The Supremacy of Jesus
Let me admit right at the beginning of this conclusion, that I’m a superhero movie nerd of the highest order. I try to see every new superhero movie when it comes out at the theatre. And when it finally gets to the small screen, well I watch it then too, more times than I care to say in public.
One of the themes often explored in these movies is the connection between power and authority. These superheroes have supernatural powers after all, but the question has continued to be asked: Should they use them?
Other versions of that question are: By what right or authority are they using them? Are they authorized to do so? Who are they answerable to when things go wrong? And what standard of right and wrong is being applied in their decision-making processes.
The Scripture we will look at in these concluding remarks about Jesus focuses on this interrelationship between power and authority as well. This “showdown in Capernaum” we find in Mark 1:21-28, will reveal to us that Jesus has both, power and authority.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Earlier in Mark 1, Jesus had called his first disciples to follow him. Jesus had left Nazareth and was now using Capernaum as his homebase. Capernaum was a fairly large town. It was a thriving, even wealthy area because it was near a popular trade route. In fact, it was the headquarters for many Roman troops.
And while it was primarily occupied by Jews, because of its location and success as a thriving town, there were many pagan influences there as well.
The Visiting Teacher
As verse 21 indicates, Jesus was visiting the local synagogue to teach. This would not have been unusual. The Temple in Jerusalem would have been too far away for most Jews to travel to, so synagogues popped up all over the Roman Empire, as places of learning and worship.
And because no synagogue had only one particular teacher, the leading elder often invited visiting teachers to come and teach the community. This was normal.
In this case it was Jesus who was invited to teach. We don’t know exactly how long Jesus had been in Capernaum, but presumably it had been long enough for folks to get to know him well enough to extend this invitation.
Unlike Matthew’s Gospel, we don’t know what Jesus had been teaching here. But I think an educated guess would be that he was teaching about the good news of the Kingdom of God. Earlier in Mark 1, we read these words,
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)
Whatever Jesus had been teaching, verse 22 tells us he amazed his listeners “because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” What does that mean? Well, it was very common for the scribes, who were the learned Jewish scholars of that day, to cite their tradition and the great Jewish teachers of former days.
However, Jesus did not do that. He spoke as one who had his own authority. He never said, “Rabbi Hillel said this…” “Or Rabbi Shammai said that…” He taught as one whose words were self-authenticating. He did not need to appeal to other human teachers because, we know, he was sent by God himself.
Indeed, Jesus was more than a prophet sent by God, he was God in the flesh – the very Son of God. There was (and is) no higher authority.
Oddly enough there was a demon-possessed member of the synagogue who had been in attendance while Jesus was teaching. In verses 23-24, we read…
Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
Isn’t it interesting that the demons Jesus dealt with always seemed to recognize his true identity, just as we find here?
The demon asked Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us?” “Us” – plural. That may have meant there was more than one impure spirit, or demon, inside the man. Or it may have meant, “Have you come to vanquish all demons?”
The answer was ultimately “Yes,” to both. Jesus did come to defeat the devil, and all his junior minions.
I do not know if you believe in the devil and demons, but Jesus certainly did, and we find him encountering one here in our Scripture. The demon knew who Jesus the man was – “Jesus of Nazareth.” But he also knew the deeper identity of Jesus. That Jesus was no mere man, he was, “the Holy One of God.”
There was an ancient idea in that day that believed that speaking the name of a spiritual enemy would give one mastery over it. Thus, this was not merely a case of the demon rightly identifying Jesus, and certainly not paying Jesus a compliment.
No, this was a very scared demon trying to gain the upper hand over Jesus. It didn’t work. Jesus quickly responded in verse 25 – “Be quiet!”
“Be quiet” was really, “be muzzled” or “shut up.” Jesus knew what the demon was up to. He also knew if the people realized too early who he was, they may try to make him a political or military leader, and as we’ve learned throughout this study, that was not why Jesus came.
And so, Jesus said with great force, “Come out of him!” The demon had no choice but to leave the man. He didn’t have the power or authority to resist Jesus’ command. Yet he let his displeasure be known with a shriek and scream that shook the man violently as he left him.
The Why Behind the What
Jesus performed miracles to teach spiritual truths, not for entertainment. He often did miracles to authenticate his teachings, which were usually about himself – who he was and why he came. That helps us understand why Jesus delivered people from impure spirits.
Do you remember when Jesus healed the paralyzed man who had been lowered from the roof by his friends to where Jesus was? Jesus told the man his sins were forgiven. The religious leaders were furious because only God can forgive sins.
Therefore, Jesus said to them, “so that you may know I can forgive sins, I’m going to heal this man.” The miracle was performed to point to something greater, in this case, his true identity.
In a similar way, Jesus cast out this demon to let the people know they needed to really pay attention to what he had to say. Because if he had the power and authority to cast out demons, then he was someone to be reckoned with.
The People Understood
The people understood this. They asked things like, “Who is this teacher from Nazareth?” “What is he saying about himself and why he has come?” He wasn’t like any teacher they had ever heard. Why, he could even cast out demons. He was different from the rest. How did they respond?
Verse 28 says,
News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
As one person put it, “the proclaimer became the proclaimed.” Word about Jesus spread quickly.
So, what does all this mean for us 2,000 years later? As I poured over Scripture and other resources for this study, I was continually amazed. At the end of one of my study sessions I wrote down these words,
“There is no one else like Jesus! You have never met, nor will you ever meet, anyone like Jesus!”
I was in awe. Truly.
Jesus has the ability to vanquish powers and principalities, temptation and sin, bondage and alienation, and to set the captives free. He created and sustains the very existence of the universe with his word. He has complete power and authority over life and death. I know we crave application in our books and Bible studies. We want to know how to put into practice the biblical principles we read about. It is good and right for us to want that.
But sometimes the application is simply this: To be in awe of this Jesus. To bow in worship before him because of who he is and what he’s graciously done on our behalf. He is the Holy One of God. He delivers people from their sin and bondage. He makes people whole and holy. He saves to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25).
And he can do that for you too because he, as God in the flesh, has both the authority and power to do so.
As we saw several times throughout our study, Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:18 that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. That means he is the Lord over the supernatural and the natural. He has power and authority over every sphere of life.
This ought to make every follower of Jesus Christ breathe a sigh of comfort. This ought to compel every person who knows, loves, and follows Jesus to cry out in joyful thanksgiving: “This is our Savior! This is our Lord! He is the Holy One of God!”
Therefore, give Jesus every fear, worry, sin, temptation, decision, desire – and everything else. He is the Holy One of God who became one of us because he loves us. And he therefore calls us to learn more about who he is, why he came, and what he taught. He calls us to love him more – with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And he calls us to live for him by following him in every sphere of our lives.
And when people see the difference Jesus has made in your life, word will spread quickly about him, and others will want to know this Jesus too.
Deo Gratias. Thanks be to God.
What if you could live the life for which you were created? That sounds like the beginning of a self-help book, doesn’t it? But actually it’s just the opposite because you can’t live that life in your own strength.
A life filled with the “fruit of the Spirit” we find in Galatians 5 and elsewhere, is unattainable if we are left to pursue such a life in our own strength. Christianity is not a self-help or personal development program. The way up, is down. We must not depend upon ourselves to attain it. It is a life of humble dependence. Left to ourselves, we’ll fall short.
This is why the Apostle Paul begins Chapter 1 of his letter to the Galatian church by reminding them of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Of God’s grace. It’s only because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we can have, not only the hope of eternal life, but the promise of a flourishing life here and now.
When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we’re able to live the life for which we were created because it’s the Spirit of the living Christ who comes to reside within us and live his life through us.
Paul puts it this way in Galatians 2:20,
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
In Matthew 19:26, Jesus says it like this,
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
The point is this: the flourishing and abundant life God desires for us comes only through him; it comes through the Spirit of the risen Christ dwelling in and through us. He is the one who empowers, directs, and animates our lives.
A Man Named Saul
There was a man named Saul, who had an impressive academic background and was a zealous overachiever in the circles in which he ran. He describes himself this way in Philippians 3,
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
But then, one day, as he was headed to Damascus to round up more Christians to arrest and persecute Saul of Tarsus had an experience with the risen Lord. And after that experience his life was never the same.
Well, as Paul experienced, I want to promise you that your life can become different as well. You really can live the life God desires for you.
And that brings us to the focus of this lesson.
Even though we will briefly look at Paul’s references in Galatians 5 to goodness and faithfulness, what I really want to do in this lesson is set the context for Paul’s focus on the fruit of the Spirit in the first place. Why did he even bring up the fruit of the Spirit? What issue did he believe he needed to address?
At the beginning of our text (Galatians 5:13-26) Paul says that Christ did not die on the Cross to liberate us from sin so we could live any way we want. That’s not Christian freedom.
Instead, he says in verse 13,
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
In fact, Paul makes the bold claim that we can summarize the whole Law of God by keeping the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (v. 14). But how do we do that? How do we not indulge the flesh, which is a Bible-way of saying, “How do we not give into our sinful inclinations and desires?”
Paul’s answer can be found in verse 16. He says we are to “walk by the Spirit.” When we walk by the Spirit, by the power of the Holy Spirit, according to Paul, we won’t gratify those sinful desires. We won’t put them into practice.
Have you ever felt like Paul in Romans 7. Here’s the Dale Tedder Paraphrase of Romans 7,
Can you relate to that? I can. And yet, with God’s help I’m trying, though I am but a slow work in progress.
All that is true, but let’s not miss the point Paul’s making. Paul is saying our “flesh” (which means our sinful nature) in in conflict with the Spirit who lives within us. And if you’re putting your sinful nature first, then you can’t live by the Spirit. And thus, you aren’t living by the Spirit.
However, if you walk by the Spirit… if you live in the power of the Spirit… then you can have victory over those sinful temptations.
Paul’s Sin List
And so, right after driving emphasizing that point, Paul gives us with one of his famous “sin-lists” to watch out for. We find this list in verses 19-21.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Now, maybe after reading that list you’re breathing a sigh of relief. You’re saying to yourself, “Phew, he didn’t mention the issues that I wrestle with.” Well, Paul has this rhetorical device he uses at the end of his lists. He adds phrases like, “and the like” or, “and things like these.” That’s Paul’s way of saying you’re included too.
I find the last half of verse 21 pretty chilling. Let me share that part again,
I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
I can imagine what you’re thinking right now. You’re saying, “This is really uncomfortable… do something about this.” Well, I’m not looking to get any of us off the hook for when we sin. When we do, we need to repent and cling to God’s grace.
What Paul Means
But pay close attention to what Paul says in this verse. He says, “those who live like this…”
Here are some other ways we could read this part of the text…
Therefore, Paul is not saying “you’re out of the Kingdom of God because, during those times of weakness we all experience, you sin.” We all do that from time to time. Right?
But if you belong to Christ, then the Holy Spirit convicts you of that sin and it grieves your heart, causing you to repent of it and seek God’s forgiveness. What Paul’s talking about are folks who might profess the name of Christ but who show no signs of giving up the sinful patterns of their lives.
Walk in the Spirit
But even here, the Spirit of God can help bring conviction and correction in their lives as well. That’s why Paul says…
It’s only in the power of the Spirit of God that we can live the life for which we were created and redeemed. And what does that life look like? It looks like a life of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” This is the fruit of the Spirit. This is a glimpse of what living by the Spirit ought to look like.
Goodness and Faithfulness
Our fruit for this lesson focuses on goodness and faithfulness. Goodness is the “quality of being good and having praiseworthy character and moral excellence.” It is God’s holiness that is the standard for goodness and so we look to God and his Word to measure our goodness toward others. Paul especially has in mind our generosity toward others.
Faithfulness means “dependability, loyalty, and stability” which primarily highlights our relationship with God, but also other people. And again, our standard is God. From Genesis to Revelation, God showed faithfulness to his people, even when, (especially when) they didn’t deserve it.
We are living in a time when our denomination and church family need to exercise the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. This is especially true in this time of struggle as we seek God’s will. We need Christians who are reflecting the goodness of God toward one another and their faithfulness toward God.
It’s times like these that a church family needs to put on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with those we care about, with those we’ve been part of the same church family with… for years.
Now is not the time to turn on one another. Even as we may disagree greatly with one another we must still love one another, show kindness and generosity of spirit to one another. And yet, our disagreements are not trivial. They are real. They are important. They are personal. And for many, they’re nonnegotiable.
But We Can Love
But that only means we must cling to Christ more tightly and walk more dependently by his Spirit as we seek to walk with one another through this difficult time.
And so, as a shepherd and brother in Christ, I implore you to please resolve to walk in the Spirit of God with your brothers and sisters in Christ. I feel the weight of this difficult time as you do. I’m still discerning God’s will in all of this, as I know you are.
Thus, let us contend earnestly for our understandings of the faith, but let’s do so with love, goodness, and faithfulness overflowing in our hearts, and let’s trust the Lord to lead us as he will. This doesn’t mean we’ll all agree with one another at the end of the process. It doesn’t even mean we’ll all remain together as one body.
But to paraphrase a favorite movie quotation of mine, “we can still love one another completely, even without complete agreement.”
And in the midst of this turbulent time, here’s what I do know for sure: Without God we can do nothing. But with God, all things are possible. Let us pray without ceasing.
Deliverance by the Only Mediator
The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 5
12. Question: Since, according to God's righteous judgment we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, how can we escape this punishment and be again received into favor?
Answer: God demands that His justice be satisfied. Therefore full payment must be made either by ourselves or by another.
 Ex. 20:5; 23:7; Rom. 2:1-11.  Is. 53:11; Rom. 8:3, 4.
13. Question: Can we ourselves make this payment?
Answer: Certainly not. On the contrary, we daily increase our debt.
 Ps. 130:3; Matt. 6:12; Rom. 2:4, 5.
14. Question: Can any mere creature pay for us?
Answer: No. In the first place, God will not punish another creature for the sin which man has committed. Furthermore, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God's eternal wrath against sin and deliver others from it.
 Ezek. 18:4, 20; Heb. 2:14-18.  Ps. 130:3; Nah. 1:6.
15. Question: What kind of mediator and deliverer must we seek?
Answer: One who is a true and righteous man, and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is at the same time true God.
 I Cor. 15:21; Heb. 2:17.  Is. 53:9; II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:26.  Is. 7:14; 9:6; Jer. 23:6; John 1:1; Rom. 8:3, 4.
Lord, Teach Us to Pray
I Don’t Know How to Pray
Over the years of my ministry, I’ve come up with a Top Ten List of most often asked questions or issues folks struggle with the most. And without question, the area I get most often asked about is prayer. It’s not so much the philosophical, “If God already knows what we’re going to say or what we need… then why pray?” I sometimes hear that. It’s much more on a practical level: I don’t know how to pray.
Many Reasons to Pray
There are many kinds of prayers. My 16-year-old son just got his driver’s license. Thus, my wife and I have spent much time with the Lord on that topic. Trust me. There are many circumstantial reasons that drive us to prayer.
Maybe you’re trying to get a loan, a new job, trying to make a team, or about to take final exams. Or maybe someone you dearly love is very ill. Those sorts of things will certainly direct your attention to prayer. But we don’t restrict those prayers to an “official prayer time.” We pray about them whenever we think of them. And we should.
What I’m focusing on here is that set apart prayer time when it’s just you and God. We sometimes call this our “quiet time.”
Obstacles to Prayer
Many folks have come to me over the years and said something along these lines: “I thank God for the day. I ask God for his blessings for the day. I ask God to bless my family. Maybe heal a sick loved one. And then I’m done. I run out of things to say.”
Can you relate to that?
Or maybe you have another issue: distraction.
When my wife has the opportunity to share how her prayer-life sometimes looks, she humorously points out that she begins with the best intentions. Perhaps she focuses on the day ahead, when suddenly she remembers one of our children’s doctor’s appointments. She then begins thinking about the appointment when she realizes the gas tank in her van is sitting on empty. Before she knows it, she’s putting together a grocery list, “miles away” from where she was when she started out in prayer.
Can you relate to that?
Many of us need help in our prayer lives. Our prayer lives are one dimensional, and if we’re honest, pretty self-centered.
I want to begin by briefly answering the question: Why pray? Then, I want to give you a model of prayer that you may already be familiar with. Whether you are or not, my hope is that it will encourage and guide you as you revive your prayer life.
One of my favorite writers is C.S. Lewis. He wrote, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Mere Christianity,” and Screwtape Letters,” just to name a few.
A little over 20 years ago, a movie called “Shadowlands” came out about his life. The movie focused on Lewis and his wife, Joy, and how they dealt with her approaching death, due to her cancer. One scene that really stood out to me took place right after Lewis learned his wife’s cancer had gone into remission. His friend, who was a priest, walked up to Lewis after learning the good news and said,
“I know how hard you’ve been praying, and now God is answering your prayer.”
Lewis responded in very memorable way. He said,
“That’s not why I pray Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because… I pray because the need flows out of me all the time… waking and sleeping.”
I love that imagery. Lewis paints a picture of being inwardly compelled to pray. Desire and dependence compelled him be a man of prayer. And from the biographies I’ve read about Lewis, he was a man of great prayer.
What motivated Lewis to pray as he did, ought to drive us to do the same.
In verse 1, Jesus taught that when we pray, we should address God as, “Father.” Jesus uses “Father” eight times in the parallel passage in Matthew 6. We’re instructed and encouraged to enter into a relationship with One who loves and cares for us more than any other person in the entire universe – Our Heavenly Father.
He’s not the god of the deists who wound up the universe like a giant watch and then left town, unconcerned about his creation. No! He’s the loving Father of the prodigal son who came running to greet and hug his returning son, restoring him and throwing him a party.
In prayer, we’re invited to commune with our loving Father. We’re encouraged to speak to him, listen to him, and bask in his presence.
We listen to God through his Word and reflect on it in meditative silence, but our struggle usually is, what to say to God.
I want to share an Acronym, ACTS, that you may already know about, but again, hopefully it will encourage you to revive your prayer life if it needs reviving.
A – Adoration
Adoration is simply a time to praise God for who he is. Jesus begins the Lord’s Prayer with “hallowed be your name.” Jesus is teaching us we should pray that God’s name be exalted as holy throughout all the world. Again, Jesus isn’t being comprehensive here, he’s giving us a model.
The first thing he wants us to know is we’re praying to the One who loves us as our Father. Second, we ought to praise, honor, and esteem God for who he is.
What does that look like? It’s as simple as offering a brief word of praise to God for one or more of his attributes. Praise God for his love and holiness. Praise him for his grace and righteousness. Praise him for his mercy and strength.
Ken Boa’s Handbook to Prayer has provided me a great help in doing this. Boa’s book takes Scriptural references and turns them into first person prayers to God.
Here’s an example from Psalm 86:12-13,
“I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your love toward me,
And you have delivered my soul from the depths of the grave.”
Then Boa has a prayer prompt below the Scripture that says, “Pause to express your thoughts of praise and worship.” This is your time to “camp out” with the particular Scripture and “pray back” to God the Scriptural references. In this case, praise God for his great name and love.
There’s no formula here. Let these things be a servant to you to help and encourage you in your prayer life, but don’t let them be a master over you. This is not a magical formula.
C – Confession
In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus says, “and forgive us our sins.”
To confess your sin is to recognize the sin in your life and admit it to God. This shows we take seriously our sins and shortcomings.
Now here’s the really painful part: Be specific. A casual, “And God, forgive me for my sins” may show you’re not taking your sin seriously. When you name your sin before God, it can hurt. It’s hard to be proud when you’re confessing specific sins to God. But when we confess our sins before God, we’re also asking to be forgiven for them. And God tells us we are forgiven.
Read this comforting promise from 1 John…
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Confession of our sin leads us to affirm the good news of the Gospel.
T – Thanksgiving
This is simply the act of expressed appreciation. I highlight the word, “expressed” because, so often, we may be grateful, but don’t express it. Have you ever prayed and prayed for something, got what you prayed for, but then forgot to thank God. I have. Of course, that sends me back to confession. Ugh.
I think thanksgiving naturally flows out of spending time adoring and praising God for who he is, and the great work he’s done in your life. It also flows out of knowing you’re forgiven for the sin you just confessed to God. Our relationship with God is deepened when we thank him.
If you remember the story of the 10 Lepers, you know Jesus cleansed 10 men from their awful leprosy. Besides the horrible disease, which was bad enough by itself, this disease and deformity also made the person an extreme social outcast. If you saw the movie, Ben Hur, you remember the Lepers had to leave their homes and live in faraway places with other lepers. It was a terrible disease in many ways.
The day Jesus healed the 10 Lepers, he approached them, which people didn’t do. He treated them with love and dignity. He even touched them. And he healed them.
There’s little doubt they were all grateful. They were no longer diseased. They could return to their families once again. You know they were grateful. But what happened? Only one of the men stayed to express his thanks for what Jesus had done.
We also need to express our thanksgiving to God for our many blessings.
S – Supplication
The Apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:5-6,
The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Supplication is when we bring not only our needs, fears, concerns, and desires to God, but those of others as well.
We naturally gravitate to this, so I won’t spend a lot of time here. But I do want to say this: God may already know our needs, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t spend time with him, in his presence. Just as children do with their parents, we need to bring our needs, fears, concerns, and desires to our loving Father. There’s comfort and encouragement in the relationship. In being with him. Listening to him. Getting things off our chests. And I would add that there’s no greater ministry than interceding in prayer on behalf of others.
So there you have it…
A – Adoration
C – Confession
T – Thanksgiving
S – Supplication
Let this acronym serve you in your prayer life to help it grow and flourish. But don’t become so focused on the order and form that you forget the main part of prayer, which is to spend time with your heavenly Father.
Loving God and Neighbor
The Shape of Love
Love is love. This unhelpful tautology has seemingly won the day with Christians and non-Christians alike. It works well as a slogan but offers little substance for how God calls us to live a life of love. Instead, the Bible teaches us there is a shape to love. The love God calls us to looks like something. It has content to it. It is first and foremost received from God, then directed back to God, and then, lived out toward neighbor. It’s sacrificial, others-centered, joyful, and obedient. This life of love is the Way of the Lord, and the reason for the title of this study.
The Ten Commandments are an expression of the love Jesus commands in his summary of the Law. The great commandment is to love God with our whole being and the second commandment is like it, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But even that word from our Lord Jesus is general, and even vague. Yet he could speak in such a way because he knew he was summarizing something more detailed and specific, something his first-century audience would have understood.
In speaking of the two great commandments, Jesus was really summarizing the moral Law of God, the Ten Commandments. The first table of the law, for example, which contains the first four commandments, focuses primarily, though not exclusively, on our love for God. The second table addresses the nature of neighbor-love, which as we learn throughout Scripture, is also an expression of our love for God.
In other words, the way of loving God and neighbor looks like something specific. The commandments are not platitudes. They are concretely helpful. And the rest of Scripture is a commentary on what this love for God and neighbor looks like. The prophets, Jesus, and the apostles all shed light on the height, width, and depth of what it means to love God and others in the way God has prescribed in the Ten Commandments.
More Than Meets the Eye
By the time of the first century, many in the Jewish religious community had reduced the Ten Commandments to external rules and regulations that could be manipulated. But Jesus came along and reminded them that obedience to the Law had always involved the motives of one’s heart. It was not merely about behaving in the right way. It had always been about doing the right things, in the right way, for the right reason, with the right attitude.
Of course, a standard like that immediately leads one to self-discovery, or at least it ought to. When you come to understand, for example, that “not murdering” another person is more than not taking the life of another person, but includes not hating them or being unrighteously angry toward them, you begin to realize how far you fall short.
Furthermore, when you consider that each commandment carries with it a positive side, such as desiring that same person’s best interest and doing what you can to help them, then a legalistic framework really begins to crumble. Such a realization ought to cause us to run to the grace of God found in the work of Christ, for he was the only one who faithfully lived out a perfect life of righteousness. His sacrificial love on the Cross paid for our inability to live a life of perfect obedience to God’s Law.
Morality Revealed by God
What we learn as we study the Ten Commandments is that morality is fundamentally theological. That does not mean irreligious people cannot live moral lives, but it does mean when they do so, they are borrowing from a theistic framework. For their worldview cannot justify their way of living. There are secular forms of ethics. But those systems are usually forms of utilitarianism. They base their view of what is right and wrong on whether something works (whatever “works” means) for the common good (whatever “common good” means).
A secular ethic is not grounded in that which is immutable, transcendent, and objective. It is not a revealed ethic. It is dependent on king or crowd. What is considered normal, or even good, is determined, so to speak, in the voting booth of public agreement and alignment. Absent from such a worldview and ethic is an objective standard, revealed by an immutable and transcendent Creator, who not only created the universe, but also each and every person, in God’s own image.
Christians believe that having such an ethical standard is good, not only for individuals, but for families, communities, workplaces, societies, and ultimately, the world. A commitment to such an ethic does not mean every moral decision is clearly understood or that every command is easily interpreted and applied in every situation. But it does mean we have a firm foundation from which to start as we seek to faithfully live in this world.
Contrary to popular notions, freedom does not mean being untethered to any moral restrictions in one’s life. Nor is desiring to obey God a form of legalism. Instead, we should understand that obedience to God is true love. And this kind of love produces real freedom, which is the ability to live the life for which we were created.
That is not a life of legalism or bondage. The Law of God provides freedom to become all that God created and redeemed us to be, as well as delivering us from a path of self-destruction and potentially hurting others along the way. We don’t live this way in order to earn points with God, but such a life is evidence that God is doing a great work in us. God is molding and shaping us into something we cannot possibly imagine – his grand masterpiece – the very likeness of his Son. How could such knowledge lead us to anything but joyful and grateful obedience?
The heart is the heart of the matter. God gave us his moral law to reveal to us his character and will for our lives. God’s Law does provide structure and rails to keep us safe. God revealed this way of life for us because he has our best interest at heart. He really does want what is best for us and thus has revealed the way for us to live.
But more than that, in and through Christ, God has recreated us once again in his image. His very Spirit indwells us. God not only wants us to live this way because it is best for us. God wants our hearts. He wants us to desire to live this way because we love him, want to please and glorify him, and because we love others. He wants us to love what he loves.
It is God’s sanctifying process for helping us become like him… in what we desire, the way think, how we speak, and in the manner in which we conduct ourselves in this world. And not only is this what is best for us here and now, but God is also training us for eternity. Thanks be to God.
A Word About Each Lesson
It will not take you long to see that some of the study questions have many Bible verses to look up. You might even say an obnoxious amount of Bible verses. And that’s true. But they are there for a few important reasons.
First, they are included to show you how widely the Bible speaks on the particular commandment of each lesson. These Ten Commandments are not isolated only to Exodus and Deuteronomy. They are repeated, interpreted, and applied throughout the rest of Scripture.
Second, the verses are there to reveal that God’s commands are not to be understood and applied in a simplistic fashion. The Ten Commandments are not only prohibitions. That is, they are not only forbidding us to behave in certain ways, but they also point us to the birthplace of those behaviors. Our desire for sin festers in the human heart and sometimes finds its ways into our thought-life, as well as the words we speak and the actions we take.
Third, the variety of Scripture is there to remind you that there are positive, godly ways to live out the commands. The Ten Commandments are not merely a list of things not to do. They also guide us in a God-honoring, life-affirming, Christlike way of living in this world.
The Last Reason for All the Scripture
And that brings us to the last reason for all the verses, which is also why we have the Law in the first place. The first time I read the Sermon on the Mount, with a level of maturity and understanding, I immediately understood how far short I fell of living according to this standard that Jesus had set before me. And frankly, I was distraught. What hope did I have of faithfully and consistently living in this way, even if I tried my best every single day? And who among us does that?
But that was also a key moment in my life for understanding grace. It’s the point of the Law, at least a part of the point. We cannot perfectly live this prescribed way of the Lord. Yet it is still the standard. So, what do we do? We turn to Christ, who did perfectly live it out. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior of the world, Lord of all creation, and Light of life did perfectly fulfill all righteousness in his life, death, and resurrection.
His sacrificial and substitutionary life, death, and resurrection is what we trust in. We trust in him, not only to forgive us for our sins, but to impute his righteousness to our account. We died with Christ in his death and were raised to new life with Christ in his resurrection. And now, not only are we forgiven; not only are we new creatures in Christ; but the very Spirit who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead lives in each person who trusts in him. Therefore, Christ can live his life in and through ours.
And When We Stumble
We are not called to live the way of the Lord in our own strength. But Christ guides and empowers us through his gracious Spirit. The reason God has revealed this way to us is for us to become like Christ. It’s the path by which we are progressively molded and shaped into his likeness by the Spirit of love.
We will stumble along the way. But even the grief and conviction we experience when we fail is the gift of a loving Father disciplining those he loves. His discipline is gracious correction to get us moving along the right path once again.
My Advice for Each Lesson
Thus, my advice is to answer each question however you see fit. You can write down your reflections for each verse of Scripture. Or, you can read all the verses and write down your summary statement of what they all mean. Or, you can read half of them, a third of them, or even a fourth of them. It’s up to you. My goal is not to provide you with a legalistic framework in a study which hopes to show you why legalism is neither godly nor livable.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least encourage you to go the extra mile and try to read as many verses as you can in each lesson, and to think deeply about this way of the Lord prescribed for us. If you think about the character of God and the ways he has worked throughout redemptive history, then you recognize that even though we may not understand all the things God has included in his Word, we should realize that there are no “throw away” verses. They are all there for a reason, especially when they relate to who he his is, his way of salvation, and his path to holiness.
Ultimately, we are here to glorify God. We want to please our loving God so that when others see our good works, they will give praise to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). My prayer is that this study will enlighten, encourage, and equip you to know God’s will, the way of the Lord, and that by it, God’s Spirit will carry on to completion the great work he has already begun in you until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
Decision 2023 for SUMC
Below are two presentations that were made at Southside United Methodist Church for the benefit of our church family. The purpose of the first presentation was to communicate the merits to Southside UMC regarding why our church family should consider remaining in connection with the United Methodist Church. The second presentation sought to communicate the reasons why Southside UMC should consider disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church.
(2 Timothy 2:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; Acts 13)
In my reading over the years, I’ve been often reminded of how important one-to-one ministry really is. As a man invests his life into the life of another man, real growth can occur in remarkable ways. This is one of the key ways our faith has been passed down through the centuries. And I can certainly attest to the power and influence such a ministry has played in my own life.
A helpful way of thinking about one-on-one ministry is to think about three names: Paul, Barnabas, and
Timothy. Below is a description of what each name represents as we think in terms of ministering to other men.
1.) Paul represents that person in your life who mentors, leads, and directs you. This is the man who comes along side you to disciple you along the road of faith and life. This is someone who has traveled further down the road of faith and life than you. This man doesn’t have to be a great deal older than you, but it probably ought to be someone who has walked faithfully with God long enough and far enough for you to profit from his wisdom – his reflected-upon experience, study of God’s Word, etc. And it usually is the case that, though not exclusively so, this man will be older than you as well. But, as I said, sometimes this simply means, “older in the faith.”
I hasten to add that you must beware of someone who says he has been a Christian for 25 years when in reality, he has been a Christian for only one year, 25 years in a row. In other words, there has been no growth and maturation over that 25 years. My own observation as a pastor is that this sort of person abounds in the church. There are many people who, by their own admission, haven’t learned much more about God’s Word and walking along the road with him, than when they were children in Vacation Bible School. And so brothers, you must be careful about this. Pray for discernment.
Also, just because a man is at the top of his game in his profession, does not mean he is likewise mature and advanced in his faith. Success in one field of endeavor doesn’t necessarily mean success in another area of life. As I heard one person describe it, a man may have a Ph.D. in psychology, but have a second grade Sunday school degree in Bible. This is not the sort of man you want to have as your Paul.
2.) Barnabas is someone who encourages you and holds you accountable in your faith and life. This is more or less a mutual friendship, or what’s called in the world of spiritual formation, a “spiritual friendship.” In the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas traveled together side by side. Barnabas was a key person in Paul’s life, especially at the beginning of his walk with Christ as he introduced Paul to the Christian community. Their relationship then became one of mutual encouragement, ministry, and accountability.
There are men I have discipled for years who have gone from being a Timothy in my life to becoming a Barnabas to me. And while I can still disciple them, they also minister to me in many ways.
3.) Timothy is that man you help guide along the road of faith and life. This is generally someone who has not traveled as far as you have in your walk with Christ. Such a man is marked (or should be) by an eagerness to grow in his relationship with Christ and is humble and teachable enough to receive what you have to share and to interact with you on the things of faith and life.
This “mark of a Timothy” should not be ignored just for the sake of having a Timothy. There are many smart guys out there who don’t have teachable spirits. They feel they have nothing to learn from another man. So too, some are indifferent to the things of God. Timothy, Paul’s “son in the faith,” as Paul called him, was humble, teachable, and eager to know, love, and follow God through Jesus Christ. So too, a “Timothy” shouldn’t expect to only receive guidance and wisdom from his “Paul,” but should plan on becoming a Paul himself one day so he can begin the whole process over again with another man.
This is a process in a man’s life that ought to last a lifetime and be produced, reproduced, and multiplied over and over again throughout the course of the man’s lifetime, as well as in the lives of the men he invests in. We are Christians today, humanly speaking, because those who went before us were faithful to this process.
In sum, we need to be a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy and we need to have a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy. Such men in our lives are gifts from God. And we have the blessed opportunity to be such a gift to other men.
Sermon text: Isaiah 6:1-13
God used the first seven verses of today’s Scripture to revolutionize my faith almost thirty years ago. I was teaching a study by R.C. Sproul called, The Holiness of God. It was a needed balance to my view of God which, in the tradition of many “mainliners” of my generation, understood God exclusively in terms of his attribute of love. When I say, “his attribute of love,” what I really mean is what we usually think God’s love ought to be like, in our humble opinion. For many of us who grew up in church, the unconditional love of God is almost synonymous with the unconditional niceness of God.
God used Sproul’s book and study on the holiness of God to awaken me. I discovered God is much larger than I imagined. Sure, I had read A.W. Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy, but goodness, I was still in my 20s and barely understood most of what I read there. Sproul’s book put the cookie jar on the bottom shelf so I could get to it. To think of God as “holy, holy, holy” was something I hadn’t thought much about. If asked, I may have used the word “holy” to describe God, but I would have been guessing at words out of my ignorance.
The Holiness of God
I came to understand that God’s holiness, like all of God’s attributes, is essential to who God is, and not some second tier, take it or leave it, attribute. His holiness signifies both his otherness and his moral purity. To stand before such a holy God, one can’t help but react the way Isaiah did. Who could look upon our holy God and not cry out that they are ruined, undone, disintegrated?
Every sinful thought, word, deed, and desire that our lives have been built upon would overwhelm our hearts and minds were we to stand before such God. The guilt would be more than we could possibly endure. Isaiah’s cry was recognition of his guilt and his repentance of it. Thus, in our Scripture, the angels took the searing coal and applied it to the lips of Isaiah to symbolize his purification and atonement. His guilt was taken away and he was forgiven. Is there better news than that?
Lesson 1: My Sin
God used this scene from redemptive history to do several things in my life. First, he taught me about his holiness. For when a person comes to understand the true holiness of God’s nature, it shouldn’t be a big jump to understanding how unholy we fallen and sinful sons of Adam and daughters of Eve really are.
Yet, Peter reminds us of God’s command from the Old Covenant to be holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Holiness is not optional. In fact, the Book of Hebrews reminds us that without this holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
Lesson 2: Grace
The second, and even more unexpected aspect of being introduced to God’s holiness in this very startling way was how God used it to show me what his love for me really means. I believe I was at a place in my life where I really believed God’s love was my due. It was God’s job to love me. It was entitlement thinking on my part.
However, as God’s providence would have it, at the same time I was teaching a class on his holiness, I was also teaching a class on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. And there I started digging into what grace really means. I began to understand what every confirmand we have celebrated at my church was taught… that grace is the unearned, unmerited, undeserved favor, blessing, and power of God. God first loved me because it is God’s character to love, but not because God is required to love me. God’s holiness, from which his justice flows, calls for my sin to be punished.
The Wages of Sin
My sin… our sin… is antithetical to the holiness of God and, as those created in his image, is displeasing to him and, to put it bluntly, tells lies about who he really is. Everything an image bearer does reflects on its Creator. It says something about the one who created it. When we sin, we’re saying something untrue about the One who made us. This is the human condition. This is why Isaiah cried out,
“Woe to me!”… “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
It was not only that Isaiah was a fallen, sinful man, but so were his fellow Israelites. So are we all.
That is part of the reason we cannot look upon the unveiled presence of God and live. He is too pure and holy. But Isaiah’s vision of the King was just that, a vision. Isaiah was a humble man, he therefore recognized this qualitative disparity. And so, he cried out. I too cried out when I recognized how good and gracious God’s love to me really was. When I truly understood God had loved me my whole life. I couldn’t help but think of how undeserving I was.
This was not a “worm theology” where I saw myself as worthless. But this was similar to Isaiah’s revelation in which he understood himself to be unworthy to stand before the King. That is how I felt. Yet, that is exactly what made God’s love for me all the sweeter. That is what made it precious to me. That is what humbled me and melted my pride in a way that remains a vivid memory in my heart and mind.
Our Response to Holy Love
After an experience like this, Isaiah couldn’t help but answer God’s call to serve him. That should be what each of us does in response to God’s holy love. When we have truly understood God’s holy love for each of us, we should tremble, rejoice, fall before him, and give our lives to him. That appears to be what Isaiah did. God asked for a servant to bring a hard word to Israel, and Isaiah stepped up. He answered the call. His calling would be to deliver a message of judgment.
There is no generation in which judgment is a welcomed guest. There is a reason we have the saying, “don’t shoot the messenger.” Isaiah wasn’t called to bring Israel his own assessment of how things were going and what was going to happen to them. Instead, he was bringing them God’s divine evaluation. And it wasn’t good. There would be judgment for Israel. This would not be a time of “superficial deliverance.” This would be what we sometimes refer to as “tough love.” All would be laid waste. Yet, “destruction is never God’s last word.” Hope would remain.
A holy seed, a faithful remnant of God’s people would remain, from which the Messiah, and ultimately, deliverance and redemption, would come.
I think I often forget there was a time when God’s people awaited the first Advent of the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God. His coming was prophesied as early as Genesis and would be the hope of God’s people in every generation after. God would continue to provide foreshadowing and prophecies of the coming Messiah throughout the Old Covenant. We would learn where and when he would be born, to whom, the royal line he would belong to, and why he was coming. Recently, a religious leader in our denomination said,
“It is not important that we agree on who Christ is. …God became flesh, but not particular flesh. There’s no particularity around that. God became incarnate in a culture, but not one culture.”
The Scandal of Particularity
But Israel’s Messiah, was just that… the Messiah of Israel. This anointed One, this Messiah, was of the seed of Eve, the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of the line of King David, and remained the hope of Israel, a hope that existed only because God preserved a faithful remnant who did not bow to false gods and live in rebellion to him.
This Messiah’s Old Covenant lineage is highlighted in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And during the season of Advent especially, we remember that this Messiah would be born to a Jewish mother. The father who raised him and gave him his name was Jewish. And he would be named Jesus, because, the angel told his parents, he would save his people from their sin. The scandal of particularity matters a lot.
Joy to the World
Yet, by God’s grace, the deliverance, redemption, and reconciliation he brought with his coming did not remain for Israel only but became a sacrificial and loving offering for the whole world. Thanks be to God. God’s love is holy… and his holiness is loving. They are inseparable and intricately connected because they are who God is, along with all his other attributes. They aren’t merely what God does, but who God is. And we are created in his image. We too are called to be holy as God is holy. We are commanded to love God and neighbor because God first loved us. Our lives of holy love should reflect God’s character and goodness in our lives. It’s my prayer for my church family, and the church at large, that God’s light would shine through us so brightly, that when others see it, they will not be able to help but give our Father in heaven all the praise and glory.
Godly Men Do Theology
Everyone Is a Theologian
Godly men know that, for good or ill, everyone is a theologian. We each think thoughts and imagine ideas about God, even if those thoughts and ideas are that God does not exist. Some have plumbed the depths of theology while others have only skimmed along the surface. Regardless of one's efforts or abilities, thinking theologically is unavoidable.
Far from being dry, boring, and stale, theology ought to be spirit-renewing, soul-forming, and life-transforming. It isn't (or, shouldn't be) merely for academic and intellectual pursuits, but instead, it ought to draw us closer to God and conform us more to his likeness. Thinking more intentionally about God should lead us to know him better and love him more. Indeed, the more we learn of God's magnificence, the more that worship, joy, and gratitude should mark our hearts and lives. In fact, it will become impossible to contain our pleasure brought forth from our discoveries of the person and work of God.
Soli Deo Gloria
The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: "What is the chief end of man?"
The answer: "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever."
To increasingly know ("about" and "relationally") and love God leads men pursuing godliness to seek their Lord's glory in all aspects of their lives. They shift from self-centered to God-centered lives in which every sphere is integrated because each is connected to and empowered by God, who is at the center. And each part exists to bring God the glory due his name.
Merely studying textbooks about God won't accomplish all of this. But pursuing God more intentionally through all the means of grace he has provided will move us in the right direction of knowing, loving, following, and trusting God, as well as seeking and submitting to his will. This is theology at its best.
Brothers, is God your chief pursuit and greatest desire?
For God So Loved
Jesus and Nicodemus
Our Scripture comes right at the end of a conversation between Jesus and a man called, Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a great Jewish leader, yet he sensed something in or about Jesus that led him to come and speak with Jesus.
But because of his reputation, and the fact that Jesus was not very popular among the Jewish leaders, Nicodemus came at night. It was there and then Jesus taught Nicodemus the truth about how a person must be saved, or redeemed… brought into a right relationship with God.
Jesus even scolded Nicodemus for not already knowing this since he was a great leader of the Jewish people.
Moses and the Snake
As Jesus finished up his lesson to Nicodemus, he referred to an event in Jewish history that Nicodemus would have known well. Referencing Numbers 21:4-9, Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:14-15,
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
It is an interesting story, but the short version is this: after God graciously and lovingly rescued his people from bondage in Egypt, they began complaining. They started speaking against God and Moses, suggesting they had been brought out into the wilderness only to die.
Therefore, God sent poisonous snakes among them, and the snakes began to bite the people. Many died. As you can imagine, this got the people’s attention, and they began repenting for speaking against God and Moses and pleaded for deliverance and healing from the snakes.
Thus, God told Moses to make a snake, put it on a pole, and then lift it high above the people. And so, Moses did just that. He made a bronze snake, put it on the end of a pole, and when the people looked with faith to the image of the snake lifted up, they were physically healed.
After retelling the story, the last point Jesus made to Nicodemus was this: just as Moses lifted up the snake, Jesus himself would be lifted up. By “lifted up” Jesus was referring to his death on the Cross to be sure, but also his resurrection, and ascension into heaven.
And Jesus added that everyone who looks to him – trustingly believing in him – will have eternal life.
The Bible’s Most Popular Verse
That brings us to the most widely known verse in all the Bible, John 3:16,
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16 is the most succinct summary of the Gospel in all the Bible. In one verse John tells us God gave his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to live, teach, heal, perform miracles, but ultimately, to die on the Cross.
By doing so, those who look to him in faith, as the Israelites looked to the bronze snake, would be forgiven and delivered from the guilt and power of sin. They would be reclaimed and reconciled to a right and eternal relationship with God. And they would be empowered to live the lives for which they were created.
The Front Door
John declares to us in this beautiful verse that we must reach out to God with our hearts and minds to receive this free gift of eternal life.
John 1:12 says,
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…
We receive Christ by placing our faith in him. Trusting belief. This is more than mere head knowledge or vague acknowledgement. It is to give our very lives to him. To give him ourselves. To be sure, it involves trust, repentance, submission, commitment, obedience, and following him.
But the front door is faith. We must enter through that front door and say, “Yes Lord, thank you. I believe.” Then, what follows, is a life of getting to know him better – following him wherever he may lead. It means desiring to become more and more like him. It means telling others about him, even as we serve them, along our journey through this world.
According to John, those who do respond in faith in this way receive eternal life. Those who do not respond in faith, do not receive eternal life. John says they stand condemned already because they prefer darkness instead of the light that Christ brings into the world (John 3:18, 36).
Now, if you have been paying attention up to this point, perhaps you noticed I left out the central, governing motivation of all that God did through Jesus on our behalf.
John tells us that, “God so loved.”
That phrase, “so loved” means, God loved “in this way,” which involves everything mentioned so far about Jesus being “lifted up” on our behalf.
And please notice, John says God so loved the world. Not just the Jews, but the Gentiles too, which is a way of saying, everyone. God is not only the covenant God of Israel. He is the God of all. He sent Jesus for all. That is why John said, “everyone who believes” and not just the Jews.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:12-13,
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Emphases mine)
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
And this is because, “God so loved.” God’s love expressed in this way, John reminds us in his first epistle, flows from the fact that God is love. It is who God is.
But here is where we need to be careful. We must not go to movies and music, or Hollywood and Hallmark, to get our definition of love and then read Scripture through that lens. Instead, we first go to Scripture to learn what love is and then look to see how worldly views compare with what the Bible says (and therefore, what God says) about God’s love. This is how we practice the art of spiritual discernment.
The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, seldom talked about God’s love without referring to it as a “holy love.” Each of God’s attributes relates to all the rest. God’s attributes do not exist in separate, isolated compartments in which they have nothing to do with one another. Furthermore, God’s attributes are not partial. He is not a 10% one attribute and 15% another and so on. He is 100% each of his attributes, and as I mentioned, they all interrelate and influence the others.
This led A.W. Tozer to write,
"From God’s other known attributes we may learn much about his love. We can know, for instance, that because God is self-existent, his love had no beginning; because he is eternal, his love can have no end; because he is infinite, it has no limit; because he is holy, it is the quintessence of all spotless purity…”
Charles Wesley beautifully captured a glimpse of God’s love in his hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”…
Love divine, all loves excelling
Joy of Heaven to Earth come down
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling
All Thy faithful mercies crown
Jesus, Thou art all compassion
Pure, unbounded love Thou art
Visit us with Thy salvation
Enter every trembling heart
That is the love of God. And so how do you respond to that? This idea is that God sent his Son to come and save, not a world that was cheering for him, but just the opposite. As the words of the Holy Communion liturgy in the United Methodist hymnal, (borrowing from Romans 5:8), put it,
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Emphasis mine)
How do you respond to that? How does that impact you emotionally? Does it fill you with awe? Humility? Reverence? Joy? Gratitude? Indifference? Distaste? Fear? The Apostle John suggests that all those seem to be ways people respond to the glorious announcement of God’s love in Christ.
How about you? Is the good news of God’s love for you in Christ an announcement of indescribable beauty to you? Of horror? Of Indifference?
I want you to know there is a God in heaven who loves you and who went to the greatest lengths to act on your behalf – to win you to himself. To enable you to become the person he created you to be.
He loves and rejoices over you so much he sings. Zephaniah 3:17 says,
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
He loves you so much he offers you eternal life in his presence. But he will not force you to respond in faith, to give your life to Christ. He will not override your will and desire. To those who would prefer not to spend eternity in the presence of God, God replies, “thy will be done.” And yet, like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, he waits and watches for you. More than that, with his Spirit he lovingly calls you and draws you to himself. And he is doing that today.
The Ultimate Gift
And what is the gift that awaits you when you trust in Christ? The gift is God himself. “Life of abundant joy and immeasurable blessing in the presence of God forever.”
At the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis writes these words about some of the characters in his books,
“All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Don’t you want to be a part of that Great Story?
If you have never put your trust in Christ before, reach out to God today and call to him. Trust in him. Enter his Great Story and become a part of it. If you do know Christ, then give thanks and continue to love and follow him. Tell others about him. Invite them to join you in the Greatest Story ever told.
Thanks be to God for the love of God.
Here I Stand
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.