Refreshed by Christ

Where is the most refreshing place you’ve been?  You know, a place where you see full, free and fully alive.

From the opening part of the Paul’s letter to Philemon we learn a lot about Paul, Philemon and the church. The opening is really a prayer. In the prayer we learn of God’s concern for healthy relationships within the church family and how the church is called to do life together as we take the gospel into the world we live in. For Paul the gospel is not just something to think about, it is to be acted upon. For us—the church—there is a lot of great application here.

Refreshed People are Refreshed by Christ

“I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints” Philemon 4-5

Paul is refreshed by Philemon. Why? From what Paul knows about Philemon, from the first time they met until now, from what he hears (present tense) others say about him, Paul sees the visible characteristics of Christ are literally “spilling over” from Philemon, like a waterfall into a deep pond. He sees Philemon’s faith in Jesus and his love for others. Isn’t that a great compliment? Think of the alternative.

Some might argue that Paul is just buttering up Philemon in preparation for the hard thing he’s about to ask him. No. He’s not buttering up, he’s building him up. There’s a difference. Buttering up manipulates, but building up matures. Paul gives genuine reasons for building up his brother: he gives thanks to God and he prays over his brother. The word that Paul uses later in verse 7 is exactly the right word—“refreshed.”

Do you know anyone like this? I hope you do! Are you someone like this? I know that some of you are. You are a Philemon, one who brings joy, comfort, love and refreshment to others around you because of your willingness to encourage people and be there to ease their burdens. It brings you joy, and brings joy to the ones you help. You show us the heart of Christ, often when we need to see it the most. You point us to Jesus not problems. You renew our faith in God and revive our weary souls. And we smile when we think about you. Through you we are “refreshed.”

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Do you know anyone like this? I do.

The past three Springs, our family has traveled from the desert of North Africa to green England.  Each time we have visited our friends the Franklin family. They have refreshed us from a tall glass of milk to ordering our favorite Indian takeout to walks in London’s green space. Their church has refreshed us through prayer, encouragement, and warm clothes for our children who literally got off the plane in flip flops.  Just after Christmas Megan got sick with a debilitating brain disease.  She was eight months pregnant with their seventh baby.  The baby was taken by C-section and a healthy boy was born.  Within days Megan passed into glory.  Our hearts grieve for Brad and the Franklin family, but we were refreshed even through Megan’s death and the way she committed to give generously so that the nations may know Jesus Christ.

What would a person close to you say are the visible characteristics of Christ pouring out of you? Can you imagine the encouragement it would be to have them tell you that? That would be a wonderful application of today’s text.

There are two types of people in the church that Paul most often addresses in his letters. The first type are people who build up. This is Philemon. They are the kind of person who encourage, see the good, speak truth in love, and have a knack of pointing you back to Christ. Paul’s letter to Philemon helps us to see what building up one another looks like. Building up in the church never stops because until Christ returns the church is a relational construction zone.

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The second type are people who tear down. They are the kind of people who look for ways to cut others down. They are quick to complain. They find faults and failures in others. They are the kind of person you will avoid if you need encouragement, but you will seek out if you need empathy for your own critical spirit. Tearing others down is not a strength or a spiritual gift. It is hurtful, divisive, and from Satan. You can’t punch a hole in the bricks of God’s house without hurting yourself too. How many people have been hurt trying to damage the building they are part of themselves?

Paul spent a lot of breath in his letters airing out about bad theology in the church, conflict among members, and wolves among the sheep. Paul’s letter to Philemon is not about being aware of wolves, but encouraging the sheep. Martin Luther, a man acquainted with both wolves and sheep said, “Fight vigorously against the wolves, but on behalf of the sheep, not against the sheep.” In other words, don’t be a flock of sheep fighting sheep. Sheep don’t fight. Sheep are gregarious, which means sheep band together and protect one another.

Oh, how the church needs Philemon’s—people who are known for their love and faith towards Jesus and others. And the church also needs Paul’s who see the way people reflect Jesus.

You may recognize the name William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a Christian politician who made it his lifework to abolish slavery in Great Britain. It was an impossible task. He was young and at the beginning of his career. On the other side of the pond in America, John Wesley, was nearing the end of his career. Wesley heard of Wilberforce’s story and wrote him a letter (6-days before his death),

“Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it… That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir, Your affectionate servant, John Wesley”

Wesley had the right words at the right time to help his brother continue on the right path.

Paul also had the right words at the right time to help Philemon on the right path. He focused on Christ’s refreshing work in Philemon, which will be the very character needed as he reunites with Onesimus.

 

Questions for Reflection:

How have you been refreshed by a Philemon in your life?

When you look at your life, do you see the same qualities alive in your heart like they were in Philemon’s?

Are there areas in your life where Christ’s love hasn’t taken on action towards Him and others? If so, what are they?

Why is thankfulness so powerful, especially when you have to say something difficult to someone you love?

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followers make followers

Matthew’s last words record Jesus before he ascended to heaven,

“Go therefore and make followers of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Between Matthew 4 and Matthew 28, Jesus transformed twelve followers into a new kind of fishermen. In the Book of Acts—or Acts of the Jesus Followers—you see these men going into all the world telling the world about Jesus. Why? Because Jesus was the answer to the world’s problems. Jesus and his followers would turn the world upside down.

Maybe God will never call you to be a pastor or a missionary. Maybe you will never be called to go to the desert of Chad or the jungles of Brazil. You have your own jungle. As a church God has placed you strategically in a dark, broken, and hurting community.

As Daniel 12:3 says,

“Men and women who have lived wisely and well will shine brilliantly, like the cloudless, star-strewn night skies. And those who put others on the right path to life will glow like stars forever.”

If you are a follower of Jesus, then you are those stars shining brightly for others to see the Light of the World. It was a title he also passed onto his followers. The mark of a committed follower of Jesus is if he is making more followers of Jesus.  Followers make followers.

Are you a curious, convinced, or committed follower of Jesus?

Curious: Will you accept Jesus call to follow him today? Spend time with Jesus. Read Matthew.  Put yourself in the shoes of a follower.

Convinced: Do you resemble your Rabbi? What nets do you need to leave to cling to Jesus?  Are you ready to spend the rest of your life following Jesus?

Committed: Who is following you to Jesus?  Make more followers.

consider the cost of following Jesus

Most people in Jesus sandals would be enamored by the types of crowds that followed him, but Jesus wasn’t. He could see through their facade and into their hearts. He knew not all who followed him really believed. Notice how Jesus talks about fo-followers or fad followers:

“Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:18-23)

Some follow Jesus until the going gets tough or until there is an excuse not to follow. Where Jesus traveled there wasn’t a Holiday Inn or a Sleeper Number beds. In fact, Jesus didn’t know where he would sleep most nights. Also in Jesus day, the pink slip out of any situation would be sickness or death in the family. It may seem like Jesus was insensitive towards the man whose father was dying, but Jesus knew that this man had many excuses.

I’ve seen firsthand how Chad, Africa has chewed up many missionaries. I’ve felt it too.  It is a difficult place. You have to deal with isolation, sickness, slowness of ministry, discouragement, and physical and spiritual deserts. It’s the kind of place you choose to live and most choose not to.  Few are called. The cost is high. Honestly, there are no easy places on earth. Following Jesus anywhere is difficult.

If you’re truly following Jesus, he will call you to walk on the water sometimes—to trust him so completely that if you take your eyes off him you will sink. (Matthew 14:22-33)

Following Jesus will take you into a broken and hurting world, but will get a front row seat to see how Jesus can mend it.

Following Jesus means worshiping him even when I don’t feel like it. Believe me there are days when that will be tested.

Following Jesus will make you look like a fool sometimes. If your life makes complete sense to unbelievers, then you aren’t really following Jesus.

Following Jesus means others will hold you to a higher standard . Following Jesus will reveal your shortcomings.

Following Jesus demonstrates you acknowledge the great cost Jesus paid for your sin. There is a cost to following Jesus. Jesus knows about cost. The cost may be loss of comfort or all-in commitment. Jesus has his way of separating the crowd from those who were curious, convinced or committed.

Have you considered the cost of following Jesus? What nets do you need to drop in order to cling to Jesus? Nets are anything you cling to other than Christ.  Look at your hands, then look at Jesus.  Let them go.  And follow.

your calling is to follow

Calling can be a confusing thing.  Often times people talk about calling in relation to their profession, place of belonging, premonition or personal prowess.  However, calling in Scripture is more often related to a Person.

Likely you follow Jesus because he called you to follow. The fact that Jesus calls you and me to follow him is utterly amazing. It is unexpected. I am unworthy. Think about it. God is the only one who completely and perfectly knows you, he undoubtedly cares for you, and he infinitely loves you. And Jesus, God with skin on, calls you and me to follow him. Wow!

Jesus is the Caller.

In essence, Jesus is popping the question. Will you marry me? Will you live in covenant with me? Will you give your life to me? Will you spend your life with me? Sickness or health? It is a question to think about. He is not looking to have a fling. He isn’t into dating you and then ditch you because of irreconcilable difference. He’s into you for life.

I think back on my relationship with Sarah.  We’ve known each other for 18 years, but 12  years ago we began dating.   I was  curious about everything from the food she liked, to her favorite music and hobbies, and I’d happily stay up late talking on the phone to learn everything I could about her.  After about a year I became convinced that she was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life.  It has been almost 10 years since we walked an aisle and spoke vows to each other.  Those words held a lot of weight and demonstrated our commitment to each other.  They still do.  Those commitments would be tested.

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The stages of a growing relationship aren’t linear though.  We don’t move from one stage to another in order and the previous ones pass away.  In a healthy relationship all three are happening together.  We must never cease to lose curiosity.  We must never forget why we became convinced that we wanted to give ourselves for the one we love. And we must renew our commitment daily.

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So it is with our relationship with Jesus.  Interestingly, he made the first call.  He took the initiative.  He has proven his love.  He showed that he is into the small and big things of your life.  And he delights in you.

If Jesus calls you listen.

To ignore Jesus invitation is rebellion. Rebellion is the essence of sin. Sin says, “I will do what I want. I will listen to no one. I call the shots. I will not follow. I’m just not that into you. I’d rather be single.”

You are either drawn to Jesus or you are repelled by Jesus. All throughout Matthew he shows the contrast between the disciples who are drawn to follow Jesus and the Pharisees who are repelled and reject Jesus.  The contrast between the rebels and followers is seen best in Matthew 9:9-13, which is also Matthew’s autobiography:

“(Jesus) saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose (left everything) and followed Him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His (followers). And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His followers, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when He heard it, He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

There is a lot to say there about Jesus, but what I want to focus on is what Jesus focuses on.

Jesus sees you.

Most people wouldn’t even make eye contact with a taxman out of fear of having to cough up some coins. Matthew’s identity is his job title. It wasn’t a title to brag about as it was one of the most hated of professions. It would be like saying he is a dentist, parking warden, telemarketer, or debt collector today. However, Jesus connects with Matthew. He calls Matthew. Jesus didn’t care about Matthew’s title. He gave him a new one.

Jesus sees ordinary people. People with labels and reputations. He doesn’t care about peoples titles. He cares about people. He cares about you. He sees you mess and all. He invites you. He cares about everything—that you leave everything—because he makes everything in your life different. And He gives you a new title.  Think of some the new titles he gives.  It can be life-changing to be called a son/daughter to one with imperfect parents, beloved to one with a sour marriage, or treasure to one who feels like a peanut rather than a precious stone.

To Jesus you are seen. You exist. And He calls you to follow.

you are known by what you follow

You and I are born to follow. As children we naturally follow by watching and imitating others. We are told to follow the herd, the leader (footsteps), the rules, even the yellow brick road. Something happened between childhood and adulthood, when we are taught to lead our own life and follow our dreams or follow our heart. You are a follower before you are a leader.

The truth is, you won’t hear a graduate say, “I want to be a follower when I grow up!” His parents won’t spend thousands of dollars sending him to Followership Academy. As adults we don’t want our legacy to be known as a world class follower.

However, we are followers more than we’d like to admit. We are closet followers of various sorts. We follow things from fashion, passions and interests. We follow the lives of the famous, favorite sports team, even things we like on Facebook or Instagram. While we don’t want to be known as being a follower, we are known by what we follow.

In a sea of a million things to follow it is good to ask why follow Jesus? I am sure you’ve thought about it. I am sure someone has asked you why do you follow Jesus?

That’s what brings me to the book of Matthew. Matthew is a Handbook for Followers. Matthew was a founding member of Jesus’ 3-year apprenticeship on followership.

I will begin near the beginning of the story. In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus had already began his ministry. He wasn’t well known yet. Matthew says of Jesus,

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, (Jesus) saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

Jesus must have been a compelling man. Four men who were tied to their family fishing business left everything after Jesus said only ten words, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Their response is wowing. They immediately left their nets, boat, livelihood, and family to follow Jesus. Let that weight of that sink in for a moment. Jesus was that compelling. And he still is.

It might not startle us today, but it would have startled the early hearers of this story to learn about the type of people Jesus called. They were fishermen. They smelled like fish. They mouth was foul. They were a dirty bunch much like you’d see at the local pub, biker’s bar, or blue collar hangout. Yet Jesus called these men as his first followers. They were the most unlikely, unexpected, unworthy men. Some of us need to hear that today!

What is even more startling is what Jesus is calling them to do. He wasn’t calling them to a better fishing spot (that comes in a later story). He wasn’t calling them to a better job as good as “fisher of men” may have sounded. That’s until you understand how challenging people can be compared to fish.

These men knew who was calling them. Remember, Jesus was considered a rabbi. To follow a rabbi was a lifelong commitment. A student shadowed his rabbi and resembled his rabbi. Jesus asking these men to follow him would have been a high honor. The highest honor!

However, Jesus throws a major cultural curve-ball: rabbi’s didn’t call for followers. It was the other way around. Interested students would make a request to their rabbi of choice without guarantee of being chosen unless they were a star student. Jesus does the exact opposite he called students to follow him. He wasn’t acting like a normal rabbi. That’s okay because Jesus was the Rabbi of rabbis.

God throughout history is the main pursuer between man and God. In the garden, God pursued Adam. God called Abraham to go to the land of promise. God called Moses out of the burning bush. God led Joshua into the promised land and fought his battles for him. God called Samuel, Elijah, and Jeremiah to be prophets. As you look back over your life, surely God is the ultimate pursuer.

And Jesus pursued each of his followers. Jesus fielded his team with people that not only would have been picked last, but likely not at all. When you build a team you most often look for the strongest, wisest, or most skilled players. The misfits and stragglers are usually picked last. No mistake about it, Jesus oddly picked the last to be first. He picked the most unordinary team of ordinary men. Isn’t that a little comforting?

Imagine if Jesus had an assessment for his disciples. Something like this,

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter’s Carpenter Shop
Nazareth 25922
From: Jordan Management Consultants
Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.  As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.
Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.
Sincerely,
Jordan Management Consultants

Eating Problems for Breakfast by Tim Hansel, Word Publishing, 1988, pp. 194-195

Aren’t you glad Jesus doesn’t give us assessments or look at our resumes like that before becoming his followers?  I sure am.  I wouldn’t make the cut.  Few of us would.

Jesus was calling these four men away from the only job they knew to something completely unknown. He was calling them to a career change without term limits. These men wouldn’t be going home at the end of the day. They would walk wherever Jesus walked, sleep where he slept, eat all their meals with Jesus, and listen intently as Jesus shared the Scriptures. By spending time with Jesus, these young men would grow to become just like him.

Later in the Acts of the Apostles, it is said,

“Now when [the council] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

Peter went on to be the rock of Jesus’ church. John became Jesus’ beloved friend. And Andrew would give up his life for the sake of Jesus—as did the other followers.

And then there’s you too! You are known by what (or Who) you follow. How do you resemble your Rabbi and who is follow him behind you?

Matthew is about a King

Recently, our family read through the Gospel of Matthew.  It was wonderful to immerse ourselves into the life of Jesus.  More than any other gospel Matthew displays Jesus as the King of all.  He’s your king!

The images below come from the MATTHEW: FOLLOW THE KING Study Guide.

STORIES FROM THE KING ABOUT THE KINGDOM

stories from the king about the kingdom

GEOGRAPHICAL FLOW IN THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

geographical flow in the gospel of matthew

 

THE OLD TESTAMENT FORECASTS THE KING’S CRUCIFIXION

ot forecasts crucifixion

 

PASSION WEEK TIMELINE

passion week timeline

 

 

 

Matthew: Follow the King

King’s sit on thrones in palaces.
King’s wear royal clothes and crowns, and enjoy the best things the world has to offer.
King’s make laws and command kingdoms.
King’s don’t live and work among their people.

The Gospel of Matthew is about a King—a different sort of king.  His family tree is traced back to the great king David, but he is born to an unknown young couple.   Rather than a palace, he has nowhere to call home.  He wears a crown, but it is made of thorns.  He commands obedience, a loving obedience that comes from the heart.

Matthew’s King doesn’t sit on a throne surrounded by a royal court; he spends time with sinners and outcasts.  Matthew wants his readers to know one thing above all: Jesus is King.  He is the king who guides his people like a shepherd into his kingdom. He forgives them, offers rest to their souls, and promises never to leave them.  Though he calls his people to follow him in suffering and the cross, he promises that this is the way to eternal life.

Matthew also shows that Jesus is King through his actions.  Storms are silenced by his voice.  Evil spirits are cast out with a word.  The sick are healed by his touch.

The day is coming when he’ll return revealed in all his power and glory—the reigning and ruling, eternal King.  Matthew wants his readers to know, follow, and be like the King.

I want to know this King, how about you? Let’s discover him together through Matthew.

FOLLOW THE KING is a study guide of 111 devotionals through the Gospel of Matthew.

Click here to Downloads the MATTHEW Study Guide

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belonging together

Block by block God is building a house. He isn’t building it with ordinary stones. His stones are living and breathing and worshiping. His stones are people. He isn’t building a bunch of different buildings, but we are being built up together into one glorious building. We belong together.

God is a master architect. He has had a blueprint in mind since before creation. He has built everything resting on Jesus. Without Jesus everything crumbles. Jesus is the centerpiece—the cornerstone—of God’s plan. As the Cornerstone, Jesus is also a living stone. While living in the world, he was rejected by men. However, God honored and accepted his sacrifice (vs.4-5). This was part of the plan.

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:4-5, ESV

Today, we can have one of two responses toward Jesus: belief or unbelief (vs.6-8). Jesus is either your precious cornerstone or he is your stone of stumbling. Jesus either saves you from shame or he offends you. You trust in him or he trips you up.

“For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in  Zion a stone,a cornerstone chosen and precious,and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe,  but for those who do not believe,“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” – 1 Peter 2:6-8, ESV

Christians are unlike anything the world has ever seen. They are different. They stand out. In Christ, they have a new identity, which displays itself in four ways: 1) they are chosen by God (v.9a), 2) they are given a position of privilege with direct access to God (v.9b), 3) they are holy before God (v.9c), and 4) they are treasured by God (v.10).

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” – 1 Peter 1:9-10, ESV

Like Jesus, we live in the world. We are living stones. While living in the world we are to walk with a new integrity. No longer do we walk in darkness. We walk in the light. No longer do we live for ourselves. We live to glorify God. No longer do we want to live like the world. We live like we are sojourners (vs.11-12). We live within the new reality that this world is not our home. We live for the new home God is building for us.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is the meaning of “living stones of a spiritual house”? Who or what are these “living stones”? How does this illustration help you understand God’s plan?
  • What is a cornerstone? Why is Jesus described as the Cornerstone? What happens to your life if Jesus isn’t your cornerstone?
  • What does it mean that Jesus is a stumbling stone? What are some things Jesus said or did that offended people? Does it bother you that Jesus would be a stumbling block?
  • What titles are Christians given in this passage? (see v.9) What is the significance of each title? Which of those titles are most encouraging to you? Which title would you like to understand better?
  • What is the purpose of the priesthood? What is your ministry as a priest?
  • According to this passage, what is the expected response of people to the gospel?
  • Why is it important to maintain a good reputation with those who are not Christian? Why does worldliness damage our reputation? What is your reputation?
  • What darkness has Christ called you out of? What does the light look like in your life?
  • What passions of the flesh wage war with your soul? How does your new identity help or hinder your battle against these things?

Scripture, Trials, and What is to Come

If you’re a fan of the Star Wars movies you are familiar with the chronology of the story and the films. When the original three films were made the producers started in the middle of the story. Then they made three prequels—how the story began. Now they are making numerous sequels—how the story continues. As the franchise has grown there are parallel stories like Rogue One that follow a unique character all within the original Star Wars plot.

The Bible is similar in that the Old and New Testaments aren’t two different stories, they are groupings stories with the same plot. The Old Testament begins with the world spinning into chaos, but it ends with the prophets foretelling and anticipating a Messiah who would come to save the world. The New Testament picks up with the Messiah coming into the world and ends with a promise that the Messiah will return again to finish off once and for all evil in the universe. We are still awaiting the sequel.

The wait for the next installment of the story is not easy. In fact, the wait is hard. The wait is full of trials because the story continues and we are characters in the story. The world is full of evil, the villain still lurks, and wreaks havoc. Yet the Bible promises that grace and glory will come (vs.10-12).  There will be a day when Jesus will eradicate trials. The Bible was written to remind us that Jesus was promised, came, will come again. Wait for it. The wait will be worth it.

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” – 1 Peter 1:10-12

The Bible from cover to cover has been about Jesus. Everything said or prophesied about Jesus so far has come to pass. Therefore, you can believe what is yet to come will come to pass too. Only God knows the future, controls the future, and tells the truth about the future. The truth you need to know about the future is written for you in the Scripture.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How is the Bible one great story? What is the story about? What is its plot?
  • How does our perspective of history, in particular redemptive history, affect our faith?
  • What was a prophet? What were the prophets trying to discern? How do we see clearly now what the prophets could not see?
  • How were the prophets serving us not themselves? How have you been served by the writers of the Bible?
  • What is the good news that has been revealed to you by the Holy Spirit? Why is it such good news?
  • What is the meaning of “grace that was to be ours”? What are the implications that we have been given more grace than the prophets?
  • What is the significance that angels long to look into the things spoken to you?
  • When facing trials, where do you look first for comfort?
  • How does understanding the Scripture give you hope during trials or suffering? How have the Scriptures brought you peace and comfort?

Jesus, Trials, and Joy

There are days when our joy skirmishes into the shadow of trials and hardships. Trials can steal our joy and cause doubts or questions as to the possibility of joy.

Trials come to all of us, even Christians. They don’t come when it is convenient. They can come without warning. They don’t necessarily come one at a time but can come as a barrage. They can repeat over and over again. They can even range in severity and duration from momentary annoyance to lifelong anguish.

Feeling encourage yet?

Peter says joy is possible even in our darkest situations. Joy is possible because Jesus. Peter share at least three ways how Jesus completes our joy under trials.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” – 1 Peter 1:2-9, ESV

Jesus is the source of joy, even under trials.

Jesus endured the greatest trials known to man. He endured the cross for a greater joy—our joy. Jesus is our joy because he alone saves and raised from the grave (v.3). The resurrection of Jesus secures our hope and joy. He has reserved for us joy, guards it, and will complete it (vs.4-5). Despite our circumstances, we can have confidence that Jesus is for our joy.

Jesus is a light that eclipses the temporal trials of life.

A glorious day is dawning when our trials will be no more and we will be free from the pain and brokenness in this world (v.6). This is really good news.

Trials have their good purpose. Under trials we learn about Jesus and grow to be more like him. How we respond to trials shows our closeness to Jesus. If we embrace trials as an opportunity from God, they will sift our faith and the result is the glory of Jesus because faith that shines more stunningly than gold (v.7).

Jesus knows our trials very well.

Jesus walked into our shoes. He lived in this broken world. He knows what it is like to be rejected, falsely accused, abused, abandoned and persecuted. And even though we have not seen him we are drawn to him, we love him, we trust him more and more, and he fills us today with an inexpressible joy and hope of the complete salvation of our soul (vs.8-9).

Jesus is our joy today and forevermore.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How has Jesus been your joy?
  • What is the “living hope”? How does this hope transform the way you live?
  • Why is the resurrection so important? To Christianity? To our own hope? To understanding Jesus as God?
  • Did people know Jesus was going to die and resurrect?
  • How does the Jesus resurrection change people? Compare John 20:19 to Acts 4.
  • What is an inheritance? What is the inheritance that Peter talks about?
  • What is the significance of the words “imperishable,” “undefiled,” and “unfading”?
  • What is unique about Peter’s use of the word “salvation” in this passage? Do you see past, present and future aspects of salvation in this passage?
  • What is the purpose of trials in our life? Do you think about this in the midst of trials?
  • What is the connection between faith, joy, and salvation?
  • How do you express your love for Jesus?
  • What things in your life subdue in expressible joy?

Hebrews: Jesus is Greater

Do you realize what you have in Jesus, right now?

One of the greatest truths you’ll receive in your lifetime is this: There’s nothing in your life that’s greater than Jesus. Nothing.

It is possible to grow familiar with who Jesus is and forget what he has done, is doing, and will do. You can grow discouraged and apathetic and distant from Jesus, your first love. You forgot who Jesus is. And something else becomes greater than Jesus.

This is the message of Hebrews. Jesus is greater. He’s greater than your sin. He’s greater than your enemy. He’s greater than your failure. Jesus is greater and there is no other substitute.

Hebrews is not for the shallow of faith. The author will push you into he deep end of the promises and purposes of God. As you swim in the deep waters of this Hebrew you will appreciate more wholly your Rescuer and Redeemer—Jesus the Great.

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brief but big

Climbing up Mount Everest for a fit team can take almost two months from base to summit. Most climbers upon reaching the summit will stay for only 15 minutes before making their way back down. Why such a brief stay on such a big climb? One would say that they had been admiring the beauty of their surroundings during the entire climb from the base to the top. Getting to the top was a great accomplishment, but the climb was greater.

Reading the book of Hebrews could be a lot like climbing Mount Everest. All along the way we behold the beauty of Jesus. With each step we see his greatest. Once at the summit there is not much more to say, but there is a lot to celebrate.

As we reach the end of the climb, the author of the letter of Hebrews wraps up his letter by saying, “I have written to you briefly.” (v.22) Surely he is being sarcastic, right? By today’s standards, if this letter was an email it would take about an hour to read aloud. It’s the kind of email many would skim through or file for another day when there was more time to read it.

Hebrews is a big letter that makes a big difference. It desperately needs to be read and understood by Christians today. It is a letter that teaches and changes lives. So how does the author close such a letter?

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. Grace be with all of you.” – Hebrews 13:20-25

First, he closes with a blessing in Jesus name (vs.20-21). It is a fitting conclusion to the letter in which Jesus was the big idea from beginning to end. There is no greater document in the New Testament that explains the correlation of the Old Testament to the work of Christ, than Hebrews. Even the last few verses are jam-packed with Christology and the practical out-working of that theology. In other words, the out-working of Christ’s work has a continual in-working within Christ’s followers.

Second, he closes with a charge and good wishes (vs.22-25). Ink could not tell all he wanted to say, but it will have to do for now. In the same breath, he wishes to visit his readers soon with Timothy who was just released from prison. This in a roundabout way connects the author to Paul’s ministry, possibly in Italy. We may never know who the author was, but he certainly wrote a stellar thesis on the life and ministry of Jesus.

Hebrews may be a difficult letter to digest in one sitting. It is like a dinner of thirteen courses with each chapter being a meal of its own. Each meal filling and satisfying the soul. Each meal giving us a greater and greater taste for Jesus, the undoubted big idea of Hebrews. The author masterfully shows how there is no equal nor rival. Jesus is above all. He is not only great, he is the greatest of all.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What are your overall thoughts, impressions, and takeaways from the letter to the Hebrews?
  • What did you learn about Jesus from this letter? How did you love for Jesus grow? If you were the author of Hebrews what more would you want to say about Jesus?
  • How is Jesus the big idea of the letter? How does the letter show that Jesus is the greatest of all?
  • How does a theology of Jesus impact practice? In other words, how does knowing about Jesus’ life and work affect the way you live?
  • What would you like to go back and discover more about within the letter?
  • Write a short prayer of adoration or appreciation:

Jesus is the Great Object of Our Faith

Steve and I would ride our bikes for miles. We’d push each other faster and longer. After the ride we would wobble onto the road and run. Steve was more than 20 years older than me, but he could lap me on the run. That is embarrassing for a young guy, but exhilarating for an old guy. He knew running was my weakest event training for a Tri and he would remind me, “Justin, this is your cross to bear. Fix your eyes on the cross and run.” It did help to endure the middle of the run when I was tempted to walk or even quit.

I was a sprinter on my middle school track team. I ran the 100m and 400m. Running long distances was not my thing. Likewise, in life I would much rather endure a sprint than a marathon. However, this life resembles an Iron Man more than a quick jaunt.

We have just walked through the Hall of Fame. Hebrews 11 is a gallery of examples that help you to know what faith looks like and what God can do through a human vessel. Each name is an example for your benefit. That you too would exercise faith, endure through the trials and resist temptations in this life (Hebrews 12:1a).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV

Now it is time to run (v.1b). The author of Hebrews describes life like a race. The course is not flat or oval like a track. It has high mountains and low valleys. There is pain and heartache. There are injuries and insecurities. In this life there are innumerable “weights” that taunt, trap, or trip us up.

Often our eyes are fixed on the weights and we worry what will come next or what will come of us. Yet those who have gone before us have given some valuable advice: keep your eyes fixed on Jesus (v.2).

That might sound nebulous. How do I fix my eyes on Jesus when I can’t see him? Or what exactly am I to fix my eyes on? The key is keeping your eyes fixed on how Jesus endured the cross and shame. Do you remember Jesus final days? Do you remember the trial, the rejection, the flogging, the walk through the streets of Jerusalem, the blood, the tears, the prayers, the cries? Do you see how he endured? Remember this.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus is hard but helpful.  Ultimately, Jesus is our example. He shows us what faith looks like. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith. He shows us what endurance looks like. He endured with joy and obedience. He shows us we are not alone. He is seated at the right hand of God as our intercessor.

Like my friend Steve, we need running buddies. One who will encourage you from time to time and say, “This is your cross to bear. Fix your eyes on the cross and run.”

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • Why do you think the author focuses on endurance after exploring the role of faith?
  • Read Philippians 3: 12– 14. How does this passage compare to the message in Hebrews 12? How is the example of a race so helpful?
  • Read 1 Corinthians 9:24–27. To what does Paul liken the Christian faith? How does he say we should live this life of faith? What does this mean practically for us as individuals and churches?
  • What are the weights Christians should remove so they can run the race? What are some of the things that believers cling to that hinder a their faith?
  • How is faith at times a grueling race? What sorts of “hardship” will believers endure as they grow their faith?
  • How can one have joy and endure at the same time? What can you learn from Jesus about melding of joy and endurance?
  • What are ways today’s church looks backward instead of forward? How can you follow the example of the heroes of faith and look ahead to the joy that awaits you? What role does faith play in the ability to look ahead?

Jesus Calls you to a Greater Faith

An arrogant Christian is an oxymoron. A Christian has no room to boast in himself. Rather that is reserved for Jesus.

There is little difference between arrogance and confidence. The difference is the attitude. An arrogant person boasts in his ability while a confident person simply acts.

A Christian can be confident because of Christ. The root of our confidence as a Christian is that we have unlimited and unhindered access to the Most Holy Place where Jesus reigns as a Great High Priest (vs.19-21). This should encourage us to look both upward and outward as we approach God. Upward with a sincere heart and full of faith and hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. Outward considering how best to stir one another towards love and good deeds (vs.22-25).

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:19-25

We have power to forgive others because God has forgiven us of so much sin. If we go on sinning, we continue rebelling against God, stomping on the sacrifice of Christ, and insulting the Spirit of grace. Ultimately, if we go that route we reject the sole means for salvation through Jesus and what remains is fear of judgement without hope (vs.26-31).

The writer of Hebrews takes note of his readers confident faith in God even in their present difficulties. They knew that Jesus made it possible for them to inherit greater and lasting possessions and this gave them hope through their present circumstances (vs.32-38).

This hope multiplies our hope too. Through Jesus we have the means to keep on persevering, even in the face of temptations and persecutions. By enduring through public insults, humiliation and suffering, with others, we grow a full faith (v.39).

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is the difference between arrogance and confidence? How do verses 19-25 define confidence we have in Jesus?
  • What are some arrogant attitudes Christians can have towards God? What arrogant attitudes do you often exhibit?
  • Which of the three “let us” commands do you have a struggle walking in? (vs. 22-24)
  • How does one drift from their faith, waver in hope, or neglect loving others? What is the remedy for this according to the text?
  • What access do you have to God through the Most Holy Place and the Great High Priest? What is the benefit of this unlimited and unhindered access? Why are we prone to timidness rather than boldness?
  • How does faith go hand in hand with meeting together with other believers?
  • Why are you grateful we don’t have to endure this life and faith alone? Who do you have around you that you are meeting with that stir you to love and good works? Why is it difficult to stir others from a distance? Who are you stirring?
  • How do hard times draw us together and comfort often draws us apart? How do you see in verses 32-39 the power of remembering past hardships to bolster present faith? Do you have a similar remembrance?

12 Reasons Why Jesus is Greater

Here are 12 reasons why Jesus is greater from the book of Hebrews:

1. Jesus is the Greater Messenger than angels (1:2-14)

2. Jesus has the Greater Message than angels (2:1-4)

3. Jesus is Greater Prophet than Moses (3:1-6)

4. Jesus is Greater High Priest than Aaron (4:14-5:5)

5. Jesus is Greater priesthood than Melchizedek (5:6-10)

6. Jesus has the Greater ministry than the Levites (7:9-28)

7. Jesus is the Greater Servant (8:1-6; 9:1-5)

8. Jesus is the Greater Mediator (8:7-13; 9:6-10)

9. Jesus is the Greater Blood Sacrifice (9:11-28)

10. Jesus is the Greater Bodily Sacrifice (10:1-18)

11. Jesus is Greater Example of Faith (11:1-12:3)

12. Jesus has the Greater Origin (12:18-24)

Jesus is the Greater Eternal Sacrifice

Have you ever made shadow puppets on the wall? The shadows on the wall takes the shape of your hands. My children like to do this by making shapes of a bird, camel, turtle or rabbit. They can do it for hours.

In a similar fashion the law of God that was given to Moses was but a shadow (v.1). It represented something greater, particularly something that was to come.

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” – Hebrews 10:1-4, ESV

Today there is no longer a need for animal sacrifices. Animal sacrifices were never met to be a permanent solution for man’s sin problem (v.11). The people knew that an animal sacrifice couldn’t be an equal substitute for another persons sin (vs.2-4) Thus Jesus came to earth, lived a sinless life and became the adequate substitute and sacrifice for sin. His sacrifice does away with once and for all the sacrificial system of the law (vs.5-10, 12-14). He is the eternal sacrifice.

“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Hebrews 10:11-14, ESV

The mind-blowing truth is that Jesus forgives sins completely (v.12), perfectly (v.14), and eternally (v.18). Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the reason there is no longer a need for daily or yearly sacrifices made by human priests. Jesus makes true and lasting forgiveness possible. And he writes the law on the hearts and minds of men (vs. 15-16).

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What kind of sacrifices were offered under the law?
  • Why was a greater sacrifice needed than was provided under the law?
  • How can we discern when old ways are superior and when they are inferior? What are some good criteria for evaluating new versus old?
  • The Jews saw human sacrifice as a pagan abomination. How might this attitude have affected their response to the idea of Jesus as the sacrifice for their sins?
  • In our culture animal sacrifice is abhorrent, and human sacrifice even worse. How do you think that affects a modern person who reads Hebrews to understand what Jesus did?
  • How does Jesus’ complete sacrifice on the cross affect the way you live your life daily?
  • How might your life be different if the old covenant and the old way of sacrifice were still in effect today?
  • How does the phrase “I will remember their sin no more” give you encouragement to walk in freedom from sin today?