Bible meditations

 
 

Choosing Life, Good, and Blessing—Deuteronomy 30:15-20

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:15–20).

lightoftheworld1

God calls us to bring His light, life, and love to the world. Photo by Alvinysf (Crossmap) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

In recent weeks, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, which means that President Donald Trump will have the opportunity to appoint his replacement. For many observers, this is significant. Kennedy is usually considered a moderate “swing vote” on the Court. Most believe that Trump will replace him with a strong conservative, like Clarence Thomas or Neil Gorsuch, thereby giving the Supreme Court a distinct conservative majority.

While this has been in the news, a friend asked me, “Do you think Roe vs. Wade (the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion-on-demand throughout the United States) will be overturned?” My answer may surprise some people: I do not expect a political solution to legalized abortion in the foreseeable future. While many Christians believe there are currently four pro-life justices on the Supreme Court, only one of them has proven it in a ruling. In a ruling upholding a partial-birth abortion ban in 2007, only Clarence Thomas and the now-deceased Antonin Scalia expressed the belief that this ruling should be overturned. The other allegedly pro-life justices did not formally agree to that statement. (See the Wikipedia article about Gonzales v. Carhart for more about that ruling.) So, we may have only one truly pro-life justice right now (I am not aware of any abortion-related cases where Gorsuch has stated his opinion), and I do not think we will have more than three after Trump’s next nominee is approved.

Thus, a political solution is not likely in the near future.

A political solution would be a quick fix. If we could just get one President to support Christian moral values and have five people in black robes issue an edict for us, things would be so easy. Americans like easy, quick solutions. Why should Mom spend an hour or more cooking a healthy, nutritionally balanced dinner when countless fast-food drive-through windows will satisfy our cravings with little effort? If that seems excessive, the grocery store sells plenty of meals that can be zapped in a microwave oven in less than five minutes. We want quick/easy/painless solutions to all of our problems, and we hope somebody else will take care of them for us.

The Christian should not seek political solutions to spiritual problems. In Deuteronomy 30:19 (a popular verse at pro-life rallies), God calls His people to “choose life.” He presents two paths before us: life vs. death; good vs. evil; blessing vs. cursing. Those who walk in His ways choose life, good, and blessing. Those who rebel against Him walk in death, evil, and cursing.

The Gospel of John tells us that the light and life of God are found in Jesus: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4–5). Elsewhere, the Bible tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8). Thus, three of the core features of God’s nature are life, light, and love. We are called to share His life and love with those around us. We are called to be the light of the world, reflecting Jesus’ light to others (Matthew 5:14; John 8:12). “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). With God as our Father, we can be witnesses for Him with our words and life.

It is not an easy solution. God calls His children to the mission of changing our world: one heart, soul, and mind at a time; one day at a time, 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 52 weeks per year. But, it is God’s way. He does not call upon us to wait for others to solve this world’s problems. He calls on us to change our world by living a lifestyle of life, good, blessing, light, and love.

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments
 
 

Walking in Faith or Reacting in Fear—Numbers 20:10–13

Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy (Numbers 20:10–13).

poussin2c_nicolas_-_moses_striking_water_from_the_rock_-_1649

“Moses Striking Water from the Rock,” by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

You would think the Israelites had learned by this time. God had parted the waters of the Red Sea to guide them safely out of Egypt. He had miraculously provided food and water before. Somehow, with each crisis, God met their need. After a few difficult situations, the Israelites should have realized that they merely had to point out their need to Moses, ask him to pray, and wait for the miracle. Instead, they would complain, regret their decision to leave Egypt, threaten to return to Egypt, blame Moses, and so on. God was trying to teach them to walk by faith, but they continued to react in fear.

This was a repeat occurrence. Almost immediately after they crossed through the Red Sea, the Israelites threatened to stone Moses, since there was no water. God told him to strike a rock to bring forth water. This was the first miracle of divine provision after the escape from Egypt (Exodus 17:1–7).

However, that event began a pattern from which the Israelites did not seem to learn. They had a need; they complained; they blamed, accused, and threatened Moses; Moses prayed to God; God provided.

This time, though, the pattern took a tragic turn. Instead of following God’s instructions fully, Moses obeyed halfway: God told him where to go to receive the water, but Moses chose to vent his frustration. God gave him simple instructions: Take his staff, walk over to the rock, and command the rock to give the people its water. Moses decided to change the instructions a little: Take the staff, walk over to the rock, insult the crowd, and then beat the rock with the staff.

In spite of rebellion, God still provided. God’s blessings are based on His mercy, not on perfect performance by His people. However, Moses would suffer the consequences. Not too long before this, the Lord had decreed that almost the entire adult generation that left Egypt would die before reaching the Promised Land. They would wander for 40 years until all, except for Caleb and Joshua, had died; then their children would inherit the land. Until now, Moses had every reason to expect that he would enter with them. But now, God decided that Moses’ failure was serious enough to exclude him from the Promised Land.

We often overlook an important part of the story. Shortly before this incident, Moses’ sister Miriam had died. It would be tempting to make excuses for Moses’ behavior. “He’s in mourning. It’s been a rough time for his family. God understands. He sees the heart.”

God understands, but He also requires obedience from His children. He expects us to uphold Him as holy in the sight of the people.

As I reflect on this passage, I am reminded that this is not merely a story about Moses. In a very real way, it is about me too. Perhaps you see yourself in it as well.

We should have learned by now. God has met our needs and answered our prayers so many times. We should know the correct response: Realize there is a problem, bring our problem before the Lord in prayer, and expect Him to meet our needs. How often do we choose instead to complain, gripe, or blame the nearest scapegoat for our problems? How often do we act like God is not paying attention? How often do we blame God? How often do we obey God halfway, while venting our anger and frustration on others? How often do we make excuses for ourselves and others when obedience to God is lacking?

When will we learn?

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

New Reformation or Personal Reformation

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children (Hosea 4:6).

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law (Proverbs 29:18).

There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death (Proverbs 16:25).

This post concludes a two-part series. Please read part one first.

Solomon

King Solomon said, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 16:25). Illustration by Paul Gustave Doré via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Those who call for a new Reformation are correct to recognize that there are problems in the Body of Christ. God’s people are perishing due to a lack of knowledge. The problems that led Hosea to make that statement thousands of years ago linger. People choose to sin. Many of those whom God has called to lead His people are neglecting their duties. Many preachers preach what they want to believe, not what they read clearly in Scripture.

Sometimes God’s people lack knowledge because they lack education. They have not read, studied, or learned enough. There is a simple solution to that. Read your Bible daily. Study the Word in-depth. Find a church that believes and preaches the Word of God, listen to the preaching and teaching, and learn.

Sometimes, though, the ignorance is more willful. Many Christians get their theology from the wrong places. They listen to preachers who are eager to tickle itching ears (see 2 Timothy 4:3). Many will reinterpret the Bible when it goes against their biases. (In part 1, I chose the two examples of hell and homosexuality because these have been two doctrines that have been frequently trampled with faulty reinterpretation and distortion of Scripture.) Others profess to be Christians but do not seek to learn what Jesus taught. They avoid the truth entirely. They learn their doctrine from Facebook memes; they are too busy following sports, music, movies, politics, and current events to take the time to read their Bibles.

Sometimes the ignorance is simply full-blown stiff-necked rebellion. People know what the Bible says. They know what it means. But, they choose not to believe or obey it.

How can we respond? First, every one of us should search our own hearts. Where do we stand? Do we trust Jesus at face value and believe what He says, or do we try to find a way around His message?

Next, we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us see what we can do to correct the situation. How can we grow in the knowledge of God and His Word? How can we grow in obedience and trust in Him? What can we do to positively influence those within our sphere of influence?

As a Christian blogger, I can make a greater commitment to include in-depth teaching in my posts. I can continue to study and grow in my knowledge of God’s Word so that my life can more clearly reflect His glory and be a greater witness. When I read something in the Bible that confronts an area of sin in my life or a way that I can grow, I can accept it by faith and stop making excuses.

Perhaps the Church does not need a New Reformation. The problems within the church are problems with human nature. New church structures will not eradicate them. Rethinking theology may actually multiply them. Each of us, as individual believers in Christ, need our own personal New Reformation. We need to daily recommit ourselves to saying “yes” to God and “no” to our own preconceived notions and preferences.

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

New Reformation or Right Teaching?

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children (Hosea 4:6).

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law (Proverbs 29:18).

There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death (Proverbs 16:25).

lucas_cranach_28i29_workshop_-_martin_luther_28uffizi29

Martin Luther led a Reformation in the Church 500 years ago. Do we need a new Reformation? Picture from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Is it time for a New Reformation? From time to time, a Christian preacher or teacher (perhaps claiming the authority of an apostle or prophet) will claim that the church has grown so lukewarm or apostate that we need a new reformation. They would say that, just as the Protestant Reformation (spearheaded by Martin Luther around 1517) revitalized the church, the modern church needs radical reform. A quick Google search revealed three very different reformation movements here, here, and here. There are probably numerous others. In fact, almost every new denomination grows out of a belief that the church is lacking something substantial.

The broad variety of ideas expressed by these movements reveals the very problem that creates the call for a new Reformation. These movements contradict each other on several key points. They cannot agree on the key teachings of Christianity, the main problems in contemporary Christianity, or what a “New Reformation” church will look like. This is nothing new; we currently have at least three primary branches of Christianity: Roman Catholicism, (Eastern) Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Within Protestantism, we have denominations that are as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore. All of this arises from disagreements about doctrine, proper worship, church government, etc. Every branch of Christianity claims to know the truth, and they contradict one another.

A key element of Martin Luther’s Reformation was an emphasis on right teaching or doctrine. He believed the great error within the Christianity of his era was the way it chose tradition over Scripture. Although Luther never totally abandoned church tradition, he challenged his contemporaries to re-examine doctrine in the light of Scripture.

Every generation has its own heresies and false teachings. Modern American Christianity has a few that come to mind. Many of them stem from people’s desire to believe their feelings instead of the facts of the faith. We believe what makes us feel comfortable, or what makes it easy to claim a strong relationship with Christ without a radical change in our lives.

One of the great marks of Christian spiritual maturity is this: Are we willing to accept biblical truth even if it goes against our personal preferences or biases? When we encounter a teaching we do not like or understand, what do we do? Do we say “yes” to Jesus, or “yes” to our own opinions? Do we believe that God knows what He is talking about, or do we assume that we know better?

Here are two examples. First, I wish the Bible did not mention hell. Universal salvation—the belief that everybody eventually goes to heaven—sounds much more comforting. I wish it was true. Otherwise, the belief in the annihilation of the soul (that people who do not go to heaven just disappear out of existence without any suffering) would sound nice. However, there is a problem: The Bible teaches that there is a hell. I cannot claim to be a Bible-believing Christian and reject the reality of hell. I cannot even hide behind the Old vs. New Testament dichotomy that applies to some other teachings. I can say I do not believe in stoning adulterers to death because that was in the Old Testament, but I cannot say the same about hell. Most of what the Bible teaches about hell is found in the New Testament (much from the very words of Jesus!), with very little in the Old.

A part of me wishes the Bible did not consider homosexuality a sin. I know some very kind, generous, friendly homosexuals. Some of them are better people than many of the Christians I know. If I had written the Bible, the passages against homosexuality would not be there. I am left with a choice: Do I accept what God says in His word, or do I accept what modern American culture says?

Do you say “yes” to God, or do you say “yes” to sin, the devil, the world, and your own desires? Whom do you choose? If there is a need for a New Reformation, it is because we choose not to obey and believe our Lord.

In the following post, we will look at the cause of this problem and what we can do to resolve it.

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Pure Passion—Psalms 119:131

I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments (Psalms 119:131, ESV).

nature-animal-river-deer_282403127109029

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalms 42:1). Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Are the things of God just an obligation or chore to you? Or, are they a hobby, something you enjoy doing every now and then? Are they an addiction, passion, or obsession? Are you drawn to prayer, Scripture, and worship like an alcoholic to beer or an addict to his drug of choice?

Far into the longest chapter of the Bible, the Anthem to God’s Word (Psalm 119), the writer tells us that he pants because he longs for God’s commandments. We envision someone who is feeling dehydrated in the desert heat, whose sole obsession at that moment is for a refreshing drink of water. A similar image appears earlier in the Psalms:

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival (Psalms 42:1–4).

The psalmist compares himself to a deer who pants thirstily for cool waters. As a world-weary deer in need of sustenance and safety seeks water to survive, the Psalmist seeks God, through His Word and worship. When one is dehydrated, only one thing satisfies: a drink that will restore fluids to the body. When one is weary from the hardships of this world, only God will satisfy.

Panting is one of the ways the human body expresses craving. A long-distance runner competing in a marathon may start panting as his body craves extra oxygen to complete the race. (Highly trained competitive runners learn to control their breathing so that they can preserve their energy.) Panting may also signal other kinds of craving, such as sexual arousal.

How do prayer, God’s Word, and worship relate to all of this? The two passages in Psalms suggest that God’s Word and presence should be such an obsession for us. Do we desire the things of God like that, though? Do you truly crave God’s blessings, or do you crave the things of this world? What is your passion?

Many Christians miss out on God’s blessings because we do not crave them with this addicted passion. We are torn between Christianity as a hobby and passion for the things of this world. We may be drawn to the heavy weights of this world and the sin which so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1). These things drag us down so that we do not pant after the things of God. However, it should not be this way. God desires our hearts to be completely committed to Him and dead to the things of this world:

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:24–25).

So, I ask you (and I ask myself these questions as well): What is your passion? What do you desire more than anything? What do you crave? What do you pursue with a single-minded focus? Does your heart cry out to God in prayer, hungry until you are assured that He has heard you? Does your soul pant thirstily to hear His Word? Do you impulsively and compulsively charge into God’s presence in praise and worship? If the answer to these questions is “No,” let each of us confess those obsessions that take first place in our lives. Let us admit them to God and ask Him to remove those desires, replacing them with a pure passion for His holy presence in their place.

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (Romans 6:11–13).

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ascension and Pentecost IV: The Ascended Christ Sends the Indwelling Spirit

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7–8).

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).

(This is Part 4 of a series. Part 3 appears here.)

stp-elp19

Stained glass depiction of the Great Commission, at the Cathedral Parish of Saint Patrick in El Paso. By Lyricmac at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we saw in an earlier message, Jesus breathed on His disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit on the night following His resurrection (John 20:22). This reception of the Holy Spirit was essential to their work of proclaiming the Gospel. He told them to receive the Holy Spirit; then they could go forth and preach. In Acts 1:4–8, Jesus told them to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them before going out to preach.

We often speak of Pentecost as “the birthday of the church” because it is the day when the disciples received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and began to fulfill the Great Commission (see Acts 2, especially verses 1–4 and 37–41).

Entire books have been written about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church and the believer, so this will be a very brief synopsis (if the Lord allows, I will write a more thorough series about the Holy Spirit one of these days). This conclusion to this series will show how the indwelling Holy Spirit provides our connection with the ascended Lord Jesus Christ and enables us to observe all that He has commanded us (Matthew 28:19–20).

As I have written several times in this series, several key themes tie the Feast of the Ascension and Pentecost together. Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit tie Jesus’ transcendent power and glory closely together with His immanent and permanent presence in the believer’s life.

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

In the upper room discourse, Jesus said that He would ask the Father to send the Spirit (John 14:16). After His ascension, they would send the Holy Spirit to fill believers and empower them.

What does the Holy Spirit do in the life of a believer? Jesus lists these roles:

  • He dwells with believers forever, thereby providing a permanent direct link between the Christian and the real presence of God in his life (John 14:16–20).
  • He teaches us and helps us to remember what Jesus has said (John 14:26; 16:13–15).
  • He enables us to experience the peace of God (John 14:27).
  • He bears witness about Jesus to believers so that we are able to bear witness about Him to others (John 15:26–27).
  • Convicts the world regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8–11).

In Galatians 5:22–23, we read that the Holy Spirit also produces fruit in the lives of believers: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

At the end of Mark’s Gospel, we read that several signs will follow the disciples while they proclaim the Gospel. According to several passages in the Acts, these signs are gifts from the Holy Spirit:

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:15–18).

As mentioned earlier, this is just a brief summary. However, we can summarize the Holy Spirit’s work in a Christian’s life as follows:

  • He equips us to preach the Gospel to others.
  • He empowers us to serve Christ.
  • He brings the life of God into our lives so that we can live like beloved children of God, bearing God’s presence in our lives (the fruit of the Spirit).

Before He ascended to heaven, Jesus promised that He would be with us, even to the end of the age. The Holy Spirit brings the presence of Jesus into our lives. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He took a human body with Him. When the Holy Spirit enters our lives, we become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and God’s seed abides in us (1 John 3:9). While our bodies continue to preserve their human nature and the DNA we inherited from our earthly parents, we receive a sort of “spiritual DNA” from the heavenly Father Himself.

Ascension reminds us that Jesus is more than we can imagine. Pentecost reminds us that God’s plan is to make us more than we can envision. We are His children. Let us live like it. Let us rejoice in that special relationship we have with Him. Let us “be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1), living a life of holiness, forgiveness, and grace that draws others into our spiritual family.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Ascension and Pentecost III. The Gospel of Forgiveness

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:19–23).

(This is Part 3 of a series. Part 2 appears here.)

jesus_appears_to_the_disciples

Jesus appears to the disciples after His resurrection. By William Hole (1846-1917), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On the night before Jesus died, He gave a final “pep talk” to His disciples, often referred to as “the upper room discourse” (John, chapters 13–17). During that discussion, He went into some depth about a few topics that He had touched on over the past three years: Serving one another; loving others; the promise of everlasting life; the coming, presence, and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life; and the believers’ responsibility to spread His Gospel.

 

Between His resurrection and ascension, Jesus would go into greater detail on some of these topics. A few subjects that received passing mention earlier in the Gospels take greater emphasis during the 40 days after His resurrection. At that time, He gave them final instructions for continuing His work after He ascended to heaven. On Pentecost, He gave them His Holy Spirit so that they could fulfill those instructions. A few key themes continually arise in His final instructions.

One of the most important, and in many churches least emphasized, elements of Jesus’ post-resurrection teaching is the message of forgiveness. Yet, it is central to Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples, and it should be central to our message. As He prepared them for their forthcoming ministry, He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:21–23).

Churches debate what this means. Some Roman Catholics will point to this passage to defend the practice of sacramental confession: according to them, this passage authorizes the priest to pronounce forgiveness of sins to those who confess their sins and request absolution. Some Protestants will say that this is little more than authorization to preach the Gospel so that people may receive forgiveness by believing in Jesus.

The Catholic view I described is definitely an exaggeration of that passage’s teaching; in fact, it is actually a caricature of Catholic teaching about forgiveness (from what I read in a few books and learned from a few devout Catholics). On the other hand, though, the Protestant view above (that Jesus was merely authorizing His disciples to preach the Gospel) seems a little inadequate. He did not say, “If you tell people they are forgiven, they might be forgiven”—but that really is the essence of much evangelical teaching on this subject. However, Jesus implies that the disciples had some kind of authority to extend OR withhold forgiveness in such a way that it is counted that way in heaven. God honors that forgiveness as if He extended it Himself. (I will add that this is an application of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 16:19, when He told Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This had everything to do with preaching and teaching with divine authorization, and nothing to do with “naming and claiming” health and wealth for yourself. It also seems to be related to Matthew 9:8, where, after Jesus healed a paralytic by forgiving his sins, the crowd “glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”)

How do we, as ordinary twenty-first century Christians, exercise this authority to forgive? That is a complicated question, but here I offer at least three ways we can extend God’s forgiveness with His authority.

First, we need to actually live the message of forgiveness in our own lives. We need to live, think, and speak as people who know that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but who have been fully forgiven of our sins through faith in Jesus. We must live as forgiven people.

Then, we need to forgive others as He has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13). Instead of harboring bitterness and resentment, we should forgive. Instead of gossiping about the sins and indiscretions of others, we pray for them, with a heart of forgiveness, seeking God’s mercy in their lives. Instead of looking down on those who sin differently than we do, we should forgive and love them, looking on them with mercy and compassion.

We see this in the life of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. As he was being stoned to death, his last words were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). On the basis of John 20:23, it is a safe bet that none of them would have found the sin of killing Stephen held against them when they stand before God’s judgment seat. Furthermore, one of those people whom Stephen forgave (Saul of Tarsus, better known as the apostle Paul) would experience the forgiveness of Christ and become one of its greatest spokesmen.

Finally,  we must proclaim a message of forgiveness:

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45-47).

The Gospel we are called to preach contains a few key points: Jesus died for our sins; He rose again; in response to that, we repent of our sins; on the foundation of all that, we receive His forgiveness. St. Paul would later describe it as a “free gift.” If Christ’s work on the cross is absent, it is not the Gospel. If repentance is absent, it is “cheap grace” that tramples the Son of God underfoot (Hebrews 10:29). If forgiveness is absent, we are without hope, for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

e1ff60471a99dc34eedc050c48533f10

In “History of the World,” Moses drops one of the tablets, thereby losing five commandments and leaving us with 10. It seems like many Christians try to add new commandments. Jesus summarized them in two.

The Gospel is not a new set of rules, designed to make us act like we are better than others. The Bible has enough clear commandments: We do not need to add “Thou shalt not listen to this music” or “Thou shalt not dance” (or some of the other extra-canonical commandments that some Christians place on equal footing with the clear teaching of Scripture). In the Mel Brooks movie, “History of the World,” Moses initially comes down from the mountain with three stone tablets, containing 15 commandments, and accidentally drops one (leaving us with 10). Many Christians try to make up for this fumble by adding 666 new sins to the list. Jesus simplified it for us (and yet, in some ways, made it more intensive) by summarizing God’s will in the two commandments to love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37–40).

 

The Gospel is not a self-improvement program either. We do not accept Jesus Christ, then try to fix our lives to make ourselves acceptable to God, out of fear that He will reject us when we fail. We do not improve ourselves to make ourselves acceptable to God. Instead, God accepts us as we are when we come to Him in faith, and then He changes our lives on His own schedule.

This is the Gospel we are called to preach. Jesus died to forgive us. We come to Him to receive that forgiveness. That is why He came, and that is our source of confidence that we will enjoy eternal life with Him. If forgiveness is not at the center of your message, it is the wrong message. And, if the person is responsible for improving himself, it is not the Gospel; Scripture tells us it is the work of the Holy Spirit to improve us.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Ascension and Pentecost II: The Mystery of the Incarnation in Heaven

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven (Luke 24:44-51).

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

jesus_ascending_to_heaven(This is part 2 of a series. Part 1 appears here.)

Immediately after Jesus ascended to heaven, while His disciples tried to make sense of all that had happened, two angels appeared with the most important message about end-time prophecy: Jesus will return in exactly the same way He left.

It is important to note that Jesus went to heaven with more than He had before He came to earth! From before the creation of the world, Jesus had been fully God, eternally begotten of the Father. He was the Word who was with God, and who was God (John 1:1). However, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced God’s will for her to be the mother of the Messiah, the most incomprehensible moment in the history of the universe occurred: the fullness of deity dwelled bodily in a single-celled zygote making its way through her reproductive system into her womb (Colossians 1:19). That single cell grew to become the baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, who grew up to be baptized by John the Baptist, to face temptation in the wilderness, to preach the Kingdom of God and perform miracles of healing, and eventually to die for our sins on the cross.

Throughout the approximately 33 years of His life (plus the nine months He grew in Mary’s womb), His deity was hidden or suppressed. Philippians 2:7 tells us that He “emptied Himself.” During that time, He appeared to be an ordinary man. Ancient church creeds summarize this paradox by saying that Jesus was “fully God and fully man.” Although He remained divine throughout His earthly life, it was His humanity that was most visible.

At His Ascension to the right hand of the Father, He returned to heaven with that human body. According to Revelation, He bears the scars of His crucifixion even as He rules and reigns at His Father’s right hand in heaven. He came down as a spirit and took on a body; He lives forever in this glorified state. I realize this is hard to explain and can easily raise doubts in the skeptic’s mind. The same creed that says Jesus is fully God and fully man also says that God is “incomprehensible.” I dare not say (as some do) that this faith is “illogical” or “irrational.” I believe it is, in fact, “hyper-logical” or “super-rational.” It is beyond human comprehension, trapped as we are within the confines of space and time and the limits of our own perception. No matter how hard we try to explain it, or how diligently we struggle to address the paradoxes, we still find ourselves reaching a point where logic and wisdom must surrender to faith. However, I believe that in heaven it will all make sense. I expect that one of the first things I will say in heaven is, “So, that’s how You can be three-in-one. It all makes sense now!”

This truth ties together the core of Christian teaching: That Jesus Christ is fully God (the eternal Son of God) and yet fully human. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a human baby who was, in fact, had existed since before the foundation of the world as the Son of God. During Holy Week, we remember how the Son of God, now manifesting His full humanity, yielded Himself to death on a cross. On Easter, we remember that thanks to His divine nature, He conquered death and rose again. On the Feast of the Ascension, we remember how He ascended bodily into heaven, to completely reclaim His divine glory. And finally, on Pentecost, we celebrate how Christ has sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within His followers, so that we may be partakers of the divine nature.

(Part 3 of this series appears here.)

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments
 
 

Ascension and Pentecost I: A Unified Gospel Message

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven (Luke 24:44–51).

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:6–11).

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).

jesus_ascending_to_heaven

Jesus’ ascension into heaven, by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815), public domain painting via Wikimedia Commons

On the traditional church calendar, the Easter season lasts 50 days, beginning with Easter Sunday and ending seven weeks later with the Feast of Pentecost. Easter and Pentecost are not merely bookends on a cycle of Scripture readings for Sunday worship. Along with the Feast of the Ascension (on the 40th day of Easter, 10 days before Pentecost), they provide a significant unified summary of the Gospel and its impact on the Christian’s life. This series of articles will examine the message of Ascension and Pentecost, with particular emphasis on how the key themes of these days intertwine.

The passages from Luke and Acts above give the biblical accounts of the Ascension. Jesus had appeared to His disciples periodically during 40 days after His resurrection. Throughout His post-resurrection earthly ministry, His teaching focused on a few key points which are summarized in the above passages (and repeated in the other post-resurrection accounts in the Gospels).

It is helpful to discern the context of these passages. Many Christians think of Matthew 28:18–20 (commonly known as the Great Commission) as an account of the Ascension. However, I think this occurred some time earlier: first, because it occurred in Galilee (Matt. 28:16), which would contradict Luke 24; and second, because Matthew does not mention the Ascension here. Matthew 28:18–20 simply presents some of Jesus’ final instructions for His disciples. It is possible (though uncertain) that this could be the appearance to 500 brethren that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15:5.

Luke 24:50–51 tells us that Jesus ascended to heaven from Bethany, a village close to Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, where He had raised Lazarus from the dead. A more in-depth summary of those verses appears in Luke 1:6–11.

Some of Jesus’ key points in His post-resurrection teaching (to be more fully discussed later in this series) are:

  • The significance of the cross in light of Old Testament prophecy
  • The message of forgiveness
  • Jesus’ exaltation, authority, transcendence, and immanence
  • The authority of the Church to proclaim the Gospel of forgiveness
  • The role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the Church

You may note that I do not list “end-time prophecy” here, since Jesus specifically told His disciples that the timing of His return was not their concern (Acts 1:6–7). Far too many churches violate Jesus’ clear biblical mandate here by spending too much time claiming to have figured out the entire order of the second coming of Christ, while ignoring the core teaching of the Gospel that Jesus calls us to preach. However, Jesus used their question to focus on the disciples’ role: to receive the Holy Spirit and be His witnesses. I know some Christians who, whenever I ask them what they are studying at church or in their small group, will bounce between “The Book of Revelation” and end-time prophecy. This overemphasis is unbiblical. Our core message, especially to the lost, should be Christ’s work on the cross and the forgiveness of sins. Let us not forget the message He has entrusted to us.

(Part 2 of this series appears here.)

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

The Truth Will Set You Free

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32).

“The truth will set you free” is one of the more familiar quotes from the Bible. Even non-believers know it, and sometimes quote it without realizing that it was originally spoken by Jesus. Yet, many of us saying it without thinking about the context. As a result, we come away with only half of the message, or perhaps a completely incorrect message.

Jesus was speaking to a group of “Jews who had believed him.” Yet, the conversation rapidly deteriorated. Whereas they initially believed Him (verse 31), by the end of the conversation they questioned and challenged Him, then apparently made accusations about His parents’ marital status when He was conceived (John 8:41), accused Him of being a demon-possessed Samaritan (verse 48), and eventually started preparing to stone Him to death (verse 59). Within maybe only five minutes, they went from being almost ready to become disciples to trying to kill Him.

Such is the situation when sin is mentioned. Jesus Christ and His true followers reveal sin so that it can be confessed, leading to repentance and freedom. Yet, many people respond with hostility and hatred.

When Jesus said, “The truth will set you free,” his listeners responded, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33). I can almost picture Jesus staring back at them incredulously, saying, “Um, WHAT? Do you even hear what you’re saying?” The Jewish people were under foreign oppression by the Romans at that time. Their history, recorded in their Old Testament scriptures, was filled with repeated episodes of oppression and exile. A core element of their cultural identity was their deliverance from slavery in Egypt through Moses. For a first-century Jew to say “We have never been enslaved” would be as preposterous as an African-American (particularly, one whose family has been in America since before 1860) making the same claim.

Such is the neurosis of denial. When confronted about sin, we pretend we do not have a problem. We may say that it is not really a sin. Many people today would say that Jesus and the writers of the Bible really did not know what they were talking about; we know better. Science and Oprah have opened our eyes. Or, some people will claim that their circumstances justify an exception to the rules: “I know the Bible says we should not have sex before marriage, but our situation is different because….”

We might admit that it is sin, but not admit that it involves bondage. The Son of God
disagrees: He said, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). The apostle Paul would later expand upon this thought by saying:

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:15–18).

Sin brings slavery. Many addicts have come to this awareness. They may have once thought they felt free by drinking alcohol, shooting up heroine, snorting cocaine, or getting whatever “fix” they desired. Eventually, though, as it became a life-controlling obsession, what once felt like freedom proved to be emotional and spiritual shackles, chaining them to a cycle of self-destruction. However, other kinds of sin bring similar bondage. Although many kinds of sin do not involve an obvious chemical dependency, they may become habitual, creating an emotional connection to the sin, and leading to destructive consequences. Even what we think are “little sins” involve some degree of bondage. The shackles may be looser, but they are still there.

Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free. This begins with confession. Many people
associate “confession” with a private booth, where you whisper your secrets to a priest, but that is only one aspect of the word. “Confess” merely translates a Greek word, “homologeo,” which could literally be translated as “say the same thing as” or “acknowledge.” It means to admit something is true. In the context of sin, confession involves admitting that something is a sin and that one is guilty of it. To find freedom, we must confess the truth.

We must confess the truth about ourselves. We must acknowledge our shortcomings, failings, weaknesses, and needs. We have to admit that there is some kind of chain holding us back. We must admit that we need something. In confession, we acknowledge that we have sinned and we stop looking for other people to blame. The Book of Common Prayer contains a prayer of confession that begins like this (as I recall, the Roman Catholic liturgy has a very similar prayer):

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We admit that we have sinned: not that it is someone else’s fault, or “the devil made me do it,” or I am a victim of other people’s plots. Even though all of us have fallen victim to others at some time, there are ways that we have sinned. We need forgiveness. We need freedom. We tighten our own chains when we keep pointing at others’ mistakes while ignoring our own.

But, we cannot stop by confessing our sins. That is a beginning, but if it is all we do, it will lead to despair. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. However, it goes on to tell us that the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). We must confess the truth about Jesus. Jesus’ listeners in John 8 had a hard time accepting that one. They could not accept the notion that He could possibly be greater than their ancestor, Abraham. How could they take the leap to believe that He is the Son of God. Yet, this is essential. We must believe that Jesus is God incarnate. We must believe that through His death on the cross, we have received forgiveness of our sins. We must believe that He is holy, righteous, merciful, and gracious. We must believe that He is love. When we believe these truths, we are free to break free from our chains and run to Him for forgiveness, freedom, and life.

Likewise, we must believe the truth about God and His Word. We must believe that God’s Word is true and that it shows us the way to live in a way that pleases Him.

Finally, we must abide in that truth. We do not use the word “abide” very often nowadays, but it is the basis of our word “abode.” We must live in Jesus’ Word, staying there. To experience freedom and abide in that freedom, we should read and study Jesus’ teachings, meditate upon the Word of God, being doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22).

This is the foundation of freedom. We must admit that we are sinners, accepting the fact that it brings spiritual slavery. However, having admitted that truth, we should acknowledge the truth about Jesus, His Father, and His Word, trusting in Christ’s forgiveness and building our new lives on His Word. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). If you are in bondage, seek freedom in Christ today. If you have found His forgiveness and freedom, continue to walk in it.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: