Category: Christology

I wouldn’t build a golden calf..or would I?

the-golden-calf-idol

“You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. (Nehemiah 9:13)

What does it mean to keep the commands? Should we even care?

As New Testament Christians, since we are in an age of grace in Jesus, it is easy to look at the Old Testament and say oh, it’s just a bunch of legalistic rules and regulations. I don’t have to worry about obeying.

But in today’s passage Nehemiah is giving his people a reminder of something that happened for them many centuries earlier. He reflects on who God is, and what God did, back in the times described in the book of Exodus. Obedience is connected to what God is really like: God is just, God is right, and God is good. Obedience gives us a taste of all three of these wonderful qualities of God.

But Nehemiah understands quite well that we do not automatically obey.

 “But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. (Nehemiah 9:16)

They deserved to be left alone by God. But, amazingly, we hear,

…… But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies. Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness (Nehemiah 9:17b-19,emphasis mine)

But, what if we rebel and make an image of a golden calf and worship it?  As modern 21st century people we say “Who, me?  I wouldn’t make a calf. I’m not like those primitive people.”

But think about this: Jesus says, “He who loves me…keeps my commands.” Doesn’t the calf stand for anything we treasure more than keeping Christ’s commands? Aren’t we worshiping that thing more than Christ?

Nehemiah gives us a wonderful preview of God’s forgiveness for us in Christ.  Because of God’s great compassion he does not abandon us in the wilderness even when we make an idol; instead he sent Christ to rescue us.

Through Christ giving us the Spirit, we can reflect God’s justice, righteousness, goodness—-and love. And because God’s love outweighs his anger, Christ always keeps the door of repentance open.

Father, we thank you that you do provide rescue for us in the person of Jesus, that because of your great compassion you do not abandon us.

You’ve Saved the Best Till Now

And the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:9-10)

You have just enjoyed a pleasant meal out at a restaurant. You think you are all done and ready for your check when the server appears with an exquisite, fancy, tasty dessert. She announces “Courtesy of the chef. This dessert is on the house”.

Your surprise and delight with the dessert is only a tiny taste of what Jesus wants to do.

In the John 2 narrative the water jugs represent tradition, the law, the old way of doing things. The jugs were part of the purification rituals under the old Jewish law.  But by obeying Jesus the servants were putting these traditional objects into a new use.

The miracle: Jesus has turned the water into wine.

The significance: The wine represents the new covenant in Jesus Christ.

Think again of what you have counted on for fulfillment that left you empty. Keep in mind that Jesus may or may not change the circumstances around the emptiness but he WILL give a new way of experiencing them.  Christ, being the new wine, gives a replacement that goes beyond anything we can try on our own. Dwell on what the Psalmist says in 34:8 “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”

What is the area of your life where you want to taste and see that the Lord is good? Where do you need a supernatural attitude adjustment?

Give thanks that Jesus gives the new wine and ask Him to transform that area of your life.

A feast with no wine and a plane with no pilot

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  (John 2:3-4)

On a December flight from Des Moines to Denver a few years ago came two disquieting announcements. First

“Does anyone in the cabin have medical training?”

And then, ominously,

“Does anyone in the cabin have flight experience?”

A plane with no pilot.

A feast with no wine.

A life with no hope.

Now what? Can anyone handle it?

Somehow Mary thinks that Jesus is the answer to the wine problem. She understood part of why Jesus came to earth back then, but now we understand the full story of why he came.

Jesus gently rebukes Mary because He is not ready to reveal at this point what you and I now know:  that He was the Messiah who would go to the cross to pay the penalty for our sin and be resurrected to redeem us and give us eternal life.

I don’t think Mary was expecting Jesus to give a point by point procedural, 5 steps to take when the wine runs out.

Nor would we expect that Jesus gives us a list of 5 things to do to replenish our empty joy tank.  Rather, when we are out of hope, we see that Jesus does not have the answer to the problem, he is the answer. In John 10:10b He said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

By the way, the pilot in our opening vignette had had a heart attack. But in this case, no disaster. Turns out a talented nurse saved the pilot and and the co-pilot knew how to land the plane after all.

Today, focus on who Jesus is. Give thanks that only Jesus, who rescued us from sin and death, is able to give us true joy and fulfillment.

Does God run our world like a clock?

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 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.  (Colossians 1:15-17)

As we move towards Spring, I have noticed the daily increase in daylight, enjoying both the brighter mornings and brighter evenings that occur in late winter each year.

public sunrise

In the 1700s, there was an explosion of interest in and discoveries in natural science. Scientists discovered that there are orderly “laws of nature”. It looked like the universe displays an intricate machine-like order—indeed, the exact times that the sun will rise and set as the seasons change, or when the next eclipse will be, can be charted out years in advance.

Coming out of this interest in natural science, some thinkers created a new view of God. Picture an old-fashioned Grandfather’s clock that has been carefully designed and crafted. You wind it up and set it running….it will run for many days with no further intervention required. This new view of God said that he is like a clockmaker who set the universe in motion, but who now has a hands-off attitude towards personal intervention in the creation. This new view changed God from being a powerful, intimate, supernatural-acting moment-by-moment sustainer, to being an impersonal Creator who never intervenes in supernatural ways.

But let’s push back against the clockmaker God. What if the laws of nature only keep working because of the second-by-second personal decree of God? Note the end of today’s passage: and in him all things hold together.   This implies that the laws of nature only continue the way they do because of Jesus’ good pleasure and grace.

Another amazing implication of today’s passage: God reserves the right to overrule the normal order of operation of anything at his good pleasure. There is no guarantee that the laws of nature will continue to run indefinitely as they do now. Indeed the Bible seems to say that they will not—-especially when you read passages about stunning celestial changes during the end times:

All the stars in the sky will be dissolved
     and the heavens rolled up like a scroll;
 all the starry host will fall
     like withered leaves from the vine,
     like shriveled figs from the fig tree. (Isaiah 34:4)

I don’t exactly know what’s going on in this passage, but somehow I don’t think your local TV weathercaster’s description of when sunrise will be will be on that day will be particularly valid!

How does this affect our daily lives? Well, it sure is easy for us to drift into a clockmaker mode of living, where thoughts of God go to the back of our minds. When that happens, we still know that he exists, but we lose the sense of his intense personal caring about what is going on in our lives, we lose sight of it being God and not scientific farming and our great economy, that provides our daily bread. We may even think our economy, our country, will go on pretty much the same and not change………..or even that we don’t need to change !

For now I am glad that when I am flying in an airplane, God is keeping the natural laws like the laws of aerodynamics working, so that the plane does not fall from the sky. But these laws come far from explaining everything, and I am glad that there are times when God overrules the normal ways that things work—look how often answered prayer defies the natural explanations for things.

The more we experience how much our loving God is no clockmaker, how he sustains us by His loving grace moment by moment, the more we can grow to better express who he is, and through the grace of Jesus, love those he brings into our lives.

Two pictures of Jesus

I’ve been thinking of two seemingly different pictures of Jesus in the scriptures. First is Jesus in the Gospels walking on earth, talking to the disciples, teaching people, healing people, calling them his friend.

Second is the raised and exalted Jesus who we see in the book of Revelation with “eyes of flashing fire, feet like burnished bronze.”

At first glance these two pictures of Jesus are so different that we wonder how to connect them!

It’s easy to think of Jesus walking on earth as a warm, friendly, easy going buddy, but there is more than just a sentimental feeling of closeness in Jesus’ idea of friendship. One of the keys to connecting the two pictures of Jesus is what He says about friendship in John 15:14 “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

In Revelation in John’s vision of Jesus he “fell at His feet as a dead man.” But then Jesus “laid His right hand upon me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One”.

So these pictures of Jesus are both true at the same time : Jesus is my friend but not my easygoing buddy AND Jesus is exalted and glorified and almost terrifying ; yet at the same time he puts his hand on me and urges me to follow his commands.

Jesus’ shining brightness in John’s vision makes me think of how the Lord has a refiner’s fire—wanting to burn off and purify any slop and sin in my life that would be an obstacle to doing what He commands.

The same Jesus who is my friend is the exalted Jesus who wants to purify me.

So the two views of Jesus are not contradictory at all! The Jesus who walked the earth in the gospels is the same as the Jesus who rules in heavenly places in Revelation, and He intensely desires that we each respond to his touch and follow him well!