How do we learn to follow the Spirit?

There are some things you just can’t Google.

When it comes to life’s major decisions, we often stand at a crossroads and look around wondering what we should do. If we are followers of Jesus, this comes with the added desire to follow “God’s will for my life.” We have to decide whether or not to go to college, who to marry, where to find a job—and a whole host of other major life decisions.

How do we honor God with our decision making? How do we learn to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

Graham Cole’s extensive study of the Holy Spirit offers three basic “tests” for our decisions, which I’ll summarize below as a set of questions.

(1) IS THIS DECISION CONSISTENT WITH SCRIPTURE?

First, does our potential decision match up with Scripture? Naturally, if we are going to follow God’s leading, we should ensure that our decisions match the character of God revealed in the Bible.

But can’t the Holy Spirit speak to us today? Can’t the Spirit speak to us in new ways, regardless of what He may have communicated in the past?

Yes and no. The Holy Spirit does absolutely speak to us today. But He does so most directly through the Word of God. In the New Testament, three distinct writers tell us that the Spirit speaks through God’s word today.

  • Jesus:

When debating some religious leaders about the resurrection, Jesus quotes the text of Exodus to make His point. But He does so by saying: “[H]ave you not read what was said to you by God” (Matthew 22:31)? Ah, we should say; Jesus is telling the folks of His day that God spoke to them through Moses, even though Exodus was written something like 1500 years prior (!).

  • Paul

Paul says something similar. He talks to the Corinthians about Israel’s history, and argues that “these things happened to them [Israel] as an example, but they were clearly written down for our instruction” (1 Corinthians 10:11).

  • Hebrews

Finally, the writer of Hebrews applies Psalm 95 to the lives of his readers. He quotes Psalm 95, prefacing it by saying: “as the Holy Spirit says” (Hebrews 3:7), and that God “appoints a specific day, ‘Today,’ saying through David” (Hebrews 4:7). It’s easy to overlook that in both these verses, the writer is using the present tense. We could just as accurately translate the text to say that “the Holy Spirit is saying [through David].”

For Jesus, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews, the Bible isn’t just an ancient book; it is the contemporary means by which God communicates to His people. So does the Spirit speak to us today? Yes; at least through His Word. But the Spirit will never, ever speak in such a way as to contradict the Bible, because the Bible is the present Word of God in our lives today.

(2) DOES THIS DECISION MAGNIFY JESUS?

Secondly, we need to ask whether our decision will serve to magnify the name and reputation of Jesus in our lives and communities.

Recall that part of the Spirit’s job is to testify to Jesus (John 15:26). So if we follow the Spirit’s leading, others will see how our lives radiate the character of Jesus. That is, does our decision seek to serve others, or primarily ourselves? Does our decision enable us to serve as Christ’s witnesses in our communities? Will our decisions increase our dependence on God, or on ourselves?

(3) IS THIS DECISION CONSISTENT WITH MY CHURCH COMMUNITY?

Finally, our decisions should honor the values of the community to which we belong, the Church. Now, we have to be careful here, because unlike the Word of God the Church isn’t always right. Still, it’s not for nothing that Solomon once wrote that “with many advisors a plan succeeds” (Proverbs 15:22). Paul refers to the Church as “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The Church represents a complex web of relationships, and these relationships overlap and reinforce each other. If the people in our lives disagree with our decisions, then perhaps this is a sign that we should at least consider alternatives.

WHY DOES IT REALLY MATTER?

Ultimately, though, we must recognize that our desire to “find God’s will” is determined more by our culture than we might realize. We assume that there’s some set path that we should take and if we miss it, we’ve failed. But there’s a reason God’s word tells us that “we are the potter, and [God] is the clay” (Isaiah 64:8). God shapes and molds us in time as we learn and grow in Him.

J.I. Packer says something helpful:

“That God has a comprehensive, foreordained purpose and plan for all of world history, form the greatest events to the smallest, and that this includes a specific, detailed intention for the life of every human being, is to my mind beyond doubt: the Bible is clear on it. That his intention, once you become a Christian, is comparable to an itinerary drawn up for you by a travel agent, where everything depends on you being in the right place at the right time to board the plane or train or bus or boat or whatever and where the itinerary is ruined once you miss one of the preplanned connections, is, by contrast, a sad misconception.”[1]

Trying to “discern God’s will” is a good impulse, to be sure. But if this desire turns to worry, it can paralyze us and prevent us from following God in the day-to-day. God has a plan for us. Let’s trust Him and step forward.

 

[1] J.I. Packer, “The Ministry of the Spirit in Discerning the Will of God.”  https://bible.org/seriespage/5-ministry-spirit-discerning-will-god

Can we pray to the Holy Spirit?

“We’re sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and dial again.”

Has there ever been a phrase that’s generated more frustration? Technology connects us across distances our ancestors never dared imagine, yet these connections are conditioned on our ability to enter the right string of numbers in just the right sequence.

Is prayer like that? Does God expect us to connect to Him in some specific way?

Even if you say “no,” you may find yourself wondering how prayer works with the Trinity. Or maybe you’ve caught yourself being a bit sloppy—you pray to the Father, but you thank Him for dying for your sins. Or you conclude with “in your name” when you’ve been speaking to the Father—not Jesus.

But what about this one: can we pray to the Holy Spirit?

SURE; WHY NOT?

Historically, the answer to this question has been an emphatic “yes.” The Holy Spirit is God, so why shouldn’t we seek to connect to Him directly? In Graham Cole’s recent book on the Holy Spirit, he cites an older prayer that children were taught to pray even from a very young age:

“Heavenly King, Paraclete, Spirit of truth, who are present everywhere and fillest all things, treasury of goodness and Giver of life, come, dwell in us and cleanse us from all stain, and, of thy mercy, save our souls.  Amen.”[1]

As a matter of fact, there have historically been a variety of prayers written to the Holy Spirit. And if we say “no,” we shouldn’t pray to the Holy Spirit, we may be in danger of denying His full equality with God.

HOW DID JESUS PRAY?

On the other hand, we simply can’t find examples of prayers to the Holy Spirit. We normally see prayers directed toward the Father, and occasionally the Son (Stephen in Acts 7:59-60; Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10), but never the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, Jesus taught His followers to pray to the Father directly (Matthew 6:9-13), and ask for things in the name of the Son (John 14:13). Still, even if this is the “typical” pattern, I don’t see why this prevents us from praying to the Spirt on occasion. But it may be helpful to get some clarification on the Spirit’s role in prayer.

HOW DOES THE HOLY SPIRIT HELP US PRAY?

First, the Spirit is what connects us to God. Paul says that “through [Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). So the Spirit empowers our connection to God.

Secondly, this also means that our prayers are meant to reflect the specific roles of the Trinity in prayer. Cole writes:

“Jesus is our great High Priest, and the believer is adopted into the family of God….Christ represents us to God and God to us….[The Holy Spirit] impels Christian prayer.”[2]

So can we pray to the Spirit? Sure; there’s no reason not to. But Scripture points us to a pattern that actually involves the whole Trinity: we pray to the Father in the name of the Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

PRAYING “IN” THE SPIRIT

On select occasion, the writers of the New Testament encourage Christ’s followers to “pray in the Spirit.” What does this mean? It means that our prayers align with the character of God. This means that if we pray “in the Spirit,” our prayers will always be answered—that is, our prayers will be answered because they align with God’s perfect will.

Of course, the reason our prayers are not always answered is because we are unable to consistently pray in a way that reflects God’s will. But that’s ok; God has made provision for this:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Spirit will put words in our mouth. What it means is that when we don’t know how to pray, or what to pray for—or if we accidentally pray for the wrong person!—God knows and God understands.

This also touches on how the gospel shapes our prayer life. Have you ever felt as though you were unfit to talk to God because of some “disqualifying” sin in your life? If the Spirit empowers prayer, don’t you see how foolish this is? Through the Spirit, God gives us the means and the ability to connect to Him through prayer. God gives us the means to connect with Him; we didn’t earn the privilege through our own merits. So in the end, the Spirit offers us assurance of God’s desire for relationship and for connection.

So put the phone down. Rejoice that the Spirit enables you to talk to the Father.

[1] Cited in Cole, 84.

[2] Cole, 85-6.

Magnify: How the Spirit Keeps the Son at the Center of Our Universe

A friend of mine was once given a piece of precious sports memorabilia: a baseball signed by a half dozen or so of the New York Yankees. Even those of us who’ve historically been O’s fans can appreciate the significance of this gift.

When something is beautiful, or valuable, or simply a conversation-starter, you want to show it off; you want people to know about it. That’s what the Holy Spirit does for Jesus—He illuminates the character of the Son; He magnifies His teachings in order that all men might be drawn toward Him.

In Jesus’ farewell address, He makes this clear to His disciples. He tells them that a major part of the Spirit’s role is to testify about Him:

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (John 15:26)

[…]

13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)

This doesn’t make the Spirit lesser than Jesus. They are, after all, equally God. But Jesus says that a part of the Spirit’s role is to “glorify” Jesus.

The writer J.I. Packer puts it this way:

“It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over on Jesus, who stands facing us.  The Spirit’s message to us is never, ‘Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,’ but always ‘Look at him and see him, and see his glory; get to know him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.”[1]

Why is this so significant? Because where you place your focus determines a great deal about how you conduct yourself and how you treat others. This is why Paul appeals to the example of Jesus in his letter to the Philippians. If we place Christ at the center of our beliefs, we will conduct ourselves with Christ’s level of humility.

Part of the reason Christians have struggled with the nature of the Spirit over the years is because it’s been tempting to place the Spirit—not Christ—at the center of our belief system. There have been those who have organized their beliefs around the day of Pentecost rather the day of Calvary, and in so doing have focused on the day of empowerment rather than the day of humiliation. Granted, both events are important. But when we make the Spirit primary, we begin to look for God in extraordinary, miraculous events rather than in the simple, ordinary way of Christ.

Don’t misunderstand; I’d never deny the Spirit’s ability to do great things amongst God’s people. But if we only see the Spirit working in these sorts of events, we have placed God inside a box. If the Spirit moves someone to enter ministry or do something spectacular, it’s easy to nod and affirm that “it’s a God thing.” But no one says that when the Spirit moves someone to change diapers in the nursery, or to volunteer for ministry.

Yet the Spirit is no less active there than anywhere else. Why? Because in every small act we see the humble, loving example of Jesus, and see His love magnified in our midst. Sometimes God does something big. But plenty of other times, the Spirit’s work is seen as the sum of a series of small acts of Christian love. Don’t be afraid to dream of something big, but don’t ever be unwilling to commit to something small.

[1] J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit. (Leicester, England: Intervarsity Press, 1984), 66.

What does the Holy Spirit do?

Like many people I know, I’ve committed the unpardonable, technological sin. I’m confident that my phone didn’t die from being dropped in a puddle; I think it was when I hit the “power” button to check to see if it was still working. All the rice in Panda Express couldn’t reverse the damage. My phone was fried.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t come into our lives for the purpose of improvement, but for the purpose of transformation. Like a damaged phone, there is brokenness inside us that can’t simply be repaired. We need renewal; we need a fresh work of God.

THE HOLY SPIRIT PRODUCES FAITH

For unbelievers, the Spirit works to convict men and women of the gravity of sin. Jesus told His disciples:

8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:  9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.(John 16:8-11)

Paul echoes something of this when he writes that faith is produced not through natural knowledge, but through supernatural intervention:

12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:12-13)

The point is that conviction and faith aren’t the outworking of a great sermon or through natural persuasion; they are the products of a living, active Spirit.

THE HOLY SPIRIT CONNECTS US TO GOD

The gospel tells us that through the cross, Jesus pays the debt of sin and grants us access to the Father. What is the Spirit’s role in this? Paul tells us that the Spirit unites people of diverse backgrounds together and to God:

15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.. 8 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:15, 18)

This connection isn’t merely a one-time, past event; we also look forward to the day when we are granted eternal life in God’s future kingdom. Paul writes:

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit is something of a “down payment,” almost like today’s engagement rings. The Spirit’s presence in our lives serves as a reminder and a promise of future restoration in God’s new heaven and new earth.

THE HOLY SPIRIT TRANSFORMS BELIEVERS

This also means that we can allow the Spirit to work in our lives in such a way that He transforms us from inside out.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, there were many who didn’t understand this inward transformation, instead favoring external religious performance. But after generating some attention among the religious leaders, a man named Nicodemus comes to ask Jesus who He really is. Jesus tells this religious leader that to truly know God, He must be born again:

5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

To be “born again” implies total renewal, a complete renovation of everything inside of us. This is why Paul would later say to Titus:

5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5)

“Regeneration.” It means “renewal,” a new start.

Admittedly, many of us don’t feel all that “new” from these promises. Even Paul acknowledged that even after coming to know Jesus his life was in a state of inner turmoil (Romans 7). But learning to live in line with the gospel means allowing the Spirit to take control. In Romans Paul writes:

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6)

Similarly, he writes to the Church in Galatia:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

To live by the Spirit means allowing the Spirit to transform us, and to live out that transformation as we grow into the image of Jesus.

Is the Holy Spirit a “He” or an “It?”

“Use the force, Luke.”

Like many in my generation, I grew up with my imagination firmly planted in places like Hoth and the Dagobah system—the fictional locales of the Star Wars universe. Lucas’ films gave us a story of stark contrast between good and evil; they also gave us “the force,” a mysterious form of energy that unites everything in the universe. By manipulating the force for selfish ends, some had the power to do evil; it was up to the Jedi to use the force to do good.

For many of us, I suspect we’ve assumed that the Holy Spirit is something like “the force” from Star Wars. It’s a power source, a mysterious form of energy that we can tap into when we need it.

Because of this, one of our primary misunderstandings about the Holy Spirit is that the Spirit is something we can “use” when problems become difficult or when we feel overwhelmed.

But the Holy Spirit isn’t like this. He is God. He is a person. And this changes the way we understand Him.

THE HOLY SPIRIT IS GOD

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, He gathered His closest followers in the upper room to share not only His last meal, but to deliver a farewell address—a “commencement speech,” as one writer puts it, ushering in a new way of living in His absence.

There, He delivers this promise:

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17)

Now, if you were reading this in the original Greek, you’d zero in on Jesus’ phrase allon parakleton, “another Helper.” Why would this stand out? Because Jesus is basically saying “another of the same type.” He’s saying that the Holy Spirit is fully God in every way that Jesus is fully God. The Holy Spirit, first and foremost, is God—not some force to be manipulated.

THE HOLY SPIRIT IS PERSONAL

This also means that like God, the Holy Spirit is personal. Again, we use this word in a very specific way. Usually when we say “personal” we mean something like “relational” or even “intimate.” But here say that God is personal in the sense that He has a personality; He has the characteristics of being a person.

In what sense is the Spirit a “person?”  On the one hand, we never see the Spirit ascribed a specific human form. When Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit is said to descend “like a dove,” for which reason the Spirit has often been depicted as a dove in Christian art. On the other hand, we can find at least three characteristics about the Spirit that help us see that He is indeed a personal being:

  • The Holy Spirit has intelligence

Paul writes:

27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:27)

Here Paul emphasizes that the Spirit has a distinct “mind,” conveying a sense of intelligence and understanding.

  • The Holy Spirit has a will

When the early Church was struggling to decide how to handle the integration of Jews and Gentiles, the early council met to make a decision. They could confidently claim that their decision “has seemed good to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 15:28). The Holy Spirit seems to have a specific will and a specific purpose.

  • The Holy Spirit has emotions

Paul cautions his readers in Ephesus not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). The Holy Spirit therefore also has emotions and can experience pain over our immoral character.

HE, NOT “IT”

One of the most immediate applications here is that we refer to the Holy Spirit not as an “it” but as a “He.” He is God. He is personal.

This changes everything. A “force” is something I can use—when I need help, when I’m feeling down, I can use a force to navigate life and get me through. But a person is someone I relate to—someone who challenges me in the context of a relationship. So if the Holy Spirit is personal just like the Father and Son, I am compelled to treat Him with the same dignity, respect, and love as I do the Father and Son.

 

 

 

 

Is Jesus Still Human?

This is an interesting question. As mere humans we look forward to being something better and having better bodies than these that do terribly annoying things like get cancer or make you limp around with arthritis of the knees. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15:50-52…

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

So that is a new body, but it does not change the fact that we are human creations of God.

We need to understand that the incarnation of Christ was not something like Jesus putting on a costume. He is in essence forever the God-man.

Consider the words of the angel at the ascension of Christ in Acts 1:9–11…

As [the disciples] were looking on, [Jesus] was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

So Jesus went up from the earth with a human body. He sits now in God’s presence as the God-man, and he will return “in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” – meaning in his humanity.

In the Kenosis passage that we wrote about on Tuesday, Jesus put on his humanity by pouring his deity into his perfect humanity. And the writing in that letter to the Philippians later says that Jesus maintains that form…

Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)

Jesus didn’t shed his human skin. He still has a body—a “glorious body,” a perfected human body, a body like we haven’t yet experienced but one day will experience when he transforms us.

As well we know of the ongoing work and ministry of Christ as our mediator. Paul says to Timothy (1 Tim. 2:5) …

There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

Paul speak clearly of Jesus in the present as “the man Christ Jesus.”

The resurrected body of Jesus, seen by many, retained the scars (John 20:26-27) …

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

And Jesus in heaven will be tangible to us in a form that we can see, hear, and touch (Revelation 22:3-4)…

No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.

And finally, have sung the praises this week of the fabulous book of Hebrews, it says of Christ that in an ongoing way …

For this reason he had to be made like [mankind], fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? (Hebrews 9)

As I set out to speak a few words on this theme today, I hope that you are all really, really interested in this topic! The reason is because in just a couple of weeks, beginning on March 2nd, the next sermon series of six parts will be called “In My Place: Why did the cross have to happen?”  And doing that is a decision made after this devotionals schedule was previously set in place with this title today.

So we will be delving into this essential question in great depth in the coming weeks, leading up to and finishing on Easter Sunday. But let’s take a quick shot at answering this question today. Obviously the quick answer is because of imputed sin that is on all of our accounts that we are unable to pay for ourselves.

But let’s talk first about what is real and what is a copy, or something temporary. We think that the physical things of this world are real; they are material. But spiritually speaking, the real stuff and the real reality is in heaven. Our worship, old and new, is a copy of that which is truly real. So the work of Christ on the cross in dying and paying for sin is not a copy of the Old Testament sacrifices nearly so much as they are a shadow of the true and better payment by Jesus – the perfect lamb of God.

The writer to the Hebrews picks up this theme …

Hebrews 9:11 – But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.

So the work of Christ was not the shadow cast by the sacrificial system of the Old Testament era. Rather, the whole complicated rituals of atonement through animal sacrifices were a foreshadowing of the true event at the cross and before God in heaven itself. The Mosaic system was effective (“efficacious” is the word we would use in theology) for that time. But the real payment was that of the cross. The passage continues …

Hebrews 9:13 – The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

The argument here is to say something like this. “If animal blood sacrifices of the old system worked to cover for sin (and they did), then how much better is the blood of the perfect, fully human, sinless Son of God, presented before God Himself (and it is)!”

Allow me to use my old and well-tested illustration. When you buy something from the store with a credit card, you have made a sort of “payment” that was effective for a period of time. You successfully carry the product out of the store and it is yours. But a day comes when a full and final and better and truly real payment has to be made. You get the point. That final payment was necessary to be made with real financial resources.xnx_q_scucu-jametlene-reskp

And after discussing some more details about the earthly “copies” of the OT system, the Hebrews writer continues a bit later in the passage …

Hebrews 9:23 – It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

The real payment!  Made by the perfect high priest. Made in the real place. He did it once – not having to enter once for himself and his own sins, and then another time for the people. And he did it once for all – not ever having to be repeated again and again. The final NECESSARY payment was made.

The application is in the passage as well. Our earthly death and termination is not the end. There is salvation for those “who are waiting for him” – meaning those who have trusted in this payment rather than their own good deeds for eternal salvation.

You gotta love Hebrews!!  If you’re new to TSF and these devotionals, there is an entire series of 46 writings called “Endure” that you can read through the whole book.

Is Jesus Really God?

I don’t think there is really any debate that Jesus is the most famous person in all of history. I’ll not even go into any debating about the silliness some promote that the historic reality of Jesus is nothing more than a big story or essentially a fairytale. He is even spoken of in some secular records of the time soon after; but again, that is the stuff of another debate.

Our interest today is the matter of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Is he God in human form, or is he merely a great and exemplary figure of history?  There are even Christian people in more liberal traditions who are weak on seeing Jesus as fully divine. But again, as in other arguments and presentations in this series, if you accept the Scripture as God’s word to us, it is rather impossible to conclude anything other than that Jesus Christ is God – he is divine.x2cxuxfqkcm-chris-brignola

Today let us add to the truth we wrote about on Monday of the preexistence of Jesus as the divine Son a total of four more categories of Christological understanding that support the divinity of Christ …

A – His Divine Titles – Consider these final verses from John’s gospel: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (Jn. 20:30-31)

  1. Christ – The word “Christ” isn’t Jesus’ last name; it’s His title. The word Christos is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Both “Christ” and “Messiah” mean “King”—the King to be more specific. For Jesus to be the Christ means to be God’s divinely appointed royal representative on earth.
  2. Son of God – This title is used (or the concept of sonship) a total of 124 times in the New Testament. It is evident from the Synoptic Gospels that Jesus understood himself and his mission according to divine sonship and clearly implied that he was the Son of God. “… and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)
  3. Son of Man – This may not seem like much of a title. After all, we’re all the son of a man. But it had a ring to it in the ears of Jewish people who were tuned into the Scriptures and recalled a particular passage from Daniel. In 7:13 of that book we have this phrase: “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. (Daniel 7:13)

As Jesus was being questioned during his trial, the High Priest asked Jesus to confirm whether or not he was the Christ, the Son of God. And Jesus replied, “‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.’” (Matthew 26:64-65).

Clearly these ‘biblical scholars and experts’ knew exactly what Jesus was saying and it led to the crucifixion. This was therefore clearly a statement of divinity.

B – Divine Works – By this we speak especially of the many miracles recorded throughout the gospels, being witnessed by thousands of people. These displays would authenticate him as the Promised One and authenticate the message he brought.

When John the Baptist was imprisoned and apparently facing some doubts, he sent some of his disciples to see Jesus and ask… “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”  Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”  (Matt. 11:3-5)

So this was not a direct answer, though it was a clear reference to prophesies of Isaiah that the Messiah would perform such deeds.

C – Divine Statements – The book of Book contains seven “I am” statements that Jesus uttered on various occasions, clearly picturing his personage as divine …

  1. “I am the bread of life” (6:35, 41, 48, 51)
  2. “I am the light of the world” (8:12; 9:5)
  3. “I am the door of the sheep” (10:7, 9)
  4. “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14)
  5. “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25)
  6. “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6)
  7. “I am the true vine” (15:1, 5).

These statements are all clear connections of himself with the Divine.

As well, there are other “I AM” statements, particularly in John 8:58,59 – “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”  At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”

The “I am” recalled the revelation of God speaking to Moses in the Old Testament, referencing God as the self-sufficient one. Jesus made some “I am” sorts of statements prior to this passage, and up until this juncture the Jewish leaders and crowd gave him the benefit of a doubt. But there was no mistaking at this point what he meant. And actually from this time forward in John’s gospel, the Jewish leadership is intent upon getting rid of this Galilean troublemaker.

D – Divine Character – We’ll just mention two items here: sinlessness and omniscience. We know of Christ’s perfections without sin. And multiple times it speaks of how Jesus knew the thoughts of those testing him; he knew what Peter was going to do to deny him; he knew Judas would betray him and was not a true disciple.

Summary – There is simply no doubt about Christ’s divinity – You have to not want to believe it in order to not believe it, the evidence is so strong.

So Jesus is not just a good guy, but is for us all the perfect payment for a debt we have with God that we could never pay on our own. And beyond that, he has shown us what God is like; he daily intercedes for us and helps us; and he promises to come and get us to be with him forever.  All of this beats some system of God up there and us down here, wondering how to bridge and connect that gap??  Jesus does it all.

Incarnation and Kenosis (Philippians 2:1-11)

We preachers like to think that from time to time we come up with a word picture about a biblical concept that so perfectly nails it, we call such a thing a “killer illustration.”  When you’ve got one of these, Saturday night cannot turn over fast enough until Sunday when you can deliver it!

Hey, while I’m letting you behind the curtain of “pastor world” here by that confession above, let me tell you something else that goes on inside us church shepherds. There are times when in a church family you have two people who are really good folks – good workers, dependable, etc.  But they don’t get along well with each other. They just see differently about the way certain things should be done. And along the way you see a few other people gravitating behind each of these folks. In a way, you hate to say anything, because as a pastor you really appreciate the good side of the two leaders; so you end up enduring the negatives to not upset the positives. But invariably a day comes when you’ve got to say something to try to get the situation toward a better place. That is difficult. It can backfire “bigly.”e92l8pwchd4-ben-white

It seems that Paul had such a situation going on in Philippi. He was hearing about it from a distance. There is a hint of the problem in 2:14 where he writes, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing…”  And then finally it all comes spewing out in the final chapter (4:2,3) where he says, I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

Boom!  Nothing like getting your names written in the Scriptures because you were having a junior high girl fight! I’d like to know how it turned out. But it might have worked out well, and that is because prior to confronting them in the text, Paul had the greatest “killer illustration” of them all…

2:1 — Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

So there is the set-up … or what we call in Bible study the “context.”  Paul is saying that if you’ve got anything good going on at all in your life in relation to the Spirit working within, then be of one mind, one spirit, loving, forgetting ambition or personal interest, and in humility placing a greater value upon the values of others than upon yourself. Nice words, but what does such a thing look like?  Paul says to model the mindset of Jesus Christ …

6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

The humiliation of Christ in his incarnation was so much bigger than any preferring of others that ought to be going on in Philippi … or Phillipsburg … or even Hagerstown!  There is simply no greater voluntary condescension than the attitude and action of Jesus. Check out the downward path >> Though totally God, he didn’t tenaciously hang onto that exalted position >> he became like a servant and took on human flesh >> he allowed himself to be so fully human as to even experience death >> but it was not just an easy natural death, but the worst imaginable – that of a cross.

This passage is called “kenosis” (from the verb ‘kenao’ in the passage) because it speaks of how Jesus emptied himself of his divine attributes in coming to earth.  This meant that he no longer exercised his omnipotence or other divine powers—except through the power of the Spirit, like when it says that Jesus was “led by” or “full of” the Holy Spirit. So, Jesus was fully God, but while living on earth he voluntarily limited himself to that which the Spirit could do through him.

Christ is an example of how to live and walk by the Spirit. And this “illustration” passage also teaches the great truth of the true humanity of Jesus Christ. He was not some sort of phantom spirit of a higher order than mankind. He was fully human, yet without sin.

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I’ll pause for a moment while you try to think of a more beautiful passage in the Scripture than is this one … … … OK, yes, didn’t think you could come up with anything.

Did Jesus Always Exist?

Many of you who see me around church or wherever seem to have the same delusion. You keep telling me that I’m limping! There are even times when I’m walking along, and with that inner voice of conversation we have with ourselves inside our head, I say to myself, “Wow, you’re really walking well today … no pain or anything!”  Only to have the next person I see say to me, “So what are you limping about?”  More delusion.

Well I recently met a doctor who says he can fix this and remove this delusion from the minds of other people. It involves some nastiness of cutting this and that. It’s just too gruesome to talk about in a devotional blog. But before I allow this fellow to attempt this (or to even see him long enough to talk about it), I had to know a lot about who he is, where he’s been, what he’s done, and what are his exact credentials to do what he says he can do.

If Jesus is to be what we want him to be and believe him to be as our savior from sin, we should want to know and understand his background and credentials. How long has he been around as a part of the Godhead? Is he an eternal part of God? How long did he exist before being born in Bethlehem? Did God create Jesus the day before the incarnation, outfit him for a perfect human experience and say to him, “You look good Son; you’re going to do a great job!”

All of this discussion is a part of the larger topic of understanding exactly who Jesus is—what we’ll be talking about all of this week. And answering the question as to the eternal preexistence of Jesus is more than the academic stuff of theological debate. Everything rides on it. Because if you don’t have Jesus as an eternal, self-existent part of the Godhead, you have a created being—insufficient to be the payment for sin.

Biblical heresies old and new (as in various cult groups) fall short on this, somehow seeing Jesus as less than the eternal God who always existed. Early on, in Colossians for example, we see Paul battling an emergent form of Gnosticism—a group who saw Jesus as some sort of intermediate spiritual being between God and man. In church history, the eternal preexistence of Christ was affirmed at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 to combat the error of Arianism. Arius believed that Jesus was the first and foremost of created spirits, but not eternal.

Ultimately we affirm the eternality of Jesus Christ as the Divine Son, not because our theology demands it in order to have a qualified savior, but because the Scriptures teach it quite affirmatively. Here are the primary passages to which we would point …

  • The prophet Micah (5:2) in writing of the prophecy of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem says that Jesus will be one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.
  • Likewise Isaiah (9:6), in foretelling the incarnation, wrote that the child to be born was the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
  • John (1:1-3) begins his gospel by referencing Jesus as the Logos—the Word—saying that In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.yw2ucaj6oau-martin-sattler
  • The Apostle Paul wrote of the supremacy of Christ to the Colossians (1:16,17), affirming of Jesus: For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  
  • And in John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ (1:11) he reported, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

To deny the eternality of Christ, you would have to deny the authority of Scripture. So Jesus is not a last-minute creation by God to fix everything that went wrong, rather he is the Creator God and the expression of God’s love and grace to redeem a lost creation in the only way it could be saved. This is who loves you and has died for you.