Friday, May 30, 2014

For He Must Reign

For He must reign till He has put all His enemies under His feet.
(1 Corinthians 15:25)
In the first half of Psalm 21, we looked at the coronation of King Jesus and the victory of the cross and resurrection, which established His kingdom. Now we shall consider what His reign accomplishes, prefigured in the second half of Psalm 21:
Your hand will find all Your enemies;
    Your right hand will find those who hate You.
You shall make them as a fiery oven in the time of Your anger;
    The LORD shall swallow them up in His wrath,
    And the fire shall devour them.
Their offspring You shall destroy from the earth,
    And their descendants from among the sons of men.
For they intended evil against You;
    They devised a plot which they are not able to perform.
Therefore You will make them turn their back;
    You will make ready Your arrows on Your string
    toward their faces.
Be exalted, O LORD, in Your own strength!
    We will sing and praise Your power.
(Psalm 21:8-13)
The first half of the psalm was about the past victories that established the king. The second half is the anticipation of the future victories the Lord would give to the king. Historically, King David had many victories, and the kingdom reached its zenith during the reign of King Solomon, David’s son. But after that, the kingdom rapidly deteriorated and split in two. After a succession of kings, some good but the others mostly bad, the divided kingdom was carried off into captivity and exile.

It became clear that God would have to raise up a very special king through whom God would fulfill all the wonderful promises and expectations given to Israel about the royal line of David. This Messiah King would not only deliver and restore Israel but would rule over the nations and set everything right in the world. The New Testament finds the fulfillment of this expectation in Jesus of Nazareth. Though He was crucified, God raised Him from the dead and established Him as Messiah and Lord over all (Acts 2:36).

For forty days after the resurrection, Jesus instructed the disciples about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). He announced to them that all authority had now been given to Him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Then He ascended to His throne in heaven, the place of ruling and reigning, at the right hand of the Father.

When King Jesus comes again, all those who belong to Him will be likewise raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). “Then comes the end,” Paul tells us, “when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and power and authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24).

In the meantime, then, King Jesus reigns. “For He must reign till He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25). The Lord Jesus has already been seated at the right hand of the Father, “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21). And now He is in the process of destroying their oppressive rule and bringing them into submission.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Coronation of the King

The king shall have joy in Your strength, O LORD;
     And in Your salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!
You have given him his heart’s desire,
    And have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah
For You meet him with the blessings of goodness;
    You set a crown of pure gold upon his head.
He asked life from You, and You gave it to him —
    Length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great in Your salvation;
    Honor and majesty You have placed upon him.
For You have made him most blessed forever;
    You have made him exceedingly glad with Your presence.
For the king trusts in the LORD,
    And through the mercy of the Most High
    he shall not be moved.
(Psalm 21:1-7)
This is a psalm about King David. But ultimately, it is a song about King Jesus, the Son of David. And it is also about all those who belong to Jesus through faith in Him (see A Tale of Three Kings in the Psalms).

Psalm 21 is a celebration of the victories God has given to the king. Indeed, they are the very victories that have established the king as king, for by them God has “set a crown of pure gold” upon the king’s head.

As we think of Jesus, the great victory that established His kingdom is found in the cross and the resurrection. By them, God has given Jesus the desires of His heart. Though He despised the shame, Jesus willingly endured the cross, because of the “joy that was set before Him,” and He has been seated at the “right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). The great humility of Jesus led to His great exaltation (see The Humble God-Man Exalted with the Highest Glory).

By resurrection from the dead, God has made Jesus, who was crucified for our sakes, both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36). That is, He showed Jesus to be the One whom God anointed as King over Israel and the nations. More than that, by the power of the resurrection, God has seated the Lord Jesus at the right hand of God, “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21).

Jesus asked God for life, and God gave it to Him — length of days forever and ever! How great is the glory with which God has delivered Him, and the honor and majesty God has placed upon Him. He is most blessed forever, and exceedingly glad with the presence of God, at the right hand of the Father.

And in Him, so are we.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Grace and the Remnant Echo of Unworthiness

When we focus on our unworthiness before God, we slip into the legalistic mindset just as much as when we focus on our worthiness. But love does not think that way. So, God, who is love, does not weigh us out as to whether or not we are “worthy.” That simply has no place under His grace. “I am unworthy” is the remnant echo of an old human-wrought system that never did hold sway with God, and was disproven by the Incarnation and the Cross.

Yet there is something in us that wants to keep pointing out our sins to us, however many or few we may think we have, and we often want to compare them against the sins of others. However, that is not the voice of the Father but of the accuser.

But the Holy Spirit is in us to reveal to us the things of the Lord Jesus, things that Jesus has received from the Father (John 16:14). The Spirit is always directing our focus to Christ, and Christ is always revealing the Father to us. When our attention is on Him, not on us, then what other aspiration do we need?

It’s not that we are not important. But we don’t focus on our importance any more than God focuses on His own importance (Philippians 2:5-8). God is love, and the nature of love is to give and serve. In other words, love focuses on the one who is loved. So God focuses on us and we focus on God. We are important to God, significant to Him, because He loves us. And we in turn realize God’s importance, His significance to us, by loving Him.

On what shall our hearts dwell? Shall we look at our unworthiness and count all our sins? Or shall we not rather focus on Christ and have faith in Him? Let us appreciate His love by focusing on God, who is love, revealed to us through Christ by the Holy Spirit. For His grace shatters the remnant echo of unworthiness.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Gospel is a Mystery Revealed

Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith — to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27 NIV)
Paul closes his letter to the Jesus believers at Rome with this doxology. A doxology is a prayer that lavishes praise and honor toward God. It is characteristically a statement about His goodness and eternal glory.

The glory Paul lavishes in this doxology is about the mystery that has been revealed in the gospel of Jesus the Messiah. In the New Testament, a “mystery” is not a secret that God is keeping from us but a secret that God has revealed to us. The mystery Paul refers to is one that was hidden for many long years, until God began to make it known through the writings of the prophets.

There is something interesting here about Paul’s reference to the prophetic writings. He says that it is through them that the age old mystery has been revealed. The mystery was always present in those writings, and Paul began his letter by describing the gospel as something God “promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures” (Romans 1:2).

The promise was always there, though it was not clearly understood. But it was with the coming of Christ that the mystery was revealed through the writings of the prophets. In other words, it is in light of the announcement that God’s Messiah has come into the world that those old prophetic writings now make sense.

We can see this, for example, in Luke 24, when the risen Lord appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They had been confused by recent events — the crucifixion of Jesus on Friday, and then the rumors of what had happened just that morning, the morning of His resurrection.

And now Jesus was walking beside them, though they did not recognize Him, and He explained what all this was about. “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). Later, Jesus appeared to the Twelve (minus Judas), who were just as confused and disturbed as the Emmaus disciples had been, and He began to explain to them, also, from the Scriptures:
“These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”

And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations [i.e., the Gentiles], beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44-47)
The mystery was always present in the Old Testament writings, “hidden in plain sight,” as it were. But it is in the Lord Jesus and the message of the gospel that it’s meaning and significance has now been brought to light.

What, then, is this secret Paul has in mind? It is the revelation that Jesus the Messiah has come not only for the sake of Israel but to deliver the Gentiles as well. The pagan nations, who once had no covenant with God, can now enter covenant with Him through faith in the Lord Jesus, and be blessed with Israel, for Jesus has come to rescue them, too.

Paul talks about this mystery in other letters and in other ways, but it always turns out to be about the glory and grace of God being revealed in the world through Jesus the Messiah.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Word About Divine Glory

The word “doxology” comes from the Greek words doxa, which means “glory,” and logos, which means “word.” A doxology is a word about divine glory. It carries forward the Old Testament meaning of the Hebrew word kabod, which literally means “weight.” As applied to God, it refers to the value and expression of His goodness. The glory of God is the “weight,” or manifestation of His goodness.

A doxology is a prayer that lavishes praise and honor on God. It has two main features: A statement of God’s glory, goodness or praiseworthiness, and an expression of His eternality.

God’s eternality means that He is faithful and that He does not change. Therefore we can trust Him at all times and in every circumstance. The author of Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). As He was in the past, so He is today, so He will be forever. In doxology, the portrayal of His eternal attributes becomes a source of stability, comfort and encouragement for us.

In the New Testament epistles, doxological prayers often arise spontaneously, as the writer gets caught up in awe and wonder at the ways and works of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. In the book of Revelation, we get a glimpse into the throne room of God and see the activity of saints and angels cascading their praises in adoration.
To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5-6)

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come! (Revelation 4:8)

You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created. (Revelation 4:11)

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing! … Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever! (Revelation 5:12-13)

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 7:12)
(For more about these and other doxologies in the New Testament, see Praying With Fire: Change Your World with the Powerful Prayers of the Apostles, available in paperback and Kindle.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Revelation of Love

God is love. (1 John 4:8)
The Lord Jesus Christ is the revelation of God. He is the “express image of His person,” the exact likeness of the Father (Hebrews 1:3). “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Jesus said of Himself, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Jesus is the revelation of the Father, the revelation of all the fullness of God. He is, then, the revelation of love — because God is love.

The Holy Spirit is the revelation of Jesus. He is the Spirit of truth Jesus promised would come (and has now come). Of Him, Jesus said, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14-15).

Jesus is the revelation of God, who is love, and the Holy Spirit is the revelation of Jesus. So, the Holy Spirit, also, is the revelation of love. And, indeed, Paul tells us, “The fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22). The Spirit is at work in us to reveal that fruit through us.

The nature of the Trinity is love, and the love of the Father is revealed to us through Jesus the Son by the Holy Spirit. And by the Holy Spirit, this love is to be revealed in the world through us.

So I offer you this blessing:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. (2 Corinthians 16:14-15)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Random Thoughts

Some thoughts culled from my random file. Some have occurred to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in discussion with others. Some are aphoristic and avuncular. Some I didn’t know what else to do with, so I put them here. For your edification, inspiration and/or amusement — or your money cheerfully refunded.
  • The language of “going” to church can so often and so easily lead people to think that the Church is a building or a meeting instead of what it really is — the body of the risen and ruling Christ.
  • When we begin to understand our identity in Christ, as His body, then the Church is unleashed to be the world-changing people God calls us to be.
  • It is good for the church to gather together regularly, and we are called to do so. But we are still the church even when the worship hour is over and we walk out of the building to go back into the community outside. So instead of “going to church,” I prefer to speak of the church gathered together and the church sent out.
  • The more the Church is present for the sake of the community, and not focused on its own numbers (“nickels and noses”), the more the community is interested in hearing about the Lord we proclaim.
  • The value of a good creed and a good liturgy is that it points us to Christ. But the problem is that we carelessly mumble the creed, rush through the liturgy and do not look to the One to whom they point: God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then it becomes like the master who points at the moon, but the disciple looks only at the pointing finger instead of looking along the finger to behold what the master is pointing toward.
  • On the cross, Jesus not only made provision for the salvation of souls but also for the liberation of the world and all its aspects — even the physical creation itself — from bondage. Because at the cross, Jesus disarmed the principalities and powers (Colossians 1:15), which are the demonic influences behind the corrupted cultural and political systems of the world.
  • The first part of dominion is the last part of kingdom. The “new creation” has already begun in the coming of Jesus the Messiah and His resurrection from the dead, and we are part of it (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our job now is to announce the good news that the King has come into the world to establish His dominion, so that all nations may come into proper alignment with the King and His kingdom through faith in Him.
  • People often do not think through what they say — or what they believe, or what they say they believe — to know how much of what they say is what they really believe. Often what they say is merely a matter of cultural alignment. That is, speaking in agreement with the culture (or subculture, or counter-culture) with which they most identify themselves. And they are usually not much better at it when they come to the Bible and ask what is in it. Do they come to somehow confirm their cultural identity? Or do they come to be challenged by it — their words, their thoughts, their beliefs tested by the Word of God, and their lives changed?
  • For the first eleven centuries, the Church understood the cross mainly in terms of victory over the devil. Is there something we can learn from that?
  • Sometimes the Holy Spirit may lead us in startling ways. More often, though, His leading is so subtle that we do not particularly recognize that it is Him. It may come as a desire, a burden, an intuition about something, the discernment of a particular need we are able to meet, or some other subtle way. And we respond to it in a Christ-life way. (Yes, I said Christ-life, which is also Christ-like.)
  • Sometimes we need to look at the forest, and sometimes we need to consider the tree.
  • Correct theology is important. And yet, according to Jesus, it is by our love for one another that all will know that we are His disciples. In 1 John 4:8, we read that God is love. Theology is something that is about God, but love is something that God is. If we do not have love for one another, I wonder how correct our theology actually is.
  • Show me your theology by your love, and show me your love by your love. I’ve had too many Christians try to show me their love by their theology — it usually does not work out well.
  • When we fail to act in love, even “defending the faith” does harm to the body of Christ.
  • For some Christians, grace is a doctrine. For others, it is a way of life.
More random thoughts ...

Friday, May 2, 2014

Spiritual Growth and the Divine Nature

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Partaking of the divine nature is not instantaneous but a process that takes place over time. Peter clearly has spiritual growth in mind, as we can see from the verses that follow, about adding to our faith. By this he indicates the progressive and ongoing nature of salvation, the outworking of the salvation we initially entered into through faith in Christ. One day we will experience the fullness of salvation when our bodies are glorified and raised immortal just as Jesus’ body has been. So we can say, as Paul did, that we have been saved, we are being saved and we will be saved.

But it is also true that the progressive spiritual growth aspect (as well as our final glorification) are inherent in the salvation we entered into when we first came to know the Lord Jesus. From the beginning of our salvation, we have the ability to partake of the divine nature. It is there for us all along the way, and sums up all we need for life and godliness. But learning how to walk in (or live out) the reality of that is what our spiritual growth is about. And that is what Peter encourages us to in verses 5-9:
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
Because access to the divine nature is inherent in salvation from the beginning, it is part of the atonement — what the work of Christ in the cross and resurrection secured for us. In verse 9, Peter speaks of being “cleansed” of our old sins. That certainly is an atonement reality and an important aspect of our salvation — Jesus washed our sins away. But in verse 4, Peter takes it a step farther when he speaks of escaping the “corruption that is in the world through lust.” In that, we can see that the power of sin has broken so that we no longer have to be corrupted by it. Through the cross, Christ offers us escape from corruption and lust , an escape we can learn to appropriate and live by. This present escape from corruption is also part of the atoning work of Christ.

We appropriate this escape by faith (which is more than mere mental assent to the propositions posed by the atonement), and that is where Peter begins in verse 5: “add to your faith.” What then follows in verses 5-8 (knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love) are not meritorious works but the outworking of faith and the outworking of salvation. It is ultimately expressed as love (last in Peter’s list, but certainly not least). As Paul shows us in Galatians 5:6, faith “works” through love. Again, this not a meritorious work by which we earn anything from God but is the expression of faith. It is love that fulfills the commandments and manifests the divine nature, and by it we really do partake of the divine nature — for God is love.

In Galatians 5, Paul talks about “walking in the Spirit,” and the “fruit of the Spirit.” The “fruit” listed in Galatians 5:22-23 is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Love heads the list, and all the rest can be described in terms of love. This sounds very like the things listed in 2 Peter 1:5-8, which all seem to lead up to love. These things portray for us the character of Christ, and they come forth in us through the Spirit of Christ.

The way Paul speaks about the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5, then, is very like what is described in 2 Peter as being a “partaker of the divine nature.” For how can we bear the fruit of the Spirit of God without being a partaker of the divine nature? Walking in the Spirit of God, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, partaking of the divine nature — this is salvation, central and profound and dynamic.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Following Jesus ~ Salvation and Discipleship

Discipleship is a process. We can also say that salvation is a process. There is a point where salvation begins, and we are “born again” — so that we can say that we have been saved. At the end, when Jesus comes again, there is a point where we will experience glorification (and we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is) — so that we can say that we will be saved. And in between there is a process of sanctification going on in which the life of Christ in us is being worked out — so that we can say that we are being saved.

Salvation, then, is an ongoing process, with a beginning, a middle and an end. And in this process, we are with Christ from beginning to end. So, salvation is also a relational development, a growth in relationship with the Lord Jesus.

When I look at the Great Commission as it is expressed in Mark and Matthew, I do no think that they are talking about two separate things from one another. They are both talking about the same thing, but in two different ways:
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15)

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)
They are both about salvation and they are both about discipleship, even though Mark uses the word “saved” and Matthew does not, but speaks, instead, of making “disciples.” Salvation and discipleship are not two separate issues. When salvation begins, so does our discipleship. Discipleship is what salvation looks like in the process of practical sanctification. It is what faith in the Lord Jesus looks like in the life of a believer.

At this point, let me be quite clear that none of this — salvation, discipleship, sanctification and, indeed, the entire Christian life — is about our own efforts. It is all the work of God in us, by His grace, and we receive it by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now I would like to talk about a couple of passages I have been thinking about lately in regard to salvation and discipleship. The first is Matthew 11:28-30, where Jesus says,
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
The invitation to come to Jesus and receive “rest” is an invitation to salvation. And Jesus tells us here how to find that rest: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me.” That is discipleship. The Greek word for “learn” here is mathete, which is where the word for “disciple” (mathetes) comes from. But notice how this is sandwiched between the two statements about “rest.” Jesus is not talking about rest and discipleship as two different things but as one thing: rest that is expressed as discipleship. The invitation to come to Jesus for “rest” (salvation) and the invitation to “learn” from Him (discipleship) are the same invitation.

The second passage is John 10:27-28, where Jesus says,
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)
Again, being one of Jesus’ sheep indicates salvation. Jesus says He “knows” His sheep. Compare this with Matthew 7:23, where Jesus says to the false teachers, “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Now, notice what Jesus says about those He calls “My sheep,” and whom He knows:
  1. They listen to His voice.
  2. They follow Him.
Listening to Jesus’ voice and following Him — that is discipleship. Now, look at what Jesus gives to His sheep: eternal life, which is the life of the age to come — that is salvation. So in this passage, also, Jesus is not speaking of salvation and discipleship as two separate things but as essentially the same thing — salvation that looks like following Jesus. The life of the age to come is lived out as discipleship in this present age.

With all these things considered, then, the invitation to salvation is the invitation to discipleship. Not two separate and distinct invitations. But, again, whether we are speaking of it as salvation or as discipleship, it is all by grace through faith. Becoming a disciple of Jesus is not a matter of our works but a matter of faith in Jesus. Faith in the Lord Jesus is not merely giving mental assent to a proposition about Jesus. Faith in Jesus looks like following Jesus. Following Jesus is how faith in Jesus expresses itself.

This brings me back to the Great Commission, for an additional thought. The going, the baptizing, the teaching — it’s all part of evangelizing, all part of preaching the gospel. In Mark 16:16 we see that the expected response is faith and baptism. Likewise, in the evangelism practiced by the apostles in the book of Acts, the expected response to the gospel of Christ was repentance, faith and baptism — becoming disciples. In Acts 14:21, for example, making disciples was not presented as some separate activity from preaching the gospel: “They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples.” To evangelize was to make disciples, and to believe the gospel was to become a disciple.