A few weeks ago we began talking about Jesus speaking the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. This was one of the few parables he actually interpreted for his followers, and in that interpretation he revealed it was a prophecy about the difficult future of Christianity. He spoke of false Christians and an entire age when the true and false would grow together – outwardly indistinguishable from one another - until the "harvest" time. We traced some of the corrupting influences through the long history of the church and began to see how the gospel was treated (and mistreated) along the way. Jesus, after speaking the Wheat and the Tares Parable, spoke two other parables. We believe they further described the corrupted condition of Christianity. So, what do these other parables tell us? Are we in danger of being deceived? Is the gospel even intact here and now in our present world?
Life has really changed. With all of the amazing connectedness we have through social media, we are more alone than ever. We see people via Facetime but we cannot touch them. We “chat” without talking. We “like” without truly feeling emotion, we “follow” without knowing where we are going and we “join” without ever going anywhere. As a result of all of this non-active activity, when someone crosses us in any of these virtual environments we can snap back at them in so many ways with without having to actually face them. We tweet, post, Instagram, email, text – all with anonymity. Funny, Jesus specifically taught us to “turn the other cheek” - not to virtually smack them upside their head! What does turning the other cheek even mean and how do we apply it in both our real and virtual worlds? Is this teaching of Jesus still as relevant and powerful as it was centuries ago?
So much of what Jesus taught was about the practical parts of living – learning to love, forgive and encourage one another - and these are the parts of his teachings that seem to garner the most attention. Jesus did, however, spend significant time imparting prophetic teaching as well. He came to earth as a man to ransom the human race, and in so doing, to call out "a people for his name." Much of his prophetic teaching was focused on how that calling would work and what that calling would face by way of challenges and pitfalls. Jesus was specific about what to expect regarding that calling regarding Christianity in terms of corruption and deceit. It sounds odd to think about Jesus calling out some future failures of what would come to be thought of as the Christian world, but he did. How did he do it? What did he say? What did he mean? What should we be paying attention to?
It is the Christmas season. It is a time for happiness, giving, receiving and appreciating. There was a time not so very long ago when the main focus of the Christmas season was the birth of Jesus as the world’s Savior. We are past that now, thanks to our political correctness, and Jesus is very much an afterthought of the holidays. Well, here today Jesus is NOT an afterthought. He is NOT a divisive figure who offends people by his mere existence. No, here today Jesus is recognized as the Savior of humanity, the centerpiece of God’s plan and the King of Kings. As we honor the birth and life of Jesus today, we will do so by highlighting some personal conversations he had with various people he encountered throughout his three-and-a-half year ministry. In so doing, we will tell a story that is rarely told. Merry Christmas!
Every so often someone comes along who stands out from the crowd, someone who distinguishes themselves from their peers by their manner, their motivation and their mission. They don’t seem to fit into any comfortable category, for theirs is a mission that has world-changing implications and such missions are not common and least of all comfortable. With such a description we would typically and rightfully envision Jesus as its object, but today we will focus on another. Today we focus on John the Baptist, the man who prepared the people for Jesus, the man who stood alone as a powerful voice that pointed to the Redeemer of all men. John the Baptist uniquely epitomized greatness – where did he come from, what did he do and how did he do it?
In the immensity and complexity of the book we call the Bible, there are some verses that have become somewhat famous…like the Christmas text “Good tidings of great joy…” The football stadium text “For God so loved the world… the character of God text “God is love…”. Another text that is well known and deeply meaningful is spoken by Jesus to one of the thieves dying on the cross next to him, Jesus said “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise…” This text shows us the power of God’s love as expressed through the compassion of Jesus and his sacrifice and it is truly inspirational in the hope that it portrays. Now, here is a simple and very legitimate question - what was Jesus saying to this thief? What was he promising and why was he promising it? As we find out by examining so many verses of Scripture, what seems to be said is not always what is really meant. So, did Jesus really say what most th
...Unless one is “born again.” This phrase carries great meaning no matter what Christian denomination you come from. The meaning of the phrase certainly changes depending upon your particular belief system, but the power of the phase remains intact. To be “born again” in all cases implies one of the most significant spiritual changes any person can ever experience. So when does being “born again” happen and what does it really mean? Does this spiritual change happen when one is baptized as an infant or when one commits their life to God through Jesus or when one is baptized as an adult or when one dies? Is this spiritual change a prepaid one way ticket to heaven or an opportunity for power and control in your present life, or is it a sober and humbling opportunity to sacrifice all that you have and all that you are?
After the greatest act of love ever committed, Jesus lay dead in a donated tomb. His loyal companions and followers were stunned, sickened by what they had witnessed. But beyond the gory details of this death, they were hit with the uncomfortable thought that perhaps all they had known the past 3 ½ years was a lie, fake, delusional. This man Jesus they had trusted and loved was dead. He died like everyone else. There was no last minute fire from heaven to kill the Roman soldiers or the angry mob of his own brethren demanding his death. There was no angelic rescue team to pull him off that dreaded piece of wood. He was dead. For real. No one was coming to save them from the Roman rule. They would not be sitting on anyone’s right hand in the new government. They had seemingly been duped. Now what? Well, three days later, it was imperative that the risen Jesus convince them beyond a shadow of doubt that all he had promised was REAL and was happening. His followers needed to be 100% convinced and energized to tell the Good News at any cost to all who would listen. The man Jesus was gone forever, but the spirit Jesus would have life within himself, and power to restore all of mankind back to his Father. They needed to urgently tell that story to you and me. How did they go from feeling ultimate betrayal and grief to absolute certainty and joy?
Thinking about the death of Jesus always produces a variety of emotions. On one hand, we feel a deep sense of gratitude, hope and praise, for without his willing sacrifice and ignominious death, we would all remain under the sentence of sin with no possible way out. In short, we and the entire human race would be doomed to destruction. On the other hand, when we think of his death we feel the dull, persistent aching pain of sadness, because we know Jesus was an entirely innocent man who was subject to the most unfair and devious kinds of deception, mistreatment and torture. Did you ever wonder what was behind the events that brought Jesus to the point of crucifixion? Did you ever think about who did what and why to position the Savior of all mankind as an enemy of the state?