Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Relief of Living by the Spirit

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)
In Romans 7:7-24, Paul describes the experience of a person trying to live apart from Christ and the Spirit. In verses 7-13, it is the man who is trying to live by the Law of Moses. In verses 14-24, it is the man trying to live by his conscience. Both sense condemnation, because they are trying to live by the “flesh,” that is, by their own resources. It ends with a cry of despair in verse 24: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”

But then the answer appears: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The Lord Jesus delivers us from the terrible experience of trying to live by the flesh, out of our own resources. Paul then goes on to make a startling declaration: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

In Romans 7, the man trying to live by the “flesh,” whether by Law or by conscience, knows despair. But in Romans 8, there is no condemnation and no despair for those who are in Christ. That is our new starting point, and Paul speaks about living by the Spirit rather than by the “flesh” (v. 4).

What a night and day difference! And Paul goes on to describe it — a whole new reality, made real by Christ through the Spirit of God — and there are several things to notice:
But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:10-11).
Even now, the Spirit of God is giving new life to us — he himself is living in us — and that changes us (how could it not?).
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)
There is no fear of condemnation in this, for that would send us back into the bondage Paul described in Romans 7:7-24, from which Jesus has already rescued us. But the new reality is that the Spirit in us has made us sons and daughters of God, so that we call on God as our Abba, that is, our Father.
The divine Spirit “testifies with” our spirit. The Greek word is symmartureo and has to do with something happening together with something else: The Spirit of God in us testifies together with our spirit. What is the testimony it bears with us? That we are God’s children. Paul draws out the significance of this a bit further:
Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17)
There are a few words here I especially want you to notice. One is “co-heirs.” The Greek word is synkleronomos, and it too has to do with something happening together with something else. As God’s children, we are heirs of God — heirs together with Christ. Next is the word that is translated, “share in his sufferings,” sympascho. It means to suffer together with Christ. The third word, translated as “share in his glory” is syndaxazo, and means to be glorified together with him. Paul adds, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (v. 18).

There is a real theme of “togetherness” developing here, and we see it again in verse 22, where creation is waiting for the mature children of God to be revealed and it is at last liberated from its bondage to corruption and decay:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
The words to note here is the ones for “groaning” and “pains of childbirth,” which are systenazo and synodino. The first means to groan together and the second means to travail together, as in the pains of childbirth. This groaning and travailing together is about giving birth to something, waiting for it to be born.
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)
We are groaning together with creation, waiting for the full expression of what the Spirit of God has already begun in us. We have already received the firstfruits of it, the Spirit himself, who produces in us the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). He is already at work in us to bring them forth in our lives. The “baby” is growing within and we are groaning along with creation in labor pains.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26)
The word for “helps” here is synantilamanomai. It means that the Holy Spirit takes hold together with us. He does not take hold for us but with us — he is our partner in this all the way. However, the Spirit does intercede for us because, as Paul says, we do not know what we ought to pray. But notice that he does it through wordless groans. All creation groans together in labor pains, and we groan along with it — and the Spirit is groaning within us too. He is in the process of giving birth to something.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
The climax of all this togetherness is this: For those who love god, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. The operative word there is synergeo, “work together.” What things is Paul talking about? All the things he has already mentioned:
  • The Spirit of God testifying together with our spirit.
  • Being heirs together with Christ.
  • The things we suffer together with Christ.
  • Being glorified together with Christ.
  • All creation groaning together in the pangs of childbirth.
  • The Spirit of God taking hold together with us.
All these things are always working together for our good, to conform us to the image of Christ (v. 29), which is the revelation of the mature children of God that all creation has been eagerly anticipating.

Paul began his response to the Romans 7 predicament with the deliverance we have in the Lord Jesus and the fact that there is now no condemnation for us in him. Now he comes around full circle in a most memorable passage:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died--more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
The reality of this — and the answer to the desperate situation in Romans 7:7-24 — is found in living by the Spirit, in the love of the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, February 6, 2015

But Deliver Us from the Evil One

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13*)
Yesterday we saw that Jesus knows how to deal with temptation. Today we will see that he knows how to deliver us from the evil one. This is not about future promise but about present reality — a prayer that has been answered by the victory of the cross and the establishment of God’s kingdom in the world:

Jesus has bound the evil one and plundered his house. “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house” (Matthew 12:28-29; see also Mark 3:23-27 and Luke 11:20-22).

The evil one has been driven out of the world. Jesus said, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31). The devil can no longer reign from within the world — all authority in heaven and on earth has now been given to King Jesus (Matthew 28:18) — he can only work his deceits from without. God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13).

Jesus has disarmed the “principalities and powers” of the evil one, the demonic influences behind evil rulers and ungodly cultural attitudes and practices. “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). Those evil powers cannot stand up to kingdom of God.

Jesus has broken the power of the evil one. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

Jesus has destroyed the works of the evil one. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).

*All Scriptures in this post are taken from the New International Version.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13*)
There are two halves to this petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation,” and “deliver us from the evil one.” King Jesus has answered both.

Let’s understand this about temptation: Jesus knows how to deal with it. Immediately after he was baptized (Matthew 3), he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be temped by the devil (Matthew 4). After forty days and nights of fasting, which was followed by three defining rounds with the devil, he emerged victoriously and began his ministry of preaching the good news that the kingdom of God had arrived.

Jesus dealt with temptation in his own life and prevailed, and he is well able to help you and me as well. The author of Hebrews says: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted … For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15).

The promise we have in him is this: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). That is a comforting assurance, but more wonderful still is what Second Peter tells us:
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Everything we need for a godly life has already been given to us, that we may know the one who has called us by his glory and goodness. In Jesus the Messiah we participate in the divine nature. In him we have escaped the corruption in the world that is caused by evil desires. Paul put it this way:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
The life of Jesus the Messiah is now our life — he live in us! It is a life we live by his faithfulness. Let me say it again because it is very important that we understand this: We do not live this life by our own faithfulness but by his. In every trial and every temptation, his life and his faithfulness are always present and at work in us. “In all these things, we are more than conquerors, through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). And the way we overcome  is through faith in him.

Tomorrow we will look at how Jesus delivers us from the evil one.

*All Scriptures in this post, except where noted, are taken from the New International Version.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Random Thoughts

Some thoughts culled from my random file. About faith, love, life and relationship with God. Some have come to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Some are aphoristic and avuncular. Many have been tweets and updates. Offered for your edification, inspiration and/or motivation — or your money cheerfully refunded.
  • God is love and God is light. When we walk in love, we are walking in light, and darkness cannot prevail.
  • God is light. God is love. God is life. His way will always be about those things that shed light, manifest love and promote life.
  • The faith that overcomes the world is the faith that works through love.
  • Eternal life is not a commodity but a person — the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we know God the Father.
  • Many church people have been accustomed to a comfortable, cultural sort of Christianity and have often mistaken it for faith in Christ. They wring their hands when those easy forms are overshadowed by secular culture — they are not up to the challenge of following a Christ who is counter to the culture of the world. They have often been inoculated against a full-on case of the gospel, of which they are as much in need as anyone who has never even heard of Christ.
  • In his baptism, Jesus identified with me. In my baptism, I am identified with him.
  • Enunciate the promises of God and articulate his blessings in your life. Open up your mouth and speak them out. Your mind will stop to see what your mouth is saying. Your heart will take notice, too.
  • Start thanking God for something and see what a floodgate that opens up.
  • Building relationships and making community with people will, in the long run, be more effective than hit-and-run evangelism. Because the gospel is not a story about a bunch of disconnected individuals but about a community of faith King Jesus is creating.
  • God is not saving a collection of individuals but families and nations. He is creating one new body in Messiah, a community of faith.
  • The words that will have the most power in your life today are the ones you allow to lodge in your heart and come out of your mouth. Let them be words full of faith, hope and love.
  • Today you are continuing the story your father and mother began. Make it a good story.
  • A testimony is a powerful thing. It can not only bring something back to your mind but also back to your heart.
  • Who is the disciple Jesus loves. When you realize the answer, you will lean your head on Jesus’ breast.
  • Every good gift comes from the Father of Lights, who has light for whatever darkness you may find yourself in.
  • We often think that pleasing God is about doing this or not doing that. But the goodness of the gospel is about what God was pleased to do for us and the world.
More random thoughts …

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Bread of That Day

Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11)
This, of course, is from the prayer Jesus taught his disciples and in the “Sermon on the Mount” (which I call the “Sermon of Heaven on Earth”). In Luke’s Gospel, where the disciples ask Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” it reads, “Give us day by day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3).

The Greek word for “daily” is only found in these two places. Origen thought it might have been a termed coined by Matthew and Luke to translate the words of Jesus, which were probably Aramaic.

This word is epiousios and likely comes from epiousa, which concerns time and what is to come. Epiousa is found only five times in the New Testament, all in the book of Acts, where four times it refers to the following day and once to the following night (see Acts 7:26, 16:11, 20:15, 21:18, 23:11). There is another word used for “daily” that refers to the day that is already present. It is the word ephemeros, from which we get our English word “ephemeral,” a word that is about what is fleeting. It is used in James 2:15 — but not here in the Lord’s Prayer.

“Daily bread,” then, is about the bread of the day to come. But which day would that be? To answer that, consider the nature of the Lord’s Prayer and of the sermon in which it is found. It is about the kingdom of God, or as it is rendered in Matthew, the kingdom of heaven. At the end of Matthew 4, we see Jesus announcing the good news that the kingdom of God has come. Then in chapters 5-7, we see him preaching the Sermon, which is, from beginning to end, all about the kingdom of God.

Likewise, the prayer Jesus gave them to pray is about the kingdom of God. Immediately before the bit about “daily bread,” the petition is, “Your kingdom, come; Your will, be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And then the request for the bread of the coming day. It is an eschatological request — that is, concerning the “last things,” when everything in God’s plan has been fulfilled and the world has been set right. In other words, the day to come is about the fullness of God’s kingdom age.

So, this is not a prayer that God would give us today the bread that is for today but, rather, give us today that bread that is about that day: Feed us today with the bread of the age to come, the day when all is fulfilled. For the good news announcement is that the kingdom of God has already begun, with Jesus as God’s Anointed King, and will be fully realized on the day King Jesus comes again.

The bread of that day is, in a word, supernatural provision. It may show up in unexpected ways, ways we cannot explain. After all, Jesus knows how to turn water to wine and multiply bread and fish for the multitudes. Shortly after teaching the Lord’s Prayer, and still preaching the Sermon, he said,
Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow. (Matthew 6:31-34)
Many people seek hard after their provision, and in ways that have no regard for the kingdom of God — ways that often dishonor his kingdom. But if we are seeking the kingdom of God and his way of living in the world, all of our daily needs will be taken care of. There will be no need to worry about tomorrow, for God will always take care of us with the supernatural provision of his kingdom.

The way I pray this, then, is “Give us this day the bread of that day.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

Finding Jesus, Learning Stability

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 1:40-42 NIV)

Prophecies of a coming Messiah who would rule over Israel and the nations and set things right in the world. Rumors of unusual encounters with wise men and shepherds. A wild man of the desert preaching and baptizing at the Jordan. A fresh breath of anticipation was beginning to blow — at least, for those who were ready to breathe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Epiphany: Following Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Baptism of the Lamb

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Baptizer in the Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17)

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Star, a Baptism and Some Mighty Fine Wine

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

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

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Random Thoughts for a New Year

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Baker’s Dozen from 2014

As we head into 2015, and as a way to recap this past year of The Faith Log, here is a baker’s dozen of the most popular posts I wrote in 2014. Presented in no particular order.
  1. Faith Without Love is Dead
  2. Happiness and Holiness
  3. Problems of an Unexamined Faith
  4. The Focus of the Heart Upon God
  5. The Gospel of Reconciliation
  6. Anointed with the Holy Spirit and with Power
  7. The Father Who Dwells in Me Does the Works
  8. Paradigms and Soda Straws
  9. Radical: A Life Rooted in Jesus
  10. Grafted Into the Chosen People
  11. God’s Chosen People — the Church
  12. Eternal Life is Knowing God Through Christ
  13. Random Thoughts
By the way, if you would like to receive new posts from The Faith Log in your email box, you can sign up for it here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Appointed Time Has Come

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

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

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

It is the thanksgiving of Simeon, who lived in expectation of seeing the Messiah, as he was promised by the Holy Spirit: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

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

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

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

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

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Ox, the Donkey and the Manger

The ox knows its master,
    The donkey its owner’s manger,
But Israel does not know,
    My people do not understand.
(Isaiah 1:3)
We often find the ox and the donkey depicted in manger scenes and Christmas cards and carols and pageants. But one place we do not find them is in the story of Jesus’ birth that is presented in the New Testament.

What we do have in the New Testament nativity story, however, is the manger. A manger is a feeding trough for animals, so it would make sense that there would be at least an animal or two present that was common to Bethlehem at that time.

This was not lost on the Church Fathers. The tradition of the ox and ass in the manger scene goes back to the early Church, at least as far as Origen (about AD 184-253). In his thirteenth homily on the Gospel of Luke, Origen finds great significance in the manger in relation to Isaiah 1:3.
That was the manger of which the inspired prophet said, “The ox knows his owner and the ass his master's manger.” The ox is a clean animal, the ass an unclean animal. “The ass knows his master’s manger.” The people of Israel did not know their Lord’s manger, but an unclean animal from among the Gentiles did. Scripture says, “Israel, indeed, did not know me, and my people did not understand me.” Let us understand the manger. Let us endeavor to recognize the Lord and to be worthy of knowing him, and of taking on not only his birth and the resurrection of his flesh, but also his celebrated second coming in majesty, to whom is glory and power for ages of ages. Amen. (The Fathers of the Church: Origen, Homilies on Luke. Translated by Joseph T. Lienhard, S. J. p. 55)
The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (aka, The Infancy Gospel of Matthew), an apocryphal book dating back to about the ninth century, if not earlier, also relates the manger of the nativity with the ox and ass in Isaiah’s prophecy:
And on the third day after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the most blessed Mary went forth out of the cave, and entering a stable, placed the child in the stall, and the ox and the ass adored Him. Then was fulfilled that which was said by Isaiah the prophet, saying: The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib. The very animals, therefore, the ox and the ass, having Him in their midst, incessantly adored Him. (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 8, The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, Chapter 14).
The ox and ass are certainly not out of place at the manger scene, and they have an important lesson for us, as Origen exhorts us in his homily:
Let us understand the manger. Let us endeavor to recognize the Lord and to be worthy of knowing him, and of taking on not only his birth and the resurrection of his flesh, but also his celebrated second coming in majesty, to whom is glory and power for ages of ages. Amen.
The ox and ass, then, help us to recognize and adore the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Monday, December 22, 2014

According to Your Word

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
“In the beginning,” according to the book of Genesis, “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). He spoke, and whatever He spoke came to be, and He saw that it was good. The author of Hebrews tells us, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

“In the beginning,” according to the Gospel of John, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:-3).

One day God spoke His word, through the angel Gabriel, to a young woman named Mary, a virgin who was promised in marriage to a man named Joseph: “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28).

When Mary saw the angel, she was very apprehensive, and she had no idea what to make of the angel’s greeting. So then the angel 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. (vv. 29-33)
Then Mary asked a very significant question: “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (v. 34). It wasn’t that she did not believe. It was simply that she did not understand. So the angel answered:
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible. (vv. 35-37)
The Holy Spirit would “overshadow” Mary. Like the Spirit of God brooding over the surface of the deep at creation (Genesis 1:2). Both the Hebrew and Greek words for “spirit” can also mean “breath” or “wind.” We may think of the Holy Spirit as the “Holy Breath” of God. Like the breath God puffed into Adam’s nostrils, and Adam became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). Or the breath the Lord Jesus puffed on the disciples in the upper room after His resurrection from the dead, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). We may also think of the Holy Spirit as the divine “breath” or “wind” that carried the Old Testament prophets along so that they were able to speak words from God (2 Peter 1:21). For “all Scripture is God-breathed,” Paul tells us (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV).

This same Holy Spirit would come upon Mary, brooding and breathing and blowing, and the Word who was with God in the beginning, and by whom all things were created, would become flesh and receive humanity from her and be born into the world.

Mary consented to the Word that was spoken by God through the angelic visitor, yielding herself to the Father, to the Word and to the Holy Spirit. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

Now the Father speaks that same Word to us through the Holy Spirit and reveals the Lord Jesus Christ, who has triumphed over the world through the Cross and the Resurrection. And the Word Himself speaks and says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Let us, then, say with the Virgin Mary, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Early and Latter Rains

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (James 5:7-8)
The early rains James speaks of are the autumn rains that soften and prepare the ground for sowing seed. The latter rains are the spring rains that mature and prepare the crops for harvest. The farmer knows how to wait because he has an expectation that there will be fruit and that the harvest will be well worth it.

For us, the “early rain” has come, two thousand years ago in a manger in Bethlehem. And the seed has been sown: the gospel of Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God has been preached to the nations. Now we wait for the “latter rain,” when King Jesus returns to gather in the harvest, and set all things right in the world.

James writes to scattered Jews who have embraced Jesus as Messiah and are following Him. They have faced many trials and have been mistreated. He encourages them to persevere through these difficulties (1:2-4) but also to endure them without grumbling or holding grudges, for Messiah comes to judge and put everything in order (5:9). The patience James enjoins is not an idle waiting through long, dull periods but about bearing through suffering and persecution with wisdom and maturity (see James 3:13-18), and without taking matters into their own hands, for the Lord Jesus will reveal to them the fullness of His mercy and compassion.
Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:10-11 NIV)
“Be patient,” James says, just as the farmer is who waits for the early and latter rains — there will be a joyful harvest at the end of it all when the Lord Jesus returns and the kingdom of God is in full fruit, fully revealed. “Establish your hearts,” he says, “for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” To be established in heart is to stand firm without wavering, not put off by difficulties. This requires a faith that is focused on Lord Jesus, because faith creates a positive expectation for the final outcome, and with that we can bear patiently and endure.

We live between the early and latter rains in this Advent season of the world, waiting for the fulfillment of what was begun at Christmas. Though there are many difficulties and persecutions the innocent and the righteous are presently suffering, the Lord will come and the harvest He brings will be exceedingly abundantly beyond all we can ask or imagine.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Darkness is Passing Away

The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. (1 John 2:8)
The letter First John is about walking in light and walking in love and how these reveal eternal life. Light answers to darkness, love answers to hate and fear, and life answers to death and destruction. All three — light, love and life — are found in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John tells us, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5 NIV). Indeed, Jesus is “the true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:9 NIV). At the beginning of the epistle of John, he identifies Jesus as “that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us” (1 John 1:2).

The true light is already shining in the world because Jesus the Messiah has come. And where there is light, darkness can no longer endure but must pass away. Darkness cannot overcome the light because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light.

The true light is still shining in the world because the Lord Jesus has gathered for Himself a people of His own. Paul reminds all those who believe in the Lord Jesus that God, who has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:12 NIV). And, “You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5 NIV). So the darkness is passing away because the true light is already shining through Christ and His body, which is the Church. But now let us look at how that light shines:
Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. (1 John 2:8-10)
The light that conquers the darkness of evil triumphs by love. The “new commandment” John writes about is the one Jesus gave to the disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). If we are full of hate, we are living in darkness. But when we overcome hate by love, the light of Christ shines brightly through us and the darkness must pass away. Paul speaks similarly, in his letter to the Jesus followers at Rome, about how the light of love overcomes the darkness of the world:
Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Romans 13:10-14)
John says that the darkness is passing away. It has certainly not yet all gone, and we are often painfully reminded of its presence. Yet the assurance of the gospel is that it is being put to flight by the light of Christ, revealed through His Church. Wherever that light shines brightly through works of faith and love — faith working through love — the darkness begins to fade. That light is already shining, John tells us, and the darkness is passing away. And Paul reminds us that “the day is at hand” and “our salvation” is drawing ever nearer.

We are living between the times, between when the light of King Jesus first began to shine at that first Christmas and the time when He comes again and the darkness is completely dispelled. The season of Advent reminds us that it is “high time to awake out of sleep” and “put on the armor of light” — the life and love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Preparing the Way of the Lord

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
To give his people the knowledge of salvation
Through the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
By which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
To shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the path of peace."
(Luke 1:76-79 NIV)
In this final portion of Zechariah’s prayer, he prophesies over his son, John. John is not the one who brings salvation to the people of God and sets them free. Nor is he the “rising sun” who comes to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness. In short, he is not the Messiah — but he is the forerunner of Messiah. He is “A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”
(Luke 3:4-6 NIV, quoting Isaiah 40:3-5)
John did not bring salvation but he brought the knowledge of salvation, and of the forgiveness of sins. When he came of age, the word of God came to him and he went out into the wilderness of Judea to began his ministry (described in Luke 3:1-18 and also in Matthew 3:1-13). He came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3) and turned many Jews back to the way of the Lord, as the angel who first appeared to Zechariah had said he would:
And 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 1:16-17)
This ministry of repentance was about the kingdom of God. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” he said (Matthew 3:2). John the Baptist did not establish the kingdom of God but he prepared the way for the King, the Messiah, whose kingdom it is:
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all,

“I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. (Luke 3:15-18 NIV)
It was through the baptism of John that Jesus of Nazareth was revealed to be Messiah. When Jesus was baptized by John, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove, and the voice of the Father said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:30). This picked up important Old Testament language and showed Jesus to be the Son of God spoken of in Psalm 2 and the divinely appointed Servant in Isaiah 42. This explicitly identified Jesus as the Messiah, and therefore as King (see Reigning King and Well Pleasing Servant).

John’s role as forerunner, then, is a very important, for he prepares the way by announcing that the kingdom of God is near and bears witness to King Jesus. Today, as followers of King Jesus, we have a similar role, declaring this good news to the nations and calling everyone to faith in Him. In this Advent season, we give witness to the first coming of Jesus into the world even as we watch for His return, when the kingdom of God is fully revealed.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Faith in the Promise Brings Expectation

Many centuries had passed since the Jews had been carried off into captivity, and although they were eventually allowed to return to their own land, they remained under foreign dominion. Even in the days of King Herod, an Idumean whose family had been converted to Judaism, the Jews were still under foreign leaders, for he was appointed by the Roman Empire and was quite tyrannical. So the Jews were in their homeland but they were not at home in their homeland — they were still in exile.

The expectation about Messiah, however, was still alive. God had spoken the promise in various ways over the centuries, and many of the various Jewish movements still looked for Him — longed for Him — though their understanding was very mixed about what it would be and how it would happen. But they knew that Messiah would come to deliver Israel and establish God’s kingdom. They had the promise of God, and to the extent they trusted Him and believed that promise, they had expectation. Because God spoke, there was hope.

And now here was Zechariah, whose faith revived very late in life, praising God for the miraculous birth of his son, John, who was somehow caught up in the fulfillment of the messianic promise (see Zechariah’s Expectation). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah began to prophesy:
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)
Zechariah begins with the declaration that God has come to His people and redeemed them. Then he relates it to the promise the things spoken by the mouths of the Old Testament prophets. He recalls the covenant, the “oath” God “swore” to Abraham. He focuses on the promise of mercy and deliverance and freedom, that God’s people would be able to serve Him without fear all the days of their lives.

In short, Zechariah’s prophecy was an announcement that the time of Messiah was at hand. With his faith renewed to the promise of God, Zechariah began to understand that it was now beginning to be fulfilled — God was doing what He promised. Zechariah believed the promise and he was bursting with expectation.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Zechariah’s Expectation

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.
(Luke 1:68-69)
These are Zechariah’s first words spoken after a long silence. Nine months earlier, the angel of the Lord had appeared to him and told him that his wife Elizabeth, who was as elderly as Zechariah and well beyond child-bearing years, was going to have a baby. It was something for which Zechariah had prayed, but something for which he was not prepared. This child, the angel said, was to be called John and he would “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 1:16).

“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years,” Zechariah replied (v. 18). He found it hard to believe. Perhaps the prayer that was now being answered was one he had prayed many years earlier, when he was a much younger man. Perhaps a prayer he had given up on long ago and he no longer had any expectation for it. But now, suddenly, here it was finally being answered and Zechariah did not know what to say, so he said it — and spoke his unbelief.

This answer to prayer was too precious to be squandered away — it carried too great a promise — so the angel of the Lord did Zechariah a kindness and shut his mouth for him. Zechariah would be unable to speak for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. That gave him a good long while to think about his prayer for a child, the promise of the angel, and the faithfulness of God. Over those months, his faith grown cold warmed once again and a new hope began to arise within him. It was a gift from God.

Finally the child was born — a son. Friends and family thought he should be named Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth spoke up and said, “No, he shall be called John.” A bit of a commotion followed because there was no one among the relatives who was named John. So the friends and family made signs to Zechariah — apparently, because he was silent, they figured he must also be deaf — about what to name the child. Zechariah motioned for a tablet and wrote, “His name is John.”

Suddenly he found that he could speak again and he began praising God. Everyone now began to wonder about this child whose life had already been marked by miracles. Then Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, began to prophesy: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people …”

Zechariah now realized that God was doing a mighty thing for His people, something that would change the whole world, and that somehow … somehow it had something to do with the birth of his son. And that filled him with great expectation, which came out of his mouth as prophesy. It is recorded in Luke 1:68-79 and has been prayed every morning since the early centuries of the Church. (We’ll look at more of it in the next post.)

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent and the Rebirth of Creation

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25 NIV)
The season of Advent is a season of waiting. There is a groaning, a travailing like childbirth. There is an eagerness, an expectancy, a joyful anticipation. And there is a patience, an endurance, a perseverance, for the hope of redemption that will not be denied.

King Jesus the Messiah came two thousand years ago and changed the world, fulfilling the promises God made to His people, establishing His kingdom. The long night had come to an end and a new light was dawning for Israel and the world. One day the King will come again and all shall see everything in completion. Meanwhile, we live between those times, and yet also as a part of them. For, in our temporal frame, we look back in celebration and we look ahead in expectation.

As in Advent, when we prepare our hearts to rejoice in the birth of Christ, so we also eagerly watch for His return. But we do not wait alone — creation itself longs for that day.
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:21-22 NIV)
Creation longs for its liberation from bondage and decay. This liberation is related to our own redemption in Christ, the full manifestation of our own freedom and glory as the children of God. Creation groans. We groan, too, inwardly and eagerly, as we await that fullness. It will surely come, for Jesus has promised, “I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5 NIV).

Creation is waiting for that renewal, even as all who have come to faith in Christ have been made new. Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV). In Christ, the renewal of creation has come and we are part of it.

Through Christ, we are part of the rebirth of creation itself. This rebirth began with the groaning of Mary and the birth of the Lord Jesus. It will be filled full when Christ comes again, and we shall know as we are known. Until then, we groan together with creation in patient longing.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Advent of the New Beginning

Advent is a time for thinking about the new beginning God has made for the world. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each speak of this.

  • Matthew indicates the beginning of the new creation. We hear it resonate in the very first verse: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ” (Matthew 1:1). The Greek words behind “book of the genealogy” (biblos geneseos) are uniquely identical to the words in the Septuagint (ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) about the “book of the genealogy” of Adam, in Genesis 5:1. In this, Matthew reminds us that Jesus the Messiah is the new Adam, and with that a new creation.
  • Mark declares the beginning of the gospel. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). The gospel is the announcement that the kingdom of God has come. And Jesus, Son of God, is the Anointed King. “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).
  • Luke tells us of the beginning of fulfillment. He writes to “set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us” (Luke 1:1). What he is talking about are the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which were already beginning to be fulfilled in Luke’s day. He opens, most extensively of the four Gospel writers, with the events of the Christmas story, where the notes of promise and fulfillment are clearly rung in the Benedictus (the song of Zechariah, in Luke 1:68-79) and the Magnificat (the song of Mary, in Luke 1:46-55).
  • John proclaims the beginning of God in the flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). This is the beginning of the mystery of godliness. “Beyond all question,” Paul says, “the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16 NIV). This mystery opens with the Word made flesh and proceeds all the way to King Jesus being “taken up in glory,” where He is enthroned at the right hand of the Father, with all authority given to Him in heaven and on earth.
The beginning of new creation, of the gospel, of the divine promises fulfilled and of God come in the flesh are not four different beginnings but four different ways of speaking about the ultimate new beginning God has brought into the world—indeed, it is the fulfillment of Creation, of humankind created in the image of God. In the season of Advent, we remember that beginning, and we celebrate it during the twelve days of Christmas, even as we wait for the return of King Jesus.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.