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Word of God

Lecture series: “Who was Jesus, and what does that mean for me?”

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Jesus is a historical (despite the protests of some) and spiritual figure who has divided people for centuries since his brief period of public ministry. It seems safe to say that no one has ever impacted the world in such a short time. No one could, except for one who came as the son of God.

We sometimes take for granted that Jesus is the anchor of our faith, the source of our salvation, the reason that we have hope in this life. Growing up in what I would consider conservative churches of Christ, I think we’ve had a tendency to take this side of our faith for granted. We talk a lot about obedience, about following God, about morality, and those are things we ought to talk about. But sometimes we have a tendency to lose site of why it is that we assemble every Lord’s Day in the first place. It’s vital that as followers of Christ, we keep our eyes focused on the one we’re following!

I had the opportunity to visit the Vegas Drive church of Christ in April and deliver a weekend series of lessons on the topic of Jesus, and I thoroughly enjoyed being with my friends and spiritual family again. I had preached there on a part-time basis for about five years before moving on, and it was a blessing to be back. But the greater blessing was spending time talking about various aspects of our Lord.

I’ve included links below to the audio and also the presentations I used, and I hope you find the contents useful and encouraging – and maybe informative!

Lesson 1:

Was there really a Jesus?

Without opening a Bible, we have strong reason to believe that there was a literal living man named Jesus who went around the region of Judea teaching about the coming kingdom of God. The record of his existence, teachings and life as passed down through the early church, coupled with historical finds from that time period and the undeniable explosion of Christianity after his death are compelling reasons to ask the question: how did this insignificant man in this remote part of the world manage to change human history forever?

View slides: Was there really a Jesus?

Lesson 2:

The ultimate stumbling block: The empty tomb

There is no way to have an honest discussion about who Jesus really was without dealing with the question of the empty tomb. Despite a wide range of speculation and various theories put forth, there has been no explanation given for how a man could predict his own death, successfully stage that death at the hands of a disinterested government, and then make people believe he had risen from the dead. There is even less reason to believe that his disciples later contrived the resurrection account, submitting themselves to torture and death for a cause they knew to be untrue, and somehow managed to convince thousands of people who were all present during the time when the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection took place.

View slides: The empty tomb

Lesson 3

Was Jesus the son of God?

This question goes hand-in-hand with the question of the resurrection. Without a resurrection, the claims of Jesus as God would be empty. Without Jesus being God, his resurrection would have been impossible. Skeptics who deny one must also deny the other. But the growing list of writers who argue Jesus never made the claim to be God’s son are based on a dishonest and selective view of the scriptures. We find overwhelming evidence in all four gospels as well as the epistles and the early church writers that not only did his followers worship him as God, but that Jesus accepted and approved that conclusion.

View slides: Was Jesus the son of God?

Lesson 4

Understanding the thief on the cross

Once we arrive at the conclusion that Jesus was in fact the son of God, sent to live among men, die on a cross, and rise from the dead as the chosen Messiah, we have to start asking what all this means to us? We see Jesus sending out his apostles to all the world to “preach the gospel to every creature.” It is a message of hope and joy, calling men and women of every nation to repent of sin and worldliness, and turn their lives over to the Lord. The story of the thief on the cross in Luke 23 gives a remarkable vision of the grace of God and the saving faith that is required of us today. This is a story that’s often misused, but the central message is that if we believe Jesus’ message despite all the obstacles placed in our way, that Jesus will save us – but it’s his grace, his prerogative, and he decides the conditions of our salvation. Not us!

View slides: Understanding the thief on the cross

Lesson 5

Am I a Christian or a disciple of Christ?

The term “Christian” has become so common and so easily used in our culture, that in many instances it seems to have lost its meaning. Anyone can claim to be a Christian, and we often set the requirements as low as “someone whose family went to a church at some point.” More and more, our culture distances itself from what Jesus truly commanded: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Can we truly call ourselves Christians if we’re not disciples of Christ? What does it really mean to be a disciple? The Bible tells us it means much more than simply acknowledging that Jesus was a real person, or that we agree with his teachings, or even that his claims about himself are true. It means giving our lives to him, conforming ourselves to his image every day.

View slides: Am I a Christian or a disciple?

Lesson 6

The church that Jesus built

The religious world increasingly claims that you can talk about Jesus without talking about the church. But scripture clearly shows us that the church is the body of Christ – the two are inseparable! But what is the church? How does the Bible define it, and is it even still in existence today? If it is, then should I join it – or it is even something I can join at all?

View slides: The church that Jesus built

Knowing Jesus: Jesus prayed like someone was listening

Knowing Jesus: Jesus prayed like someone was listening

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The phrase “prayer warrior” has come into wide use in the religious world in past years, and while I’ve never really been that crazy about the term myself, it clearly resonates with people. It’s a phrase that seems to me to describe someone who prays regularly and with purpose, convinced that a petition to God will truly bring results. It is a phrase that helps people see their daily prayers as a source of real power.

By that definition, Jesus was not a prayer warrior. He was a prayer general.

When Jesus was on the earth, prayer was a part of his daily life and served as a model for his disciples in the most literal way: on at least one occasion, they came to him and asked that he would teach them to pray.

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” — Luke 11:1 1

This passage seems to indicate an instance where the disciples could see and hear Jesus pray, and it impressed them to the point that they asked him for instruction on how they could pray like he did. We often don’t think of teaching people to pray as we might teach them to serve in other acts of worship, or as we might teach them about doctrinal issues or Biblical stories and truths. But I can imagine the disciples seeing Jesus’ attitude toward prayer and hearing the way that he approached God, and then looking at their own prayer lives and wondering why they couldn’t manage that same level of dedication. That’s a question I ask myself a lot, and I suspect I’m not alone.

Jesus responded first by giving them a framework for prayer, which was intended (I believe) as nothing more than a “starter kit” of sorts — some basic concepts that an individual can take, personalize, build upon and use to understand the basic mechanics of prayer. I don’t think Jesus ever intended for it to be recited as an actual prayer as so many do today.

But the words themselves weren’t really the key to why Jesus’ prayer life was so effective. He follows with an illustration:

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘ Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” — Luke 11:5-13

Jesus tells his disciples simply this: If you wouldn’t ignore your children when they ask you for help, why would God ignore His?

To Jesus, prayers were the means for him to address his Father. That seems obvious to us, but I suspect that often our prayers are directed more at the ceiling, or the sky, or some far-in-the-distance point where our words will carry and after that, who knows what will happen? It’s difficult for us to imagine “boldly coming before the throne of grace” and speaking to our God as to our own father. It’s not that we don’t believe that’s what we’re doing, it’s just that some days it feels more like hope than settled truth.

There’s a reason Jesus’ prayer were so powerful: they weren’t acts of faith. Jesus knew God was listening to him because Jesus had been to Heaven, and he had seen the Father!

And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41-42

That’s not to say Jesus didn’t have faith. It’s simply to say that Jesus had first-hand knowledge. Jesus had been with the Father in the beginning. Jesus knew that God heard the prayers of His people, because he had been witness to it. Jesus knew God loved mankind because he was himself the living proof of that love.

One of the central truths of scripture is that prayers of faith work, and doubtful prayers don’t (James 1:6, Matthew 21:21). When Jesus prayed, he prayed with a certainty that we can’t fully duplicate this side of Heaven. That doesn’t mean we can’t pray in true faith and hope, modeling our prayers after our Lord’s. But it does mean that if we’re going to have a truly effective prayer life, we have to be convicted in our faith (James 5:16, Hebrews 11:6).

When we pray to God, do we consider that the God and creator of all the universe—the God who is maintaining all things right now through His own will and power—has given us permission as His children through Christ Jesus to address Him? And that whatever He may be doing, He is now listening?

Jesus knew that to be true, and as a result, he was constantly praying. Let’s work hard to reflect that prayerful attitude in our own lives.

Knowing Jesus: Jesus depended on scriptures

By | Christianity, Knowing Jesus | One Comment

One of the most significant things that we know about Jesus is seen in the only story we have of his childhood. Jesus’ parents discover that he is missing from the family caravan leaving Jerusalem, and eventually he’s found in the temple (Luke 2:46-47), “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”

Luke writes that Jesus grew in wisdom, and when we next see Jesus, it is as a man fully equipped to apply and teach the word of God (Luke 4). He stands up to the temptations from Satan with the same response each time:

“It is written.”

Jesus set an example we absolutely must follow in the way that he treasured the word of God. David wrote “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97), but Jesus’ relationship to the law was even more intimate:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. — John 1:14

Jesus understood the word of God better than anyone before or since, because it was part of him. He was the author of that law, and he was the physical embodiment of God’s word. In submission to God, he constantly pointed people back to the word.

The value of the Old Testament

By my count, Jesus quotes or references material from at least 15 different books in the Old Testament. That includes acceptance of the Septuagint as authoritative across all types of writing: law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), history (1 Samuel, 1 Kings), poetry (Psalms), and prophecy (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Jonah, Micah, Zechariah, Malachi). Some claim that he cited as many as 27 of the 33 books.

Regardless of the number, Jesus confirmed the value of all the Old Testament writings, indicating that even the Psalms of David were both law and prophecy (Matthew 22:42-44), because they were inspired of God. That doesn’t mean David and the psalmists were inspired in the way that an artist is inspired by a sunset or an inventor is inspired by an observed challenge. It literally means that the psalms of David, the prophecies of Isaiah, and the writings of Moses were all breathed out by God (2 Peter 1:20-21). And Jesus treated them with an appropriate level of reverence.

Understanding how to apply scripture

Jesus shows us the value of a deep knowledge of God’s word that goes beyond simply reading the text, but reading and understanding context, being able to make applications and growing in an understanding of God’s nature and His will for us. He provides an example of proper use of scripture in refuting the Pharisees’ accusations about his disciples working on the Sabbath:

He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him:how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, ’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” — Matthew 12:3-7

Jesus cites:

  • Direct command: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,” Hosea 6:6
  • Approved example: David is permitted by virtue of specific need to eat of food that by law he was not authorized to taste (1 Samuel 21:1-6, Leviticus 24:5-9)
  • Necessary inference: If the priests were commanded to perform “work” on the Sabbath day in order to carry out the worship on that day, then it is logical to say that there are examples where doing God’s will should not be prevented through observance of the Sabbath regulations on work – which in most cases were derived from the Jewish rulers’ interpretations of the idea of “work”, rather than the simple command not to work.

That is the essential model for understanding, interpreting and applying scripture. He does not appeal to opinion, human precedent, teachings of leading theologians, popular sentiment, or even conscience. He simply shows that the Pharisees were misapplying scripture because they did not fully understand it.

The word of God as our source of life

Jesus’ reliance on the word, reflected his teachings. When he told the Jews that he was the bread of life, and that his words were spirit and life (John 6:63), he was reflecting his own attachment to the word. When answering Satan in Luke 4, he quoted from the law of Moses in Deuteronomy 8:

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land…  — Deuteronomy 8:2-7

He understood a principle that the Hebrews were meant to learn from their time with Moses in the wilderness: that they were sustained not by their own ability or skill, but by listening to and obeying all that God said.

Imagine being the hero in a movie where you’re required to land a pilot-less plane, with only the instructions from the tower to help. How closely would you follow? How intently would you listen? That is the way in which Jesus viewed God’s law. It is literally the source of life, because it connects us to God. And it is the means by which God guides us into “a good land:” our eternal inheritance.

If the Bible is our lifeline to God, how well do we know it? Is it a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105)? Is it dwelling in us richly (Colossians 3:16)? Are we able to handle it properly with the understanding of how to apply it to our lives and to our efforts to teach others (2 Timothy 2:15)?

Jesus didn’t just love the word. He lived it. So should we.

Is “the God that I know” really God?

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“The God that I know would never disapprove of that.”

“The God that I know won’t accept attitudes like yours.”

“The God that I know would condemn that.”

“The God that I know doesn’t judge me, he forgives me.”

Have you ever heard statements like that? Does it ever strike you that a lot of people who call themselves Christians seem to know a lot of different Gods?

The reality is that scripture tells us that there is no way to truly serve God unless we know God. And that makes sense, doesn’t it? How can I please a boss when I don’t know what they expect of me? How can i please a friend if I don’t know what makes them happy? How can I please the state if I don’t know what the law requires?

When I don’t know, I do whatever seems right to me. That’s how the people of Israel managed their lives for a large portion of the time in which they were in the land of Canaan. When there were no judges to right the ship, no kings to (preferably) impose God’s law on them, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” according to Judges 17:6. With a lack of instruction in the law of Moses from the priests and Levites, no one knew what the law was, or maybe just didn’t care. And that lack of knowledge would haunt God’s people throughout their time in the promised land.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge – Hosea 4:6

For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge – Isaiah 17:10

But those verses are a little deceiving out of context, because it sounds as if there were a lot of people running around the country who didn’t know there was a God. Or didn’t know who He was. Or maybe didn’t know that He had any requirements of them. I don’t think that’s the case, as even in Isaiah’s time, people were still worshiping God. They were just worshiping other gods at the same time. And as it turned out, they weren’t actually worshiping God the way He had commanded them to do it.

In 2 Kings 22-23, the writer tells the story of King Josiah, who found the book of the law during a renovation of the temple. Upon reading it, he discovered that the people had been expected to observe the Passover feast—which they had stopped doing some time back. It’s not as if it would be intuitive for them to reason that if there’s a God, then He clearly must want them to celebrate the exodus from Egypt on an annual basis with a ritual feast. That’s the kind of thing God has to tell people for them to know.

I can climb every mountain in the world, gaze out over sunsets every day of my life, listen to the birds singing in the wind until my cares melt away, and not one second of that will instruct me on what God wants me to do with my life. Because it’s one thing to know there’s a God. It’s another thing to know God.

And God doesn’t simply give you knowledge. You have to work for it.

 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. – Act 17:22-27

God isn’t easy to understand, let alone truly know. We read of God as being merciful and vengeful. Patient and fed up. Loving and punishing. Wanting all to be saved and yet unwilling to have fellowship with unrighteousness. Plenty of intelligent, thoughtful scholars have wrestled unsuccessfully with those seeming contradictions, and some have even left the faith because they simply didn’t think they made sense.

Because if they were God, they wouldn’t be like that!

The problem is, earthly wisdom and insights won’t bring us closer to God. They’re more likely to push us farther away.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. – 1 Corinthians 1:20-21

God’s thoughts aren’t our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). If we find God agreeing with us all the time, we might want to revisit the scriptures, because God does not make decisions that we would make. He sees more, knows more and understands more than we can ever process. So why do we assume that if we don’t think something’s a big deal, God doesn’t think it’s a big deal either?

We have one way to understand God: to listen to what God tells us about Himself, either through his prophets or through Jesus Christ, his son (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus was God’s way of revealing Himself to mankind, taking on the form of a human and helping us to see God’s nature (John 14:9, 1:18) in a way we couldn’t understand through the Old Testament alone. And through the Spirit, Jesus passed that knowledge on to his apostles (Matthew 28:20, John 16:13-15), so that they could share that understanding with the world.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. – Romans 10:14-17

We can’t assume that we’ll simply figure out God on our own. God’s plan for salvation of mankind rests on our willingness to listen to the gospel—all the gospel, not just the parts that “sound like what God would say”—and place our faith not in our own ability to intellectualize God’s divine nature or to feel some intangible sense that God loves me, but in the testimony of earthen vessels and a belief in a God who surpasses all understanding.

Did Jesus really hate religion?

By | Christianity | 2 Comments

I want to address what many believe is the most diabolical, despicable, hateful word we can possibly use in 21st Century Christianity:

Religion.

Seems that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Anyway, to do that, I’m trying something a little different. Since my thoughts on this were a little more in-depth (or in preacher-speak, I “ran long”), I wanted to present it in a way that might be a little more digestible. And I’m hoping that this format will be helpful.

Please let me know your thoughts – is this a useful tool or should I stay low-tech and just write it all down?

Anyway, I pray you find this useful and in accordance with God’s will!

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