Friday, January 23, 2015

Finding Messiah, Learning Stability

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 1:40-42 NIV)
Prophecies of a coming Messiah who would rule over Israel and the nations and set things right in the world. Rumors of unusual encounters with wise men and shepherds. A wild man of the desert preaching and baptizing at the Jordan. A fresh breath of anticipation was beginning to blow — at least, for those who were ready to breathe.

Andrew was learning to inhale. He had been one of the disciples of John the Baptist and heard him speak of Jesus of Nazareth as the “Lamb of God” and “God’s Chosen One.” He and another, who also heard John, followed Jesus. Literally. By the end of the day they had become his disciples. They began to understand what — and who — it was they were seeking, and discovered in Jesus an abiding place for their lives.

The first thing Andrew did after entering this new life with Rabbi Jesus was to go find his brother Simon. He was a man on a mission — he must tell him the good news: “We have found the Messiah.”

Messiah is a Hebrew term, so John the Evangelist interprets it into Greek, the language in which the Gospel According to John was originally written. The Greek term for Messiah is Christ (actually, both “Messiah” and “Christ” are anglicized versions of the original Hebrew and Greek forms). More important, though, is what Messiah and Christ mean, and what they refer to. Both words mean “Anointed,” and refer to the one God promised to anoint as King over all (see Psalm 2).

Simon was, no doubt, familiar with the promises of a coming Messiah, as every good Jew was in those days, although there were differing ideas about what the fulfillment of those promises would look like. However, he does not appear to have been a follower of John the Baptist, as Andrew had been. Perhaps he was wearied by the various speculations about Messiah. Perhaps he was jaded by the religious/political factions and intrigues of his day. Maybe he was even losing faith that Messiah would ever appear at all. After all, it had been a long time coming.

And now here was Andrew bursting in upon him to announce, “We have found him. We have found Messiah!” Then in a “come and see” moment, Andrew brought him to meet Jesus. Simon would not return home the same.

Jesus “looked at” Simon. More than a glance, it was penetrating. Jesus was studying him, discerning him, perceiving him. The Greek word is the same one used about what had happened the day before when John the Baptist was with Andrew and another disciple. John, “looking at” Jesus, announced to them, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:36).

Seeing Simon, Jesus understood something about him that Simon did not understand about himself, something that had not up to this point been revealed in his life. Then Jesus spoke it out: “You are Simon son of John.” Simon knew that well enough, of course. He had lived with it all his life. But then Jesus added, “You will be called Cephas.”

It was a life-changing moment for Simon. Jesus identified who he was, but then he announced not just what he would be called but who he would be. Indeed, in that moment, Jesus was calling forth that new identity in him, prophesying it over him, speaking a powerful word of destiny to him.

The name Cephas comes from an Aramaic word, kepha. The Gospel of John translates it into Greek for us: Peter (again, “Cephas” and “Peter” are anglicized forms for the original Aramaic and Greek words). Both words mean the same thing: Simon would be called Rock!

Peter was a passionate but impulsive man, and probably not the sort we would consider as possessing the strength of stability. He had a rocky personality and it was a bit humorous to call him Rock. Like calling a fat man Slim. Or a tall man Shorty. Or a bald man Curly. Yet, Rock is what Simon would be called — Jesus was calling it to be. All that was needed was for Simon to follow Jesus into that new reality.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Epiphany: Following Jesus

Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. (John 1:35-37)
The “next day” is the day after John the Baptist gave his testimony concerning Jesus: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He told how he saw the Spirit of God come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Jesus. He had received a revelation from God that “the man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). John saw and testified that Jesus is God’s Chosen One, which is to say, the Messiah, anointed by God to be king over Israel and the nations.

The following day, John was with two of his disciples. One of them, as we learn in verse 40, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. The other was unnamed but has traditionally been identified as John (not the Baptist but the disciple of Jesus). John saw Jesus coming and drew their attention to him: “Behold the Lamb of God!” They embraced that revelation of Jesus and realized that this was the one for whom they had been waiting, the one whose way John had been preparing all along.

So they began following Jesus. Literally. One moment they were John’s disciples, then suddenly they were following after Jesus. Yet it all seemed quite natural. Their feet simply followed their hearts. They walked behind Jesus, as disciples did in those days, until he turned around and saw them.

Jesus stopped and asked them a question: “What do you seek?” (v. 38). It was a probing question. Did they understand what it was they were looking for? Were they ready for what it would mean in their lives? Many people do not know what it is they really want but often confuse means for ends. But it is an important question for all who would follow Jesus.

They answered Jesus’ question with a question: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” (v. 38). Rabbi was a title of great respect and was used to mean “Teacher.” The two disciples were looking for a dwelling place. Not a physical abode — they were not homeless — but a place for their souls to be at home. They wanted to learn from Jesus, to be his disciples.

Jesus’ answer was a simple invitation: “Come and see.” So they came and saw. They remained with Jesus for the rest of the day and, as it turns out, for the rest of their lives. On the night of the Last Supper, at the end of his ministry, Jesus would teach them something quite unexpected about his dwelling place: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). And, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:4). Though they did not know it on that first day, they would be Jesus’ dwelling place and he would be theirs forever.

What do you seek? Where do you dwell? Come and see.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Baptism of the Lamb

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
The “next day” is the day after John the Baptist had a set-to with Pharisees and Jewish leaders at the river Jordan. It was also some time after John baptized Jesus. Now John sees Jesus coming his way again, and he identifies him publicly: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Though John preached a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin” (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3 NIV) it could not itself take away sin, and was never intended to. John’s role was to prepare the way of the Lord, and the baptism he offered was to prepare the people to receive the one to come who would bring forgiveness. John did not know who this one, not until he came to be baptized by John. It was by this baptism that the messianic identity was revealed, and John gives solemn witness to it:
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God's Chosen One.” (John 1:32-34 NIV)
“Behold!” John says. He is arresting the attention of his listeners, giving them a new focus, inviting them into a new revelation.

“The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This is a sacrificial lamb, a pure and spotless lamb, a lamb that takes away sin. Jesus came to John to be baptized, though he had no sin of his own to confess and nothing to repent of. But in the humility of baptism, he identified with the people who very much needed to have their sin taken away. And submitting to those baptismal waters, he foreshadowed the death, burial and resurrection by which he would deal with sin once and for all. The Lamb of God takes away the sin of the whole world and not just that of Israel.

Christian baptism mirrors the baptism of Jesus. In his baptism, Jesus identifies with us. In our baptism, we are identified with him. In his baptism, Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection are prefigured. In our baptism, we are immersed in his death, burial and resurrection. In his baptism, Jesus is revealed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In our baptism, we are revealed as those whose sin is taken away. Behold!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Baptizer in the Spirit

“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27*).
Who did this John that was baptizing people out in the wilderness think he was? That’s what the Pharisees and Jewish leaders wanted to know. Was he Messiah? Was he Elijah, who had not died but was carried off to heaven in a chariot and would come again at the end time? Was he the Prophet, the one like Moses who also would come in the last days?

No, no and no. John’s answers were short. He was getting annoyed.

The Jewish leaders were also annoyed. “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (John 1:22).

John answered in words that echoed the promise of Isaiah 40:3. “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord’” (John 1:23).

Then the Pharisees in the group stepped closer. They had been sent to interrogate, and they had an agenda — John’s message of repentance had not been very kind toward them. “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” they asked (John 1:25).

“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27).

No, John is not the Messiah. But he is the one who comes before and prepares the way of Messiah. He is the forerunner Isaiah prophesied about. So he preached a baptism of repentance, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2 NKJV).

There was no comparison between John and the Messiah who was about to come — and who was already in their midst. John could only baptize with water. But Messiah would bring something much greater: fulfillment to the messianic promise God foretold through the prophet Ezekiel:
For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:24-27)
When Messiah came, God would not only baptize his people with clean water and wash away their impurities, he would also give them a new heart and a new spirit. Indeed, God would put his own Spirit in them!

John’s answer to the Pharisees, then, was indirect: John baptized with water … but Messiah was already among them. Those who had ears to hear would be able to understand. On the next day, however, when the Pharisees were gone, John saw Jesus coming and said, “This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel” (John 1:30-31). Jesus had already been baptized by John at this point, and John testified about it:
I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:32-33)
John could only baptize with water, but he who was baptized with the Spirit is also the one who now baptizes us with the Spirit. And throughout the Gospel of John, we can see this means for us:
Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (John 3:5-8)

For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. (John 3:34-35)

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24)

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you — they are full of the Spirit and life. (John 6:63)

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39)

If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and 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 14:15-17)

All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:25-26)

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father — the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you." (John 16:12-15)

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22)
*All Scriptures in this post, except where noted, are taken from the New International Version.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Star, a Baptism and Some Mighty Fine Wine


At the end of Christmas comes the season of Epiphany, which begins on January 6. Epiphany means “appearing” or “manifestation.” In this season, we celebrate the ways King Jesus the Messiah has been revealed in the world. We remember especially a star, a baptism and some mighty fine wine.
  • A star. Wise men came from the east, following a rising star and in search of the newly born King of the Jews, that they might worship him. Herod had no idea that such a birth had occurred and was incensed when he learned of it. But the wise men, who were pagans — that is, Gentiles, who had no covenant with the God of Israel — came and found Jesus the Messiah and honored him with rich gifts, revealing him in his majesty.
  • A baptism. John the Baptist was sent by God to reveal Messiah to Israel. He announced that the kingdom of God was at hand and preached a baptism of repentance, preparing the way of the Lord. Jesus came to be baptized by him, an act that identified Jesus with his repentant people as well as with the purpose of God. Coming out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and rested upon him, and the voice of the Father announced, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” revealing Jesus as Messiah — the Son whom God anointed as King over Israel and the nations.
  • Some mighty fine wine. When the wine ran out at a wedding feast Jesus and his disciples were attending, his mother came for him to do something about it. “Why do you involve me?” Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come.” Yet Mary, his mother, turned to the servants and told them to do whatever Jesus said. Jesus had them fill large stone water jars with water, then he told them to take some of it to the master of the banquet. The master tasted it and commended the bridegroom for saving the best wine for last. The water that became wine revealed Jesus in his divine glory.
We remember these things as we enter into the season of Epiphany, but we also watch for the ways Jesus is revealing himself in the world and making his kingdom known today. How is Jesus working in your life? How does he desire to work through your life? What would you like him to do in your life and in the world? Do whatever he tells you.

(See also, The Light Has Come and Reigning King and Well Pleasing Servant)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Random Thoughts for a New Year


Random thoughts for a new year, culled from the old one. About faith, love, life and relationship with God. Some have come to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Some are aphoristic and avuncular. Many have been tweets and updates. Offered for your edification — or your money cheerfully refunded.
  • The reason we need to keep having the gospel preached to us is because salvation is not just about our acquittal, it is also about our transformation. And it is not just about individuals, it is about the community of faith, the people God is growing together. And it is about the world God is renewing through the Lordship of Jesus the Messiah and the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to be drawn deeper and deeper into these realities so that the glory of God may be revealed in and through us.
  • The world will not be changed by the gospel until we are changed by the gospel.
  • When we proclaim the gospel, we are presenting the kingdom of God, because we are presenting the King. When anyone receives the gospel, they are receiving the kingdom of God because they are receiving the King.
  • The nature of the kingdom of God is to manifest the love of God.
  • Where the love of God is manifested, the kingdom of God is present.
  • The funny thing about sacrifice is that when you love, you don’t think about the sacrifice you make — you think about the person you love.
  • Inheritance is what we receive from those who came before us and legacy is what we leave for those who come after. The inheritance we have received opens many doors for us. The legacy we leave will open doors for the next generation. But we must be careful to sort through the inheritances we have received because not all the doors they open are ones that ought to be opened, nor should they become part of the legacy we leave.
  • Whenever you speak to a child, you are speaking to the future. Indeed, you are speaking the future itself. Choose your words carefully.
  • There is a relationship between faith in Jesus and following Him. Those who trust Jesus, follow Him. Those who do not follow Jesus, do not trust Him.
  • Following Jesus a lifelong journey, and you never know where it will lead you. But you go with Him anyway because you trust Him.
  • I think I’ve just about come to the place in my life of realizing that the only thing I can do is set my love upon the Lord — and even that is His own love burning in me — but that is quite enough.
  • Have you ever thought of worship as spiritual warfare? One of the hymns I like to sing is “When Morning Gilds the Skies.” In the second verse, it says, “The powers of darkness fear when this sweet chant they hear: May Jesus Christ be praised.” Our worship continually announces the Lordship of Christ to the principalities and powers — and that is a very powerful thing.
  • If God gives you more than you can handle, He will handle it.
  • If at any time today you start to realize how much more you need the Lord Jesus than you knew before, you are having a good day.
  • We cannot create diversity any more than we can create unity — or both become restrictive and deadening. But true diversity, like true unity, is a gift from God.
  • Faith in the promise of God creates expectation.
More random thoughts …

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Appointed Time Has Come

You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
    for it is time to show favor to her;
    the appointed time has come.
For her stones are dear to your servants;
    her very dust moves them to pity.
The nations will fear the name of the LORD,
    all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.
For the LORD will rebuild Zion
    and appear in his glory.
(Psalm 102:13-16 NIV)
The appointed time has come, the time of God’s favor and compassion on Zion. This is the song of Christmas and the pursuit of the wise. It is the benediction of Zechariah: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets” (Luke 1:68-70).

It is the magnificent praise offered by Mary: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior … He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever” (Luke 1:46-47, 54-55).

It is the wonderment of the angels: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord … Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:10-11, 14 NIV).

It is the thanksgiving of Simeon, who lived in expectation of seeing the Messiah, as he was promised by the Holy Spirit: “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” (Luke 2:29-32).

It is the testimony of Anna, who inhabited prayer all her life and witnessed the fulfillment of what had been promised to Simeon. She, too, saw the Messiah: “And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

It is the quest of the Magi, pagan star-gazers who came seeking the Messiah: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2).

The appointed time of God’s favor is the ministry of the Lord Jesus Himself. “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15). And in the synagogue, Jesus stood and read from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then He sat down to teach and declared: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:17-19, 21 NIV). Through the Cross and the Resurrection, Jesus Messiah won the victory and established His kingdom forever.

The appointed time has come, the time of God’s favor and compassion on Zion — and on the rest of the world — and it began at Christmas.