Archive for Jesus

Feb
13

Compassion in Action

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For years I had thought of compassion as a feeling or attitude toward someone who was in a difficult if not reversible situation. As I observed the person’s plight, I could easily be moved to feel something sympathetic. If you were to ask me if I thought I was a compassionate person, without hesitation I would have said, “Of course.”

As I have matured through the years I have learned that compassion is a word that calls us to act, not just feel. This is clearly exemplified in Jesus’ healing of the leper in Matthew 8:1-4.

Lepers in Jesus’ day were societal and spiritual outcasts. Because they were regarded as contagious, Levitical law required them to tear their clothes, cover their mouths, and declare themselves “unclean” to any non afflicted person who may be near. They were required to abandon family and friends and live in colonies outside of the community. Because they were ceremonially unclean they were forbidden to participate in worship or attend synagogue. The Bible doesn’t say how long this particular leper had been sick. One wonders how many birthday parties or little league baseball games he had missed.

In his desperation he approached Jesus for help. Jesus’ response chronicles what true compassion looks like. First, Jesus touched the untouchable. Verse 8:3 states that Jesus “reached out his hand and touched the man.” Who knows how long it had been since he had been touched by anyone? Then, Jesus worked to resolve the present problem by alleviating his suffering through healing his disease. One would think that would have been sufficient. But Jesus took one more step. He recaptured his future potential by restoring him to society and faith. He instructed the cleansed man to show himself to the priest in order to be declared clean.

I’m sure Jesus felt sympathy and care for the leper. More than that he behaved compassionately. In order for us to live compassionately we have to begin with Jesus’ example. We have to be willing to touch the untouchable, resolve the present problems by alleviating suffering, and help recapture their future potential. That is a workable strategy on any scale.

Categories : Compassion, Jesus
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Sep
04

Does the Virgin Birth Matter?

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So is the virgin birth that important? Can a person believe in Jesus without acknowledging it? I believe the virgin birth is important four at least four reasons.

First, it made possible for Jesus to be truly human, yet without sin. I affirm that the Scripture teaches that we are all sinners by nature and by choice. What that means is that we have inherited Adam’s original guilt from the beginning. Its in our nature. Because of our nature, we make behavioral choices to commit acts of sin. Because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Christ stands outside of Adam’s guilt. I affirm that though Jesus was fully human, he neither possessed Adam’s guilt nor committed sin in thought, word, or action. The virgin birth provides for a sinless Christ.

Second, the virgin birth affirms the eternal pre-existence of Christ. One of the earliest opponents to the virgin birth was called adoptionism. Simply stated, adoptionism proposed that Jesus was the natural born child of Joseph and Mary, and that upon his birth he was adopted by God to be his son. The only problem with that misguided theory is that is disallows the eternal pre-existence of Christ. I affirm that Jesus has always existed as the second member of the trinity, without beginning or end.

Third, the virgin birth allows for the incarnation. He would be called, “Immanuel, meaning, God with us.” Jesus came into the world fully God as though not man at all, and fully man as though not God at all. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to think of a man wearing a suit. Suppose the white dress shirt illustrates the divinity of Christ. Everyone can see the white shirt. But suppose the man then puts on his suit jacket, representing the humanity of Christ. Does the suit jacket render the white shirt null and void? No. Just because the man puts on the jacket doesn’t mean the white shirt has disappeared. You can still see some of it, though in a limited form. This is what Paul expressed in his Hymn to Christ in Philippians 2:5-11. Jesus emptied and condescended. Why? He came to be with us to identify with us in order to save us.

Finally, the virgin birth is important because it speaks of our spiritual need. Our salvation must come from the Lord. There was no human means possible for us to save ourselves. An intervention was necessary. On one hand we usually get warm fuzzies thinking about the Christmas story. We imagine the nativity with the baby in the manger surrounded by the adoration of those who gathered. But we need to remember that the reason Jesus came was because we were dead in our trespasses and sins, under the wrath of God. The Christmas story is at the same time humbling yet hopeful.

So yes, it matters!

Categories : Jesus, Matthew
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Sep
03

The Virgin Birth of Jesus

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I am blessed to be the father of three children. One of the things that made fatherhood special for me was being present for the birth of each one. Each birth was fascinating—even miraculous! I was there, and have a basic understanding of biology. But my awareness of science in no way diminishes the sense I felt of having witness a miracle.

The birth of Jesus is fascinating—certainly miraculous. Matthew and Luke agree. Without hesitation they affirm that Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit and without a human father.

Just after the resurrection, the virgin birth is the most highly contested event in the life of Christ. Since the second century, the importance of the virgin birth has been embedded in the creeds and confessions of the believing community of faith.

We first apprehend Jesus humanity from below. We see him as a teacher and miracle worker who died and rose again. But the New Testament introduces Jesus to the world from above, pointing out his uniqueness as the Son of God. His miraculous birth and miraculous resurrection serve as bookends that mark off Jesus as one of a kind.

So how did this virgin birth occur? The New Testament is silent about the biology and the physiology of the event. Luke simply states that the Holy Spirit overshadowed a virgin girl named Mary. The word overshadowed, however, gives us a glimpse into what took place. It’s cloud language. Take Exodus 24:15, for example. Moses went up Mt. Sinai to receive the law, and was overshadowed in a cloud. When the tabernacle and the more permanent Temple were dedicated, the glory of God descended on those structures in the form of a cloud. Luke 9:34 tells us that a cloud overshadowed Jesus and the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. And finally, the Bible describes the Second Advent of Christ by saying, “Behold, he comes with the clouds.” Ultimately, there is no biological explanation for the virgin birth. It was a direct miracle of God without human explanation. God became man without ceasing to be God. When God introduced Jesus the world the first thing he asked for is belief.

Tomorrow I’ll share some thoughts as to why the virgin birth is important.

Categories : Jesus, Matthew
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Aug
27

Jesus’ Family Tree

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Last week I took some time to investigate my family tree. My great grandfather, Frank, came to America from Baden, Germany, in 1869. After some time in St. Louis, he settled in Clark County, Missouri. He was granted U.S. Citizenship in 1890, at the age of 21. What was interesting about his story was that his citizenship papers spelled our last name “Deitrich.” Family lore explains that he was afraid he would be sent back to Germany, so he changed the spelling to “Deatrick.” He was married to his wife Mary for fifty years and together had three daughters and one son, my grandfather.

My grandfather John was a veteran of World War I. Because of his military service, he married later in life. My father was the oldest of three children and grew up without a mother because she died in child delivery when he was five years old. My grandfather died when I was four years old, and I can remember bits and pieces about him. I remember that every time I saw him he gave me a silver dollar. I also remember sitting on the front pew of his funeral with my parents.

Matthew 1:2-17 is a list of the people in Jesus’ family tree. Normally when one comes to one of those genealogies he or she will face the temptation to gloss right over them to get on to the “good stuff.” But it is not just a list of names. Jesus’ genealogy is very important for three reasons.

First, it reveals that Jesus came from the proper lineage. Matthew’s goal was to provide proof that Jesus is the rightful heir to two important promises. God’s promise in 2 Samuel 7:12-13 was that he would be faithful to continue David’s royal throne forever. God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 was that he would bless him so that he may bless the world. These two promises came together and were fulfilled in Jesus. Though Matthew is clear to point out that Jesus is the son of God and Mary but not of Joseph, Jesus possessed the right to Messiahship.

Second, the genealogy shows that Jesus came at the perfect time. Matthew 1:17 states, “All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.” This statement covers three important transitions in Israel’s history. David to Abraham spans the rise of the nation, from its formation to its height. David to the Babylonian exile is a description of the demise of the nation, and then from the exile to the Messiah expresses the return of the nation to God. Galatians 4:4 says that “in the fullness of time, God sent his Son…” Jesus came into the world at precisely the perfect time.

Finally, the genealogy reminds us of God’s unprejudiced purpose. Providing a genealogy is a very Jewish thing to do. But if you read the list of names you’ll notice some unique features. For example, the genealogy includes the mention of five women, four of whom are gentiles. Three of the women, Rahab, Tamar and Bathsheba are noted for sexual sin. And if you read the stories of each male in the list you’ll see that each of them had their personal sin issues. Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience, but from the very start of his gospel he wanted his audience to know that the gospel of Jesus is inclusive. Broken men and women, Jews and gentiles alike, are all welcome to find grace and forgiveness through the Messiah who had come.

Categories : Jesus, Matthew
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Aug
21

Who is Jesus?

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This is the record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham (Matthew 1:1, NLT).

Imagine you are minding your own business and a complete and total stranger asked you a question. Not something you would expect, like “What time is it?” or “Could you give me directions to a particular establishment?” It’s a personal question. Very personal, in fact. Suppose you are going through your daily routine and someone was to ask you the question, “Who is Jesus?” How would you respond? What would you say? Would you know what to say? Would you respond honestly? Or would you couch your response in politically correct language so as not to offend? Would you be confident should that happen to you?

Matthew established three things about Jesus that help understand and articulate who Jesus is.

First, he is the Messiah, or the Christ. The word Messiah means “anointed one,” and speaks of both Jesus role and purpose. At the turn of the millennium, messianic expectations were at fever pitch. People were looking for the Messiah to come, one who would eradicate the rule of Rome from their land and re-establish Israel to her former glory. Jesus was Messiah, but not that kind of Messiah. As God, Jesus stepped out of the splendor of heaven and stepped into our broken world to provide salvation for us. He taught us how to live, then modeled a life of discipleship, and then died our deaths so we could live his life.

Second, he is a descendent of David David was regarded as Israel’s greatest king. The covenant God made with David was that he would maintain a line of successors going forward. And he did. Jesus is tied to David which is important. His royal lineage speaks of his reign. The demands of his rule are rightful. He is able to make the claims he made. C.S. Lewis famously said that Jesus is either liar, lunatic, or Lord. Our confession as Christians for 2,000 years has been, “Jesus is Lord.”

Finally, he is a descendent of Abraham. Abraham was the non Jewish founder of the Israelite race. The covenant that God made with Abraham was that he would be blessed in order to bless the world. (cf. Genesis 17:4; 18:18; 21:18) Israel was blessed to be a blessing. Not just to one another, but to the entire world.

These references to Messiah, David, and Abraham help us understand that Jesus came from God to rule over us so we might bless the world. So why is this important?

1. We have to be clear in our understanding of who Jesus was and is. If we’re not clear on Jesus, nothing else really matters.

2. We have to be able to articulate our understanding of Jesus. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.”

3. We have to be prepared to live in light of our understanding of Jesus. In other words, its not enough to know it or even be able to talk about it. We have to live it practically in our every day experience of life. If I know it and articulate it but don’t live it, can we really say we believe it?

Jesus came from God to rule over us so that we might be blessed and bless the world. That’s who Jesus is.

Categories : Jesus, Matthew
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Feb
04

Not Your Typical Jesus

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The mind thinks in pictures. Let me explain. Close your eyes and think of the word “pie.” What image is in your mind? A piece of pie? A pie chart? If you heard the word pie rather than reading it, your mind may have thought of the Greek letter and associated it with either a fraternity or a mathematical formula.

Let’s try another word, the word “light.” Your mind may be filled with an image of the sun, or a lamp, a feather, a cigarette lighter, or something else you associate with the word light.

What image comes to your mind when you hear the word Jesus? The nativity? Maybe an image of Jesus with little children? What about DaVinci’s painting of the Last Supper? Perhaps you are envisioning the image of Jesus on the cross.

The book of Revelation begins with John’s explanation of the setting and occasion for his writing. He had been banished to the island of Patmos because of his testimony of Jesus Christ. He was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when he heard a sound. Check out his description of what he saw as he turned around.

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance (Revelation 1:12-16, NLT).

John had personally known Jesus and had walked with him for three years. He had seen Jesus in multiple contexts and in a wide variety of settings. Undoubtedly John thought often of Jesus following his ascension and would have perhaps reflected on many of those images. But the time had come for John to release those historical images and receive a new vision of who Christ is.

I wonder if our discipleship becomes hampered because we are holding on to ancient images of Christ. There’s nothing wrong with the Christ of history, but if the only vision we have of Christ is the Christ of the gospel record then we (unintentionally) limit him to what he did 2,000 years ago. Let me encourage you to pursue a fresh vision of Christ. A good way to do that is accomplish that goad would be to give the book of Hebrews a careful read. There you will find a lot of insights to what Christ is doing today.

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heart.tree

Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken awayg unless I drink it, your will be done.” When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!” (Matthew 26:36-46, NLT)

One cannot help but notice struggle Jesus experienced coming to terms with the cross. Just as the crushing press would be lowered three times on the olives, Jesus prayed three times. His prayer is simple yet sustained, “If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

The cup Jesus mentions is a reference to his crucifixion. If he drinks the cup he dies. If he does not drink the cup, we die. Can Jesus accept the Father’s will? His will is for the cup to pass. But the Father’s will is for him to drink the cup. I believe that the thing that enabled Jesus to accept the cup and drink it was his trust in the Father. Reason and rationale became secondary to his trust in God. In the words of my friend Tom Clegg, “You do not have a relationship unless your will can be crossed.” Clearly Jesus relationship with the Father is strong and his trust in the Father carries him through, in spite of what he knows.

We can identify with Jesus’ struggle. Adversity strikes and the challenges become difficult, often without notice. God does not ask us to “approve of” those things. But he may require that we accept those things. Our ability to accept adversity and grow through it is directly tied to our level of trust in God. Jesus was able to trust the Father in prayer because trust and prayer had been a habitual part of his entire earthly life. What if Jesus had never breathed a prayer until that dark night in Gethsemene? We cannot develop trust if the only time we pray is on the eve of crisis. Trust is cultivated through the daily disciplines of prayer, study, worship and reflection.

Categories : Gardens, Jesus, Prayer
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heart.tree

The warm light and brilliant colors of the Garden of Eden and the Garden of En Gedi give way to the darkness of the third biblical garden in my series, the Garden of Gethsemene. Gethsemene is an important garden because we immediately associate it with agony and suffering. It is not physical bodily suffering. That would come later in the chronology. Nonetheless, the suffering of Gethsemene is emotional, mental, and deeply spiritual.

I think Gethsemene is important because Jesus never appears more real and approachable than he is in that setting. Any doubts of his humanity are quickly erased as we try to understand what he experienced. If nothing else, we can at least appreciate his struggle, for in many ways his struggle is our struggle. The suffering of Gethsemene preceeds the suffering of Golgatha. I think it is, in a sense, the death before the death.

The word Gethsemene means “oil press.” In biblical times, olives were raised for their oil, and wherever you found an olive grove you could be sure to find an olive press nearby. The olives would be harvested and placed in a basket atop a flat surface. Then, a massive stone would be lowered onto the olives crushing them so that their precious oil could be extracted. This process would be repeated three times. The first rendering would produce the best oil. The final press would produce the poorest oil that would be used for fuel for lamps. This is important to our understanding of the text that I’ll get into tomorrow.

In the mean time, I pray that this week would be more than just another week. I pray that during each day of holy week you’ll experience Christ in a new, fresh way.

Categories : Gardens, Jesus, Prayer
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Sep
19

Foundations

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Last Wednesday night I was invited to speak at the weekly gathering of InterVarsity on the campus of Drake University. Whenever I do that, I am usually assigned a teaching topic, and my assignment for that evening was to talk about how to build your spiritual life. As I thought and prayed about this, I was led to Jesus closing words in the Sermon on the Mount. “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat agains the house, it will collapse with a mighty crash” (Matthew 7:24-27, NLT). Here are the three observations I made about Jesus’ words.

First, the depth of your foundation will determine the size of your structure. The Petronis Towers in Malaysia stand some 1,483 feet high in the air. At the same time, the foundation of the Petronis Towers plummet 394 feet beneath the surface. Foundations are largely unseen to the eye. Jesus point here is that sand is shallow, but bedrock is deep. You have to go deeper in order to go higher. If you’ll take care of the depth of your life, God will take care of the height and breadth of your life.

Second, building your life on Jesus involves building your life with Jesus. Jesus’ invitation includes listening and following. Those are the words of relationship, not the words of indifferent, rote obedience. Following Jesus means being with him in order to become like him.

Finally, building your life with Jesus does not make you exempt from adversity. The similarity between Jesus’ two examples is striking. Whether the person chooses to listen and follow or chooses to hear and reject is immaterial to the fact that storms will come. If you build your life with Jesus, you’re not exempt from storms. You’re empowered to remain standing regardless of what life throws at you.

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May
18

Peace from Surprising Places

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Peace is a scarce commodity in modern culture. More and more we tend to live in crisis mode, struggling to keep our heads above water as wave after wave of adversity pounds against our lives and homes. Living in survival mode will push hopes for peace to the margins of our prayers. Frankly, most of us don’t even aspire to high ideals such as “peace that passes all understanding.” For many, the only peace we can imagine is the peace that comes from the absence of adversity.

But the peace that Christ speaks of is a peace that comes to our lives even in the midst of adversity. Which brings me to the fourth post resurrection statement of Christ, found in Luke 24:35-40.

“Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread. And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost! “Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet” (NLT).

In the Luke account, Jesus offered his scars as a means of comfort and peace. So how does that work? Think about scars for a moment. What do we know about scars?

First, scars are a sign of a previous wound; evidences of an injury that has occurred in the past. Some of our scars are visible. I have a scar, for example, on the palm of my hand that I received from a bike accident as a kid. I have a couple of other scars like that, but over all have been pretty fortunate. While some of our scars are visible, many are not. Some of the worst scars we carry are scars that cover our hearts. Some times the invisible scars represent more pain than the outer scars etched upon our bodies.

Second, scars are evidence that our wounds can be and have been healed. After all, if its not a scar, its still a wound that remains unhealed. When you see a scar there should at least be a flicker of hope for healing has occurred.

Third, some scars exist because we did exactly what we were supposed to do. I can remember as a child staring wild eyed at a young man just home from Viet Nam. He attended the church where I grew up and had been facially disfigured because he did what his nation called him to do. Jesus, of course is another example of one who bore deep and ugly scars through no fault of his own. He simply did what he was supposed to do. Maybe you have scars as the direct result of doing the right thing.

Fourth, scars are an important part of our maturity. Romans 5:3-5 speaks of God’s purposes in our adversity. Paul states that the trials of life work endurance in our lives which develops godly character, resulting in love. In short, adversity works endurance, and endurance develops character, which helps us to mature into persons who are more loving than before the adversity we experienced.

Finally, scars are a part of our authentication as human beings. They are what make us real. Behind every scar is a story, and those stories help our lives intersect with the lives around us. Scars have a way of reminding us that we are both human and mortal. Those aren’t necessarily bad things. We’re all human and mortal. Sometimes a scar will remind us of that and keep our feet firmly planted in humility and reality.

Now think about Jesus in that quiet room with the disciples. Jesus looked into the eyes of the disciples and saw the turmoil. He showed them his scars and invited them to touch them. In doing so, he invited them to come close, to take a step toward a deeper level of intimacy. Jesus could indentify with their lives, and he can identify with your life. Regardless of what you’ve experienced, Jesus can identify with your scars. To find peace in the midst of your struggle means that you’re going to have to take a step toward, not away from Jesus.

700 years before he was born, the prophet Isaiah said that Jesus would be called the “Prince of Peace.” He’s the ruler of peace and he makes it available to you. He gets the fact that you’ve been hurt or are still hurting, and he invites you to come closer.

Categories : Adversity, Easter, Jesus, Peace
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