama took place more than a decade ago but has had an everlasting impact on my relationship to God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ. There is a bit of back story that led up to “the Hammer” event. So if you feel up to it, please indulge me.

First, about the Hammer. I used to farm for a living. It was a wheat farm. I drove a tractor, pulled various implements through the dirt, and (as entropy – the gradual decline into disorder – would have it) repaired those same implements whenever necessary. Of course I had tools to help me mend broken machinery. One of those tools was a three pound sledge hammer, which I fondly referred to as “the persuader,” so called because no matter how difficult the fix this hammer got the job done! There wasn’t much that could resist the onslaught of “the Persuader”.

I loved that hammer. It was my favorite tool. I never left the cab without it because invariably I would always need it, if only for small issues, and carrying it along just in case the need arose beat returning to the cab to fetch it. The Hammer became, in some ways, a constant companion, a way of life on the farm, and a trusted friend. I bet you think you know where I’m headed with this story. You might be right. We shall see.  

One day I was in the field repairing an implement. My hammer tagged along as usual, but it turned out I didn’t need it so I set it down on the frame of the implement and finished repairs. Then I gathered up my tools, except for my hammer, and returned to the cab to resume operations. It wasn’t until the next time something needed fixing that I realized my hammer was missing. I had lost my hammer! Panic ensued. I got angry at my stupidity; how could I have forgotten my beloved hammer? I looked long and hard for my hammer but never found it. I had lost my hammer. Sad face emoji inserted here.

What does one do when faced with such deep seated loss and grief over a precious hammer? Well, what I did was go to Sears and bought a new hammer. I loved my new hammer, even more than the one I lost. It was a perfect replacement, prettier color, better grip, and a shorter handle for increased accuracy with every fast and ferocious swing. I stopped looking for the old hammer. I had found a new love. Sad face emoji transformed to happy face. The sun had begun shining again.

Soon after the drama of losing my hammer and replacing it with a new improved version I changed careers. I became a pastor where I didn’t have much use for hammers anymore. In the tool box it went and stayed for the most part. Now fast forward a dozen years or so to my second pastoral assignment at Addy New Life Christian Center located in Addy, Washington. I served on staff there for three years as an associate pastor. Toward the end of my third year the senior pastor announced that he was going to retire for personal reasons, and because he had heard from the Lord that it was time. I was appointed by the senior pastor, with board approval, to be the interim pastor while a pastoral search committee was formed, as per the church constitution. To make a long story short I was a candidate for the position but my candidacy was opposed by several members of the board. It was an excruciatingly painful year for me. I likened it to a modern day presidential election complete with campaigning, mudslinging, character assassination and the like. In the end, after a new pastor was appointed, I was encouraged to resign. For the first time in my life I became unemployed. The sad face emoji returned – with a vengeance.

I imagine that you can imagine how I felt. Maybe you can’t. It felt like I had failed, like I had been betrayed, like I had been stabbed in the back by one I called friend, like I was not good enough, like I had been abandoned by God, like I was unlovable. I was depressed, discouraged, disappointed, etc. If it were not for the love and support of a few close friends it would have been completely unbearable.

At the same time as all this was happening my family of origin was going through a farm split. Tensions were high, relationships were disintegrating, and decisions regarding the farm were being made without unanimous consent or approval. I guess the old adage is true, “when it rains, it pours!” In the end it turned out that the farm was divided. One of my sisters got half of the farm and me and two other sisters got the other half. There was more to it than that, being disinherited for example, but I think you get the picture. Not a fun time, not a feel good time. Insert several more sad emojis – ones with tears.

Being that I was out of work, and there was much needed work to be done on the farm, my sister who was operating our half invited me to come help with the reorganization. When I left the farm for the ministry I never imagined that I would come back to it as a seasonal farm laborer but here I was. My wife and kids remained in our home in Chewelah while I stayed on the farm and came home on the weekends. This went on for two years, spring through fall.

I had a lot of time to reflect on the farm. A book I read had a profound effect on me. It was titled “When the Pieces Don’t Fit… God Makes the Difference,” by Glaphre’ Gilliland[1] In this book the author tells her life story. In her youth she was very active in her faith and served the Lord with fervor. The Lord used her in powerful ways to bring hope and healing to hurting lives. Later in life she was diagnosed with an incurable disease that she never did name, but that caused her to become physically deformed in some way. As her body slowly deteriorated she prayed often to God to be healed of her illness but to no avail. He had used her to heal others but when she needed healing it wasn’t granted to her. She became discouraged and began to doubt God’s love for her. She was assured over and over again in her devotions as she read her Bible that God did indeed love her but it had become difficult for her to believe. One day she prayed a prayer. It was a simple prayer that reflected one request, “God, show me how much you love me.” She had come to a point where she needed tangible evidence of God’s love not just written promises. That prayer really resonated with me and I decided to pray the same prayer.

The next day I found myself in the same field where I had lost my hammer so many years before. It was seeding time and the field had been harrowed. The harrow had left behind piles of weeds and debris which needed to be burned so the drill could get through. That was my job. When I came to the last pile to burn, it was up on a steep hillside. I was driving from pile to pile in a pickup burning as I went. I had to decide how to reach this last pile. The choices were walk up from the bottom or drive to the top and walk down. Since the pile was closer to the top I chose to walk down from the top. I arrived at the top and began my descent. Between me and the pile there was a shiny white object on the ground. I had no idea what it was. As I got closer I could hardly believe my eyes. There laying on top of the ground was my long lost hammer. A flood of memories came back to me as I remembered that hammer. I was astonished, as well as joyful, but also a bit bewildered. How was it that when I searched diligently and relentlessly for this hammer I couldn’t find it, but now without a thought in the world about this hammer it finds me?

That night, still puzzling over finding the hammer, I decided to ask God, “Why now, after all these years? I remember praying to find that hammer and it went unfound. Now I’m not praying to find it and I find it. What’s the deal?” Jesus then asked me a question, as he so often does. The thought came to mind, “What did you pray for last night?” I responded, “I asked you to show me how much you love me.” Another thought appeared, “Remember how much you loved that hammer? That’s how much I love you.” At that moment I was overcome by the love of God. The fact that he had preserved that hammer for over a dozen years – it was in remarkable condition – was one reason. Another reason was the fact that he had led me right to it. If I had walked up from the bottom I would not have seen it. If I had parked anywhere other than where I did it would not have been directly in my path and I might have missed it. No, it was obvious to me that he led me to it. He wanted me to find it. He wanted to insert happy face emojis all over the pages of my heart. He wanted me to know that his love for me is real, and everlasting, and unchanging despite what might seem to me to be unfortunate circumstances.

That hammer has become a symbol for me of God’s love. He has used it to teach me that no matter my circumstances his love never fails. God, like that hammer, is my constant companion, a way of life, and a trusted friend. These are certainly truths that I will hang on to and cherish forever.

I’m sure that many of you reading my reflection will identify with suffering and feelings of inadequacy. We all get them from time to time in various forms and degrees. Just remember Paul’s words in Romans 8:38, “So now I live with the confidence that there is nothing in the universe with the power to separate us from God’s love. I’m convinced that his love will triumph over death, life’s troubles, fallen angels, or dark rulers in the heavens. There is nothing in our present or future circumstances that can weaken his love.”[2]

Thanks for reading. Blessings to you all.

[1] Glaphre’ Gilliland, When the Pieces Don’t Fit: God Makes the Differnce (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House 1984)

[2] Quoted from The Passion Translation, Romans 8:38. I would encourage the reader to read Romans 8:31-39 for a more complete argument of God’s unfailing love.

God Is ______.

I was inspired recently to do a search in scripture of the phrase “God is.” My goal in such an endeavor was to learn what the Bible itself has to say about who God is and what he is like. I found a treasure-trove of information but before I get to it how would you fill in the blank, “God is ____.”

In describing who God is to you and I on a personal level the scriptures declare that he is… for me (Ps 56:9), he who fights for me (Josh 23:10), my refuge (Dt 33:27; Ps 46:1; 62:8), my helper (Ps 46:1; 54:4), my defense (Ps 59:9, 17), my salvation (Ps 62:7; Is 12:2), the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Ps 73:26; Hab 3:19) and my King from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth (Ps 74:12). From this list one might get the impression, and rightly so, that God thinks rather highly of each and every soul he has ever created (Ps 139:17-18; Jer 29:11; 1Pe 5:7).

Regardless of how you might feel about God – whether or not he is for you, or fights for you, or helps you, or defends you, or saves you – the truth is he is your King (like it or not) and he is in the business of working salvation in the midst of the earth, which has been led astray (Is 53:6). With that in mind I draw your attention to what the Bible has to say about who God is precisely, i.e. his nature, his character, and the essence of his being.

Scripture states that God is… A consuming fire, a jealous God (Dt 4:24; Heb 12:29), gracious and merciful (Dt 4:31; 2Ch 30:9; Ps 59:17; 116:5), wise in heart and mighty in strength (Job 9:4), mighty, but despises no one (Job 36:5), a just judge (Ps 7:11; 75:7), our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Ps 46:1), the King of all the earth (Ps 47:7), the God of salvation (Ps 68:20), a sun and shield (Ps 84:11), holy (Ps 99:9), righteous in all the works which he does (Dan 9:14), Spirit (Jn 4:24), faithful (1Co 1:9; 10:13; 2Co 1:18), One (Gal 3:20), Love (1Jn 1:5; 4:8, 16) and Light (1Jn 4:16). I would encourage you to take some time to ponder all these things regarding God – things that describe, explain, and reveal to us the nature and character of God. But in your reflection which of these would you identify as the essence of God?

I would wager my opinion that “LOVE” best fits as God’s essence. It’s the one character trait that seems to inform all the others. He is Holy because his love allows no room for unholiness. He is Righteous because to act unrighteously would contradict his love. He is One because love requires unity and Father, Son and Holy Spirit act in complete unison and are never out of step with each other. He is Spirit, meaning from another realm or dimension. From a spiritual realm, if you will, unlike the physical realm of humanity’s current confinement. Why is that important? It’s important because in love God wants everyone to know that this world is not all there is and that where we are now pales in comparison to where we will one day be.[1] God’s grace, his mercy, his wisdom, his faithfulness, his justice, and his desire for the salvation of all stems from his LOVE. These are the natural outpouring of love. God is light and in him is no darkness at all, not even a speck.

Now, you might have noticed that most of the scripture references that appeared in my search were from the Old Testament. I make a point of this because I would suggest to you that as good as these scriptures are they give only a partial understanding of who God is. The author of Hebrews began his New Testament letter with the following concept, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.[2] The apostle Paul added to this idea by informing us that, “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God… For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.[3] All this to say that if you want to know who God is and what he is like you have no further to look than in the person of Jesus Christ. And if you want to know what Jesus is like you need only look to those who knew him and wrote about him in the gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the epistles.

I leave you with a few questions. How has Jesus loved you? Have you experienced his love in a deeply personal way? Are you confident enough in his love to tell others what he means to you? You might be thinking, “You first!” To that I say, “Challenge accepted!” However, my goal continues to be to keep these musings brief in hopes that people will read them. I would love nothing more than to give testimony to God’s love and will do so when next we meet. Until then just remember that God loves you deeply, completely, infinitely, and eternally.

[1] Romans 8, esp. vs.18 (NIV)

[2] Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

[3] Colossians 1:15-20 (NIV)

What to Do?

In the gospel of John, chapter 6, Jesus is asked the question, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”[1] The question is not new, nor original. It can be traced as far back as when God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments. After the Exodus, and during the wilderness wanderings, God directed Moses to say to Israel, “You know how I brought you to myself and carried you on eagle’s wings. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the nations of the earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be to me a kingdom of priests, my holy nation.” So Moses related God’s instructions to the leaders of the people, to which they replied, “We will certainly do everything the LORD asks of us.”[2] The question is also reminiscent of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”[3] Humanity, so it seems, always wants something to do to merit salvation and earn God’s favor.

How does Jesus respond to the quest of the crowd, the rich young ruler, the Israelites of antiquity, and humanity in general? He simply stated, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”[4] Just believe! Believe in Jesus. Believe Jesus is the Son of God. Believe that he was sent by God to seek and to save that which was lost.[5] Believe that he is the Savior of the world,[6] as well as of those who believe.[7] Believe he has the power to deliver, to heal, to provide, to calm each and every storm that comes your way, and to raise even the dead to eternal life. Believe enough to listen and learn from the One who is the bread from heaven. Why is it that to simply “believe” is not enough for many people, even Christians? Why do we think there is something else we must do, some act to perform, some commandment to obey that will make us worthy and deserving of God’s grace?

History bears witness that humanity is not very reliable at the “doing” part. Ancient Israel was given the Ten Commandments to guide them in their development of love for God and love for fellow man. How did they do? Let’s just say things didn’t end well as they were eventually sent into exile having failed to keep their end of the bargain as noted above. The rich young ruler sadly left Jesus because he could not do the one thing Jesus asked of him, which was to sell all he owned, give it to the poor, and then to come follow him.[8] And what about the crowd of John, chapter 6? Jesus gave them something to do: Believe! But, unfortunately, they couldn’t even do that. The irony of their ensuing argument with Jesus would be hilarious were it not so tragic.

Instead of believing, the crowd challenged Jesus. They replied, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”[9] It seems the “miraculous sign” of feeding a multitude from five loaves and two fish didn’t qualify in their minds. “Show us the manna,” was their mantra, “and then we will believe.” But Jesus retorted, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”[10] At that the crowd finally climbs on board the Jesus ship… or do they? They demanded of Jesus, “Sir, give us that bread perpetually,” to which Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life.”[11] In fact, for the rest of the chapter Jesus tried to convince them in the most graphic of terms of who he was, where he came from, and what he came to do. He assured them that believing in him was all they had to do and that communion with him would empower them to live as God has always intended for them to live, that is, in the confidence that God would provide for their every need and protect them from all the fears their doubts could produce.

Unbelief is a terrible thing. It sends us down the wrong path, a path away from Jesus and life, a path fraught with difficulty and striving, and a path full of fear and anxiety. Faith is the only remedy for unbelief and it is the “work of God” to produce it in every individual. As Jesus declared, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”[12] May you the reader come to Jesus, if you haven’t already, and say with Simon Peter, “We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”[13]

[1] John 6:28 (NIV)

[2] Exodus 19:3-8 (NLT)

[3] Matthew 19:16 (NASB)

[4] John 6:29 (NIV)

[5] Luke 19:10

[6] John 3:17; 12:47; 1John 4:14

[7] 1Timothy 4:10

[8] Matthew 19:21-22

[9] John 6:30-31 (NIV)

[10] John 6:32-33 (NIV)

[11] John 6:34-35 (NIV)

[12] John 6:43 (NIV)

[13] John 6:69 (NIV)

The Road to Salvation

Eight days after Mary gave birth to the Christ he was circumcised according to Jewish custom and given the name Jesus as the angel had instructed her and Joseph to do.[1] Following that, so we are told, Mary and Joseph traveled from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for two reasons: first, it was time for their purification according to the Law of Moses;[2] and second, they brought Jesus to be presented to the Lord as was also prescribed by Law.[3] It might interest you to know that there were twenty-five days between Jesus’ circumcision and his presentation to the Lord in the temple.[4] Those were separate events which did not occur at the same time as I once assumed, but this makes sense given the fact that Mary could not enter the temple grounds to dedicate Jesus before her days of purification were complete.

While Mary and Joseph were at the temple they met a man named Simeon who prophesied over their child, Jesus, which gave further confirmation to the things they had already heard about him and added to their revelatory experience. As it is written in the gospel of Luke…

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”[5]

Simeon is described as a unique individual. It is said that he was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and under the influence of the Holy Spirit – not your average Joe but a man full of the Spirit and of wisdom. Simeon had been given a revelation of his own that he would meet the Messiah before he died. The “Consolation of Israel” is in reference to Messiah but in order to understand what that phrase means a definition of the word “Consolation” is required. In English it means the act of consoling; comfort; solace. In Koine Greek it meant exhortation; encouragement; comfort. The Messiah, then, is identified as the one who consoles, comforts, exhorts and encourages the nation of Israel. Why did they need such sympathies? The answer lies in Israel’s tumultuous history. First, the descendants of Jacob were delivered from slavery in Egypt and became a great nation. Secondly, through constant struggle with the sin of idolatry they declined as a nation, were exiled from their land and dispersed into the Gentile nations only to return once more to slavery. Finally, a remnant returned to the land of Israel but, even so, they were still subject to the conquest and rule of other nations. The promise of scripture and the prophets was that Messiah would come and ultimately deliver Israel once and for all and restore her to her former glory. Thus, Israel’s hope and expectation of a deliverer when suffering under the cruelty and oppression of their enemies was a comfort to say the least; however, the gospels inform us that when Jesus came he was not the kind of Messiah many in Israel expected and that, my friends, is precisely the point of Simeon’s prophecy.

So let us consider Simeon’s revelation carefully. Notice that there are two parts to this prophetic word.

Part one is in regard to Simeon’s response to the promise made to him personally by God that he would live to see the long awaited Messiah. Upon seeing the baby Jesus, Simeon declared, “My eyes have (finally) seen your salvation (Messiah, Jesus, the Consolation of Israel) which you have prepared before the face of ALL peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” According to Simeon, Messiah would influence the world as well as Israel. Salvation has always been God’s intention for all peoples. Jesus would be a light bringing revelation to the non-Jewish world of the Savior – the one who would unite all ethnicities under one banner, which would later be known as the kingdom of God, and the one who would be Israel’s ultimate, eternal king.[6] Joseph and Mary marveled at what Simeon spoke about their son because it was yet another confirmation of the fame and glory that would belong to Jesus. One wonders, however, if that was enough to soften the blow of what Simeon would say next.

Part two of the prophecy was specific to Mary. It’s as though Simeon intuitively knew that Jesus would spark controversy within the nation of Israel, which in turn would create division; or, as the idiom declared, would cause many to either fall or rise.[7] “Falling and rising” is a metaphor describing defeat or victory, ruin or success; however, spiritually speaking, it refers to the misfortune (judgment) of the faithless or the good fortune (vindication) of the faithful. Furthermore, Simeon prophesied that Jesus would act as a sign from God which would be spoken against, meaning opposed, contradicted, refuted and rejected. This describes Christ’s ministry to a tee! There were those who loved Jesus and believed in him, but there were also those who despised him and plotted his demise. And if that alone were not sufficient for Mary’s future sorrow, Simeon concluded his prophecy by informing her that, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” No doubt this is an allusion to that moment on the cross when a Roman soldier intent on breaking Jesus’ legs first thrust a spear into his side and out came blood and water indicating that he was in fact already dead thus eliminating the need.[8] Mary, being present at Jesus’ crucifixion, must have watched in horror as the details of Simeon’s prophecy unfolded before her very eyes.[9]

This is cause for wonder. Why would Simeon, by the Holy Spirit, reveal to Mary that her heart would break as she watched her son be horribly tortured and killed? Was it to prepare her for that day so that when it happened she would remember Simeon’s words and be somehow consoled? Was it to let her know the end from the beginning so that even amidst her pain she would understand that it was part of the grand scheme of God in redeeming the world and be comforted? Luke does not give answers, nor does God always explain his reasons. Even so, the knowledge that Simeon imparted to Mary was meant to be a blessing to her and I trust that it helped her through that difficult time though we may not see how.

What strikes me most about this aspect of the incarnation story is that it introduces us to the reality that salvation is a messy business. Salvation means rescue from sin, from the fall, from death, and from the cruelty of mankind, but the road to salvation is not smooth or sanitary. It’s fraught with intrigue, astonishment, controversy, bloodshed, and sorrow. But in the end there is victory, success, resurrection, and life. Travel the road wisely.

[1] Luke 2:21

[2] Leviticus 12 outlines purification rites for women who have given birth. Joseph may have helped in Mary’s delivery and was likely subject to purification as well.

[3] See Exodus 13:2, 12, 15 for the law regarding firstborn males in Israel.

[4] The total number of days from Christ’s birth to his presentation to the Lord in the temple was 33 (i.e. if the requirement of Leviticus 12 was adhered to) which, incidentally, corresponds to the number of years he lived before his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.

[5] Luke 2:25-35 (NKJV)

[6] Simeon was familiar with scripture and likely derived his prophetic word from Isaiah 49:6 where God considered it too small a thing for Messiah to restore Israel only but would also make him to be a light for the Gentiles and in so doing extend God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.

[7] The prophet Isaiah, possibly reflecting on Psalm 118:22, foretold that Messiah would be to some “a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall” (Isaiah 8:14), but to others he would be “a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed” (Is 28:16). See also Luke 20:17-18; Romans 9:33; 1Peter 2:6-8 where Jesus, Paul and Peter respectively quote these same verses from Isaiah exposing the division surrounding the ministry of Jesus between those who believe in him and those who do not. Quotations are from the NIV Bible.

[8] John 19:34

[9] See Zechariah 12:10

The Shepherd of Shepherds

The gospel of Luke gives a vivid description of the birth of Jesus Christ. Luke picked up the story where Matthew left off – with the scandalous news of the virgin birth, the near dissolution of the betrothal between Mary and Joseph, and the comforting revelation from God that all was exactly as it should be. From that point on the story included a decree by Caesar Augustus of a census of the entire Roman world, which resulted in the need for Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem to be registered.

One might wonder why Bethlehem? Why not register in Nazareth where they currently lived? The obvious reason given to us is that the law required them to return to the city of David, their family of origin, for they were both of the lineage of King David. The less than obvious reason is spiritual in nature, which is, that God decreed before Caesar Augustus was ever born that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Consider the following prophetic word:

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. Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.[1]

So with the issue of the decree and the census underway Joseph and Mary made the 65 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. After their arrival Mary began to go into labor but because of the census there was no available lodging for them anywhere in town and the young couple were forced to birth the child in a stable, presumably among the livestock. Mary brought forth her firstborn son (implying that there would be others besides), wrapped him up and laid him in a nearby feeding trough.[2]  

That very night God saw fit to announce the birth of the Messiah to a group of shepherds out tending their flocks in the fields near Bethlehem. I can imagine God as a proud Papa declaring his son’s birth, handing out cigars, a beaming smile, joyfully saying, “I’m a dad!” But why this disclosure to shepherds? Why not tell kings? Or priests? In due time kings and priests would be told, but first priority was to shepherds. God identifies with shepherds because as Micah the prophet revealed, God himself is a shepherd. And this son of Mary’s is destined to shepherd Israel, as well as all the Gentile nations[3], in the strength of Yahweh and in the majesty of his name. With this in mind, the story continues:

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”[4]

Certainly this was a night to remember! In exchange for their fear an angel of the Lord brought to these shepherds a message of good news – a Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord, or, more specifically, the Anointed One of God. This revelation warrants examination. In particular, to whom is this good news for? Notice the underlined phrase above, “which will be to all people.” This news of a Savior is not only good news but it is joyous news which is for everyone everywhere. God’s heart is for all people, not just Jewish people, not just Christian people, not just religious people, but “ALL” people. His desire is for there to be peace on earth and nothing but goodwill toward all mankind. How will God achieve this lofty and seemingly unattainable goal? He will achieve it through his Anointed One, the one born to be the Savior, the one who promotes peace on earth and goodwill toward mankind.

Jesus is God’s redemptive plan for humanity. Jesus is God’s only plan for humanity. There quite simply is salvation in no other name.[5]

After the heavenly host of angels departed the shepherds decided to act on the news that was given to them and they hurried to Bethlehem to see for themselves if what they had been told had indeed come to pass. And when they had found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a feeding trough they made known to everyone around what they had been told about the child by the angels. These shepherds became the first preachers of the gospel and the news about Messiah began to spread. All who heard the shepherds marveled at what was spoken about the Christ and Mary especially stored this testimony in her heart and pondered its meaning, most likely for the rest of her life.[6]

Mary has set for us a good example to follow. She ruminated on the things revealed to her about the son she bore. Like us Mary had no idea how these truths about Jesus would play out. What did it all mean? Not just what it meant in the general sense of giving birth to the Messiah and Savior of the world but in the sense of how this knowledge applied to her personally. She knew by revelation what her son would become but how he would develop, what he would do, how he would change the world was another matter altogether. I would venture a guess that it turned out differently than she imagined.

The question to ask ourselves when reading this story of the birth of Christ is how are we personally effected by the good news that unto us a Savior has been born? The shepherds heard the message from the angelic host and they acted on what they heard by investigating to see if it was true. When they found things in Bethlehem just as they had been told they believed. And rather than keep this wonderful news of the Savior to themselves they excitedly proclaimed to others the things they had both seen and heard. And as they returned to their flocks in the fields they couldn’t stop glorifying and praising God for what they had experienced. Indeed, those shepherds were changed, transformed by the shepherd of their souls who was comfortably lying in a feeding trough that was borrowed specifically for this most joyous occasion. May you find peace and joy in Jesus as these shepherds did.

[1] Micah 5:2-5 (NKJV)

[2] Luke 2:6-7

[3] The term “Gentile” refers to non-Jewish peoples and Messiah’s flock extending to the Gentile nations is inferred by Micah’s declaration that Christ’s influence would reach to the ends of the earth.

[4] Luke 2:8-14 (NKJV)

[5] Acts 4:12

[6] Luke 2:15-20

Love Supersedes Law

It’s interesting that the gospel of Matthew begins the story of the Incarnation with a curious plot twist. In Matthew’s version of the birth of Christ a glaring scandal was exposed. It would seem that even in the womb controversy surrounded the person known as Jesus. Be that as it may, we will soon discover that Matthew had intentional reasons for divulging this information to his Jewish audience.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.”[1]

To understand why Mary’s mysterious pregnancy was scandalous knowledge of ancient Middle Eastern marriage custom is necessary. In those days when a man wanted to marry a woman he would talk to the woman’s father and if the father gave his blessing he would betroth his daughter to the man, which meant both father and potential husband would enter a contract and agree on a price for the bride. Note that the father did not auction his daughter as a slave; rather, the price was considered a gift to compensate the father for the loss of his daughter’s services to the household.[2] Once the contract was settled the woman legally became the man’s wife even though the marriage wouldn’t be consummated until a later date. Therefore, any crime against the woman during the betrothal period was also a crime against the father and her betrothed husband.[3] So, when Mary was found to be with child it was assumed that a crime had indeed occurred, be it rape or adultery. Joseph’s action suggests that he suspected adultery for he had made up his mind to divorce Mary secretly in order to spare her from public humiliation.  

Joseph’s decision to deal with the matter in private says much about his character. Matthew notes this by referring to Joseph as “being a just man,” which is an interesting choice of words given that Joseph acted contrary to Deuteronomic Law. According to code Joseph would have been within his right to contest his betrothal to Mary based on the grounds of infidelity and have the matter brought before the elders of the city;[4] however, he chose not to do that in order to spare Mary the shame and embarrassment of a trial. And his decision to protect Mary from indignity came even before the angelic visitation that provided him with a proper course of action. More about that in a moment, but for now suffice it to say that Joseph’s love for Mary superseded the law’s desire for justice as evidenced by the fact that he kept the whole affair out of the public eye.

This raises several questions. Why did Mary keep the news of her pregnancy to herself, telling only Elizabeth who, by the way, already knew?[5] Why did she not confide in Joseph or her parents? Was it out of fear that she wouldn’t be believed? Was she trying to avoid what in her mind would no doubt lead to an awkward and seemingly “impossible to explain” situation? Or was she simply ill-equipped to deal with such a complex problem at her young age and therefore reasoned to herself, “Best not to say anything and hope that no one will notice?” Unfortunately, whatever her reasons, Joseph did notice (for pregnancies are hard to hide) and was troubled by the news. The text continues…

But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call his name JESUS, for he will save his people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.[6]

So Joseph was troubled and agonized over what to do about Mary. Have you ever had a situation where you weren’t sure what to do; where the lines between right and wrong were blurred, which caused you much angst? That was Joseph – as “he thought about these things.” In his grief Joseph fell asleep and an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and gave him clarity.

It was not in God’s plan for Joseph to divorce his wife but it was in Joseph’s. But God, being unfavorable toward Joseph’s decision to divorce Mary, decided to intervene. As the truth regarding Mary was disclosed Joseph was persuaded to change his mind, which, by the way, is what it means to repent – to change your mind (literally) or to change your thinking (pragmatically) – and a change of mind naturally brings about a change of action. For Joseph this change in his thinking resulted in the rescue of his marriage to Mary.

Now in addition to redirecting his steps the angel gave Joseph revelation as to the nature of the child in Mary’s womb. First, that the child was conceived through an act of the Holy Spirit and not by illegitimate means. This news obviously comforted and encouraged Joseph. Second, that the child would be male. Third, the instruction to name the child JESUS (meaning Jehovah saves) for his mission would be to save his people from their sins.

I wonder what Joseph thought about that last statement, that his Son would be the Savior? Can you imagine having the responsibility of raising a child who would grow up to be the Messiah, the Savior of all? Just the phrase, “he will save his people from their sins,” could be a blog post in and of itself. What does it mean? Who are “his people”? Are his people the Israelites? Christians? Pagans? Barbarians? Wouldn’t “his people” refer to all people since Jesus created them all?[7] Yes! All are his, but all need saving. Saving from what exactly? From “their sins.”

The term “sin” is an umbrella term that includes offenses of all kinds – from minor improprieties to erroneous crimes – Jesus will save each of us from them all. All my failures, all my mistakes, all the wrongs that I’ve done, all the wrongs done to me, every misguided step I’ve ever taken Jesus plans to save me. And this he does despite what the Law says. Like Joseph to Mary, Jesus’s love for his people supersedes the law’s desire for justice as evidenced by the fact that he will save us from our sins.

Matthew concludes his story of the Incarnation by explaining that all this was done in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy regarding a Son who would be born to a virgin who would be called Immanuel, meaning God with us.[8] And if God is for us who or what can stand against us. Not the Law, not sin because love supersedes both.

[1] Matthew 1:18-19 (NKJV)

[2] Bromiley, G.W., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), Vol. 3, pg. 262

[3] Matthews, Victor H., Manners and Customs in the Bible: An Illustrated Guide to Daily Life in Bible Times (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1988) pg. 133

[4] Deuteronomy 22:13-21

[5] Luke 1:41-45

[6] Matthew 1:18-25 (NKJV)

[7] John 1:3,10; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11

[8] Isaiah 7:14


Christmas is the celebration of God entering our world in human form. In theological terms it is referred to as the Incarnation; that time so long ago when Jesus, the Son of God, was born to the Virgin Mary. This was an event of mammoth historical significance that might have gone unnoticed if not for a handful of proclamations given at various times and locations. We read about such things in the gospels as we look back upon past occurrences, but imagine being there in real time as they were unfolding. Imagine the wonder, the awe, the expectation and the hope that the coming of Christ inspired. My desire in the coming days is to look into the several occasions where a person, or group, was given inside information on the Incarnation and write about each of them for the sheer joy of reflecting on Jesus.

If the Holy Spirit intended to miraculously impregnate a young woman the polite thing for him to do would be to inform her in advance. Therefore, we are told, God dispatched the angel Gabriel to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph (of the line of David), whose name was Mary. Gabriel entered the place where Mary was and said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”[1] However, Mary didn’t know what to think of this stranger, nor was she able to discern what manner of greeting he had given her. She became greatly troubled and fearful; in a word, agitated. Then Gabriel spoke to her in the most reassuring way:

 “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”[2]

Mary, I imagine somewhat skeptical or at least notably perplexed, responded, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”[3]

Gabriel, probably smiling and thinking to himself, “It’s easy!” replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” And, Mary, if you doubt the probability of it all, “Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”[4]

The angel’s explanation must have satisfied Mary for she answered, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”[5] But just to be sure the angel was legit Mary planned to visit Elizabeth ASAP to verify that the message she had received regarding the God of the impossible was indeed true.

Can you imagine being Mary in that moment? Notice that Gabriel’s word to Mary was a declaration not a request. Mary was told what would happen to her. She was not asked for her consent, even though she gave it. What would you be thinking? What would you be feeling? Would you wonder at the credibility of the messenger and his message? Would you be able to take it in, to comprehend its meaning, to embrace its reality? Would yours be a willing response? These are questions worthy of consideration because God involves people in his redemptive acts. What “act” might he require of you?

Mary’s assignment was to give birth to the Messiah. Of all the women in Israel she was chosen. That’s what it means to be “favored.” God would bless Mary in a way that no other would be blessed. She had a responsibility, and a destiny. What’s more is she couldn’t fail because the Lord was with her. All she had to do was give birth to the child, name him JESUS, and be his mother; God would do the rest. God would ensure that Jesus lived an extraordinary life. God would make him great and would testify himself that Jesus was his beloved Son, the Son of the Most High, the Son of God. These are titles that speak of Christ’s divinity.

Moreover, God intended to give Jesus the throne of his father David. Who was David? David was the anointed king of Israel. David was the man after God’s own heart. David was a righteous king despite his failures and shortcomings. And David had been promised by God that one of his descendants would sit on his throne and rule over Israel forever.[6]

Now, being of the line of David, sitting on David’s throne, ruling Israel, these all speak of Christ’s identification with humanity, but it goes beyond just that. The fact that his rule is eternal adds another dimension. Yes, Jesus rules, but not from an earthly palace. His kingdom is a spiritual kingdom and he rules from a spiritual realm. And of his kingdom there will be no end; which means, it’s still growing and expanding, here and now, until it encompasses all that is.

At this point in the gospel narrative Mary is the only one who knows that she is to be the mother of Israel’s Messiah. And what does she know of the child she will give birth to? She knows that he will be of divine origin, that he will be famous, that he will rule as king of Israel, and that his kingdom will never end. And that my friend, in itself, is a BIG, BIG deal!

Why, you ask, is it such a big deal? I’ll tell you why. When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”[7]       

The belief that Jesus is the Messiah as well as the Son of God is at the heart of the Christian faith. It is the very foundation on which the church – the Christian faith – is built. This knowledge does not come to us by reading it in a book or on a blog, not even when that book is the Bible. It comes to us only by revelation of the Father – from his heart to ours. That’s when you truly believe, when the Father reveals to you that Jesus is the Son of the living God. Suddenly Jesus becomes a real person, not just an historical figure. You become intimately aware of his presence in your life, even when you can’t see him. He’s more than just a good idea, more than a character in a book, more than a good man, or a prophet. He’s Emmanuel – God with us, God with me and God with you. Once you grasp that and take it to heart you join the Jesus revolution, which he calls his Church, and enter his kingdom realm. Once you walk through that door you will never be the same again. And that my friends is a BIG, BIG deal!

[1] Luke 1:28 (NKJV)

[2] Luke 1:30-33 (NKJV)

[3] Luke 1:34 (NKJV)

[4] Luke 1:35-37 (NKJV)

[5] Luke 1:38 (NKJV)

[6] 2 Samuel 7 (esp. vs. 12-13); Isaiah 9:6-7; 16:5; Jeremiah 23:5

[7] Matthew 16:13-18

Where to Find the Kingdom of God

There is a story told in the gospel of Luke about Jesus responding to a question he was asked by the Pharisees. “When is the kingdom of God coming?”[1] This is an intriguing question considering the source. The Pharisees were rarely sincere in their search for truth where Jesus was concerned. More often than not they occupied themselves with trying to trap him in his words so they could accuse him of blasphemy, or insurrection, or, at the very least, to discredit him before the people. Whether the question was sincere or devious Jesus responded remarkably:

“The kingdom of God comes not with observation; nor shall they say, ‘Lo here, or Lo there;’ for behold (perceive, realize, experience, grasp), the kingdom of God is within you.”[2]

“The kingdom of God is within you.” What did Jesus mean? How is this possible? Is the kingdom of God within everybody, or is it only within Christians? Even among translators there is much debate over the meaning of Jesus regarding this matter. Some bibles translate this verse as the kingdom of God is “in your midst” or “among you,” because the doctrinal framework of the translators won’t allow them to translate otherwise for that would place the location of the kingdom of God even within the Pharisees. One might reason, “How could that be given the fact that many of the Pharisees publicly opposed the ministry of Jesus?” But as Greek scholar David Bentley Hart would contend, “It is occasionally argued that this phrase (‘within you’) would be better translated ‘among you’ or ‘in your midst,’ but this is surely wrong. Entos really does properly mean ‘within’ or ‘inside of,’ not ‘among,’ and Luke, in both his Gospel and the book of Acts, when meaning to say ‘among’ or ‘amid,’ always uses a different phrase (cf. Lu 22:27).”[3] Assuming Mr. Hart is correct the question remains – what did Jesus mean?

It helps to know that at the time of Christ there was an expectation that the Messiah would come and restore the kingdom of Israel and rule the nations from David’s throne. Note, this was not just wishful thinking on the part of the Jewish community but is in fact replete throughout the prophets of the Old Testament. Such an idea obviously assumes a literal, physical, earthly kingdom; whereas, Jesus clearly communicated to Pilate, the Roman Governor, prior to his crucifixion, “My kingdom is not of this world… now my kingdom is not from here.”[4] With his response to the Pharisees, as well as to Pilate, Jesus does not deny that a revolution will take place and, in fact, had already begun. What he draws attention to is where that revolution will occur; not on earth (at least not at the current time) but in our hearts.

“The kingdom of God is within you.” To find it you must look within, not without. No matter whether you are on the side of the liberal far left or the conservative right or somewhere in the middle, politics will not bring about the kingdom of God. “Why?” you ask. It’s because politics are definitely of this world, but the kingdom of God is not. Politics may successfully “change” the world from one social agenda to another but there will always be those who resist one agenda in favor of the other resulting in disunity and division. On the contrary, the kingdom of God, which is Christ in you,[5] works in the heart of individuals to effect “change” that lasts; change that will unite all peoples under one banner to the glory of God. Amen.

[1] Luke 17:20

[2] Luke 17:20-21

[3] David Bentley Hart, The New Testament (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press 2017), 148.

[4] John 18:36

[5] Col 1:27