Tag Archives: Jesus

A Glimpse

A few months before she died, my wife was awakened suddenly, in the middle of the night.  The next morning she struggled to find words for what happened next.  She said God impressed upon her a sense of absolute peace and joy unlike anything she had ever experienced.  She was laughing and weeping as she tried to explain what it was like.  She said she was sure He was encouraging her with a foretaste of Heaven.  That sudden “download” was a source of great strength and peace to her – and to me – as her time grew short.

I’ve recently learned that Blaise Pascal experienced something similar on November 23, 1654, a pivotal moment in his spiritual journey.  His epiphany lasted a couple of hours, during which time he scribbled notes to himself, including these words, found hidden in his jacket after he died:

Certitude, certitude, Emotion, Joy, Peace.  God of Jesus Christ  …  Oblivion of the world and of everything except God.  Righteous father, the world has not known You,  But I have known You.  Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy, Jesus Christ ___________ Jesus Christ 

This morning, I reread the account of Jesus’ transfiguration.

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. –  (Matthew 17:1–3 (NIV84))

I’ve always interpreted this strange episode as an instructive encouragement for the two disciples.  I wonder if it was not also given to strengthen and encourage Jesus.  A reminder of things impossible to fully comprehend in this earthly plane.  It occurred shortly after Jesus began to teach His disciples that He must be put to death.   Jesus struggled greatly as His death became imminent. He silenced Peter abruptly when he said such a death would never happen.  He agonized in prayer in Gethsemane.  Perhaps that glimpse of the reality of Heaven was a gracious gift for Him.

I don’t know.  I wonder.  But of this I am sure:  the circumstances awaiting those who die as believers and followers of Jesus are so astonishingly wonderful, we have no words to fully express them.  We also have no currency capable of expressing the value of being welcomed into such an environment of joy and peace.  The best Jesus could manage was an analogy:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.   Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  –  (Matthew 13:44–46 (NIV84))

 

Jesus

Chick-fil-A was almost denied the right to sell their sandwiches at Denver’s Airport because their President said he believed in the Biblical definition of marriage.  Members of the city council objected to that.  It looks as though they will back down, but the situation is not new.  It is nearly 2000 years old.  The city council in Jerusalem during the earliest days of the church tried to shut them down, too – not what they were doing, but what they were saying.  During the first few weeks of the church, they caused quite a public commotion.  Much of it had to do with miraculous healings the Lord accomplished through them.  A lot of it had to do with some of their amazing acts of generosity to the poor.  Great mobs of people came to see and hear what would happen next.  And the city council (known as the Sanhedrin, led by the High Priest) was not happy about it.  After one public healing, they arrested the church leaders (the Apostles).

 

“What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it.  But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.  –  Acts 4:16–17 (NIV84)

Next time they arrested the Apostles, they said:

“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” Acts 5:28a (NIV84)

They didn’t tell them to stop doing the healings or taking care of the poor; they told them to stop saying, “Jesus!”  The same struggle goes on today.  Christians are not told to shut down their hospitals, soup kitchens, or disaster relief ministries.  They are told to shut up about Jesus.

Years ago, the churches in my town came together to cooperate in an outreach to the poor and homeless.  The community at large quickly relied upon the organization they formed to address the problems of that growing population.  Soon the city council voted to support the work financially.  Things changed.  Today, that agency, still named for its “united outreach” has a policy that forbids its volunteers and workers from mentioning Jesus.

You can pretty much do whatever you want in the Name of Jesus, as long as you don’t tell people about Jesus.  Maybe you’ve seen this at work.  Navy Chaplain, Wes Modder, experienced it when he was forbidden to minister or even talk to his unit according to his Christian beliefs.

God arranged a jailbreak for the Apostles, not so they could make a clean getaway, but so they go back and tell people about Jesus.

 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”  –  Acts 5:20 (NIV84)

The “full message of this new life” is this: new, eternal life is given freely to anyone who comes to believe that Jesus is God and Savior.

Jesus said,  “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.  –  John 5:24 (NIV84)

Pass it on.  Don’t forget to say, “Jesus!”

More than You Knew

The people who frequently have the hardest time understanding about Jesus are the ones who grew up with Him.  Jesus got served with the mashed potatoes; He was used to shame them into picking up their socks. He coopted play time on Sundays.  When Jesus has been an annoying houseguest and a bit of a bully, it’s a pretty big leap to see He is God. 

Even when Jesus was presented in a very loving and wonderful way old, childish distortions sometimes get in the way of seeing Him with clarity later on.  We thought we knew Who He was, and then we are startled and dismayed by Who He really is. 

Jesus understood   familiarity breeds misunderstanding. 

Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.
But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”
– (Matthew 13:54-57)

They couldn’t “see” Him because they thought they already “knew” Him. Don’t make the same mistake. When Jesus begins to show His astonishing wisdom and power, don’t try to cram what you see into the mold of what you thought you already knew. He’s more than what you knew.

His Words

Compare these two, clear statements from the Bible, written 1500 years apart:

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.  –  (Deuteronomy 18:18 – Words of God to Moses, approximately 3500 years ago)

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  –  (John 14:10 – Words of Jesus)

And then, this:

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.  –  (Hebrews 1:1–2  –  Unknown author, roughly 2000 years ago)

The reason the Bible fits perfectly together, even over the span of a millennium and a half, is because it was inspired by One Eternal Author Who knew what He would do from before the beginning.  His words have therefore been relevant in all ages, including our own.  Knowing that, pay further attention to the rest of what God told Moses about the One in Whom He would put His words:

If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.  –  (Deuteronomy 18:19)

Probably a good idea to really listen to Jesus…

If Nobody is Home

Exorcism can be dangerous, Jesus said, because it can leave you worse off.

“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.  Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” –  (Matthew 12:43–45)

The problem in this scenario is that the soul of the exorcised person is not filled with another and better spirit.  It is merely “swept clean.”  It may be “put in order,” temporarily following a set of rules for moral living.  But it is vulnerable to spiritual attack.  This is the condition of so many who attempt to become morally good by following rules and strict discipline.  In Jesus’ day, it was the Pharisees who followed that path.  In our day it is frequently those raised in a legalistic church who find themselves in this kind of peril.  His or her “house” is “swept clean” but it is “unoccupied.”  Take that person out of their childhood environment and plunk them down, unsupervised on, say, a college campus and some very strange and sad things tend to happen.

However, when a person trusts Jesus, He sends His Spirit to live in their soul to guide them and empower them in truth.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  –  (John 14:16–17)

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. –  (John 16:13a)

This is an essential difference.  Their “house,” their soul, is no longer “unoccupied.”  It is the reason why the message of Jesus is not merely another religion, doomed to failure, but is genuine, Good News!  He gives the Holy Spirit Who lives in our souls and overpowers the forces of evil.

Quotes: The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Mt 12:43–45). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Turned Loose

A guy I knew in high school was confined to a wheelchair.  Then just about this time one year, he showed up at school walking!  He used canes, but he was really walking.  And the look on his face is still etched on my mind.

Imagine the look on the face of the paralytic guy to whom Jesus said, “”Pick up your mat and go home.”  I’ll bet it broadcast alternate waves of amazement and pure joy.  But rereading the account in Matthew, I noticed that the physical healing was secondary.  Jesus’ first words to this man were:

“Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2b)

The religious experts who heard Him were shocked at His supposed blasphemy.  So, Jesus used the healing as proof of His authority to forgive sins.

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?    Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?   But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” –  (Matthew 9:4-6)

It is easy to be astonished with the act of physical healing and lose sight of the fact it was given as proof of Jesus’ authority to forgive sins. My guess?  He would have healed the man out of kindness anyway.  But His first gift to the man was forgiveness. 

Jesus said it was easier for Him to say “Your sins are forgiven,” but in fact, it was not easy for Him to make that possible.  Only Jesus had that authority, and He alone, because He was sinless, was able to purchase forgiveness for others on the Cross. 

I think Jesus chose such moments with care, using those that were living pictures of His deeper truth.  Chances are pretty good that you, like me, have felt, paralyzed by sin from time to time, helplessly locked up and unworthy of release.  Jesus has the full authority to say, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven; take up your mat and go home.” 

Trust Him on that…

One Tool

The biggest Swiss Army knife would never fit in your pocket.  It is 9″ wide and weighs 2 pounds.  It has 141 different tools folded up in it, including a hook dis-gorger and a snap shackle.  If you bought it, you might have more room in your pocket though, because it lists for $2100.  I suppose this thing is a joke, but before it went to seed, the idea of having one tool with which you could do most things was attractive.

Paul lists a bunch of new behaviors for followers of Jesus to put into practice:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.   –  (Colossians 3:12-14a (NIV)) 
That’s quite a list – a nice list, to be sure – but a lot to remember.  And, even at that, it is not comprehensive; it doesn’t include everything for us with which to “clothe ourselves”.   However, there is a “Swiss Army Knife” of attitudes for Christians, one tool for most circumstances.  Here’s the rest of what Paul wrote:

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  –  (Colossians 3:14b)

If you understand that love is an act of will with which I put away my self-interest to minister to what you need, all of the attitudes listed in the first passage really are bound together under the one tool called love.  Better yet, you will discover that “Love” fits in your pocket.  It’s not free however; it costs you, maybe even more than $2100 in some circumstances.  But it is a great tool, worth much more than the biggest Swiss Army Knife.

Master Mechanic

I’ve always admired the calm attitude of a master mechanic.  When something breaks, if you don’t know what is wrong or what to do, most people respond out of a reservoir of great stress.  Bang your head on the steering wheel, pace back and forth, throwing your hands up in the air, utter a few choice phrases – you know what I mean, I’m sure.  But a mechanic, one who knows what is wrong and exactly what to do, proceeds to work on the problem with a steady peace about him.  An infectious peace.

Jesus, Almighty God in the flesh, must have had the peace of a master mechanic.  And then some.  He always knew what was wrong.  Moreover, He always knew exactly how to fix it.  Imagine how His peace must have settled those around Him as He set about His work.

“Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.   The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
   He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.”  –  (Matthew 8:24-26)

Movies about Jesus tend to make Him seem slow of speech and unemotional, as though He was reciting from a dull script.  But His peace must have captivated and instilled confidence in the hearts of those present.  Can you imagine how thankful they must have been to receive the service of the Master Mechanic?  If you can see that, check out this bit of Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” –  (Colossians 3:15)

Jesus knows what is broken and He knows exactly what to do.  Let His peace rule! 

Refocus

While you are reading this, do not look to your right.  Have you messed up yet? “Thou shalt not…” commands have an unintended effect on us: they make us want to do the very things they have forbidden. This, in a nutshell is what makes legalistic religion fail. Rules don’t restrain us, they tempt us.

How much better, God’s plan to restore us by implanting His Spirit to guide us, not by restrictive rules, but by creating in us the desire to do right. And yet, from the earliest days of the Christian church, men have tried to distort this message and turn the church into another religious bastion of rules.
Which led Paul to lament:

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. – (Colossians 2:20-23)

It is not that Paul believed Christians are not tempted to do sinful things, or that nothing in the world is harmful to taste or touch. But, rather, that attempting to live by “Thou shalt not” rules never accomplishes in us a life in harmony with the ways God intended. But neither does Paul leave us passively waiting for the Spirit to overpower our temptations. Instead, he teaches us to refocus our hearts and minds:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
– (Colossians 3:1-2)

Necessary Power

Do you know why they yell, “Clear!” when they apply paddles to get someone’s heart going?  It is because the tremendous power needed would be dangerous if you were touching the body.  If that’s the kind of power necessary to restart a heart, how much power would be needed to bring a dead body back to life, one that had been dead for days?  We humans have never harnessed that kind of power.  We know how much power it takes to kill a person, but not to resurrect.  That power belongs to God alone.

And yet, that power is offered to everyone who will trust Jesus.  God applies His power that we might be:

“… raised with him [Jesus] through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12b- with my added explanation)

I pulled out that half-sentence from a lengthy and somewhat confusing description of what happens to those who trust Jesus for salvation, to highlight the power of God, necessary to bring dead people back to life.  Without that power applied, we all are dead.  We feel alive because our hearts are beating, but it takes much more to be fully alive.  We say someone whose heart beats but who has no brain activity is “brain dead.”  God considers us dead if our hearts and brains function but we do not have His Spirit living in our souls.  Without His living Spirit, we are missing the essential ingredient for the full life God intended when He designed and created us.  We humans lost that Spirit, that Eternal Life, when we rejected God and embraced sin.

By His power, God offers to restore us to full life.  This can only happen to those whose sin has been completely paid for and forgiven.  Because sin caused our spiritual death, the just penalty for sin is physical death and separation from God, a price we cannot pay.  But Jesus willingly paid the full price on our behalf, with His life.  God, by His great power raised Him back to life.  If you accept this payment for your sins and trust the One Who paid it, then you, too, are raised to life by God’s power.

“When you were dead in your sins … God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,” (Colossians 2:13 excerpt)

 

 

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.