Jesus According to Polls

Asking the question, “Who is Jesus?” on the street in most cities would rarely produce a clear consensus. No other name in history equals His influence, but there are still various opinions of Christ. It’s interesting how little that’s changed in 2,000 years. The crowds following Jesus didn’t have a clear answer either. Asking them the same question would probably have gone something like this: 

“Excuse me Jedidiah, who do you think this teacher named Jesus is?”

“Well, I’m not really sure, but they say He’s some kind of new Prophet.” 

As a matter of fact, the scripture demonstrates it:

13When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” 14So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”Matthew 16:13-17 NKJV

So yeah, confusion about Christ isn’t exactly breaking news, but understanding it helps us see spiritual conversations in a broader context. Consider three thoughts regarding Jesus’ questions: 

I. Opinions Change

Public Opinion on anything lasts about as long as a 5th grade crush. Everyone aroundPalestine was forming opinions. From political savior to a back-from-the-dead prophet; He was labeled many ways…even theGallup folks would’ve struggled to figure it out. Remember how the crowd went from shouting “Hosanna!” to “Crucify Him!” within a week’s time…wow!

Regardless of method (personal, corporate worship, written word) the gospel has to be received individually, not as a group. Yes, groups of people have heard, and responded, but life-change happens at the personal level. Naturally Jesus knew what people were saying. He wasn’t attempting to be “relevant”…He was setting up a significant teaching moment. 

II. The Question of Questions

Who do YOU say that I am? It really comes down to that…our response in the most personal place of our being? The Bible tells us Jesus not only accepted Peter’s confession, but also explained that God revealed the truth to him. The fact of it not being the result of Peter’s intellectual pursuit helps us know how to pray: 

  • When studying God’s Word, understanding comes by His revealing.
  • Praying for others involves asking the Holy Spirit to reveal truth to them.
  • Sharing Christ includes staying in step with the Holy Spirit, not my own timeline, agenda or motives. 

III. Who does my life say Jesus is? 

Do my spoken words and life match? I’ll be honest, that’s a tough one. Speaking about Christ is one thing, but asking folks around me to describe the Jesus my life communicates is another. What if my co-workers wrote down the characteristics of Jesus based on the language of my life? Worse yet, what if they asked my family? I can’t sing and call him Lord on Sunday, then ignore Him on Monday without it being noticed. 

Thankfully, my relationship with Christ isn’t based on effort, but my effort should be based on my relationship. It’s not about perfection, but authentically living out the truth He’s revealed to me. Jesus by the polls gives mixed results, but a changed life declares the truth of a Savior who we know is the Christ, the Son of the living God!

For a brief overview of the uniqueness of Christ, this post may help:

https://cchrisholland.com/2011/10/10/jesus-among-bumper-stickers/

Series: “The Questions of Jesus” Lesson VII

Shaking up Tradition

It’s hard to beat Ray Stevens’ “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival” when it comes to mocking sanctimonious hypocrisy. The imagery of a traditional setting invites all kinds of opinions. You can view the video here:

http://youtu.be/K16fG1sDagU

Unfortunately, the conversation of how church should look, feel, and operate is more often tied to preference than scripture. So how should we measure “traditions”? Well, Jesus gave us a great example…let’s see how He handled it:

1Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2“Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” 3He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’;and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’5But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— 6then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. 7Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” 10When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: 11Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” – Matthew 15:1-11 NKJV

Historical Notes:

  • The Law – Moses received the 10 Commandments and much more directly from God. He recorded it in five books – “The Pentateuch”. This was the basis for Jewish laws and customs.
  • The Mishnah – In addition to the Law, there were many oral traditions that rabbis put into formal teaching and requirements. This is what Jesus’ disciples were accused of transgressing.
  • Hand Washing – The issue here was ceremony, not hygiene. Mark’s account (Mark 7) even goes into some detail.
  • Corban – Setting aside assets as a “gift to God”, thereby rendering it not usable for taking care of aging parents, or similar things.

The Accusation

The Jewish leaders questioned Jesus, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” (v.2) Here are two thoughts regarding their words:

  • They assumed “tradition” was at a level where violation was a “transgression”. In modern times, we often get confused too identifying what’s tradition and what’s from scripture.
  • There is no reference in the gospels (that I can find) where the Jewish leadership ever took Jesus’ teaching to God in earnest prayer to seek His guidance. How much of a difference that would have made, and could make in our current church environment.

Jesus’ Response

Jesus didn’t seem interested in debate over details of hand washing. However, He did take charge of the conversation and point out two things:

  • He redirected their attention back through the complex “stuff” of Jewish life to highlight one of the original 10 commandments being broken. Here they were mad about a violation of men’s instructions, while rejecting God’s instruction! (Mark 7:6-9)
  • He identified that it was not only of questionable value (Corban); it was specifically causing a commandment to broken. (v.3)

Summary

According to Jesus in Matthew 15:18, the heart is what defiles. Motives are always where we should be looking, not necessarily the practice. When evaluating a “tradition”, we should be asking questions like, “Does this activity further the Kingdom?” or “Who gets the glory from this event?”

There are a lot of traditions in church life. As a believer, we need to be able to look at scripture, pray through what it says, and then be submissive to God’s lead. Think about these examples:

  • The Lord’s Supper: We’re commanded to observe it (as an ordinance), but the choices of cups and linens are not
  • Christmas Eve Service: Corporate worship is commanded, but specifically on December 24 is not
  • Music: Worshipping through song is commanded, but the publisher and melody is not

You get the picture. These are wonderful God given activities, but personal preferences can overshadow important truths. At the end of the day, it’s really not about you or me. The real concern isn’t how the past was or what the hipsters across town prefer; it’s about what the Bible says. So when discussions arise over practices; filter it through God’s word (including attitudes) and then make a decision. It sounds like the right place to start to me!

Series: “The Questions of Jesus” – Lesson VII

Spiritual Road Rash

I have a scar on my right knee. As a matter of fact, I have several life-long souvenirs from up close encounters with the pavement via bikes, skateboards, etc. Spiritually speaking I also have similar reminders, but thankfully, following those over-the-handle-bars wipeouts, Jesus picked me up, dusted me off, and bandaged me up. The tough part was when He brought the bike back over and asked me to “Get back on.” Oswald Chambers said it so powerfully in the following devotion. It reminded me of our Lord’s incredible grace, take a look:

2/18 Devotional – Rise, let us be going —Matthew 26:46

In the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples went to sleep when they should have stayed awake, and once they realized what they had done it produced despair. The sense of having done something irreversible tends to make us despair. We say, “Well, it’s all over and ruined now; what’s the point in trying anymore.” If we think this kind of despair is an exception, we are mistaken. It is a very ordinary human experience. Whenever we realize we have not taken advantage of a magnificent opportunity, we are apt to sink into despair. But Jesus comes and lovingly says to us, in essence, “Sleep on now. That opportunity is lost forever and you can’t change that. But get up, and let’s go on to the next thing.” In other words, let the past sleep, but let it sleep in the sweet embrace of Christ, and let us go on into the invincible future with Him.

There will be experiences like this in each of our lives. We will have times of despair caused by real events in our lives, and we will be unable to lift ourselves out of them. The disciples, in this instance, had done a downright unthinkable thing— they had gone to sleep instead of watching with Jesus. But our Lord came to them taking the spiritual initiative against their despair and said, in effect, “Get up, and do the next thing.” If we are inspired by God, what is the next thing? It is to trust Him absolutely and to pray on the basis of His redemption.

Never let the sense of past failure defeat your next step.

By Oswald Chambers

http://utmost.org/

 

10 Great Bible Study Questions

When studying a Bible passage, consider starting with these great questions I recently heard:

  1. What stands out about it?
  2. Is there anything you don’t like about it (makes you uncomfortable)?
  3. Is there anything about it you don’t understand?
  4. Is there a sin to avoid?
  5. Is there a command to obey?
  6. Is there a promise to claim?
  7. Is there an example to follow?
  8. What does it say about us?
  9. What does it say about God?
  10. How should my life/the church change as a result of studying it?

Of course, prayer should be part of studying scripture; praying specifically for the Holy Spirit to “guide into all truth” (John 16:13). Commentaries and Christian authors are great helps (I use them regularly), but only the Bible is God’s Word (and always relevant).  

(Thanks to Rando Acres for passing on this list…good stuff!)  

 

Is it a Test or Temptation?

Often, a dilemma contains both; a test and a temptation. The trick of course is to identify one from the other. Let’s explore it by looking at a familiar story: 

5Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” 6But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. 7Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” 8One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, 9“There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” 10Then Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted. 12So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” 13Therefore they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with the fragments…”John 6:5-13 NKJV

First – two helpful ground rules concerning testing and temptation: 

  • God NEVER tempts. James 1:13 declares, “…God cannot be tempted by evil, nor  does He Himself tempt anyone.”. The next verse (14) then explains “we’re drawn away by our own desires.”
  • God DOES test. The scripture describes many occasions where God administers tests, but consider this timely quote; “The nature of a test depends on the intent of the person conducting it.” – Charles Swindoll commenting on John 6

Second, here are two observations from the test given to Philip and the other disciples.

I. Jesus Highlighted the Obvious

“Where shall we buy bread that these may eat?” (v. 5) The story reveals four options before them: 

  • Send the crowd away (what they first approached Jesus with) and get rid of the problem
  • Buy what food they could acquire themselves (a little bit for each, per Philip’s comment)
  • See if the people could pool their resources and cover the need (Jesus actually instructs the disciples to see what the crowd had – Mark 6:38)
  • The unknown – For whatever reasons the disciples didn’t consider option four. This is the “God option”. The one where we’re “out-of-options” and Jesus was helping them to see the contrast.

 II. Jesus Highlighted God’s Provision

The significance of this miracle is made clear by being included in all 4 gospels. Many miracles are in one, two, or three accounts, but all include this one. Not only is how He fed them important, it’s good to notice the process: 

  • He gave thanks – His actions always centered attention on the Father
  • He gave no description of what was coming – imagine the awkward moment when He put the little dinky lunch in front of everyone and prayed. They were probably peeking at each other during the prayer and shrugging their shoulders.
  • His hands touched all the food – how awesome of a thought; it all passed through Jesus’ personal touch!
  • He provided even more than hoped for – The story starts with no hope of covering the need (send them away), then moves to partially covering the need (buying small amounts for everyone), and ends up covering the need and more (enough leftovers to feed the disciples for 2-3 days).

So what does this mean for us? That’s a good question, thanks for asking. It means option four can be a great thing…an entrance exam of sorts to the next level of teaching from the Master. Hey, I’m not gonna lie. I would probably have been right there with Philip trying to cover the need with practical solutions, but thankfully Jesus is still patiently teaching.

If you’re out of options today, give up trying to work it out on your own and let God handle it. Let go and watch. His love is more than we can comprehend and He provides exceedingly, abundantly more than we ask or think (Eph. 314-21). Sometimes giving up a little, can result in a lot!

Series: “The Questions of Jesus” – Lesson VI

Beyond Stained Glass

I confess. During worship services as a kid, there were moments of day-dreaming (all spiritual of course). In my mind, there were endless amounts of exciting things happening on the other side of those stained glass windows. Right past the barrier of the big blue Noah’s ark, was a game of football. It was just in my mind of course, because you really can’t see through stained glass. I really didn’t know what was on the other side at that moment, but I imagined a lot and it always reflected my interests.

When describing God, the temptation is to patch together bits of color taken from scripture and create a picture we’re comfortable with. If we’re not careful, the result is an image with warm light, but little insight to His true nature. Such was the case with the leaders in John 5. The on-going tension between Jewish leaders and Jesus concerning His credibility was strong. Jesus presented 5 witnesses to corroborate His authenticity (only two were needed under Jewish law), while also asking two questions…take a look:

31“If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. 32There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. 33You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved. 35He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light. 36But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. 37And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. 38But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. 39You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. 41“I do not receive honor from men. 42But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. 43I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. 44How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? 45Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. 46For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. 47But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” – John 5:31-47 NKJV

The five witnesses:

  • John the Baptizer (5:32-35)
  • The miracles (5:36)
  • God the Father (5:37)
  • The Holy Scripture (5:39)
  • Moses (5:46)

The two questions:

  • “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” (v.44)
  • “But if you do not believe his (Moses) writings, how will you believe my words?” (v.47)

These verses revealed two things the leaders weren’t willing to give up:

I. Predetermined Reality

(They had already mapped out a detailed itinerary of the Messiah’s mission)

  • Jesus didn’t fit the template – In John 5:35 Jesus said they were willing “for a time” to rejoice with John the Baptizer’s preaching of repentance, but once John’s Messiah (Jesus) deviated from the plan, He was deemed an imposter. They were only ready to follow a “David type” physical King.
  • God versus god – What’s the difference in g-o-d with a capital “G” versus little “g”? It’s the real true God of scripture compared to all other man-made creations. The Jewish leadership had chosen to trade worship of the true indescribable God, to a lesser idea. It was a stained glass idea of Him…predictable…limited…with a value system reflecting their own. 

II. Perception over Substance

John 12:37-43 tells of many leaders believing, but then abandoning Jesus because of the Pharisees. Verse 43 says they caved to the pressure because “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” Whoa, I had to read that one again. Immediately I wondered, “What were they scared to lose?”

  • Position?
  • Friends?
  • Status?
  • Credibility?

It was probably all of the above and maybe more. My prayer today is that those very same fears don’t limit my view of God. His incredible nature is beyond mortal description, but thankfully He has revealed himself to us in His Word. He also personally came in the form of a man, demonstrating His nature, and doing what was most important to Him…redeeming us!

In summary, the most striking point is that the leaders possessed the writings describing Jesus, but still missed Him. In verses 39-40 of John 5, Jesus said they “searched the scriptures”, but weren’t willing to come to Him. So remember as you study…the scripture is God’s revelation of Himself, so only He can fill in the blanks!

Series: “Questions of Jesus” – Lesson V

Calling Fire from Heaven

Admit it. In the face of contemporary moral decline and agenda driven news, this thought has crossed your mind:

“A little fire from heaven about now would make believers out of these people!”

Well, you probably haven’t, but I admit I have. I’m not proud of it, but there was just something about the rejection of truth that was frustrating me…and then it happened.

While reading scripture the other day, I suddenly saw myself right in the middle of Luke 9:54-56. Ouch! Without realizing it, a self-righteousness attitude has caused me to see some national leaders as the enemy and not as Jesus sees them. Take a look at the Luke passage:

52…And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him.  53But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.  54And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, £just as Elijah did?” 55But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.  56£For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village. – Luke 9:51-56 NKJV

The disciples saw the village’s rejection of Christ as a reason for destruction, but Jesus firmly corrected their mistake. I doubt they ever asked that question again!

It’s so easy to forget who our real enemy is. It’s not the ones peddling wrong ideas or philosophy; it’s the one who’s behind them. It’s not lost people, it’s the devil. Yes, devastating consequences do come from rejecting Christ, but that should fuel my prayers all the more on their behalf.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had to pause and ask for forgiveness. The next time you hear or read someone speaking against our Lord’s teaching, remember, “He didn’t come to destroy men’s lives, He came to save.”

Pray for them…you may be the only one who does. Who knows, it may even lead to a chance to share the “reason for the hope that is in you.” (I Peter 3:15)

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