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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Jesus' Face Shinned like the Sun

Jesus’ Face Shinned like the Sun

Jesus promised his disciples that some of them would see him coming into his kingdom.  Jesus talked often about his kingdom and told his followers that they were citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  And now some of Jesus’ disciples would actually get to see Jesus being changed from his earthly body into his heavenly body (transfiguration) in the kingdom of heaven! 

These are Jesus’ words to his disciples.  “I tell you that there are some of you standing here who will not die until after they see the Son of Man (Jesus) coming into His kingdom.”  (Matthew 16:28) Some Christians have taken these words of Jesus to mean that some of his disciples would still be alive when He comes to earth again at the end of the age!  Some believe that this verse means that Jesus would come again very soon – even before all the disciples died.

 But Jesus was not talking about the end times here, he was talking about his transfiguration –his earthly body changing into his heavenly body.   And this transfiguration happened just few days after he told his disciples that it would happen. They didn’t have to wait long.  

 When we read the story in Matthew 16:28-Matthew 17:13 we see that Jesus spoke these words just a short while before Peter, James and John followed Jesus up a mountain and saw him in his glory in his kingdom!  His body which had appeared in weakness and dishonor, now appears in power and glory.  Scripture tells us: “After six days, Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves.  Jesus was transfigured before their eyes.  His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.  And behold Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.”  (Matthew 17:1-3)  

Peter speaks up and says that it is so good to be there and then he suggests that they make three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah.  And then Scripture says: “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  Hear Him!’  The disciples fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.  Jesus came and touched them and said, ‘Arise, and do not be afraid.’ And when they opened their eyes they saw no one but Jesus only. “ (Matthew 17:5-8)

God speaks to the disciples out of a cloud, telling the disciples to hear or listen to His Beloved Son, Jesus.  We find often in the Old Testament, that a cloud was the visible token of God’s presence.    God led the Israelites through the desert in the form of a cloud by day and a fire by night. (Exodus 13:22)  God spoke to the disciples out of the cloud as He did on other occasions throughout Scripture.  Peter, James and John were so terrified when God spoke to them that they fell to the ground.  How do you think you would feel?  Scripture says that a person cannot see God’s face and live. (Exodus 33:20 and John 1:18)

This transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain happened shortly before his death.  The disciple’s faith would be tested as they would soon have to watch their Savior be crucified. Even though Jesus had told them, they still would not understand why He would have to die since He was the Son of God.  Perhaps Peter, James and John were given this glimpse of Jesus’ glory to help them through the difficult days ahead that they would face. 

Peter, James and John now had seen Jesus the Messiah in all his glory.  Jesus had been with Moses and Elijah in the kingdom.  Bible scholars believe Moses and Elijah signify the Law and the Prophets.  For the Jews, Moses represented the Law, since God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and many other laws to pass on to the nation of Israel.  And Elijah represented the Prophets since he was one of the major Jewish prophets.  The vision of Moses and Elijah with Jesus supports Jesus in his mission and was further proof for the Jewish mind that Jesus was their true Messiah.

As Jesus and Peter and James and John were hiking down the mountain Jesus asked them not to tell anyone what they had seen and heard.  And then the disciples asked Jesus about Elijah because they had seen him there with Moses and Jesus in heavenly glory.  They asked why their religious leaders tell them that Elijah will come back to earth. There were prophecies saying that Elijah would come before the Messiah came, so this is what they were asking Jesus. 

Jesus answered that indeed Elijah has already come and that the religious leaders did not recognize him.  Jesus seemed to say that Elijah was treated badly and suffered just like He would soon suffer.  And then the disciples understood that Jesus was saying that Elijah was John the Baptist!

This story gives us a short peek behind the curtain over to the other side.  We see Jesus’ face shinning like the sun and light shines from his glorified body.  We see Moses and Elijah who though they died, they did not perish, but also have glorified bodies.  We hear God in a cloud proclaiming that Jesus is His Beloved Son with whom He is well pleased.  And we also hear God commanding his followers to “Hear Him” or to listen to Jesus. 
This story from Scripture holds Jesus up in his beauty and holiness, shinning like the sun and talking with Moses and Elijah in his kingdom.  Jesus became a man but he is also God.  God the Son and part of the Trinity. The Messiah and the Savior.  Emmanuel, which means God with us.  The Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father but by Him (Jesus).

A man in our last Sunday School class insisted that the Bible never claimed that Jesus was the Son of God. Two women who recently attended a Bible study with me also insisted that Jesus was just one of many great teachers.  Many who call themselves Christian do not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ and claim that intelligent folk cannot believe such myths.  This unbelief is rampant in some of our churches.  Have these people not read their Bibles? Where have they been?

If Jesus were not the Son of God he could not save us from our sins. This story in Matthew 17 of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain top with God proclaiming Him as the beloved Son is one more story from Scripture proclaiming Jesus’ deity. But then there are many other stories and proofs and prophecies.  In fact, the whole Bible holds Jesus up as the Son of God and the Savior.     

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Two Roads

Two Roads

In one of Jesus’ parables He tells us that as we travel along life’s journey we will need to choose  one of two roads to travel down – a wide road or a narrow road!  Let’s listen to what Jesus says: “Enter through the narrow gate for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to eternal life, and few there be that find it.”  (Matthew 7:13-14)

There are two roads or two ways to react to the truth we find in Scripture, - the truth that Jesus will remove our sins and cover us with His goodness.  The truth that Jesus is all goodness and He is the Way to eternal life. The gates are our choices. And the most important choice you can ever make is to follow Jesus. Those who choose to follow Jesus go through the small gate and walk the narrow road.  And those who choose not to follow Jesus go through the wide gate and walk on the wide or broad road.

The wide road, is for folks who are trying to be good enough on their own.  Others are also on the wide road. Those who don’t believe in God’s judgment are traveling the wide road along with those who don’t believe in God at all. The wide road is wide enough to take in any belief or any non-belief that leaves Jesus the Son of God out. Perhaps God will judge the people who never have the chance to hear of Jesus by how they obey their conscience and how they accept the truths they do see.  I don’t know.

The folks who try to work their way to heaven on their own travel that wide road with many others. But folks who think they can be good enough to please God have problems. They get exhausted and still never make it. First they try to stop doing bad things. Then they try to do more good things. Love problem people.  Don’t think bad thoughts. Obey the Ten Commandments.  Can’t keep them all?  Try harder.  Treat people nice. Don’t gossip. Be faithful.  Give money to the poor. Pray and be spiritual. Don’t get angry.  Look around and see that they are better than some others. Feel proud and judgmental. How many good things must they do to earn eternal life?

 God expects so much!  Perfection is such a high standard!  Doesn’t Scripture say if we break one of God’s commands then we break them all!  (James 2:10) For every step forward they slip two steps backward!  They try harder. Nose to the grindstone. They’re exhausted trying.  Never make God’s perfect standard on their own!  They fall short! What can they do?  There is no joy for those who walk the do-good road, because enough is never enough.     

 Jesus says that “No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18) And Jesus, who is God the Son, and also the Son of God, is our only standard of true goodness.  We are trying so hard to be “good enough” but Scripture says that only Jesus is good enough.  And Jesus will exchange His goodness and His righteousness for our sin!  What an exchange!  The Bible says: “God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21) 

We are so tired of trying to be good and failing when we finally read the Bible and we are drawn to this Jesus who calls out to everyone with His invitation.  Here it is: “Come unto Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

Only God can take away sins but the Bible tells us that Jesus is the Son of God.  And He is God the Son.   If Jesus was just a super man and not God He couldn’t take away sin. These are Jesus’ words about Himself: “All things have been committed to Me by my Father.  No one knows the Son except through the Father, and no one knows the Father except through the Son, and those who the Son chooses to reveal Him.” (Matthew 11:27)   

We are drawn to Jesus and we come to Him.  The narrow road is that joyful road where we start out on it and go through the small gate by choosing to accept Jesus’ invitation.  We want to turn from our sins.  (1 John 1;9) And then we take part in the “great exchange.”  Jesus takes our sins and we are given His righteousness.

 He gives us His Holy Spirit and we are “in Jesus”.  He is the “Vine” and we are the “branches”.   (John 15:5) He is now working in us and taking care of us.   We can feel the difference. We are no longer alone on the broad road trying to earn eternal life, when we never can. We still sin but He forgives and works in us to want to do good.

 Doing good and following Jesus go together.  We don’t do good to be accepted by God: instead, because we are accepted and loved by God, we do good.  We now follow Jesus and we are being led by Jesus.  We have rest in our souls. We are traveling on the glory road and it’s leading to the Glory Land!  It doesn’t get any better than that!    



Saturday, November 12, 2016

Jesus talks about what makes a Good Leader

Jesus talks about what makes a Good Leader

Recently the citizens of our country chose our next leader and the next president of the U.S.A.  Many Christians voted for this man partially because he promised to try to stop late term abortions, and also because many are not happy with our present government.  But many other Christians refused to vote for this candidate partially because of his excessive pride and his  bullying of others. There were no easy answers this time around.  And many now fear that our great country may suffer terribly under this leadership.    

Jesus spoke about what a good leader should be like and His words are recorded in Scripture.    This is part of what He said: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their people and those who are in leadership exercise strict authority over their country. Yet it shall not be so among you.  Whoever desires to become a great leader among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20: 25-28)   Jesus is advocating servant leadership for His followers! 

Just before Jesus spoke these words, the mother of two of his disciples had come to Him and ask Jesus if her sons, James and John, could sit on His right and left hand when He set up his kingdom. (Matthew 20:20-21) This mother was thinking that Jesus would soon be king of an earthly kingdom and she was ambitious that both her boys would get in on all the pomp and power.

Jesus answered James and John and their mother with these words: “You do not know what you ask.  Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”  (Matthew 20: 22) These disciples, James and John, and their mother did not understand that the kingdom Jesus would be ruling would not be an earthly kingdom! 

 To be great in the kingdom of heaven James and John would have to be willing to drink the cup that Jesus would drink (his death) and be baptized with His baptism (take up their cross and follow Him).  Instead of being harsh pompous rulers, the followers of Jesus were to be caring servant-leaders.  The rules in this heavenly kingdom would be backwards from the rules of worldly kingdoms.   

Even though Jesus had tried to tell his disciples that his kingdom would be a heavenly kingdom, - a kingdom of another world, his disciples didn’t hear him and they didn’t get it.  They kept on believing that Jesus would be the ruler of an earthly kingdom.  Since they were his disciples they would sit on thrones ruling with Him, wearing royal robes and being everyone would admire them. Jesus would ride out on a white horse with a mighty army and free Israel from the Roman rule and Israel would be great again.  And the disciples would share in all of the glory and glitz!  

Once I had a discussion with a Jewish woman about Jesus being the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for.  This professor taught Old Testament theology and she argued that if Jesus had really been the Jewish Messiah that He would have had a successful earthly kingdom.  He would have restored Israel to her former glory. She insisted that she could not believe in Jesus as Savior/Messiah because He would have made Israel the greatest nation on earth. He would have brought something with him to show and prove that he was the Jewish messiah, she insisted. This professor, I believe, made the same mistake Jesus’ disciples made in thinking that Jesus’ kingdom was to be only an earthly kingdom. And the proof of His being Savior/Messiah to be only a worldly proof.

I told the Jewish professor that Jesus did bring something with Him to prove He is Savior/Messiah.  He brought salvation and He saves us from sin and gives us eternal life in His kingdom of heaven.  She responded that the Jewish people didn’t need a Savior because they would make it on their own. Work their own way? I don’t understand?  The Old Testament scriptures and the Jewish prophets, carefully taught the Jewish people that they must have a Sacrifice for their sins. They couldn’t work it out on their own.  I don’t know how this professor overlooked that. 

 Scripture tells another story about the disciples asking Jesus to tell them who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven!  The disciples were still sparring among themselves about who would be the best and most favored. Who would be first and who would be most important. Jesus tries again to explain to his disciples that things will be different in the kingdom of heaven.  That they are asking the wrong questions!

 Here is what Jesus told them: “The disciples came to Jesus asking, ‘Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  And Jesus called a little child to Himself and set him in the middle of his disciples and replied: ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as a little child, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:1-4) 

Jesus took time to teach his disciples and us that His followers were to do leadership differently from the world. The world’s definition of leadership often includes pride and raw ego.  But the Christian definition should include humility and servanthood.  The worldly leader is often feared and he lords it over his subjects, Jesus says.  But the Christian leader cares and serves her people.   The world’s “great” famous people were often proud and mean.  But the “great” person by heavenly standards will be humble like a little child. 

The rules in the heavenly kingdom are upside-down from the rules in our worldly kingdoms.  Everything is backwards from what we have learned here on earth! We better start now getting ready to live in our upside-down heavenly kingdom!   We’ve got a lot to learn!  


Friday, November 4, 2016

Stay with Me, My Soul is Overwhelmed

Stay with Me, My Soul is Overwhelmed

“Stay with Me, my soul is overwhelmed.” Jesus spoke these words in His darkest hour.  It was night time and He was in the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples. Very soon the soldiers would be rushing into the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Him with swords drawn, along with Judas and the religious leaders. Coming to betray Him and whip and mock Him and crucify Him.  Jesus knew that His hour had come and He was overwhelmed with grief.  In His agony, sweat began falling from his body like drops of blood. (Luke 22:44)   Trembling all over He pleaded with His disciples: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch with Me.” (Matthew 26:38b) Jesus needed them so badly. 

Isn’t Jesus Christ the Son of God and Savior, King of kings and Lord of lords?  The image of the living God? All things that are created are created through Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:16)   And yet Scripture tells us that in that lonely hour even Jesus the Son of God needed His own disciples to stay with Him, -to pray with Him - and to be there for Him.  It would have meant so much to Him.  The mighty Son of God needed humans to comfort Him! Let’s read the story.

“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’  He took peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch with me.’

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as You will.’   Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping.  ‘Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?’  He asked Peter.  ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.’

He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.’  When he came back, he again found his disciples sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.  So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.  Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping?  Look, the hour is near and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us go!  Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:36-46)

Bible scholars believe that Jesus’ sorrow was not just for himself.  He was bearing the sins which the Father laid upon Him.  The sufferings he was entering into were for our sins, the sins of us all.  His sorrow was like no other sorrow.  It had been prophesied of old that Christ, the Jewish Messiah, would be a Man of sorrows.  “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) And He might also have been sorrowful because so many of the Jews would not recognize Him, and would reject their Savior.

Christ begs his Father that if possible to let this cup pass from him. He calls his sufferings a cup.  Is it necessary for Him to drink this bitter cup of death? Would there be any other way that sinners could be cleansed from sin except by His gruesome death?  But then He submits to the will of his Father as He prays: “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.”  During this dark night of His soul, Jesus turns to his disciples for comfort and support and they all fall asleep.

Jesus’ disciples will all panic and run away when the soldiers come to the Garden of Gethsemane and take Him away. His own disciples will add more grief to his sorrow by abandoning Him as He takes up his cross. Even Peter who swears he will always be there for Jesus, denies Him three times before the rooster crows – or before morning comes.  No one is there to speak up for Him when He is whipped and mocked and when He carries the heavy cross all the way to Calvary. His disciples have all deserted Him.  Jesus even describes his position like this: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  (Matthew 8:20) No place to lay his head and no one to walk with Him on His lonely road! 

Several times through the long night as He prays in Gethsemane, Jesus begs his disciples to stand by Him and pray as He is approaching a terrible death. He is overwhelmed with grief and their presence would be a comfort for Him.  But when they all ignore His pleas and go to sleep, Jesus even makes an excuse for them. He tells them: “The spirit is willing but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:38b) He gives them the benefit of the doubt.  He says He knows they really wanted to stay awake with Him but the nighttime urge to sleep was too powerful. We humans might feel sorry for ourselves and angry if our loved ones went to sleep when we needed them most.    But Jesus excused his disciples and forgave them.

Jesus still needs us, his modern- day disciples to stand by Him during difficult times.  He asks us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him.  (Mark 8:34) He calls on us to pray with Him and to feed the hungry, give to the poor and visit the sick.  He says when we give a cup of cold water to the least and the lost that we are giving it to Him. The question we must ask ourselves:  When He comes looking for us will He find us there by His side or will He find us sleeping?