The Super Hero of the Bible

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It’s time to save the world again! With all the superhero movies in theaters, it makes me think that Hollywood is looking for a Savior.

It shouldn’t surprise us that somewhere in us, we are always looking for a Savior, someone who will go to bat for us, defend us, and deliver us. It sounds like the people of Israel in 1 Samuel, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (1Sa 8:19-20) Throngs will attend the massive cineplexes to find a savior on Friday night, and never think to look at their local church on Sunday morning.

Then I began to wonder about the superheroes of the Bible, you know, men of great strength like Samson, or great speed like Elijah. It reminds me of those who faced great challenges, like Noah, who was charged with building the first boat, for the first flood, to save all animals, and all mankind from the end of the world. Sounds like a super hero job to me.

But all of these heroes were ordinary men and women like you and me. What happened to them to change them to heroes? The answer lies in Hebrews 11:1, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets”. Every single one of these ordinary people were dramatically changed by the voice of God. But there is one hero who outmatches them all.

Still looking for a Savior?

Everyone has a favorite hero, and I think there’s a lot to be said for the comparison of our modern superheroes and the pantheon of gods and goddesses of the ancient world. For every Superman today, there was a Zeus in the days of the Bible. For every Thor, there was a Baal. People then worshipped these superheroes as gods, with real control over their destinies. Sadly, just like modern superheroes, these ancient heroes had a problem. They could not be everywhere at once. They were godlike in their powers, but they could never be God, because they couldn’t be here and there at the same time.

In Superman II, the world is in need of Superman, because the arch-villains of Krypton have made their way to earth. But Superman was occupied with Lois Lane in the fortress of solitude, and didn’t know the earth was in trouble. He couldn’t save the world until after many lives were lost.

In 1 Kings 17, Elijah challenges the priests of Baal. They work and worship in vain to get Baal to light the offering on the altar. Elijah mocks them suggesting that Baal is away on vacation, or perhaps indisposed, unaware of their plight. But Elijah’s God, the God of Israel is always near. “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7) In no time, God lit the altar of Israel, and proved once again that He is God, and there is no other.

Listen to what he says in Isaiah: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isa 45:22)There are many heroes, and many superheroes that may call for attention, devotion, even worship, but only one God. The people of the ancient world had a tough time figuring this out. What about you?

Who your superhero?

The Risen Lord!

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For Christians, Easter is the high point on the Church calendar. It’s THE day when most people, if they ever go to church, is the day they go. Easter is unique. For many people, Easter marks the beginning of Spring, and a shaking off of winter. It is a sign of new beginnings, and promises of warmth and weather are made. Flowers come up around Easter. They adorn our Easter cross, and complex symbol both of the shape of Christ’s death, but the beauty of its significance for us as Christians. Easter means many things to many different people. For me, Easter was making the trip when I was a kid to my great uncle John’s house, the annual Easter Egg Hunt, and finding that one chocolate egg that everyone else missed, because it was colored green.

But Easter is also a culmination of some folk’s religious obligation. What began Thanksgiving the year before, went through Christmas, and through St. Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Lent, and Annunciation Day, now culminates at Easter. For some it is the end of religious obligation for another year, and now warm weather, spring break, summer vacation, ball games and NO SCHOOL are just around the corner. Even for dedicated Christians, Easter is an ending of sorts. We saw Jesus born and we saw him die, and rise again. Many churches choose to emphasize Jesus’ life during this time as teaching naturally flows from Christmas to Easter. Once Easter comes, it’s time to focus on other subjects. We tend to lose Jesus at Easter, only to pick Him back up again next Christmas.

What is Jesus now? We proclaim Him, praise Him, and extol the virtues of His life on earth, but didn’t Jesus rise from the dead? What is He up to? Does the Bible tell us about it? Though Jesus’ sacrifice for sin was once for all paid at the cross, His resurrection celebrated every Sunday, do we know what Jesus is doing today?

This same Jesus whom we celebrate on Resurrection Sunday is still alive and active today. He isn’t just to be found in the covers of the Bible, but He is the Living Lord! That means that Jesus is alive right now. He lives in Heaven with the Father, but He has been known to make the occasional appearance. Right now, He dwells at the right hand of the Father, but also in you. He mediates for us before the Father night and day as our Great High Priest and Advocate. He also dwells in the midst of the Churches as the Son of the Most High, our Head and Ruler.

Jesus’ work didn’t stop when He rose in the clouds. Let’s take time to find out what He’s doing today!

King Jesus has all authority on heaven and earth, and sends us out to do His work.

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.”
(Mat 28:18-20)

Jesus, Our Great High Priest is our advocate before the Father, defending us before the judgment our sins deserve against our adversary, the Devil

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
(Heb 9:11-12)

 

Jesus, the Great Prophet who sees all of this as the First and the Last is just as alive today as He was then.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
(Rev 1:17-18)

 

Being a Christian isn’t about attending church, or making sure your pew is filled on special days. Being a Christian calls for a daily taking up the cross and following Him. Don’t let your discipleship be defined by tick marks in a roll call but by treasures gathered in heaven.

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.
(1Co 3:11-13)

The Promised Bride

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Though the wife and I married in April, our first plan was to marry in December. We made this decision at the end of the year. We had imagined another full year of preparation and planning, but then we came to our senses and realized 12 months was 8 months too long. As it is, I’ve always wondered about the connection between Christmas and weddings.

There is a sense of gift-giving in the marriage ceremony. The father of the bride gives her away to her groom. The bride and groom make promises to “have and to hold from this day forward.” The reception too involves a great many gifts and well-wishes for the bride and groom. In the marriage, the bride and groom, ideally, give of themselves completely for the mutual encouragement and companionship of the other. It isn’t so much a partnership but a sacrificial gift of each to the other. Each gives of himself or herself wholly to the other.

That’s why as we turn to the Christmas season, I remind you of the old adage, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” God promised centuries ago that One promised “from the foundation of the world” would one day come to shepherd his people Israel. “Something blue” reflects Joseph, who struggles with questions of love and justice for his bride to be. “Something borrowed” refers to Mary’s womb, which she willingly offered to the Lord as His servant. But all of this leads to “something new”, something no one had ever seen, the foundation of our faith.

God had divorced ancient Israel for all her abominations and idolatries. When we go through her kings, we discover a gradual slide to her exile and punishment. He had written a bill of divorcement so she would be no longer called “my people.” He extends his hand through His Son Jesus Christ to the bride of Christ. Why did Jesus come, to preach, heal others and die? That was just the beginning. All of this was so that His bride might be born (Ephesians 5:25-27) and made ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9) and the consummation of the ages at the last time, and He receives us unto Himself. Will you be ready when He is revealed, and we see Him as He is, when our veil lifted?

Finding Faith

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Luke 18:8

“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

This is Jesus saying this. He could see into men’s hearts. He could raise the dead. Is He casting doubt on the idea that at His return, there would ne none to receive Him? This is Jesus facing the rejection and humiliation of the cross, who still believed that His Father would raise Him. The church would be built upon this fact, this rock of the gospel message. But in this he did know the hearts of men.

Did he know that the purity and simplicity of the gospel would be made difficult and impossible to comprehend by the theologians and scholars of the early church? Did he know tests of fellowship, rituals and duties enjoined upon believers would turn people away? Did He know that for many, “faith” required “getting right with God” and “going to Church” because many Christians presented discipleship as showing up for a church service that wasn’t for imperfect people. Did He foresee that evangelism for many Christians was about inviting someone to a Church, and not to Jesus? Did He see many of his disciples pass on their god-given responsibilities to paid clergy? Did Jesus see the Church of today and weep for the souls of the lost?

I find this a very haunting question. Both in the sense that this is Jesus, questioning the very purpose of His crucifixion, and that despite all He will endure, He knows how the Church will prosper and wilt.

Despite this, the question is not hopeless. The question is motivational, because it dares us as even modern Christians to challenge ourselves to faithfulness. Yes we have been saved by grace, and yes we do not earn our salvation by works, but shouldn’t it motivate us to do good works because we are saved? Shouldn’t it motivate us to serve others because He served us? Should not the Lord Jesus find faith in His faithful? Shouldn’t He find it in our efforts to evangelize the lost, or seeking them out and inviting them to relationship with Jesus? Shouldn’t He find us about our Father’s business?

Let us surround the throne of grace with this resounding answer and say with humble confidence: “YES! Lord Jesus!”

Did Jesus Come?

IMG20073Recently, I was called into the hospital to help a family through the last hours of their mother. It was not an easy afternoon, as we watched the numbers on her monitors fall slowly to zero. She died very peacefully, surrounded by her husband, her children, and her loved ones. As a Chaplain, I made myself available to them without being obtrusive in this very private family event.

As I attended to them, I began to think about something we had discussed in Bible Study a few weeks ago about Jesus’ coming. Jesus promised the disciples in John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Some might argue that this refers to Jesus’ Second Coming, and well it might. But there is a subtle promise made here for every believer, I think.

I am reminded of Stephen in Acts 7 who was the first Christian martyr. He testified that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:56) Was Jesus coming then to receive Stephen into glory? Would the Lord of Heaven take the time to receive us individually upon our death? Would Jesus come and receive us personally when we die? It’s possible.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul remarked, “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2Co 5:8) He says elsewhere, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Php 1:23) The Bible makes clear that the Christian will be with Christ upon death. Jesus’ promise to the disciples makes it seem that He personally will receive all who die in the Lord as well.

And thus my thought as I sat there watching this family grieve, “Is Jesus here too?” Did Jesus come to receive this dying woman unto Himself? Did He, unseen to human eyes, receive the soul of this dying woman? Were our eyes unveiled, would we too be witnesses of His majesty as Peter was on the Mount of Transfiguration? There came over me a special desire for holiness as I imagined the presence of Christ in that very room preparing to lead this dear saint homeward.

Call it speculation if you will. But wouldn’t it be great if the last eyes you see on this earth and the first eyes you see in Heaven belong to Jesus? What if Jesus was the one that escorted us across the threshold into the heavenlies, through the gates of pearl and into the presence of the holy ones. Just as Jesus has been the author and perfecter of our faith, would He not too be our guide into heavenly realms? It’s certainly something to think about, and something to look forward to.

On this Father’s Day

IMG20040When my grandfather died in 1989, it was a Saturday in December. Dad had worked all night the night before and was sleeping when the phone call came. I picked it up. It was mom, who was at the hospital. She said to wake Dad up and have us all come to the hospital. I woke him up, but he rolled over. I told him Mom wanted us to come to the hospital. He said ok, and fell back to sleep. I left the bedroom. He woke up fully a few minutes later and coming into the living room, confirmed what I’d said, and we all rode up to Lafayette, to Home Hospital, where my grandfather was. When we arrived, I heard crying, and looking into the room, saw my uncles, my mother, and my aunts weeping around the bed. Grandpa was lying there with his jaw open. I remember seeing his jaw just hanging open, which was just unnatural and wrong. Part of me knew he was dead, he’d had prostate cancer for about a year, but it felt wrong to see him so utterly still. It was the first time I’d really seen anyone dead before. I didn’t know how to feel, or what to think. I just felt numb. It was weird to see my family, who normally would be laughing and talking together just weeping and holding each other. I didn’t know what to do or how to react.

Sometimes, I still don’t.

The closest I came to crying over him was at his funeral, when someone was singing, and nudged my emotions to the surface. If I had known him better, or longer, I probably would have been more distraught. But all I could feel was numb. Every December 26th I remember him again on his birthday. I remember waking up the morning after Christmas and having breakfast with him before we had to go home. But what tears me up now more than ever is what he could have told me. Whether or not we was proud of the direction my life has taken, or what he would have thought about my family. I don’t know why I care what he would think, but I do. He was always quiet in his praise of others, and I guess I am hoping I would make the cut.

I need death to be more than the grave, but a New Beginning, for my grandpa and for everyone else’s. I need to death to be temporary, not permanent.

There are two things going on at the cross, one explicit in the gospels, and one implicit, which is expounded in the letters.

  1. The death of Jesus Christ was a horrifying event (What we see)
    1. The manner in which the gospels records Jesus’ crucifixion is actually matter-of-fact, told in passing, as if the gospels’ audience were well-familiar with this manner of execution. Mark 15:25 (NIV) is typical, “It was nine in the morning when they crucified him.” The word employed in the Greek is stauroo. There is no reference to the nails, the “tree” or to the manner of how the nails were fixed. The only reference to “nails” in the New Testament is Colossians 2:14, where Paul employs the image of “nailing” to nailing (proseloo) the law to Jesus’ cross.
    2. The gospels focus on what Jesus says from the cross, and what the crowds say to the crucified Jesus. The manner of Jesus’ death, that is, slowly losing his ability to breathe, adds unseen drama and urgency to Jesus’ words.

     

  2. The death of Christ Jesus was a atoning event (What we know)
    1. The gospels hint at this in the rending of the Temple veil, a sign that the way to the Holy Place (if you were familiar with the placement of the veil) is made clear upon Jesus’ death.
    2. The letters too add to the weight of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice – namely Colossians 3:13-14, “. . . He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” And Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this, While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The letters stress that Jesus’ death on the cross was a means of God saving sinners from eternal punishment for breaking the Law and satisfying the wrath of God for sin. Romans 5:9, “Since we have not been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”

Why it matters

  1. So what? Why do we care about this? Because we abhor senseless death. With every fiber of our being, we strain to find reason out of chaos. When a father or mother dies, we look for a reason. Maybe it was the cancer, maybe it was the hospital. Maybe it was “his time” or “God needed another angel” but we strain to find a reason for things when they cut to our heart. We strain because we cannot accept that God would allow someone good to die for no reason. Many of us shake our fist at God, even to deny He exists, or at least to hate him because we cannot reconcile a good God with senseless death.
  2. Of anyone on earth, Jesus’ death was the most senseless. He had committed no sin. He had no regrets, no family members he was on bad terms with, no one he owed money. Jesus had everything to live for. Yet on that night in Jerusalem, he was arrested, arraigned in a kangaroo court, and murdered in front of everyone.
  3. Over and over again, Jesus repeats that it was exactly God’s will that he go to the cross. Jesus prayed in the garden, “not my will but thine be done.” He knew he was going to die, knew the greater purpose for which he died, and still prayed in the garden to avoid it. Why? Was it because some part of him screamed that he didn’t deserve it?
  4. But the death of Jesus Christ changes how we look at death. His death was infused with purpose and meaning. Every facet of his death throes we examine in detail looking to uncover fresh meaning. From the significance of the promise of paradise to “it is finished” we keep finding new ways to see this very old story. Why do we do this? Because I think it helps us understand why our grandmas pass away, and our grandpas. Our moms and our dads, even our children and grandchildren. We need the death of Jesus to mean something powerful and significant to bring meaning to the deaths of those we dearly love. We need this story to be true. The world tells us we are pinning our hopes on fairy tales, but I don’t remember Cinderella dying for me, or Rapunzel’s grave to be found empty, or the seven dwarves testifying to their dying words that Snow White is risen. We find the faith in Jesus Christ tested and tried and found true. We find that meaning plastered all over the New Testament, both for him and for us. Each and every death isn’t an end, but a portal to a new and eternal beginning. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we find hope for our own loved ones who have passed on, and an urgency to declare Him to those who haven’t accepted Him. Perhaps we are better informed than the lost for those who die without Jesus, and ought to grieve more.

Do you see? As the gospels show us the death of Jesus, which we can relate to and understand, the New Testament show us its meaning, which we cannot know without the Bible. Each baptism is a reenactment, each death a harsh reminder, but each day we live in Christ, a new creation and a joy to know we have our hope in Him. It is a hope that we will hear these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things. Now you will be faithful with much.” The death and resurrection of Jesus make it possible for us to believe that death, though harsh, isn’t the last word.

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– and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

(Heb 2:14-15)

Witness to Jesus

There is no story as heart-wrenching as the story of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and truly no ending so wonderful as His resurrection. But if the story is so profound for us, imagine what it was like for those who lived it.

Matthew’s gospel is by the hand of one who was present during Jesus’ ministry, who followed Him through Galilee, and through to the garden of Gethsemane. But Matthew ran away when Jesus was arrested, and didn’t see Him again until His resurrection.

Mark’s gospel is by the hand of one who heard Peter’s preaching, and wrote down the story of Christ’s life from Peter’s perspective. Peter knew Christ from the time of John the Baptist through to the court of the High Priest, before he too ran away in fear, only to be restored by Christ, first by being eyewitness to the empty grave, and then receiving a personal commission from Christ at the seaside.

Luke’s gospel is an “orderly account” of all the stories attested to by the apostles, taking Matthew and Mark’s gospels along with additional information from many interviews and sermons. And then, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Luke wrote from the beginning of John’s ministry, to the ascension of Christ after His resurrection.

John’s gospel, though written last, is still essential reading, as we learn much about the disciples and Jesus’ other work in Judea. With John we follow Jesus through the garden, to the trials before Annas and Caiphas, and finally to the cross, where John is the only disciple to see Jesus hanging from the cross. John’s devotion is rewarded by being one of the first to see the empty tomb and the risen Lord. And at the last, the see the Lord return to tell him about the End.

These four gospels are the basis for most of what we know about Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. These men wrote down the gospel message so that you and I could be the gospel message to others. Make a special invitation this month to someone you know to attend Easter services this year. Be the gospel to them. Show them Jesus’ love for them by sacrificing some of your time to tell them the gospel.

Jesus Christ is like a Pan of Brownies

How, you may ask, is that news? Why it is the single greatest news story in the history of the world. All of us, whether young or old, have been victims of an insidious conspiracy. We have been led to believe a lie! We have been told that if we do enough good things in our lives, that the balance sheet at the end will show us to be good people. We hear it everywhere, from TV, Movies, Radio and the like that our eternity can be earned. “Just do enough good deeds to get by,” and then our eternity is secured in a Heaven filled with all the things we want, like gold, good food, and so forth.

While there is always time to do good, and good people should do good deeds, we’ve been lied to. How do I know this? Because of Jesus.

Rather than think of our lives as a balance sheet, think of it as a pan of brownies (Mmmm). A balance sheet has two columns, for good deeds and bad deeds, which we’ll call sins for short. A pan of brownies on the other hand is everything mixed together. Now I could probably eat a pan of brownies if the only ingredients were good, like flour, salt, cocoa, sugar, milk, eggs, and so forth. But when you put not so good ingredients in there, like coffee grounds, egg shells, kitty litter, and such, the brownies don’t smell, or even taste very good at all.

All of our lives we’ve been laboring under the delusion that our good deeds erase the bad ones, but in reality, our lives are the sum of both our good deeds, and our sins. There is no amount of good that we can do to erase the bad. It’s just not in our power. We can’t do it. No one can. This is why the Bible says, “No one is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3) The more I think about it, the more I wonder what God wants with us at all.

This is why I have such good news! Jesus Christ is Lord! Remember the events of just a few weeks ago we remembered at Easter? Jesus, the Jew of first-century Palestine, died on a Roman cross at the hands of sinful men, only to rise from the dead three days later. While that information may seem merely remarkable on the surface, and interesting tidbit of history, it has profound implications for you.

The New Testament (which is proven true every time it is tried) says that that cross was God’s instrument to solve our sin problem. When Jesus died, he wasn’t just anyone, He was God’s Son. As such, he was perfect, and sin-less. Jesus’ pan of brownies smelled wonderful. He was absolutely pure. And it was his death on that cross which was a vicarious (vocabulary word meaning, “instead of me”) sacrifice. He died for you, so that when you put your faith in Him, His death covers your sin. The Bible says that “the wages of sin is death.” Jesus had no sin to die for, so he died for yours. Only his death (and his blood) can erase your sins.

There are consequences for this of course, which is why you may have put off putting your trust in him. I don’t blame you, because everyone needs to make this decision with their eyes wide open. Putting your faith in Christ means you will now need to live like Him. His death can save your life, but only if you become like Him, in faith, in confession, in repentance (from your sin), and in immersion. Only then does He guarantee eternal life with Him.

The down side of trusting Jesus, if you consider a down side, is that you give up your effort to earn your salvation by good works, and give in to Him. I think it’s a really good trade off, since you don’t have to wonder anymore if you will go to Heaven when you die; you know you will. That’s good news too.

Jesus Christ is Lord! Not that he was, or will be, but is. He is Lord now! He wants you, not to use you, or make you do stuff, but to love you, more purely, more lovingly, and more wholly that anyone person ever could. Do you feel unloved? Do you need a friend? Or are you just tired of trying to live life by your rules? Turn whatever you’ve got over to God. Let Him work with your ingredients, so that your brownies will smell GOOD!