Tag Archives: gospel

The Coming of the Lamb

A Passion Week Meditation on the Incarnation

This week, those who follow after Christ Jesus, celebrate the most significant event to ever take place on this broken and hurting planet. However, in order to understand the significant events we will celebrate this week, we must be clear of the identity of this man from Galilee.

In His own words:
*All passages are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
– John 14:6

For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.
– Matt 18:11

Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?” So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”
-Luke 22:70

Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
– John 8:58

Notice especially the last passage, Jesus claims for Himself the covenant name of God by which He revealed Himself to the Children of Israel. This is the name by which God demonstrated Himself not only sovereign over all the God’s of Egypt, but also by which He revealed Himself as the God who reaches out and saves His people.

In His disciples words:

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
– Matt 16:16

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
– Acts 2:36

In the words of Angels:

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
– Luke 1:35

In the words of Demons:

And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.”
– Mark 3:11

In the words of the centurion who stood beside the cross:

And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.”
– Mark 15:39

In the words of the Ancient church:

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
– The Apostles Creed

Obviously I have put forward a great deal of testimony about the person of Jesus, for this I have a good reason. If we don’t understand fully who Jesus is, then nothing that He said or did will carry the full weight that it ought with us. We cannot merely dismiss Jesus as an excellent moral teacher, because He refused to be dismissed as such. Had Jesus contended Himself to be a moral teacher He would have never faced the cross, instead He refused to relinquish the scandalous claim that He was the Son of God most high!

When we actually embrace the doctrine of the incarnation, though it is too much for us to understand fully, all of the rest of the Gospels becomes clear. The virgin birth, the miracles, even the resurrection are natural extensions of the presence and power of God Himself walking this earth beside us.

God chose to come down, in person, as Jesus Christ. He came fully human and yet also fully God, with the full authority and might of the creator coming into His creation. He alone had the power to live a life victorious over sin and death and to break the power of sin and death in our lives. The very hand that shaped man from the dust, willingly was pierced by a wicked nail and driven onto the cross for us. The very Word which spoke the stars into space said of your sin and mine “It is finished!”.

The real marvel to us, ought not to be that He who was fully God should rise from the dead or work miracles; but rather that the great I AM, the maker of heaven and earth should demonstrate His glory and love by willingly dying an excruciating death on a cross. Have you marveled today at the significance of the one who died for you? Nothing but His own will could take Him to the cross, and yet He went.

*Note: I owe a tremendous debt to J.I. Packer and his wonderful book Knowing God in influencing my thoughts on the significance of the incarnation.

Advertisements

Ecology and Global Disciplemaking

Considering that the creation mandate to take stewardship over the Earth and care for it properly never went away, and also considering that mass starvation, illness, etc. will have strongly negative consequences for everyone, but especially “the least of these”; I have long considered returning to a more normal ecology to be an integral part of the Mission of God’s people on earth. To accomplish a more normal ecology will, however, require significant cultural change. We will have to see a massive deurbanization as more loving stewards move back to the land, as a result there will be a massive cultural and economic shift back to the rural, as well as back to local. In order to fix our global ecological issues this will have to take place at the global level. Because this change will be so radical, we must ask ourselves how this will affect global discipleship.

In the first place urbanization has, without a doubt, greatly increased the ability of the church to access many unreached people groups that previously were very difficult to minister to due to geographic and political barriers. In many cases, here in these United States today, there are immigrant and student populations of unreached peoples on our own soil, living in major cities. However, accessibility should not be confused with receptivity. While urbanization has made some parts of discipleship easier, it has made others harder. Urbanites have much shorter, and often more disjointed relationship chains. Whereas, with the correct approach, the Gospel will flow very rapidly through existing relationship structures to reach a rural people, this growth is often dwarfed in urban cultures simply because those relationship structures don’t exist. For this reason, I would suggest than any access issues than urbanization has assisted with are offset by the difficulty of transmitting the Gospel throughout the entirety of a people group.

Urbanization and the False Gospel of Prosperity

An even larger issue, as far as I am concerned, is whether or not the Gospel being transmitted is pure and true. Now before I really launch into this, let me stop and say this: I am not accusing any church, mission agency, or other organization of deliberately teaching a false Gospel. As a general rule those involved in Mission are more detached from the false elements present throughout our church culture today; but it is often very difficult to separate yourself from the culture you were born into and this in turn can make it very hard to disentangle the Gospel message.

The problem I am seeing and experiencing is that Western, urban, materialistic culture is in direct contradiction to the Gospel; that is the values of urban culture are opposed to the Scriptural commands and values. All the emphasis on material wealth, and on prosperity in our culture has resulted in a Gospel diluted with promises of worldly wealth and prosperity. As a add on to this dangerous belief set, it then becomes hard for people who are materially “blessed” to recognize the lack of holiness and godliness in their lives. After all, if God is blessing me I must be doing everything right, yes? This wealth also sneaks in and steals away the church’s dependance on God. With an insurance policy for everything, and massive cash reserves its no wonder most people hardly recognize the old term “Divine Providence”.
A people who live on the land, can have the bounty of the earth without ever losing sight of the visceral connection between there hard work and their dependance on God’s grace. Returning to the land, almost automatically cuts modern humans back down to size. In the manmade world of cities, it is easy to gain a false sense of importance; but in the vastness of creation remembrance comes of the One who is actually sovereign. It is clear to one who works the earth, that the food it produces is the product of some unspeakable miracle. Shopping at the grocery store will give the impression that food comes from money, money “I” worked hard for.

While I do believe that there are some who can live in urban environments and still keep themselves pure from the prevailing materialism, indeed some are likely called to do so; for most this urban culture has lead them astray from the true Gospel and sent them off chasing wealth as fast as they can get it.

I would suggest that it is the bigger, cheaper, more convenient mentality of urban culture that has largely driven the modern church to give up discipleship and turn instead to numbers and marketing. Discipleship represents stewardship and slow growth, values best taught by those in a proper ecological relationship with the earth. Quick progress and rapid results are the goals of an urban culture that is used to everything being handed to it like a fast food hamburger.

Only a move back to a heathy ecological relationship with the earth, our younger sister whose care we have been charged with, will give us the edge necessary to stamp out materialism from the Gospel we preach.

Busyness, the Urbanite versus the Small Farmer

It is no secret that modern urban people have filled their lives with all kinds of activity and rarely have time to do anything very meaningful. Some of these useless activities could be pretty easily replaced with activities that actually impact global disciple making, but some of them can’t be. At this point in time it has gotten very, very difficult to maintain a family on a single income; this is particularly true for younger workers in entry level jobs. The result is that children not only rarely see there fathers anymore, but now they rarely see their mothers either. One of the most central and basic ways of fulling the command to make disciples, the discipling and raising of children, has been outsourced almost entirely to the state and a group of experts at church. This alone has severely impacted gospel growth, and now according to some statistics we are confronting a generation of young people in which only 4% embrace a Biblical gospel.

This busyness gets far worse though, just ask yourself, or one of your friends, to make some sort of long term time commitment to reach the unreached. Try to get involved in working with international students or immigrants from unreached groups in your city. The time commitment involved is often fairly significant, perhaps 10-15 hours a week. Most people have a very hard time swinging this. Now I am not trying to criticize anyone, this problem stems from the nature of modern, urban life. When you spend the best 50-60 hours of the week, depending on your commute, at work; then it becomes very difficult to do anything other than come home, eat dinner, tuck the kids in, and spend a few precious moments with your spouse before falling asleep. By Saturday you are so behind on things around the house that between that and a little family activity the whole day is over before it starts. Sunday you go to church and put the kids to bed early in preparation for the new week and it all starts over. Worst of all, this process doesn’t stop it goes on and on week after week all year. There are no seasons, no rest times, just a few weeks of vacation and perhaps a holiday here and there.

This level of busyness has a strong effect on the Faith. First of all it keeps God’s people from being able to commit to ministry, but even more importantly it keeps them to busy for Him. Things like daily bible reading and prayer get completely passed over in the mad rush that is your average day for most modern Christians. It is no wonder our faith is weak when no one has time to spend with its author and perfecter.

Compare this to the hard working farmer out in his fields. His work is seasonal, during certain seasons he may work 80 hours or more, during other seasons the farm nearly shuts down. Even during these busy seasons the work is communal. If he has to work by himself the farmer’s thoughts are largely uninterrupted as he goes about more day to day activities, the days more difficult challenges will require some thought, but the steady daily chores can be done while remaining in a quiet state of fellowship with nature and nature’s God. The farmer also rarely has to work alone, all the work can be done communally. If family is important, the family can come participate. Children love gathering eggs, feeding animals, and playing in the dark dirt of the garden. It’s all like a giant playground to them, and so in a normal ecology children are with their parents most of the day. Others can be to, and as illustrate throughout our history books, often have been. Communities work together to accomplish goals and spend the days together. If a farmer wants to spend time with a international student or someone else, then that person can come tag along with him and will likely enjoy seeing what life on an American farm is like anyway. The farmer can actually do life with people, the urbanite is unable to do this because his occupation is so disjointed from his life.

In the winter as things slow down, a farm community can pretty easily afford to let several of its families go out of the community for several months for ministry, most employers would never allow someone to just take off work for 3 months or more.

From all this I gather, that the farmer first of all is rooted much deeply in the community around him. As a result they will all me mutually strengthened by each other’s faith. The urbanite has to make time to spend with people, in many cases he won’t even see many people at work because he is locked in a tiny box. The farmer has a strong family, held together by large amounts of quality time, shared hardships, and communal labor this gives the farm family a strong base for doing ministry together. The urbanite is fortunate if he can hold is family together long enough for his kids to graduate high school because he rarely sees them. The farm community has time to do things with and for people, the urban world is far to busy. From this I conclude that move back to a normal ecology, with more people on the land would free up more laborers, particularly those with a strong community and family foundation for ministry and mission.

Conclusion

It is my belief that a return to a more normal ecology would fix many of the larger problems the western church is facing today. Strong families and strong communities means stronger churches. Men and women who actually have time to spend with God and to observe His power constantly on display in creation are much more likely recognize their full dependance on Him and to acknowledge His total sovereignty. A stronger faith and more pure Gospel results in a better accomplishment of Mission and a more steady development of disciples globally and locally. The earth is a mess today as a result of our modern culture and ecological practices, there are people going hungry who just a few decades ago knew how to feed themselves. The age of cheap energy will be ending soon, and when it does we will be forced to return to the a more normal ecology, the benefits of which I have just described. The Church today is faced with a choice: Do we embrace this change and work to holistically solve these problems, or do we fight the change and let the problems run us over?

God of Wrath, God of Grace

The Gospel is good news, it’s good news for all of humanity; but in order to be good news it has to be understood properly. There has been an on going trend, over the last several decades, to reject anything condemning in the Gospels. As a culture, we have chosen to ignore all references to the need for holiness, and to God’s righteous wrath being poured out upon those who reject the Gospel.

When we look at what the Gospel is all about, we ought to turn to the Gospels and see what Jesus Himself had to say. Many people today, uncomfortable with the moral demands of scripture try to argue that Jesus taught only grace and no punishment, but Jesus in fact was very clear that without salvation, mankind would most certainly face the wrath of a righteous God.

Look at this passage, where Jesus addresses the certain punishment of those who are unable to satisfy the requirements of a just and righteous God, all passages are taken from the NKJV:

Mark 9:42-50

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where

‘Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’

And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where

‘Their worm does not die,
And the fire is not quenched.’

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire—where

‘Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’

“For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”

And this one, where Jesus maintains that we must maintain proper fear of God, who maintains the power to cast us into Hell:

Luke 12:5

But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

As for the righteous requirements of the law, look what Jesus has to say in this next passage, in that we cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless we are more righteous than one of the most legalistically righteous sects of all time:

Matthew 5:20

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven

Now look at the passages immediately preceding and following the above passage, in which Jesus lays the kind of morality that God demands

Matthew 5:1-19

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Notice that last passage, Jesus affirms that the teaching He is revealing does not in any way remove or nullify the moral law of the Old Testament, rather it reveals more clearly what the law demands. Now for the passage following 5:20

Matthew 5:21-30

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause[b] shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old,‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

Notice that Jesus’ moral teaching demands not only right behavior, but right thoughts and heart conditions behind that behavior. If we show self control and don’t commit a sin, such as adultery or fornication or murder; but in our heart we really really want to, and entertain thoughts and images to that effect, then we are just as guilty before God as if we had carried those thoughts into action. This poses great difficulty, because none of us is capable of keeping a law this perfect. In fact, if we are judged for our very thoughts, then everyone of us sins on a frequent basis.

This leads to an important question, if none of us can possibly meet God’s moral demands: What then is the Gospel or Good News?

This is where Jesus’ teaching varies radically from every other religion on earth, take a look:

John 3:16-17

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Matthew 18:23-27

Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt

A talent of gold, according to at least on source I looked at would be worth over $840,000 at todays gold prices. 10,000 of them of course goes way beyond anyone’s ability to ever even consider repaying.

And this is where the Gospel of Jesus differs from every other world religion. Whereas all other religions in the world lay out moral laws and demand that men be “good enough” to get into heaven, the Gospel clearly states that none of us can possibly live up to God’s moral demands; and so, rather than allowing us to perish, Jesus came in the flesh to dwell among us and took our sins upon Himself. Now if we will accept Him we can put on His righteousness and experience a total heart transformation that will take away all of sins and make us into those who can say honestly they meet God’s moral demands. This an only be done through the work of Jesus on our behalf and the work of the Holy Spirit in us. All we have to “do” is surrender our lives to the work Christ did on our behalf. In choosing to falsely believe that God does not practice wrath at all, we make the work of Christ of no value, and blaspheme the very one on whom we must believe for salvation. If God is only grace, then first of all Christ Jesus Himself was a liar and fool and secondly His death and resurrection were completely unnecessary. As it stands it is the paradox of God’s righteous wrath and saving grace that makes the Gospel the Good News.