Category: Theology

Before Easter: How ticked off did Jesus get?

Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?” (Matthew 26:67-68)

In our men’s Bible study we wondered whether Jesus would have felt seriously ticked off at those clowns who were hitting him. Was he furious? How badly would he want to retaliate?

Or was Jesus so far above all our own normal reactions, so ethereal, with a beatific look on his face, that he blessedthe spitters without one second of hesitation, even as the saliva dripped down his face?

We know that Jesus was a real man who underwent the same temptations we did. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

 So there was something real about Jesus resisting the temptation to bust their heads when he had the chance to retaliate. He had real gut reactions to things. Yet he did learn how to control his reactions: Picture him learning to handle the situations he faced while working as a carpenter — like how to ask for payment from someone who had not paid their bill on time without blowing his top and screaming at them and getting red in the face and yelling “Don’t you realize who I am ??”

His training consummated with being able to deal with the people who wanted him dead. He knew ahead of time that he would get outrageous, lying, unjust opposition. Yet he knew that death was an important part of God’s plan for him and for the world. So he was thoroughly convinced that the spitters and mockers were part of God’s will. Because of that deep conviction, he could take what they dished out without lashing out and busting their heads.

  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Hebrews 5:8-9) His obedience led all the way to Jesus’ death on a cross. And this life of submission and restraint is our rescue.  We are thankful that Jesus put up with beating and mockery without taking revenge into his own hands. For on Easter he was raised from the dead bringing us eternal salvation!

Can we slice God up?

The slices on this pizza correspond to the attributes of God. The most popular, of course, is love.

 But God’s attributes also include holiness, justice and righteousness. We all have fallen so far short on any of those three that we deserve to be doomed.

That’s why I am glad that love is the most vital attribute of God.   

Because think of what we deserve. We deserve justice and falling under wrath because of our rebellion. Thankfully, God’s love in Christ frees us from judgment. Jesus paid the debt we each owe for our rebellion. Indeed, our rebellion carries a high price. It’s higher than the national debt, which is $27 trillion as I write this. Yet for each of us who believes, we know that Jesus paid the price. God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

Forgiven, we are free to enjoy a life that is on the safe side of God’s holiness, justice, and righteousness.

But there’s a danger nowadays. All God’s attributes on the pie together make up what he is like. But people try to cut God up into slices.   And when they do, the only slice that they take is love. Now, the scripture does say God is love but it most definitely does not say God is only love.

When that slicing happens, we end up with a marshmallow love! All squishy with no firmness or character. This kind of love says that whatever feels right to us….is good.

If God has a marshmallow love I can be a monstrous whiner and complainer and filled with lust and not care in the least about changing.

But since God’s love is inseparable from all his other qualities, this means that God has a lion love. There is something quite fearsome about the love of God. God’s lion love is a jealous love. We smile when we think how that means he is protective of his people, but we are filled with reverent awe when we think of God’s fierce anger when we love other things more than he!

Jesus is the lamb of God but he is also the lion of Judah. When we grasp both God’s fierceness and  his compassion, then we can rejoice and be secure in knowing that our passionate God loves us with an unwavering love.

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31b)

Tell Me What I Don’t Want to Hear

dont want to hear

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3)

First, some fake news for itching ears: The Christian life is always easy.  We are special because we have faith; with our faith we can speak wonderful realities into existence. Because we have faith, God automatically protects us from the misfortunes that plague those who lack the faith that we have.

Now for some genuine news:
As Christians, we do not have the power to speak wonderful realities into existence. We are not magically exempt from misfortunes, calamities, sickness, and plagues. 

At first glance you might think that the fake news sounds much better. But here’s some genuine good news:
We have a God of all comfort. And our faith does give us something special that outsiders lack. When we are faced with misfortunes, calamities, sickness etc., we do, by faith, have a special ability to persevere through them. God gives us the grace to endure.

The bogus teaching that you won’t suffer or be sick if you have enough faith sounds good when you are healthy and the economy is booming. But what if you catch COVID and then get laid off from your job? Does this mean you are guilty of deficient faith?

Looking at Paul’s life helps answer that question. He faced much persecution and suffering. Does that mean he had deficient faith? Listen to what he said:

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. (2 Timothy 3: 10-11)

Paul’s rescue was guaranteed until he finished God’s mission for his life. Indeed, each of us can say that God never stops sustaining and supporting us —– until we have finished with all that he has given us to do.

His guarantee does not give us our best life now but for those who believe it grants our best life forever.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

How Can I Be Both Perfect And a Screw-Up?

Matthew 5:48 says: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

But at the same time Romans 3:10-11 says:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
 there is no one who understands;
 there is no one who seeks God.

What? The Bible tells me to be perfect, but then it tells me I am a perfect screw-up? How can both things be true?

To answer, I must tell you how much I love the cation words. These are several rhyming words that describe what Jesus did, what Jesus is now doing, and what Jesus will do. Let me start by giving you “cation” word #1 for today: It’s justification. Justification says you do not bear the full penalty for your screwups or moral failure since Jesus took all your blame on the cross! Since Jesus now stands in your place, you can claim this stunning verse:

 I lead a blameless life;
deliver me and be merciful to me. (Psalms 26:11)

What? Blameless? Yes, I am:  Christ set me right with God. And his righteousness comes from outside of me, not based on anything I ever did. In Romans 3:22 it says:

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

But despite this, I still screw up. What happens when I do sin? Do I just laugh and blow it off since I have already been declared righteous? I don’t think so.

Sam, a missionary pastor who gave a sermon at our church, is a mature Christian who’s served the Lord faithfully in his international organization for decades. Yet, he confessed that he really started to lose it in a discussion at a recent meeting that degenerated into a futile argument.

I admired Sam for being man enough to admit his foul-up in front of our whole congregation and for how quickly he got the meeting back on track by rapidly repenting and asking forgiveness.

Why was Sam able to react correctly?

His reaction leads to our other “cation” word today: sanctification. This means becoming more like Christ over time. Ephesians 4:24 talks about progressively growing in sanctification:   put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Because I’m striving to walk as a mature man of Christ, I am not planning to yell on the phone at anyone ever again. I am not planning to lust ever again.

But what if I do?

I trust that the Lord will lead me to repent and ask forgiveness more quickly than I ever have before. And that he’ll continue to replace an impatient urge to get my own way with more of the good attitudes that Jesus gives.

I am glad I am not alone in this process of achieving change. I’m in a good men’s fellowship group called Battleground at my home church that is a huge help in this.

Our motto in Battleground is that we seek an authentic experience of God’s word, meaning that we want to not merely put Bible verses into our heads, but to allow those words to change us to reflect the character of Jesus. We confess when we fall short of that and we rejoice when we see the Lord at work building that into each other.

This quote from John Piper gives a great description of what we strive for in Battleground. Each of us is:

a godly man,
who knows he is a sinner, pardoned for God’s name’s sake,
justified by grace, trusting God’s mercy,
depending on God’s Spirit, taking refuge in God’s protection,
delighting in God’s beauty, keeping God’s covenant,
and therefore walking in integrity and honesty and uprightness.1 

What John Piper described cannot be achieved in isolation. In strong fellowship God gives us a solid way to care for and encourage each other to grow to be more like Christ.

May you have fellowship in a group like that, too.
Amen.

1 https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/can-anyone-really-be-blameless