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The Great Commission, #111

“Jesus came near and said to them, 

“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.””

Matthew 28:18-20

Well now. Red Letters is now done. We’ve traversed our way through Jesus’ acts and teachings. I’m quite aware that I have overlooked much of it. I just maybe lose some sleep over this.

But I rest in John 21:25–

” And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if every one of them were written down, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the book that would be written.”

John 21:25

“Authority” is the key.

The Greek means “freedom of choice,” or having “the power to make decisions.” Jesus alone has that right, if we’re to evangelize the world, it must be under his auspices. We need to remain dependent on him, and serve under his authority.

Very precise instructions are given.

  • Discipleship
  • Baptism
  • teaching them to observe
  • under command
  • his presense–right until the end.

Each of these is under his authority. He’s in full control of each believer, and commissions them to act on his behalf, and under his lordship. In a definite sense we don’t act apart of him–everything we do, all of our actions must reflect that truth.

Someone wiser than I reflected that we’ve essentially changed this to “the great omission.” Perhaps that’s true for many Christians–and churches. It’s easy to do, and often we alter the express command of Jesus into our own personal improvement plan.

“I will not believe that thou hast tasted of the honey of the gospel if thou can eat it all to thyself.”

   Charles Spurgeon

The adjustment is terribly subtle, and the enemy has his fingerprints all over it. His work makes perfect sense. Stop the Church at any price. Some suggest that we’ve become a cruise ship now, instead of a battleship. I think that a simple study of the history of the Church would back that up.

“Everything God does is love — even when we do not understand Him.”

   

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Go to My Brothers, #105

“Don’t cling to me,” Jesus told her, “since I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”

John 20:17-18, (context, vv. 11-18)

Some believe that somehow this ties into the holiness of Jesus and his need to ascend with God. This thought is that somehow Mary would defile him. I don’t believe this for a second. A much better idea is that Mary was so excited to see Jesus alive that she grabbed a hold of him and simply wouldn’t let go.

The risen Jesus was not a ghost, or a spirit.

He was solid, just like you and me. And he wasn’t Mary’s hallucination, delusion or some sort of wish-fulfillment. It was him–it’s Jesus. Yes, he was buried, everyone knew that. But now he was actually standing before her–very much alive.

“Go to my brothers” is quite profound when you think about it. There’s no superiority or condescending attitude to speak of. Rather he’s relating to his cowering and foolish followers who are hiding out as his brothers. They maybe in hiding, but he’s telling them that they needn’t be afraid.

“My Father and your Father, to my God and your God,” is wonderfully aware.

It’s funny, but this is the first time that he refers to them as his brothers, and the resurrection from the dead has changed everything. It’s interesting, but a brother relationship is even closer than a friend relationship. The disciple are now relating to Jesus in a new capacity. They’re now brothers–family.

Mary has been “commissioned” by Jesus.

She is now the first one to carry the Good News that the Lord has risen from the dead. The Jews didn’t recognize the testimony of a woman in their courts, but Jesus chose her. She’s been given the responsibility to carry the news to his followers. This is no small thing.

We see Mary announcing this to the disciples. The word “announcing” means she simply declared to them what she had just experienced. Perhaps that’s the essence of witnessing to others–we simply communicate what Jesus has done for us. Our testimony is a very powerful thing, (Rev. 12:11).

“Christ the Lord is risen today, Sons of men and angels say. Raise your joys and triumphs high; Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply.”

    Charles Wesley

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Love Like a Disciple, #93

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

The believers in Jesus must carry the credentials of Jesus. To be authentically his demands evidence–proof that you’re really are real. It never comes by one’s own words, personal declarations, or by affiliations or preferences. Jesus is crystal clear on what is true and what is not. To him, it’s black or it’s white.

“Where’s the beef?”

A few years ago that was the ad line of a particular fast food chain. It was catchy, and soon everyone smiled. The company only did it because it worked. Three old ladies looked at a competitor’s hamburger and made the announcement that something was terribly wrong.

Jesus made it clear that there would be evidence that everyone would see. “Love one another” is used three times in two verses–not only that, but in verse 35 we hear him tell us that “all people will know” what disciples would look like. To follow Jesus you must love like Jesus–to be like him, you must love like him.

We dare not minimize this. It’s now the believer’s credentials, the proof that they were real, and not just posers. We’re called to be more than religious exhibitionists, who somehow have an affinity for nice sounding words that only touch the outward. Jesus states that our love is now the true declaration of something super authentic–and very tangible.

So where’s the love?

The word used is ἀγαπάω, agape. It’s the ultimate kind of love–the love that God himself has for lost people: it’s not the love one has another sexually, that word is eros. It’s not the love we have for our brother, that word is philo. But it is agape, a love that has no limits, and the best and clearest definition is found in 1 Corinthians 13.

Maybe a better grasp of the verses in John 13 can be had by reading the Message translation:

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

(vv. 34-35)

“Our love to God is measured by our everyday fellowship with others and the love it displays.”

   Andrew Murray

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The Parable of the Good Mormon, #72

“”But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.”

Luke 10:33-34

As I write this, I’m waiting for my plane in Salt Lake City, Utah. I just passed by the Mormon Temple, and that’s always disturbing to me. I guess as a teacher to the body of Christ, to see this much deception concentrated in a place like this is evil. The LDS church has a staggering 16.5 million scattered worldwide. And it’s growing fast.

Back in 1982, two Mormon security guards ushered me off of the temple grounds. But as I was escorted off their temple mount, Christian believers outside the gate gave me tracts to read, and they were praying that I would find the Lord Jesus. Their ministry is hard, but effective,

It’s strange how things work out sometimes.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was treacherous, well-known by the people as a haven for robbers and muggers. Think the south-side of Chicago; it was dangerous, and typically when you did have to make the trip, you traveled in a group for safety.

Samaritans were the unholy and the godless. Jews never dreamed of fellowshipping with them–both regarded each other with contempt and scorn. To the Jew, the Samaritan was apostate, and there was a deep distaste for them. And the worse part of it all, they believed that God agreed.

They did respect each others turf though, at least, to a limited degree. At best, they simply didn’t acknowledge the others existence–at worst, they did the jihad thing, and went to outright war with each other. It’s all very complicated. It almost always is.

We must modernize this parable in order to really understand its implications. Let’s make sure we understand a few things though:

  • The Jews and the Samaritan detested each other. Each declared that they were the true nation of Israel.
  • The priest and the Levite both had religious reasons for avoiding situations like this. They quite easily justified themselves, as their interpretation of the Law forbid them from touching a corpse.
  • The Samaritan was doing the will of God, the religious leaders were not. Plain and simple. Jesus’ parable has ruined our conceptions forever of a religion that costs us nothing, and somehow gives us everything.
  • Jesus schools the Jewish leaders with the responsibility of loving each other–no matter what the other person believes is true.

This is a present day parable. It’s lost none of its zing-and we can’t rationalize away any of its authority. It speaks to us today, as powerfully as when Jesus first spoke it. This particular passage has never lost its punch, and we dare not minimize the message. If we do, typically, it’s for carnal reasons, and we do so, it’s at extreme peril to our very souls.

Who is your neighbor? We needn’t look far for understanding–each parable that Jesus spoke was simple, and it could be understood by a child–and yet it carried the full authority, and weight of heaven. If we minimize it, we risk our discipleship. We’ll suddenly cease to be real and authentic.

Is this a Sunday school flannelgraph, or is it a real truth for real believers?

I easily could go on, and on, ad nauseam–pummeling you with insignificant details, but I won’t. The critical message is one of an active, aggressive love for each one who is made in God’s image–for the Catholic and the Mormon, the black and the white, gay and straight, republican or democrat, the homeless and the mansion-dweller–everyone who the Lord God has created. Everyone. (Even illegal aliens–egads. Not them!)

No exceptions can be made. When we serve others–sacrificially, if we have to–we’re really serving the Lord Jesus. And if a Mormon happens along, and if they do what the Samaritan did, they’re doing the will of God. And that disturbs us, and it should.

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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To Fall, Like Lightning, #71

“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.”

Luke 10:17-19, (context vv. 17-20)

All seventy-two returned, not one had been eaten by the wolves. It was a good day, and the disciples are filled with joy. They came back to Jesus with stories to tell him, and with each other. I’ve no doubt that they were truly excited, astonished at what had happened.

The Bible mentions Satan falling four times, and each time it’s a dramatic plunge from a high place. There’s no question in my mind that the disciples, obedient to Jesus, brought to a end Satan’s claim on this planet. The Church had arrived, and the world was now at last a very different place.

The success of the disciples was the downfall of Satan.

Like the cavalry that finally arrives at the last possible moment, these followers of Jesus enter the scene, and the balance of power shifts. Their work has irrevocably disturbed the forces of darkness, and Satan has fallen. Nothing will ever be the same again.

Who can really fathom what really happened at this particular moment? There must’ve been something significant that shook heaven when the disciples obeyed Jesus. Satan was no longer in a position of authority–something was permanently altered in the universe when his Church became faithful.

Jesus transmits his authority to his own, he never will leave them defenseless. Serpents and scorpions, figuratively speaking, are not eradicated. They’re still very much alive and well, but they can no longer harm the believer–they’re rendered harmless and impotent. They can never hurt us again.

“There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.”

 C.S. Lewis

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The King’s Work, #70

 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 

Luke 10:3, (context, vv. 1-12)

What happens when lambs are attacked by wolves? My simple guess is that they tear them up. Jesus doesn’t paint a rosy picture of ministry. He’s very clear what the seventy can expect. There shouldn’t be any illusions about the work, it’s not entirely easy, or pleasant. There maybe casualties.

This passage is crucial, not only for Jesus’ disciples, but for the harvest. Seventy-two are selected; they’re given clear instructions on the work ahead–what they must know, and how they need to act. The kingdom of God must be announced, that’s imperative. His rule extends over all, and that dear one, is markedly good news.

They’re given them supreme authority over demons–that’s going to be a necessity for doing his work. There’s an awful lot of darkness out there, and they will engage it head-on. Satan rules temporarily, but God triumphs forever. The disciple’s ministry is to step into this, and extend the kingdom of God. This is now your work.

Doing this means they have to follow his detailed instructions. The disciples are going to move into both the physical and spiritual, and the wolves are coming– the seventy-two have been warned. The world will hate, but the believers still have to preach.

It’s not just a message to preach. There’s more.

Words are not going to be enough. They’re also to have a ministry of physical healing. They’re to touch the sick, and God will heal. But please, don’t misconstrue the work, bloodshed is a real possibility. The wolves are coming in packs.

Jesus is not only training, but he’s extending the Father’s rule by sending them out. He is duplicating himself, and the seventy-two are clearly extensions of him, they’re to be his witnesses, doing his work. Essentially that’s what true ministry is, doing what he would do if he were in your shoes.

The kingdom comes–“thy kingdom come, thy will be done” is the believer’s prayer. We’re committed to this, and we follow our king’s example. The world will be ruled by him, and we have the incredible privilege of being his witnesses–we are his healers, and proclaimers of his gospel.

“The only significance of life consists in helping to establish the kingdom of God.”

Leo Tolstoy

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The Very First Stone, #63

“He stood up and said to them, 

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

John 8:7 (context vv. 3-10)

The religious police had caught them together, and they held her (just her?) for the express purpose of embarrassing Jesus. Ideally, on the holy grounds of the temple they could challenge him about the Law, and when Jesus tried and failed, they could then humiliate him to the crowds. He would lose a lot in the credibility department (or so they thought.)

“They set a trap for Jesus. If Jesus said, “Let her go,” then He would seem to break the Law of Moses. If He said, “Execute her for the crime of adultery,” then Jesus would seem harsh and perhaps cruel. Also, He would break Roman law, because the Romans had taken the right of official execution for religious offenses away from the Jews.”

-David Guzak

Adultery is expressly prohibited by the seventh of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12) which says simply: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” There is no ambiguity to this. God had made it clear that adultery was wrong, and she was guilty. (The man she was involved with wasn’t charged–which is a bit interesting.)

Jesus, being sinless, was the only one capable of judgement. Having complete authority he had perfect right to carry out God’s verdict. But he didn’t. He wouldn’t. I suppose that’s why this passage is so evocative to many.

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

John 8:11

All of her accusers had quickly left. Jesus simply wrote something in the sand, and whatever it was, it did the trick. There was no other thing that would of caused them to leave so quietly, and abruptly. They suddenly refused to enforce the penalty of the Law, and just skedaddled.

The adultery was still an issue though, it wasn’t overlooked. Jesus spoke directly to her about it, she wasn’t off the hook yet. “From now on sin no more” is after all a command, and that relationship with her lover must be forsaken. Jesus was serious. What she would choose to do from this point on was critical.

Jesus insists that she understand the why behind them departing so quickly. I think it’s important for her quite specifically, she knew that not only was she forgiven, but that now she could live without guilt or condemnation. The condemners were gone. She was free. Absolutely free.

“Man has two great spiritual needs. One is for forgiveness. The other is for goodness.”

Billy Graham

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The World’s Hate, #57

“The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.”

John 7:7 (context, vv. 1-8.)

Forty years of following Jesus has taught me many things. Lumped up in my top-ten is the hard lesson, “people dislike truth.” We are all fallen, and the fig leaves we find don’t cover much–they’re always wilting. And yet we avoid the light, and make up things that are really illusions (or delusions.) We find a mask and wield it to prevent the truth from penetrating our hearts.

Darkness is everywhere it seems. We see it in politics, religion and the media. We see it in our self, and others. It’s grim and sad and proud. And it’s disturbing that it actually turns into a solid hatred. And as believers, and part of the Church, we catch levels of flack from different levels of darkness.

“If you belonged to the world, the world would treat you with affection and would love you as its own. But because you are not of the world [no longer one with it], but I have chosen (selected) you out of the world, the world hates (detests) you.”

John 15:19, Amplified

Jesus knows every heart, He evaluates and can’t find anything good. “The works are evil,” and every place He looks it is night, spiritual darkness. When you’re dark spiritually, you’re in a very bad place–you are still lost in your sins (Luke 19:10.) I’m sorry, but I am telling the truth.

The world system still hates Jesus, and we’re despised by association. We must be aware. As believers, we’ll never fit in. Much of persecution is satanic, the devil originates much of it. There are countries today that blast believers with dark attacks. I’ve read that more Christians have been killed in the last century than all the others, combined.

“Princes, kings, and other rulers of the world have used all their strength and cunning against the Church, yet it continues to endure and hold its own.”

-John Foxe, “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs 

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The Plow, #56

“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:62 (context, vv. 57-62)

Every disciple has his plow. Sometimes it’ll be obvious, everyone sees it; other times it’ll be buried deep inside, and no one knows. A plow is a perfect word to describe exactly what the Holy Spirit is doing–and its descriptive of the determination of a disciple who is slowly learning how to follow.

When you’re trying to grow-up you’ll grasp this foundational lesson. You have to be single-minded and really focused to stay moving ahead. You cannot look behind at what has been done. You can’t turn around to admire your work, rather we look at the tree that is keeping us lined up with Jesus.

You will sweat and get tired. Your full effort is needed to keep the plow in the hard earth. You aren’t pushing, the oxen is pulling, but you’re the one who weighs it down while keeping your furrow relatively straight. It’s harder than it looks. (Thank God for the modern tractor.)

In case the plowman starts to look back, his plow line would become crooked. If that happens, the field he is plowing will not yield a full harvest. A good plowman has learned he must hold on. In following Jesus, we are to keep our eyes on Him, and never let our minds and hearts wander away. (Hebrews 12:1-2.)

“To keep our hand on the plow while wiping away the tears–THAT is Christianity.”

-Watchman Nee

To follow means looking and moving forward. We must understand this–it’s the very essence of walking a path. We’re walking out the journey. Sometimes we feel Jesus’ joy as His follower, but occasionally we won’t. We’re learning to understand it more and more. But no matter what, we keep putting heel-to-toe. We are followers after all.

Jesus lived this; He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).

“To learn strong faith is to endure great trials. I have learned my faith by standing firm amid severe testings.”

-George Mueller

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A Really Hard Reality, #53

30 “They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them,” 

“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 

32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”

Mark 9:30-32

There are no illusions found in these verses. This passage is painfully practical, and whenever I read it I’m forced to take another slug of reality–Jesus will die. Evil men will kill Him. I don’t want to see His ministry end like this. Deep inside, I want to His ministry to continue. I need to hear more parables, and see more miracles.

But thinking squarely isn’t always my best point. I sometimes like illusions. They seem like necessary padding for the stark rigors of living. They’re nice to have around. But I do know that gripping reality is needed. It’s harsh and rude, and some of us avoid it like vampires dodge picnics.

The disciples must get real and extend their thinking about the Kingdom. They’ve been witnesses to all those supernatural things that the Messiah is doing. It’s all been very good. But now they must think deeper, and even more redemptively. Jesus will-must die, and He will rise. Why?

The Holy Spirit is always pouring love on us. I know that all that He does is done by love. Whether it’s touching a leper or feeding 5000, it’s love that is Jesus’ reason and clearest motive. Easily seen in these amazing miracles, and somewhat harder to picture when it comes as betrayal and murder. (God help us adjust.)

Jesus will (must) die. That is His accurate prediction. The disciples must clear the decks and assimilate this fresh information. They’re needed to grab this and make it part of their understanding. They are now witnesses, completely and wholly grasping the deepest realities of the Kingdom.

The gospel of the Kingdom up to this point is indeed a wonder. Teachings and healings, miracles and resurrections are becoming the norm. We all want to see them continue. We are shocked when Jesus takes this morbid perspective! How perfectly awful. (NOT the way to win disciples!)

The death of Jesus Christ, and His resurrection, is the next necessary miracle. It is needed to redeem and ‘heal’ the entire world. Oh yes, Jesus touched a leper, forgave the whore and raised the dead–but these are miracles that primarily touched individuals. He intends to kick it up a notch.

Jesus is going to die for us all. Isn’t that outrageous?

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