No Need to Fear

Transitions are hard. I can imagine the fear and trepidation that filled the heart of Joshua as he prepared to take over for Moses as the leader of Israel. Moses was the only leader this people had known. He had led their ancestors out of Egypt. He had led their parents to the promised land. He had led them through the wilderness. And now he was passing that mantle of leadership to Joshua.

In addition to becoming a new leader, Joshua also had been given a new task. He was to lead this generation of people into the promised land. These things were certainly enough to make the most stout heart beat a little faster.

As Moses exits the stage, he gives Joshua some final instructions. In Deuteronomy 31, he tells him to be strong and courageous (Deuteronomy 31:6). We know Joshua will repeat this command several times as he leads the people (Joshua 1). What struck me anew today as I read these words was why Joshua need not fear. God would go with him. As a matter of fact, Moses states that fact twice to make sure Joshua grasps it in his head and his heart (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8).

Fast forward with me to a conversation Jesus has with his disciples after the resurrection. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gives the disciples (and us) what we call the Great Commission. It’s the call to go and make disciples of all people. And, at the end of that call, there is a promise – “I am with you always until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

In that sentence is the same promise that was made to Joshua. It’s a promise of the presence and the power of God as we walk with Him. The promise made to Joshua…the promise made to the disciples…is the same promise made to us. We need not fear as we walk with the Lord. We need not fear the new directions and the new challenges and all the transitions that come with life. We have no need to be anxious as we walk into the unknown. Why? Because we are not alone. The Lord is with us. His rod and His staff comfort us (Psalm 23:4). He will not forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). 

So, fear not. Be strong and courageous. Do what God has called you to do. Seek first His kingdom (Matthew 6:33). Go and make disciples. Live in hope and walk in complete obedience to him. You have nothing to fear for you are not alone.

The Fortress

You may have heard the name Martin Luther. You probably haven’t heard the name Knight George. At the onset of the Reformation, Luther was given the opportunity to recant his teachings. He refused. Subsequently, Luther was excommunicated by the pope and had a price put on his head. For his protection, he was abducted by powerful friends and hidden away in a castle in Wartburg, Germany. He stayed there almost a year, and while he did he was known by the alias Knight George.


A few years later, Luther would write his famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” I can’t help but wonder how those months hidden in the safety of the Wartburg Castle helped influence that great hymn of the faith. Did images of its walls and gates go through his mind as he penned it? Did the security within those walls flood his heart as he wrote about the security one finds in God? I would think it must have.


We may never know the extent to which his stay there shaped his thought. But, we do know the real basis for that great hymn of the faith. It was a song written hundreds and hundreds of years before. The foundation for Luther’s great hymn of comfort was Psalm 46.


The opening words of that psalm proclaim:  

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its water roars and foams and the mountains quake with its turmoil.

Psalm 46:1-3, CSB

What a remarkable assurance we find in the pages of Scripture. The psalmist reminds us that God is our security. He is our hiding place. He is the One who brings us through difficult times. Subsequently, we do not need to be afraid. Regardless of all the turmoil and upheaval of life, God is steadfast and unchanging. The “Lord of Armies is with us. The God of Jacob is our stronghold” (Psalm 46:7, CSB).  

In these uncertain times, we all are dealing with anxiety and stress. We’re worried about sickness. We’re worried about finances. We’re worried about jobs and loved ones and life in general. What does the future hold? What will things look like tomorrow? Or even next week or next month? I don’t have answers to any of those questions. But, like Luther almost 500 years ago, and the psalmists a couple of thousand years before that, I do know where to find peace and comfort. It’s in God. Our strength…our security…our help is found in Jesus Christ. May we look to Him in these days. May we embrace Him by faith and live confidently in His sovereign hands. Because of Him, we need not be afraid. He is our stronghold. He is with us. And, He must win the battle.

The Real Jesus

Identity theft is a common occurrence in today’s world. Every day we read of someone who has had their identity stolen and it impacted their lives disastrous ways. They lost time and money and any number of other things trying to restore who they are in the eyes of everyone else. In the late first century, there were those who were trying to steal the identity of Jesus. These identity thieves weren’t trying to hijack his bank accounts or his personal records. Instead, they were denying who He was and robbing the joy from those that followed Him.

The apostle John writes a short letter to combat this identity theft. And, in the opening few verses of that letter he reminds us that Jesus was real. He writes:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

1 John 1:1-4, CSB

In the opening verse of the gospel of John, the apostle also uses that word beginning to help affirm the deity of Jesus. This subtle connection reinforces that truth for us. Jesus is God. He is divine.

John not only suggests Jesus is divine. He also affirms His humanity. Many of the false teachers John is combating may have been denying the humanity of Jesus. The apostle is quick to point out that he had spent time with Jesus. He had talked with him and touched him and seen him at work. He indeed was real. He was flesh and blood. He was human.

A divine Jesus becoming flesh is what we know as the incarnation. And, the fact that Jesus is human and divine has serious implications for our salvation. Only a sinless sacrifice could atone for our sins. The divinity of Jesus affirms His sinlessness. Only a real death could atone for our sins. The humanity of Jesus affirms that His death was real. Full payment was made for our sin…all of our sin…our sin past, present, and future.

And, it is this Jesus who came, lived, died, and rose again for us that offers us complete forgiveness and restoration. It is in Him we find fellowship with God and with other believers. It is in Him that we find joy. 

Don’t let a misunderstanding of Jesus rob your fellowship or your joy. Don’t let a thief steal the glory of salvation from your life. Trust fully in the real Jesus. Rest in Him. He and He alone is sufficient.

Revealed

In the movies, there is something dramatic about the moment when the character reveals himself. Whether it’s Michael Keaton’s “I’m Batman” or Robert Downey Jr.’s “I am Iron Man,” we love it when the central character announces who he is. In the opening verses of the book of Revelation, we see Jesus revealing Himself to us.

The text tells us that the final book of our Bible’s is “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the things that must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1, ESV). These opening words suggest to us that God wants us to know who He is and what He is doing in our world. This idea of God revealing Himself is all over the New Testament. Paul echoes this sentiment in Romans chapter one where he writes, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:19, ESV). The author of Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV). And, the apostle John records for us Jesus’ revelation here in this text. We do not have to be in the dark regarding God and His plans and purposes. He has made them known to us. God wants us to know who He is.

God has given Jesus this revelation to give to the apostle John. John is in exile on the island of Patmos after a faithful life of ministry. And, as Jesus identifies Himself to John, He pronounces a benediction upon those who read aloud, hear, and obey the words of this prophecy. His benediction is a reminder to us of the importance of connecting with God’s Word both corporately and privately. We need to read and to hear what God has revealed of Himself to us in the Scripture.

It is not enough, however, to merely encounter these words. We must obey them. And, Jesus reminds us that there is an urgency to this because the time is near. With that said, perhaps it’s time for us to quit putting off until tomorrow what needs to be done today. So, let us begin to live out the truth Jesus has revealed to us in the Scripture. He has revealed Himself to us. He has shown us who He is and how we need to live. May we fully put our weight on who He is and what He has done, and live in a way that reflects Him.

Triumph

When Joe Namath famously guaranteed that the New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, no one could believe it. After all, the Jets were eighteen point underdogs. Yet, as he predicted, the Jets did win leading to one of the most iconic moments in football history. As Namath ran off the field, he raised his right arm and waved one finger celebrating the fact that he had won. That single picture proclaimed victory and triumph.

On the cross, Jesus had come to the end. His death was seconds away. But before He breathed His last, he managed to proclaim a word of triumph – tetelestai. This one word announced His victory. In English, we translate it as “It is finished” and it announced the work of redemption was done and Jesus had triumphed.

God’s plan of redemption didn’t begin at the cross. It didn’t begin in Pilate’s court or in Bethlehem. It didn’t begin in Babylon or Egypt or in the Garden of Eden. The Scriptures tell us that God’s plan of redemption began in eternity past (Ephesians 1).

Now, with that said, God’s plan did unfold throughout history. God moved through the events of history, calling Abraham, delivering the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt, providing a king, preserving a remnant, becoming flesh and dwelling among us, living, dying, and rising again. But, let’s focus on the provision of the sacrifice and the role it played throughout that history.

We see the first sacrifice in the Garden (Genesis 3:21). But, just a few verses before that, there is a promise of One who will come and put an end to Satan, sin, and death (Genesis 3:15). As we move forward, the children of Israel have been relocated to Egypt, eventually enslaved, and then delivered under the leadership of Moses. During the Exodus, God comes to them and gives them the instructions for how they are to live. And, in doing so, He gives them instructions on a variety of sacrifices (Leviticus). These sacrifices were largely to be offered as a way to deal with the sins of God’s people. These sins had to be covered. God’s perfect righteousness…His holiness abhors sin. He cannot tolerate it. So, it must be atoned for…paid for through sacrifice. For hundreds of years, the blood of bulls, sheep, and goats brought temporary covering.

But in the fullness of time…at just the right moment, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law (Galatians 4:4). And that brings us to the cross. Jesus is minutes from dying and He proclaims “It is finished.” Upon the cross, Jesus completes the work of redemption. The Scripture had been fulfilled (John 19:28). The sacrifices were now complete. Jesus had fulfilled the law and born the curse. The work of redemption was done. There is nothing left for us to give. No other sacrifice can be offered. As a result, the power of Satan, sin, and death are defeated. Thus, Jesus cries out “It is finished.”

It is said that Buddha’s dying words were “strive without ceasing.” What a striking contrast with “It is finished.” These phrases clearly define for us the difference between religion and its endeavors to make oneself right with God and with Christianity. Simply stated, the difference between the two is two simple letters. The difference between religion and Christianity is the difference between do and done.

Anguish

I like those old Clint Eastwood movies. The ones they call Spaghetti Westerns. You know the ones made in the 1960’s by Sergio Leone. Eastwood played the “Man with No Name” in a trilogy of movies directed by Leone – A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. In one of those movies (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly I think), maybe in all of them (I don’t know), Eastwood is forced to walk across the desert without any water. The dry, barren land and the harsh climate gets to him. His face burns and his lips blister. His throat is parched, and his eyes are barely opened. He collapses under the strain of it all. It is a portrayal of exposure and thirst brought to us in living color.

We’ve seen scenes like this dozens of time. It’s in almost every western we’ve ever seen…and any movie made in the desert for that matter. Heat, suffering, and a cry for water.

The Apostle John gives us another vivid picture of thirst and suffering. In John 19:28-29, we see the humanity of Jesus on full display. Matthew tells us that as Jesus nears the end of His life, He cries out in despair and asks why God had forsaken Him (Matthew 27:45-46). Here, John records that He cries out in thirst. As the first is a reminder of the spiritual agony of the cross, this one is a reminder of the physical suffering.

When we look into the New Testament, we see Jesus’ humanity. The opening chapter of John describes Him becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:1, 14). Paul tells of of Christ humbling Himself, forsaking the glory of heaven, and coming to earth as man (Philippians 2:1-10). Near the end of our bibles, John stresses how he watched and touched a human Jesus (1 John 1:1-4). In between, we see Jesus exhibit all kinds of human traits and emotions. He grew (Luke 2:52). He was tired (Mark 4:38; John 4:6). He hungered (Matthew 4:12). He felt joy (Luke 10:21), grief (John 11:35), love (John 13:1), compassion (Matthew 9:36), and anger (John 2:13-16). This very human Jesus lived his life in obedience to His Father and in accordance with the Scripture. As He nears the end of His life here, He cries out know the Scriptures had been fulfilled in His life, suffering, and death. In doing so, He displays the anguish of His humanity.

As His humanity was on full display throughout His life, it was also on display in His death. Jesus suffered immensely on the cross. He went through a series of empty trials, only to be handed a death sentence He did not deserve. He was beaten and mocked. He would have been flogged to within an inch of His life. He has been hanging on the cross, struggling to breath, enduring the agony of crucifixion. While on the cross, He again was mocked and ridiculed. He bore the weight of sin and the wrath of God. All of this suffering. All of this anguish.

What are the Implications of all this for you and me? The book of Hebrews gives us some insight to this (Hebrews 2:9-18; 4:15).

For one, we see that Jesus identifies with us. We are not foreign or unknown to Him. He has walked where we walk and endured what we endure. He identifies with our suffering (Hebrews 4:15). This is a big deal. We cannot look at Jesus and say, “You just don’t understand.” He knows the reality of temptation and the agony of suffering. And, He gives us grace and strength to deal with both.

We also see that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice. There is nothing else that can be offered for our sin. The last sacrifice has been made. There is nothing you can offer…nothing you can give to make yourself right with God. The blood of goats and bulls is no longer adequate. Your religious activity will not overcome your sin. Only Jesus can do that. He did it on the cross. He is God’s perfect Passover lamb who conquered sin and death on our behalf (Hebrews 2:14).

In His thirst, Jesus died so that we may never be thirsty. As you walk across the spiritually barren wastelands of this life, spiritually parched and crying out for water, look to Jesus – the living water who died in our place and rose from the grave.

Don’t dismiss Jesus. Don’t ignore His humanity and what He accomplished in it. He lived for you. He died for you. He rose again for you…so that you might be able to come into right relationship with God. He has taught us and demonstrated for us how we can live for God and He empowers us to do so. Through His anguish, we can rise above ours.

Tenderness

Four students stayed out late partying one night. The next day, they had an exam and they knew they weren’t prepared for it. So, they hatched a plan where they dirtied themselves up and went to the dean’s office. They said they were attending a wedding and blew a tire on the way back. Thus, they were unable to take the test and asked for an extension. The dean agreed and delayed their exam three days. When they arrived to take their delayed exam, the dean greeted them and said since the circumstances were special, they would need to take the test in separate rooms. Each student went to their room and turned over their exam paper. They were surprised there were only two questions. The first one asked their name and was worth one point. The second, worth ninety-nine points, asked which tire blew on the car?

Jesus’ Third Word: Tenderness (John 19:25-27)

This humorous tale reminds us of the importance of doing what you have to do…the importance of taking care of business. Jesus, in accordance with the law and custom of His day, was committed to taking care of business even while hanging on the cross. And, He does so with tenderness and compassion.

In John 19:25-27, Jesus is hanging on the cross, dying an agonizing death. As He does, a group of His followers makes their way forward from the back of the crowd. Included in this gathering is Jesus’ mother Mary and the apostle John. In the midst of His suffering, Jesus sees them and arranges for the care of His mother.

The Bible tells us that Jesus died for us in accordance with God’s plan. Speaking of His death, Jesus says: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” (John 10:18, CSB)

Jesus’ death on the cross was to provide the means for us to come into right relationship with God. And, Jesus fulfilled His Father’s will.

But, while on the cross, He also manage to dispatch the duty He has towards His mother. As Jesus hangs dying on the cross, he does what he must do as her eldest son. He makes arrangements for His widowed mother. By this time, Joseph is probably deceased. And, Mary will have little means of taking care of herself. So, Jesus entrusts her to John. We might ask why He doesn’t entrust her to one of His siblings. The simplest answer may be that none of them are believers yet. They won’t become believers until after the resurrection.

John is assigned the task of taking care of Mary and it seems like that exactly what he did. The text says that from that hour on, John cared for her. History and tradition become intertwined. We’re not sure how this all fleshed itself out, but it did.

In this charge, there are some truths we need to embrace:

  • We need to care for our parents and those who have raised us (1 Timothy 5:3-4, 8), and do so with compassion and tenderness.
  • We need to take seriously the spiritual responsibility of the family. Jesus assured that His mother was in a place where her faith could flourish. We must understand that the most important task we have in our family is to provide for its spiritual flourishing.
  • We need to fulfill the tasks assigned to us by Jesus. John faithfully did what Jesus instructed. We must as well.

Jesus faithfully did what He needed to do. He took care of business. He died on the cross for our sin. As He did, He managed His human responsibilities by providing for His mother. May we trust His provision on the cross and fulfill the tasks He has assigned us faithfully every day.

Promise

I have seen and heard of a number of different kinds of promises. There is the pinky promise. There is the promise ring. There is the politicians’ promise. There are contractual promises and marital promises. Then, there are divine promises. It is this last type of promise that we see in Jesus’ conversation with the thief on the cross. And, it is the promise of Jesus that offers pardon for sin.

As Jesus hangs dying on the cross, Luke’s gospel tells us (Luke 23:35-43) that the crowd watched, the leaders scoffed, the soldiers mocked and the thieves insulted. But, then something happened in the heart of one of them. He stopped hurling insults at Jesus and began to rebuke his co-conspirator. He reminds him that his death was imminent. Judgment was coming. He was going to stand before the eternal judge who would soon render His sentence. This repentant thief acknowledges his own guilt and declares he’s deserving of the punishment he is receiving. He recognizes the innocence of Jesus and asks him to “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42, CSB).

The thief had nothing to offer Jesus in payment for such a request. He had no good works to give. He had no time or opportunity to engage in religious rituals or practices. He had no chance to make amends for any or all of his wrongdoing. He simply asked to be remembered when Jesus comes again. His is a plea of faith. You and I bring nothing to Jesus other than the sin that needs forgiven.

Jesus offers the thief, and everyone of us who come to him in repentance and faith, hope. He assures him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42, CSB).

Today. Jesus’ promise suggests that there is no delay for those who trust in Him. No purgatory. No soul sleep. No waiting. The moment we breathe our last breath on this earth, we take our next in the presence of Jesus.

Furthermore, Jesus promises His eternal presence. He says, “You will be with me.” All who turn from their sins and look to Jesus in trusting, saving faith will be with Jesus forever.

Finally, Jesus says the thief will join Him in paradise. The psalmist spoke of dwelling in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6). That’s the hope Jesus gives here. Those who are His have an eternal home.

As Jesus hung dying on the cross, He reminds us that death is not the end. It is not our final domain. Jesus died so we don’t have to. Because of Him, we can live, even though death comes to us all.

A promise is only as good as the individual who makes it. They have to have the character and the ability to follow through on the commitment. Jesus has both. Since He is God, He is perfectly holy and trustworthy. As God, He has the ability to follow through on what He has promised. He promises pardon for sin and a restored relationship with God. May our hearts be repentant, our eyes be open, and our hearts be receptive to the hope Jesus offers. Rest in Him and Him alone today.

Forgiven

Two of the most powerful words in the human language may be the words “I’m sorry.” These words express contrition and empathy for the wrong done to someone else. But, what happens when these words don’t come from our lips or the lips of someone who has wrong us? Then, we may find that there are two even more powerful words – forgive them.

It’s these words that Jesus prayed from the cross as He hung dying for our sins. Luke 23:32-34 tells us that Jesus was led away and crucified with two other criminals. The language reminds us that Jesus was counted among us and died in our place. How appropriate is that picture? Jesus dying on a cross in the place of another being counted as a sinner among sinners, even though He was never convicted of any wrong doing. Paul sums up the theology behind this when he reminds us that Jesus died in our place and become sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Luke’s account also tells us that the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothes as he hung dying in the morning sun. The only possession Jesus had was stripped from him and was a prize to be won by His executioners. What a rebuke of the false teaching we know as the “prosperity gospel” which teaches God wants to shower us with stuff in this life. It is fascinating that Jesus dies with nothing, yet He gives us everything. Through our faith in Jesus and His provision on the cross, we have been forgiven and restored into a right relationship with God. We have been welcomed into His family. As His adopted brothers and sisters, we are co-heirs with Jesus of everything God the Father gives to Him (Romans 8:17).

It is Jesus who opens the door to forgiveness. He prays for it to be extended to His tormentors and those who put Him on the cross. And, in case you’re wondering, you and I helped put Him there. He not only prays for it, but He also models it. Throughout His ministry, teaches commanded His followers to forgive those who have wronged them (Matthew 5:44). So, we understand that forgiveness is not an option for believers. We must forgive those who have hurt us.

As Jesus hangs on the cross praying for and modeling forgives, we see that He also offers it to us. As followers of Jesus, we have been forgiven. His forgiveness is complete and brings us into right relationship with God. And, because of His forgiveness, we in turn can forgive others. Our natural tendency is to push back against this and to hold grudges. Yet, the love of God constrains us to extend mercy and forgiveness. Jesus frees us from this sinful nature and this far too human reaction. His forgiveness compels us to forgive.

May we embrace the forgiveness Jesus offers, and as we do share it freely with others.

More Than Numbers

advertising-by-the-numbers-its-big-business-with-big-numbers-to-matchNumbers are my life. No, I’m not an accountant or a mathematician. I’m not an engineer or a banker. I don’t run actuary tables for insurance companies or develop spreadsheets for corporations. My math skills top out with basic algebra and my knowledge of Excel is pretty limited. Nonetheless, numbers are my life.

Over the last fifteen years, I’ve had a few health problems. And, like anyone who has had serious issues with their health, numbers begin to play an important part in determining how things are going. I track my weight, my blood pressure, and my glucose levels. I use apps on my phone that chart how many steps I take and how many miles I walk. I have lab work regularly that measures everything from my cholesterol to my medication levels. So, every day…every week…every month, some number comes in that tells me how I’m doing.

In addition to being a patient, I also have a day job. I pastor a church. That means in addition to preaching and teaching and ministering, I deal with a number of…numbers. Every week I process through attendance and offerings and other statistical measures of how our church is doing (or at least that’s what many say measures how our church is doing). Due to our facility being destroyed by a fire in 2015, we are now in a building program which involves things like budgets, blueprints, and insurance reports. Yep, you guessed it. More numbers.

The other day, I was thinking about all the numbers that define my life. It was kind of funny that I was having these thoughts while hooked up to a heart monitor and walking on a treadmill. As I was walking, paying close attention to the statistical dashboard in front of me, that phrase “numbers are my life” kept running through my mind. And then it hit me. No, they’re not. Numbers don’t define me. Jesus does.

Through His death and resurrection, Jesus freed me from the power and penalty of sin. He has forgiven me. Because of Him, I have been adopted into the family of God and made a co-heir with Christ. He has promised that He will never leave me nor forsake me and that one day, I will spend eternity with Him. He has changed me…and He is changing me. And, He defines me. Not my weight or my lab results. Not how many people were in church this week or how big the restrooms in our new building are. He cares about my health and the health of our church, but those things are not who I am. I am a child of God because of Jesus. And, that’s something numbers just can’t measure. Numbers aren’t my life. Jesus is.

The challenge for us is to understand what really defines our lives. It’s not our careers or our bank accounts. It’s not if our kid makes the team or the honor roll. It’s not how many miles we can run or if we can fit into the clothes we wore in college. It’s not the fame or the popularity that comes with successful ministries. Our true purpose…our true success is found in Jesus. Our acceptance and joy are found in Him. Our contentment and security? In Christ. So, let us stop seeking these things somewhere else. The numbers will never provide the true picture of who…and whose we are. We’re more than numbers. We’re children of the living God.

I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16-19, CSB