Sunday, May 20, 2012

All Authority in Heaven and on Earth

Today is Ascension Sunday. We celebrate the day King Jesus the Messiah ascended to His throne at the right hand of the Father, where He now rules and reigns with all authority in heaven and on earth.

Matthew 28:18-20
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
Mark 16:14-20
Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
Luke 24:46-53
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, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.
Acts 1:4-11
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
1 Corinthians 15:20-25
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says:
“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”
(Now this, “He ascended” — what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
Ephesians 4:7-16
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Gospel of the King in John

The Gospel According to John does not use the noun “gospel” (Greek, euaggelion, evangel) as in Matthew and Mark, or the verb for “preaching the gospel” (Greek, euaggelizo, evangelize, “gospeling”), but it is about the gospel all the same.

John uses the word “kingdom” only five times. Two of these are found, significantly, in Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus, which we will look at in just a moment. The other three are found in just one verse, John 18:36, which we will also see in a minute. However, John does use the word “king” quite a bit, as do the other Gospel writers, and all in reference to Jesus. Also, like the other Gospel writers, he frequently uses the word “Christ,” which means “Messiah,” or more literally “Anointed One,” and which refers to the one God has anointed to be King (see Psalm 2). And, as in the other Gospels, He is called “Son of God,” the implications of which, also in view of Psalm 2, identify Him as King.

All three —“Christ,” “Son of God” and “King” — establish the identity of Jesus as King in the Gospel of John and, indeed, in all four Gospels. We find these three in the first chapter of John and they all attest to Jesus as King.
  • From John the Evangelist’s exposition on Jesus as the Word: “For the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (v. 18).
  • From the testimony of John the Baptist concerning Jesus: “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God” (v. 34).
  • Andrew’s testimony to His brother Simon Peter after encountering Jesus: “We have found the Messiah” (v. 41).
  • Nathanael’s exclamation to Jesus: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel” (v. 49).
Let’s look at Jesus’ famous encounter with Nicodemus, who came to him late one night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” A few verses later, He reiterated, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 6).

The language of being “born again” has everything to do with seeing and entering the kingdom of God. The language about being born of water and the Spirit goes back to Ezekiel 36:24-28, which looked forward to the time of God’s Anointed King coming to establish His kingdom on earth. (For more on this meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus, see my four-part series: 1. Nicodemus and the Gospel of the Kingdom, 2. The Promised Kingdom, 3. Water, Spirit and the Kingdom of God, 4. Believing the King.)

Now, let’s look for a moment at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which all four Gospel writers record. All four understand it in terms of the kingdom of God and its King. Matthew sees it as fulfillment of Zechariah’s messianic prophecy: “Behold, Your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Matthew 21:5, quoting Zechariah 9:9).

The people shouted loud Hosannas, a word which comes from the first part of Psalm 118:25 (Hebrew, Hoshia na!, “Save now!”). Psalm 118 is a messianic psalm about the stone rejected by the builders but who has become the chief cornerstone, and about Israel’s day of deliverance and victory over the nations.

The Gospel writers draw out different elements of praise that were brought along with those Hosannas. Mark shows the people saying, “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord” (Mark 11:10). Luke records them saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD” (Luke 19:38). And John recalls, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! The King of Israel!” (John 12:13). John also quotes Zechariah in connection with it: “Behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt” (John 12:15).

All four Gospel writers also deal with Jesus’ dialogue with Pilate. John’s treatment, though sparse, is the most extensive:
Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?”

Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?”

Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (John 18:33-37)

Pilate then had Jesus scourged and, at the insistence of the chief priests and Jewish leaders, had Him crucified. Then we read:
Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was:


Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘He said, “I am the King of the Jews.”’”

Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” (John 19:19-22)
The crowd on Palm Sunday, the chief priests and Jewish leaders, and Pilate all recognized that Jesus claimed to be the King over Israel. The Jewish crowd received His claim and celebrated Him. The chief priests and the mob they instigated denied His claim. Pilate accepted His claim, though he clearly did not understand the deep significance of it.

Throughout the Gospel According to John we also see the identity of Jesus as Christ (Messiah) recognized and affirmed.
  • John the Baptist identified Him as Christ (John 1:20-30; 3:28).
  • Andrew told his brother, Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41).
  • The Samaritan woman at the well testified, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:29).
  • Many of her fellow Samaritans agreed, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).
  • Simon Peter and the disciples affirmed it: “Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69).
  • Many Jews agreed. “And many of the people believed in Him, and said, ‘When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?” (John 7:31). And again, “Others said, ‘This is the Christ’” (John 7:41).
  • Jesus understood Himself to be the Messiah. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
  • John wrote his Gospel account so we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
The significance of Messiah, as found for example in Psalm2, is that He is the one anointed by God to be King. Likewise, the identity of Jesus as the Son of God, seen in some of the examples above as well as other places in John, also shows Him to be King, because the one God anointed to be King, in Psalm 2, is His own Son.

The Gospel of John, then, is the good news about God’s Anointed King.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Gospeling the Kingdom in Luke

While Mark speaks of the gospel itself (euaggelion, the evangel), Luke speaks of the act of preaching the gospel (euaggelizo, evangelizing).

The Gospel of Luke begins with a statement about fulfillment: “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us …” (Luke 1:1). The gospel is the fulfillment of what God promised Israel in the Old Testament. Concerning the birth of John the Baptist, the angel Gabriel spoke to Zechariah and said,
He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,” and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:17-18)
There is fulfillment here concerning what was prophesied at the very end of the book of Malachi, about Elijah coming to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers. There is also fulfillment here of passages such as Isaiah 40, about “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the LORD’” (v. 3). This fulfillment is about the gospel, as we can see in what the angel said next:
And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings [euaggelizo].” (Luke 1:19)
Likewise, the birth of Jesus is gospel fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. The same angel that appeared to Zechariah also came to Mary and said,
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:30-33)
As we saw in Matthew and Mark, so we find also in Luke the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to David about an heir who would reign on his throne forever. There is also an echo of the promise of Messiah in Isaiah 9:6-7, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder … Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.”

Mary, in her praise song to the Lord, recognizes the fulfillment that God was now bringing about. “He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed forever” (Luke 1:54-55). The promise God made to Abraham, to David and to Israel all find fulfillment in the birth of Jesus. The is the good news of the gospel.

Zechariah also, in his praise song to the Lord after the birth of John, sees the fulfillment of God’s great promise to His people:
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, who have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham: To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. (Luke 1:68-75)
Here again, the promises to Abraham, David and Israel find fulfillment in the gospel. So, when Jesus is born, the angels come to announce the good news to shepherds nearby:
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings [euaggelizo] of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)
When Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the temple to present Him before the Lord, old Simeon observes and sings, “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). Once again, we see that the good news of Jesus’ birth brings fulfillment to God’s promise to Israel. There is also indication here that this good news is not just for Israel but also for the Gentiles (the nations). This echoes Old Testament promises such as Isaiah 60:3, “The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

In Luke 3, John the Baptist begins his ministry as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord” (v. 4). Luke comments about John’s gospel ministry: “And with many other exhortations he preached [euaggelizo]to the people" (Luke 3:18).

When Jesus came to the synagogue at Nazareth, He preached the promise God made in Isaiah:
And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel [euaggelizo] to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:17-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2)
Then Jesus sat down to teach and declared, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Though He was not well received at Nazareth, He went down to Capernaum, where He astonished many with the authority of His teaching. After healing many diseases and expelling many demons, He said, “I must preach [euaggelizo]the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.” Here we see that His gospel was explicitly about the kingdom of God, and is what He preached in the synagogues throughout Galilee (Luke 4:43-44). “Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings [euaggelizo] of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him” (Luke 8:1).

Not only were the twelve disciples with Jesus as He gospeled the kingdom but He also sent them out to do the same. “He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2). The word for “preach” here is not euaggelizo but kerusso, to herald or proclaim. However, the content is the same, the kingdom of God. A few verses later, we see that the disciples were actually evangelizing: “So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel [euaggelizo] and healing everywhere” (Luke 9:6). Jesus’ ministry of preaching and teaching and healing was always about the kingdom of God.
And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing. (Luke 9:10-11)
To one who wished to become a disciple but first wanted to wait until he could rebury his father’s bones, Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60). The word for “preach” here is not euaggelizo, but a related one, diaggelizo, which means to announce the message thoroughly and everywhere.

When Jesus sent the seventy disciples out as laborers into His harvest, the message was the kingdom: “Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:8-9).

The Pharisees supposedly valued the law and the prophets, but they did not recognize the fulfillment of what was promised in them, so they derided Jesus. But Jesus answered, “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached [euaggelizo], and everyone is pressing into it” (Luke 16:16).

The message of the kingdom of God is pervasive throughout the Gospel According to Luke. There are at least 43 explicit references to it from beginning to end. These include (in addition to the ones we have already seen):
  • For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. (Luke 7:28)
  • To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God. (Luke 8:10)
  • But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20)
  • But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. (Luke 12:31)
  • Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)
  • They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:29)
  • The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21)
  • Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life. (Luke 18:29-30)
  • And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:29:30)
There are also references to the kingdom that are similar to what we have seen in Matthew and in Mark. The preaching of the gospel that we find in the Gospel According to Luke is about the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament, which are summed up in the kingdom of God.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Gospel of the Kingdom in Mark

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)

There are four Gospels in the New Testament, but only one gospel. The books that are commonly called “Gospels” (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are each about the one gospel. That is why they have traditionally been called “The Gospel According to [Matthew, Mark, Luke, John].” These books do not merely contain snippets of the gospel, but everything in them is about the gospel.

Matthew began his telling of the gospel with, “The book of the generations of Jesus Christ, the Son of Abraham, the Son of David” (Matthew 1:1), marking Jesus’ connection to the promise God made to Abraham to bless the whole world, and the promise to King David about the messianic descendent who would reign on his throne forever.

Mark begins his telling of the gospel very directly, as is his style throughout, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Then he moves quickly through the identification of John the Baptist and what his role was, the baptism of Jesus by John, and the temptation in the wilderness. Then on to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry:
Now after John was put in prison, 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)
The gospel Jesus preached was about the kingdom of God. The content was the announcement that the time was fulfilled and the kingdom of God was now at hand. In verse 1, we see “the gospel of Jesus Christ,” and in verses 14-15, “the gospel of the kingdom of God.” These are not two different gospels. Rather, the gospel is the announcement of the good news that the kingdom of God has come and that Jesus the Messiah is the King. The response that is called for is to repent and believe that good news. Repentance is a change of mind that brings a change of direction. In this case, repentance is turning toward the kingdom of God and its King.

As we saw in Matthew, so we find in Mark: Jesus preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God in numerous parables and sayings (Mark 4:11, 26, 30; 9:1, 47). In Mark 10:14-15, for example, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” His message was not just that the kingdom of God was at hand but that one must “receive” it, that is, to take hold of it, as if by hand (Greek, dechomai). We must take hold of it as a little child, in full dependence and trust.

A few verses later, Jesus encountered a rich, young ruler who came seeking “eternal life.” Jesus told him, “Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me” (v. 21). But it turned out that the young man valued his possessions more than the kingdom of God, so he went away.

Seeing this, Jesus said to the disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (v. 23), and “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (vv. 24-25).

The disciples were astonished and asked each other, “Who then can be saved?” (v. 26). Jesus answered, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (v. 27).

Then Peter said, “See, we have left all and followed You” (v. 28). It sounds like a statement but he was really asking a question, looking for some assurance: Is there a place for me in the kingdom of God?
So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)
Notice that throughout this dialogue, the theme has been the kingdom of God. So when Jesus speaks of “My sake and the gospel’s,” it is about the good news of the kingdom, of which Jesus Himself is King. Eternal life, which is what the rich, young ruler came seeking, is also about the kingdom. The kingdom of God has to do both with the time that is now (“now in this time) and also with “the age to come.” Indeed, it is the life of “the age to come” breaking into this present time.

In Mark 11, we read about the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Many people came and spread out their clothes and palm branches on the road before Him and shouted, “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 10). This is the same kingdom Jesus gospeled about in Mark 1:14-15, because He is the one who fulfills the covenant promise God made to David.

To the scribe who responded well to Jesus’ word about the Great Commandment (see Mark 12:29-31), He answered, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (v. 34).

In Mark’s account of the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:1-37), Jesus said “And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations” (Mark 13:10). There is no other gospel that has been presented in Mark except the gospel of the kingdom. It is not just for Israel but also for the nations of the world.

In Mark 15, Pilate asked Jesus if He was the King of the Jews. Jesus answered that this was so. In this chapter, He is referred to as King of the Jews five times (Mark 15:2, 9, 12, 18,26), the final time being a reference to the inscription over Jesus’ head as He hung on the cross.

When Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and being prepared for burial, we read of Joseph or Arimathea, and another reference to the kingdom:
Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. (Mark 15:43)
After the resurrection but before He ascended to heaven, Jesus gave the disciples the Great Commission:
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen. (Mark 16:15-20)
As Jesus ascended to His throne at the right hand of the Father, the place of ruling and reigning, what gospel would He send the disciples out to preach to the nations except the one He Himself came preaching — the gospel of the kingdom of God.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Gospel of the Kingdom in Matthew

The “gospel of the kingdom” is very prominent in the Gospel of Matthew. John the Baptist came preaching about it, saying, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2). He identified himself, in Matthew 3:3, as the forerunner prophesied in Isaiah 40, a passage that speaks of Messiah, God’s Anointed King, in gospel terms: “bring good tidings” (found twice in Isaiah 40:9, the Greek word used in the Septuagint is euaggelizo; see Gospeling in the Old Testament).

Jesus also, after His baptism and the temptation in the wilderness, began His ministry preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:17). Matthew records, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people” (Matthew 4:23). The Sermon on the Mount gives us the substance of that preaching. It is the announcement that the kingdom was at hand and what it means to participate in it.
  • The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) are bookended by the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven … Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
  • The passage on the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17-20) is in reference to the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (vv. 19-20).
  • In “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus teaches us how to pray: “You kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of God is the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and glory forever. Amen.”
  • In regard to the daily necessities of life, Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
  • There is a warning about false prophets, with the conclusion, “Not everyone ho says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:15-21).
This sermon was not a one-off. Everywhere Jesus went, He preached about the kingdom of God: “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matthew 9:35).

When John the Baptist sought reassurance about whether Jesus was the Messiah, God’s Anointed King, Jesus sent back the answer, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5). The gospel He preached to the poor was surely the same one He had been preaching all along, the “gospel of the kingdom.”

Then, concerning John, Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:11-12).

Jesus not only preached the gospel of the kingdom, He demonstrated it as well. He said, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28).

The parables Jesus taught were about the kingdom of God. When the disciples asked why He taught the people in parables, Jesus answered, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11). That is why He said to the people, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (v. 9). Those who had ears to hear His parables would understand the mysteries of the kingdom. Jesus explained the parable of the sower with these words: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom …” (Matthew 13:19). Many of Jesus parables are expressly about the kingdom, using His customary formula, “The kingdom of heaven is like …” (Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47).

Jesus concluded the parables in Matthew 13 and said to the disciples, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a household who brings out of his treasure things new and old” (Matthew 13:52). He instructed His disciples concerning the kingdom of heaven because that is what He was training them to preach and teach.

In Matthew 18, the disciples asked Jesus, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus set a little child before them and answered, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). In Matthew 19:14, Jesus reiterates, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

In the next chapters are additional parables explicitly about the kingdom, again beginning with introductory words, “The kingdom of heaven is like …” (Matthew 18:23; 20:1; 22:1).

In Matthew 24, which contains what is known as the Olivet Discourse, Jesus addresses the disciple’s questions about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the sign of His coming and the end of the age. In His answer, He said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (v. 14). The gospel Jesus preached and taught to the disciples was not just for Israel but for all the nations of the world.

In Matthew 25, after two more parables explicitly about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus spoke of when the Son of Man gathers together the nations for judgment. He will separate them like a shepherd separates sheep from goats, with the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Jesus, who has throughout the Gospel of Matthew identified Himself as the Son of Man, now refers to Himself as the King: “Then the King will say to those on His right hand …” (v. 34), “And the King will answer and say to them …” (v. 40).

At the end of Matthew, after the cross and the resurrection, but before He ascended to heaven, Jesus came to the disciples and announced: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). This is the language of kingdom dominion, with both heaven and earth as His domain. In other words, the kingdom of God was now active on earth, with Jesus as King over all. Then Jesus commissioned His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

The word “therefore” connects verses 19-20 to what Jesus said in verse 18. The kingdom of God was now active in the world, and King Jesus was ascending to His throne at the right hand of the Father. Now the disciples were to take the news to all the world, to make disciples of all the nations and teach them everything Jesus taught. Throughout the book of Matthew, everything Jesus did and taught and preached was all about the gospel, and the gospel was all about the kingdom of God.

For more about the kingdom in Matthew’s Gospel, see The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth: Keys to the Kingdom of God in the Gospel of Matthew.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Gospeling in the Old Testament

What does gospeling — the preaching of the gospel — look like in the Old Testament? The Greek word for “gospel” is euaggelion (Strong’s Greek #2098) which means “good news.” Associated with it is the word euaggelizo (Strong’s Greek #2097), from which we get the word “evangelize,” which means to “announce good news.” I call it “gospeling.” In the Septuagint, (or LXX , the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) we find the word euaggelizo a number of times.
  • It is used to announce the defeat of an enemy (1 Samuel 31:9; 2 Samuel 4:10; 2 Samuel 18:19-31).
  • It is used to announce the anointing of a new king: “Then Zadok the priest took a horn of oil from the tabernacle and anointed Solomon. And they blew the horn, and all the people said, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ And all the people went up after him; and the people played the flutes and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth seemed to split with their sound. Now Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they finished eating. And when Joab heard the sound of the horn, he said, ‘Why is the city in such a noisy uproar?’ While he was still speaking, there came Jonathan, the son of Abiathar the priest. And Adonijah said to him, ‘Come in, for you are a prominent man, and bring good news.’ Then Jonathan answered and said to Adonijah, ‘No! Our lord King David has made Solomon king’” (1 Kings 1:39-43).
  • It is used to proclaim God’s righteousness, His faithful acts in delivering His people: “I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation” (Psalm 40:9-10 ESV).
  • It is used to proclaim a great victory. In Psalm 68, which extols the victory of Yahweh over the enemies of His people, we read, “The LORD gave the word; great was the company of those who proclaimed it” (v. 11).
  • In Psalm 96, it is used to speak of God’s saving acts for His people and to declare His glory to the nations: “Sing to the LORD, bless His name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples” (Psalm 96:2-3; see Exploring the Gospel ~ Psalm 96).
  • Isaiah 40, a Messianic passage, speaks of the coming of the LORD to shepherd His people and rule over their enemies: “O Zion, you who bring good tidings, get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, you who bring good tidings, lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” (v. 9).
  • In Isaiah 52, another Messianic passage, it is used to announce the peace (shalom, wholeness) and salvation that comes from God, and to proclaim His reign: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (v. 7).
  • In Isaiah 60, still in Messianic mode, it is used of all the nations coming to proclaim the praises of Yahweh. “A multitude of camels will cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba will come; they will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news of the praises of the LORD” (v. 6 NASB).
  • In Isaiah 61, is it used in regard to the anointing of the Messiah (“Anointed One”). “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” The whole chapter speaks of God’s Anointed King coming to set everything right in the world. It is this entire passage that Jesus indicated when He quoted the first verses and then declared, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:17-21).
  • In Jeremiah 20:12, euaggelizo is used to announce the birth of a child.
  • In Joel 2:32, it relates back to the promise in Isaiah 40:9, about good news coming out of Zion and Jerusalem. “And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved: for in mount Sion and in Jerusalem shall the saved one be as the Lord has said, and they that have glad tidings preached to them, whom the Lord has called” (Brenton’s English Septuagint).
  • In Nahum 1:15, it speaks of the deliverance of God’s people from their enemies. “Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace! O Judah, keep your appointed feasts, perform your vows. For the wicked one shall no more pass through you; he is utterly cut off.” (A similar word, apaggelizo, is here translated “proclaims.”)
The use of euaggelizo in the Septuagint is significant because the Septuagint was the Bible for the early Church. Also, the New Testament writers, whenever they quote from the Old Testament, most often do so by way of the Septuagint. So the early Church was conversant with what euaggelizo and euaggelion conveyed.

The gospeling we find in the New Testament fits very well with the gospeling we find in the Old Testament. All its categories find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah. He is the One whose birth was announced when angels brought “good tidings” (euaggelizo) to the shepherds in the field (Luke 2:10-11). He is the King whose kingdom the gospel proclaims (e.g., Mark 1:14-15). He is God’s Anointed King who fulfills the gospel in Isaiah 61. He is the Good Shepherd who gives His people peace (John 10:11, John 14:27). He has destroyed the works of the devil (1 John 3:18) and disarmed the “principalities and powers” (Colossians 2:15). Not only has He won the victory over the enemy, but through Him we also are “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).

Like the old Gospel song said, “Ain’t that good news!”

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Now Faith is Reality

Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 HCSB)

The NKJV has this as, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The substance of a thing is it’s underlying reality. The interesting thing about the Greek word, hypostasis, which speaks of the underlying state, is that it was sometimes used to refer to a title deed. A title deed signifies possession. So, for example, if you have the title deed to a piece of land, you legally possess the land itself.

Hope is about what we have not yet seen, or what has not yet come into manifestation. But just because we have not yet seen a thing does not mean that there is no reality to it. For example, I may inherit a piece of land that I have never visited before, but that does not make it any less real. And if I possess the title deed, not having yet seen the land does not make it any less mine. The title deed is the proof that that land belongs to me.

What I want to focus on today, though, is the time factor. Hope is about the future, about what I fully expect to see even though it has not yet come about. That is the nature of hope. Paul said, “hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Romans 8:24-25).

Hope is future, but faith is now. The author of Hebrews does not use the word “now” as a simple connective, like “so,” “and” or “but.” Rather, he is showing the relationship between the faith we have now and what we expect to see in the future.

These things concern the promises of God, which is the only biblical basis for faith. If God had never promised anything, we would have no reason for expectation. But because God has made certain promises to us, and since He does not lie, we can believe Him and expect to receive from Him everything He promised.

Faith is about believing the promises of God. By faith, we take possession of those promises, even though we have not yet seen them come to pass. Indeed, faith is the reality, the evidence, the proof, that we will see them come to pass. The faith we have now is the reality that connects us to what we expect to see. Faith and hope each do their part until we have seen the full manifestation. And in between is patience.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Love, Law and Faith

The apostle Paul has some interesting things to say about the relationship between love, law and faith. We find these relationships in his letter to the Jesus believers in Galatia.
All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)
Someone asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment. He answered,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
Love fulfills the law God gave through Moses to Israel. God intended for that law to instruct the people of Israel in how they should live. But it could never produce in them what it instructed — it was never meant to. That is why God promised to cut a new covenant with His people:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah … I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:31, 33)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
These two prophecies speak of the same reality. God promised a new heart and a new spirit — His own Spirit — to produce in us what the law of Moses never could. This is fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, who by His faithfulness is the mediator of the new and better covenant, which is cut with His own blood (Hebrews 8:6; Luke 22:20). At Pentecost, just as He promised, God gave us His Spirit, who dwells in us to produce the faithful character of Jesus in us. Paul speaks of it as the “fruit of the Spirit.”
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Love fulfills the law, but the law could not produce that love in us. Only God can.

What matters now, Paul says, is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6) and walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). The Greek word for “work” is energeo, which is where we get the word “energy.” We might say that faith is energized through love. The word “walk” speaks of a consistent manner of living. Walking in the Spirit is continually yielding to the Holy Spirit and letting Him do His work in us.

If you find that your faith is weak, check how your love is doing. If your love is weak, check how you are doing in your daily walk with God. God is love, and when we yield to His Spirit, we are yielding to the Spirit of Love. As we do, His love will become strong in us and our faith will become powerful and effective.
Faith works through love, and love fulfills the law.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Love and Obedience

Yesterday, in a discussion on Facebook, someone asked about obedience in the Christian life — what it is, whether it’s a list of rules, or if it’s the same for everyone, or whether it’s a heavy burden or a light one. Here is my response:
I don’t actually think much in terms of obedience. I think more in terms of loving God and loving others and letting the love of God work through me. It’s been said that we become like what we behold. As I get older, I find that my desire is to behold God more. In that, I discover that godly things flow out of my life, not as a matter of obedience or discipline or discipleship, but more naturally than that.

A few years ago I heard Mike Bickle speak (he is the founder of International House of Prayer, in Kansas City, MO). He was talking about his earlier days when he was a dean (or some such) at some sort of ministry or Bible school. He said that sometimes students would come in who were struggling with some sin in their life. The harder they tried, the more difficult it got and the more they failed. The answer he would give them was very simple:

“Don’t try harder. Love God more.”

Love works in a very different way. It doesn’t think of obedience as obedience, or of sacrifice as sacrifice. It is focused simply on the Beloved. And that is a life-changing thing.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Transformed by the Image of the Son

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)
This has always been God’s plan for those who belong to Him, that we be conformed to the image of His Son. To be “conformed” means to have the same form as something, to be just like it. What we are conformed to here is the “image” of Jesus.

The use of “image” is very significant, especially in regard to God’s plan from the beginning. The Greek word is eikon. In English, we spell it as icon. An icon is a representative image. Click on an icon on your computer screen, for example, and you bring up the program that is represented by it. The icon and the thing it represents go together. Indeed, the icon derives its meaning from the thing it represents.

Now think back to what God did in the beginning, when He created the heavens and the earth. After He made everything else and saw that it was good, He said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). In the Septuagint, the earliest translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek, the word used for “image” is eikon. Man was created to be the icon of God, to be like Him and represent Him on the earth. That is why, according to the rest of this verse, God gave man dominion: “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air and over the cattle, over all the earth and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” We were all created as icons and meant to have dominion, to be kings and queens who reflect the glory of God on earth.

Of course, we know that Adam blew it all when he rebelled against God, and that affected not only us but all of creation. But that is why Jesus came, “who being the brightness of His glory and the express image [eikon] of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). He is God become flesh and is the perfect representative of the Father on earth. Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

So when Paul speaks of God’s plan to conform us to the image of the Son, Jesus, it is all about restoring us to the purpose God originally had for us at creation — to be His image, to be like Him and represent Him over all the earth.

When does this happen? I believe it has already happened for those are born again, born from above by the Spirit of God, through faith in Jesus the Messiah. We received a new identity as “sons of God” (John 1:12). We received the Holy Spirit dwelling within us — Jesus Himself dwelling in us by His Spirit (Romans 8:9-10). We became part of the new creation, and the old thing that we were passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17). In this new identity, this new life, this new creation, we are now conformed to the image of Jesus, the Son of God.

That is what we really and truly are inwardly. But there is a tension between that and what we are outwardly. The apostle John recognized this tension when he said, “Beloved, now we are the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). When Jesus comes again, we shall see Him as He is, and we shall also see ourselves as we truly are in Him — we shall see that we are like Him.

Paul also recognizes this same tension between what we are inwardly and what we outwardly. In Romans 12:2, he says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). If we let the world around us press us into its mold and shape us according to its own fallen image, our lives will not accurately reflect the new life and identity we have in Jesus.

What we need is to be transformed, changed from the inside out so that what we are outwardly matches up with what we are inwardly. This transformation is a process. That is, it happens over time. It is not something we can do ourselves. It is something He must do. It happens by the renewing of our minds, but even this is the work of God. Our part is simply to yield to Him and let Him transform us, letting Him renew our thoughts and our ways by His thoughts and His ways. The more we allow Him to work in us in this way, the more our outward lives will reflect who we really are inwardly in Jesus the Messiah. (See also Not Conformed — Transformed and Exploring the Mind of God.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Exploring the Gospel ~ Psalm 96

Sing to the LORD, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
(Psalm 96:2)
“Proclaim the good news” is all one Hebrew word, basar. The Septuagint (a.k.a. LXX), the earliest translation of the Old Testament into Greek, renders it with the verb evangelizo, which, of course, means to evangelize, to announce the gospel. The announcement is about the salvation that comes from Yahweh. But what is this salvation about? We find the shape of it throughout the rest of this psalm.
  • It is a declaration to the nations that reveals the glory of Yahweh and displays His wonderful works (v. 3).
  • It is Yahweh being exalted and honored above all “gods,” specifically the idols worshiped by the nations (vv. 4-5). But it would also include whatever diabolical spirits may be behind them. This is part of what Paul means in the New Testament when he speaks about “principalities” and “powers.”
  • It is Yahweh coming to dwell in His temple, among His people, in honor and majesty, strength and beauty (v. 6).
  • It is all the peoples of the earth bowing down before Him, acknowledging His honor above all else (vv. 7-9).
  • It is declaring to the nations, “Yahweh reigns!” (v. 10), that is, that He is King.
  • It is heaven and earth coming together with rejoicing (vv. 11-12).
  • It is Yahweh judging the world with truth and righteousness (v. 13), with the judgment that sets things right, roots out evil and brings deliverance to all who trust in Him.
Although the immediate historical setting for this psalm was the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity, the ultimate fulfillment is found in Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Messiah, God’s Anointed King, in whom everything in this gospel and this salvation is fulfilled. Indeed, the name of Jesus in Hebrew, Yeshua, means “salvation.”
  • Jesus began His ministry by proclaiming the good news that the time was now fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come into the world (Mark 1:14-15).
  • After the resurrection and before He ascended to heaven, Jesus declared, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). In other words, not only has the kingdom of God come into the world, but Jesus Himself is the King.
  • Then Jesus sent the disciples (and through them, the Church) to go and “make disciples of all the nations,” baptizing them and teaching them everything Jesus taught (Matthew 28:19-20).
  • God has raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand, “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come, and He put all things under His feet” (Ephesians 1:20-22).
  • God has also highly exalted Jesus and “given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
  • In Jesus the Messiah, God is bringing everything that belongs to heaven and earth together into one (Ephesians 1:10). That is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Kingdom of God, come. Will of God, be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 JVD). He also promised that whatever we bound on earth in His name will have already been bound in heaven, and whatever we loose on earth will have already been loosed in heaven (Matthew 18:18).
  • Jesus is the Word who became flesh and “dwelt” among us (John 1:14). The Greek word for “dwelt” literally means to tent, or to tabernacle. It corresponds to God dwelling in the Tabernacle of Moses, and later in the Temple. Peter calls Jesus the “living stone, rejected by men, but chosen by God and precious,” then adds, “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5). This is temple language.
  • At the end of the book of Revelation, heaven and earth are joined together by the New Jerusalem, with the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb (Jesus) as its temple. “And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it” (Revelation 21:22-24).
The gospel of God’s yeshuah (“salvation”), portrayed in Psalm 96, is now being accomplished through King Jesus (Yeshua) the Messiah. His kingdom reign has already begun and will be fully revealed when He returns to judge the world and everything will be completely set right.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Faith Says Thanks

Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it, with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2)
We should, of course, always have an attitude of thanksgiving toward God, because we have innumerable blessings. (Here’s a little exercise that can lift your spirit at any moment: Think of one thing for which you can give God thanks. Then see if there is not something else that comes to mind to thank Him for. And one more after that. And another after that.)

What I have in mind today, though, is about when to give thanks for the things we have asked of God in prayer. Should we wait until the answer appears before we say, Thank You, Lord? Or would it be presumptuous to thank Him for it before we even see it come to pass? To answer that, let’s take a look at this very important, perhaps even surprising thing Jesus said about prayer:
Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. (Mark 11:24)
That’s a pretty wide open statement. Sure, it is qualified by the context: “Therefore” refers back to having faith in God and how to exercise that faith (Mark 11:22-23). And we need to be in proper alignment with God and His purposes. So, for example, a bank robber cannot expect God to answer his prayer for a good wheel man and a clean get away. But when our faith is in God and we are partnering with what He is doing in the world, then this prayer has a lot of latitude.

What I want you to notice in particular is the word “receive.” The Greek word is lambano and means to “take hold of.” It is like when someone offers you a gift and you reach out to take hold of it — you actively receive it. Lambano is used here in the active voice, not the passive. That is, it is something we do, not something we wait to be done for us. Pay attention especially to the tense, because this will help answer the question I have posed. Jesus does not say, “Believe that you will receive” (future tense), but “Believe that you receive” (present tense). The NASB goes so far as to translate it as a present perfect: “Believe that you have received.”

What this means, then, is that when you have faith in God and are walking in proper relationship with Him, you can pray and know that you have received what you have asked of Him. So when you ask, believe that you have received it — that you have laid hold of it — and it will be yours. And if you believe that you have received it, you don’t have to wait until the answer shows up, you can go ahead and give God thanks for it.

Ask for it by faith, receive it by faith, give thanks for it by faith. As one of my friends likes to say, “Hope says, Please. Faith says, Thanks.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Keep On It

A few years ago, my brother and I were up in Spartanburg, SC, tending to our grandmother’s affairs. Since we were not from there and were not very familiar with the town, we asked one lady how to get where we needed to be next. She told us to go out to the main road and turn right, and then “you keep on it and keep on it and keep on it.” Then she gave us the name of the road where we were to turn after that, along with a few landmarks to watch for.

My brother and I laughed about that as we drove along, repeating her words, “Keep on it and keep on it and keep on it.” We could see that there were some good reasons for her to emphasize it that way. As we began following her directions, there were many opportunities where we could have turned off the path and gotten ourselves lost. We were also unsure how many miles we would have to go before we reached the proper intersection. And I don’t know about you, but I have often had the sense in such situations that maybe I had gone too far and missed the proper turn, wondering whether I should go back and see or keep moving forward?

Take this as a sort of parable of faith — or more precisely, of faith and patience, because the two go together. We receive a promise from God, by the Word or the Spirit, and we have determined to believe it. But there can be quite some time between faith and fulfillment, between “Amen!” and “There it is!” We may also find that there are things that immediately arise to test it, and many opportunities to turn off the path of what we have been promised.

Abraham certainly experienced this. So did Joseph and Moses and David, not to mention Jesus. In fact, anybody who ever accomplished anything worthwhile by faith has experienced it. But they kept on.

Jesus told a few parables about what it means to keep on.

Like the one about the man who knocked on his neighbor’s door at midnight because he had a friend come to see him and there was no bread to set before him. Though the neighbor was tucked in for the night with his family and did not want to be disturbed, the man stood shamelessly at his door and refused to be turned away — he really needed that bread! (Luke 11:5-8).

Or the parable about the woman who sought justice from a judge who could not have cared less. He tried to turn her away but she would not relent. Finally, just to get her off his back, he gave in and granted her request (Luke 18:2-8).

What if they both had just given up and gone home. He would have had no bread to offer his hungry friend, and she would have had no justice. But they kept on.

Jesus said that those who ask will receive, those who seek will find, and those who knock will have the door opened up to them (Luke 11:10). But the asking and seeking and knocking must be done in faith, not in doubt, and that faith must be persistent.

How long should you persist? Let me answer that with another question: How much do you need the answer? We continue to press in patiently with our faith until we have received what we have asked, found what we have been seeking and the door stands open before us.

In other words, we keep on it. And keep on it. And keep on it. Until we see the promise has been fulfilled.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Treasure That Endures

Recently I have been “mini-blogging” on Facebook (and “micro-blogging” on Twitter) about “laying up treasure,” based on Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-20).

Though I’ve written a series of posts about this in the past (see Laying Up Treasure in Heaven), bringing it up again allowed me to clarify a bit for a friend of mine who was having difficulty following what I was saying.

“Laying up treasure for ourselves” is about what we do with our money and resources. Jesus tells us to lay them up for ourselves, not on earth but in heaven. A lot of Christians think that means that, whatever they lay up in heaven, they’re not going to see it until they die and go to heaven — perhaps this is why my friend was having difficulty. But that is not what Jesus is talking about.

The sermon on the mount is essentially a manifesto in which Jesus announces the coming of the kingdom of God from heaven to earth, and how we are to respond to it. Notice the direction — it is not about us on earth going to heaven but heaven coming to earth. The kingdom of God, which we are taught to seek in Matthew 6:33, is the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven (as Jesus taught us to pray in the “Lord’s Prayer”).

So, when Jesus tells us to lay up for ourselves treasure in heaven, it is not for the sake of heaven. Heaven does not need it. Nor will we need it when we die and go there. Rather, it is for the sake of earth. That is, we lay up for ourselves treasure in heaven so that that the will of God may be done on earth as it is in heaven.

This is a total reorientation of our lives and requires a shift in our thinking. As followers of Jesus, we are people of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven that has been coming into the world ever since Jesus came. That kingdom is not where we are going to go someday; it is where we are from right now. Everyone who has received King Jesus the Messiah is a citizen of heaven. This is not future promise but present reality.

We are a colony of heaven on earth. We are not waiting to be air-lifted out, like the last Americans at the fall of Saigon, climbing the steps to the rooftop to be evacuated by helicopter. Quite the opposite, we are an insertion team, sent into the world to manifest the life and culture of heaven on earth. (I blogged about that last month — see A Colony of Heaven).

What this means, then, is that our money, our resources and everything in our lives are to be committed to and directed by heaven (that is, by God in heaven). It is about seeking the kingdom of God — the rule and reign of God on earth as it is in heaven — with our finances and resources. We are no longer to be directed by the way the world does things. Now we receive our instructions, our provision and, indeed, our whole life, from heaven.

So laying up treasure for ourselves in heaven is for the sake of the kingdom of God being revealed on earth. As we seek that kingdom, even with our finances, we will always have everything we need. That is the promise Jesus made in Matthew 6:33. We can commit ourselves and all our resources entirely to the will of God being done on earth as in heaven because God has committed Himself to take care of us fully and completely (see 2 Corinthians 9:8).

Laying up treasure in heaven is trusting in the economy of heaven (the provision of God) instead of the economy of the world. So it really comes down to who or what we love, trust and serve. That will determine where we lay up our treasure, and whether that treasure will endure.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Yahweh My God

O LORD My God, in You I put my trust;
Save me from all those who persecute me;
And deliver me.
(Psalm 7:1)
The inscription on this psalm calls it “a meditation of David, which he sang to the LORD concerning the works of Cush, a Benjamite.” We cannot positively identify who Cush was or relate this to any particular incident in Scripture. All we know about it is what we find reflected in this psalm.
David is looking for vindication from Yahweh. Apparently, Cush made some accusations against him, charging him with iniquity, doing evil to one who was at peace with him and plundering him without cause (Psalm 7:3-5). It seems likely that the allegedly aggrieved party Cush had in mind was himself.
Cush was not a helpless individual, though. It looks like he was himself a warrior, with a band of soldiers to rival David’s, for David is concerned, “Lest they tear me like a lion, rending me in pieces, while there is none to deliver (v.2).

This was a matter of covenant. David was of the tribe of Judah, Cush was of the tribe of Benjamin, and both were of Israel, the people with whom God made covenant. Because they were both in covenant with God, they both had covenant responsibilities toward each other. Now there was strife between them, a division so serious it was about to escalate into all out war.

David turns to God, as he always does, even when he is in the wrong. He appeals to Yahweh to judge the matter and is ready for the verdict either way: “O LORD My God, if I have done this … let the enemy pursue me and overtake me. Yes, let him trample my life to the earth and lay my honor in the dust” (vv. 3-5).

However, David is confident of a different verdict and his expectation is that he will be vindicated: “Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, and according to my integrity within me” (v. 8). He has kept his covenant obligation toward his neighbor and has not been deceitful. He leaves it to God, who “tests the hearts and minds” (v. 9), to decide the case. “My defense is of God, who saves the upright in heart” (v. 10).

In this name Yahweh My God, we see the covenant aspect and the personal aspect. Yahweh is the personal name by which God revealed Himself to His people in covenant. By calling Him my God, David sees himself as in personal relationship with Yahweh. David trusts in Him, runs to Him for refuge and is submissive to Him. He looks to Yahweh as the one who knows his heart, the judge who will render proper judgment and set things right for him. We find this name a number of times in the psalms, most if not all of them, by David:
Consider and hear me, O LORD My God,
Enlighten my eyes,
Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against him;”
Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
(Psalm 13:3)

The LORD My God will enlighten my darkness. (Psalm 18:28)

O LORD My God, I cried out to You, and You healed me. (Psalm 30:2)

Vindicate me, O LORD My God,
According to Your righteousness;
And let them not rejoice over me.
(Psalm 35:24)

Many, O LORD My God, are Your wonderful works
Which You have done;
And Your thoughts toward us
Cannot be recounted to You in order;
If I would declare and speak of them,
They are more than can be numbered.
(Psalm 40:5)

I will praise You, O LORD My God with all my heart,
And I will glorify Your name forever.
(Psalm 86:12)

O LORD My God, You are very great;
You are clothed with honor and majesty.
(Psalm 104:1)

David looks to Yahweh My God to vindicate him, enlighten his eyes and his darkness (that is, to renew his strength and vitality in the face of his foe), and to heal him. He praises Him for His greatness, honor and majesty. He acknowledges the wonderful works his God has done for him and the multitude of thoughts He has toward him.

We do not find this name in the New Testament but we do find the qualities it represents. We see them in Yeshua haMeshiach (Jesus the Anointed). In Him we have new covenant and personal relationship with God. In Him we are vindicated — God finds in our favor and judges us as righteous. In Him we have one whose works on our behalf are indeed wonderful and whose thoughts toward us are too many to count.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
Yahweh My God!
Yeshua My God!
Jesus My God!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My King and My God

Give heed to the voice of my cry,
My King and my God,
For to You I will pray.
(Psalm 5:2)

David was king over Israel, but He recognized a higher King — Yahweh, his God. David did not see himself as king instead of God, but as king under God, one anointed by God. He understood what it meant to be king because he knew Yahweh as his King.

What is a king? A king shepherds his people, leads them in the way they should go, protects them from their enemies, makes provision for them. David understood these responsibilities very well and knew how to fulfill them. God chose David to “shepherd” His people, Israel, and the biblical testimony is that “he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands” (Psalm 78:72).

Yahweh is the pattern for what a king should be. He hears the cry of His people, and answers them. He brings justice for His people through sound judgment, setting things right for them and dealing appropriately with the enemy and the oppressor. He defends His people and surrounds them with His favor as with a shield.

So, David called on Yahweh every morning, bringing his praise, his prayer, and the meditations of his heart. He laid them out before his King, then waited and watched and looked to Him in expectation (Psalm 5:1-3). It was a personal time, an intimate time with his God.

Indeed, this combination of names, My King and My God, though it is found only a couple of times in the Bible, portrays that intimate connection. David claims Him as his own. God is not just the King to him but my King. David loves to be in the tabernacle, the presence, of the LORD. “As for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy” (Psalm 5:7). In Psalm 84:3, the only other place in the Old Testament where we find this name, the psalm writer longs to be in the courts of the LORD, to find a place near the altars of “My King and My God.”

It is more than interesting, then, that when the risen Jesus invites Thomas to examine the wounds in His hands and His sides, even to touch them and see how real they are, all Thomas can do is exclaim, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:24-28). This was not merely a recognition that Jesus was master and teacher over him. Here was the sudden realization that Jesus is Messiah, the Anointed One, chosen and blessed by God as the King who would sit upon David’s throne forever. With David, he makes that personal and intimate declaration, “My King and My God.”

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Righteous God

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness. (Psalm 4:1)

Simply put, righteousness is rightness. God always does what is right and He comes to set things right. Righteousness is a term that also relates to keeping covenant. That is, those who have been faithful in a covenant relationship are considered righteous, and fit for community. In calling on “God of my righteousness,” or more properly, “My Righteous God,” David appeals to the covenant God made with Israel, for God committed Himself to be good to, and set things right for, His people.

We can find out about the righteousness of God throughout that psalms. For example, the psalm writer says that the “right hand” of Yahweh is “full of righteousness” (Psalm 48:10), that is, everything He does is thoroughly and completely according to what is right. Another says that “the heavens declare His righteousness” (Psalm 50:6). The heavens, which witnessed the covenant Yahweh made with Israel, declare that He has done what is right according to that covenant. And David’s testimony is that Yahweh answers “by awesome deeds in righteousness.” He does right by His people through powerful acts of protection and provision (Psalm 65:5).

Yahweh, the righteous God, honors the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:6). He blesses the righteous and surrounds them with His favor, as with a shield (Psalm 5:12). David says that “the righteous God tests the hearts and minds” (Psalm 7:9), examining each of us in the deepest places of our being, to see whether we are upright or ungodly, straight or crooked, and He delivers those who are in alignment with Him (Psalm 7:10). Yahweh “judges” the righteous (Psalm 7:11), bringing justice and vindication to those who keep covenant with Him. Yahweh is “with” the generation of the righteous (Psalm 14:5). That is, He makes His presence, protection and provision known to them. He delivers the righteous out of all their afflictions (Psalms 34:19). He supports and sustains them (Psalm 37:17). This list could go on, for there is much more in the psalms about how God is faithful and right with those who know and trust and keep covenant with Him.

We see this same rightness and faithfulness carried over into the New Testament. Jesus teaches us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” with the promise that everything else that concerns us will be taken care of (Matthew 6:33). Paul says that the gospel of Jesus the Messiah is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (Romans 1:16-17). The rightness of God is revealed “through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).

God has now also made a new and better covenant through the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 8:6; Luke 22:20), just as He promised in the Old Testament. He reveals His righteousness in that covenant, and all are counted as righteous members of it who trust in Jesus. With David, then, we may each call on Him as My Righteous God.

Monday, February 27, 2012

I Will Build My Ekklesia

On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18-19)
“Upon this Gospel I will build my Ekklesia.” That is essentially what Jesus was saying. The rock is the revelation* Peter received from the Father that Jesus is God’s Anointed King (see Upon This Gospel). The gospel is the proclamation that the kingdom of God, and its King, has come into the world to fulfill the promise God made to deliver His people and set the world right.

The English word “church” comes from the Greek word kuriakos, which speaks of “belonging to the Lord.” It is found only twice in the New Testament, in reference to “the Lord’s supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20) and “the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10). However, the Greek word translated as “church” is actually ekklesia (or ecclesia), and Matthew 16 is where we first find it in the New Testament.

Ekklesia is a compound word that literally refers to that which is “called out” (from ek, “out,” and kaleo, “to call”). It has also been translated as “assembly.” By the time Jesus first used it, it already had a well-established meaning.

In the Septuagint (the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures), ekklesia renders the Hebrew qahal, which usually refers to an assembly of the people of Yahweh, sometimes en masse but often in representative fashion. It is often seen as a deliberative body, agreeing together (1 Chronicles 13:1-4), making covenant as a body (2 Chronicles 23:2-3), deciding together about administrative matters (2 Chronicles 30:1-5), taking counsel together (2 Chronicles 30:23), acting together (Ezra 10:12 and Nehemiah 5:13). When the assembly says “Amen” together, as in Nehemiah 5:13, it is no small thing, it is a deliberative agreement and determination about what shall happen.

The primary meaning of ekklesia in Jesus’ day was much the same:
  • Thayer’s Greek Lexicon calls it “an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating.”
  • Vine’s Expository Dictionary calls it a “gathering” of citizens to “discuss the affairs of state.”
  • The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich gives its primary meaning as “assembly, as a regularly summoned political body.”
  • The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Longman and Wilhoit) considers it the “calling out of citizens for a civic meeting”
  • The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says it was “the designation of the regular assembly of the whole body of citizens in a free city-state,” that was called out “for the discussion and decision of public business.” The ISBE concludes with this, about the pre-Christian usage of ekklesia: “To the Greek it would suggest a self-governing democratic society; to the Jew a theocratic society whose members were the subjects of the Heavenly King. The pre-Christian history of the word had a direct bearing upon its Christian meaning, for the ekklesia of the New Testament is a ‘theocratic democracy’ (Lindsay, Church and Ministry in the Early Centuries, 4), a society of those who are free, but are always conscious that their freedom springs from obedience to their King.”
It is very significant, then, that Jesus says, “On this rock [the confession that Jesus is God’s Anointed King] I will build my Ekklesia.” He is not talking of a merely localized community of followers in Israel. The scope of it is no less than the kingdom of God, the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. His Ekklesia is the community of those who belong to that kingdom, and to Him as King.

The Ekklesia is a divine community on a cosmic scale, as Jesus’ next words confirm: “And the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” The word “Hades” speaks of death, the place of death and the power of death. The “gates of Hades” includes the devil, who has the power of death — which power has been defeated in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah (Hebrews 2:14). Neither death, nor the devil, nor all the demonic forces can prevent the Ekklesia of King Jesus from fulfilling His purpose of manifesting heaven on earth.

Indeed, Jesus has given the keys to the kingdom of heaven to this divine assembly on earth for that very purpose: “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Binding are loosing are deliberative actions. The sense of “will be bound” and “will be loosed” is “will have been bound” and “will have been loosed.” The deliberative action of the Ekklesia in the exercise of these keys brings earth into alignment with the will of God in heaven. Jesus amplifies on this in Matthew 18:18-20.
Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.
The Ekklesia acts in the name of King Jesus to fulfill His purposes. Whenever it comes into agreement on earth about a matter, it is done for us by our Father who is in heaven. In this way, the kingdom of God is made manifest, the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven.

* Peter himself is also called a rock and, as an apostle, is foundational to the establishment of the Church. Paul says that the Ekklesia is built “on the foundations of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).